Monday, February 20, 2012

Music Video Monday: Nirvana

In honour of Kurt Cobain, who was born today in 1967, which would've made him 45 years old, this week's music video is my favourite song by Nirvana: "All Apologies."

Nirvana manifested into pop culture reality with the late 1991 release of Nevermind, which had a memorable album cover design of a naked baby boy in a swimming pool trying to grab a crumbled dollar. And yes, everyone who saw that cover knows the baby is a boy! The album flew under the radar, as Michael Jackson's Dangerous album and U2's new sound was unleashed with Achtung Baby during that same fall season.

Nevermind did catch on in 1992 as Nirvana led the way in what is known as "Grunge" music, alongside Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Screaming Trees, and other bands, many of them from the Seattle area. Alternative music became mainstream.

I was living in Sardinia, Italy at the time, a sailor in the Navy. I was far into U2's new sound (at the time, I believed Actung Baby was their best album. I was never a big fan of The Joshua Tree. Now, Achtung Baby ranks as my third favourite U2 album, behind All That You Can't Leave Behind and Zooropa). I did not really get into the Grunge craze, though I did see the excellent film set in Seattle that featured many of those bands (Singles, starring Bridget Fonda who was my fave actress at the time). The soundtrack is excellent and one of the classics of the 1990s (one of these Fridays, I'll have to do a "Fun Friday" post charting my all-time favourite soundtracks).

However, I did not like Nirvana at all. I just couldn't get into the sound. I thought that album cover was tacky (a pedophile's wet dream come true). Plus, I thought the band's name was a misnomer. Nirvana is a state of bliss in Buddhism and Hinduism, and the music of Kurt Cobain and his group were anything BUT Nirvana! If anyone should call themselves Nirvana, it is Enya. Now her music is blissful!

Anyhow, when I saw MTV's Unplugged series with Nirvana, I was impressed. Their music stripped of its "noise". I loved it and bought the CD when it was released in 1994. You can see the soul of Cobain in the above clip to the song "All Apologies", which was released as a single. I also love the song "Jesus Don't Want Me For a Sunbeam". There were rumours that Kurt Cobain was LDS or familiar with it, because the song "Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam" is a popular song that Mormon kids sing in Primary (a pre-Kindergarden Sunday School class). Who knows what Cobain was?!? He was troubled, that much was known. His tabloid marriage to punk rocker Courtney Love seemed to destabilize him and they had a daughter together (Frances Bean) before he took his life in April 1994 at the cursed age of 27 (many rockers can't seem to make it past this age).

I was in my last few months in Italy when news of Cobain's suicide was mentioned on MTV with a warning to viewers not to harm themselves. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was that MTV had to report the death of Cobain with a warning. Talk about insulting your viewers! Of course, perhaps they were worried about liability issues and the fragile state of Nirvana fans who can't live without their idol.

So, it took Kurt Cobain's death for me to really give Nirvana a fair listen. The more I read about him, the more I liked. He didn't fit in to any social group and hated fake people. He appeared to be a young soul thrust into the glaring spotlight of fame and wasn't able to cope. All he wanted to do was sing. He didn't accept the role of rock god that music critics and fans put on him. While it was drugs that killed him, I think it's also fair to say that fame took him as well.

Last year, on the 20th anniversary of Nevermind, an article and photo of that cover baby was published. Yikes! Make us feel old. That baby is now in college!

Who knows what great albums might have been made by Nirvana had Kurt Cobain sobered up, viewed fame as merely a game to manage to one's own advantage, and continued to record new albums. While their place in rock history can't be denied, in terms of impact, I think Green Day is far more impressive (particularly in the evolution from the immature Dookie to the absolutely brilliant and perfect American Idiot). Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day recently celebrated 40 years old (last week). I hope his band continues to surprise us.

As for "All Apologies", I felt at the time of Kurt Cobain's suicide that this song was his "suicide note" to fans. It is haunting, even after all these years.

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