In commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of Kurt Cobain‘s death and Nirvana’s impending induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame on April 10th, The Burning Blogger continues to celebrate Cobain’s genius and Nirvana’s legacy, leading up to Thursday’s ceremony.
Now obviously there’s pretty much an ocean of Nirvana material and footage out across the worldwide web. For a lot of us, bootlegs used to be the thing; either that or waiting for official releases. I used to devour my Live! Tonight! Sold Out! VHS tape in the old days, pouring over every detail, memorizing every clip like a fucking trainspotter. Not that that wasn’t fun.
But the modern 21st century phenomenon of You Tube has made fans being able to watch music-related videos a whole new trip to what it was twenty years ago. I mean no one needs MTV anymore, like we did two decades ago; now virtually anything you could want to look at is out there, especially on You Tube, which makes it something of a golden age to be a fan of anything; though there are arguments to be had there about whether less is more, etc. And yes, there is a lot of crap on You Tube, including a lot of Nirvana videos that really don’t need to be there.
But, personally, I’m very happy to see longstanding fans uploading incredible footage and personal recordings from decades ago – the best being entire shows that people like me would otherwise never get to have seen (when I saw Alice in Chains in London a few months ago, the next morning I searched You Tube and found more or less every song from the show uploaded by people who’d been at the concert).
Not just Nirvana of course; there’s all kinds of superb, entirely complete footage of all sorts of artists, but I’m just focusing on Nirvana here. Of course I’d still advocate owning official products; Live! Tonight! Sold Out! really should be owned, and there are lots of really great official Nirvana releases, for example Live at the Paramount, Live at the Reading Festival 1992, Unplugged in New York on DVD, and there some incredible videos on the DVD companion to the ‘With The Lights Out’ collection (although they really were scraping the barrel with some of the CD content, kind of illustrating that some material just doesn’t need to be released and sometimes less is really is more).
So anyway this is a selection of 10 You Tube videos that I think best express and encapsulate Nirvana; note, not the best Nirvana videos, but the ones that I think taken together best express the spirit of Cobain and Nirvana. If you’re a fan, you’ve probably seen them all already (but you never know). And if you’re not a fan yet, this would be a good menu for a starting point.
Also, apart from two, I didn’t put entire shows in this, for the reason that I didn’t want the entire list to be samey: entire shows are obviously brilliant to watch, that’s a given – and as I said, there are lots of them on You Tube now, so take your pick. Also I haven’t included Heart-Shaped Box or any of the official music videos, including You Know You’re Right and Sliver, because those are too obvious and everyone’s seen them already. Other video footage that I obviously would include but choose not to is material that’s available to own on official releases, such as the Unplugged show or the rehearsals for the Unplugged show, both of which are available on DVD. I know some of the footage on this list is available on official releases too, but only as small constituents of much larger products…
TERRITORIAL PISSINGS on the Johnathon Ross Show, 1991
“Nirvana there, who wanted me to tell you they’re available for children’s birthday parties and bar-mitzvahs…”
I’m blown away every time I watch this. I first saw it on the Live! Tonight! Sold Out! video that was released in 1994. An utterly blistering performance that went out on prime-time, live TV in the UK. This is, hands-down, the best, most powerful television appearance I’ve seen by any artist. To this day, I’ve never come across a TV appearance like it. Watch any of the tame, watered-down, commercial television appearances by bands or artists of any type today and then go watch Nirvana here and the difference is mind-blowing. It just leaves everyone else looking woofty by comparison.
TEEN SPIRIT on THE WORD, 1991
“I just want to say; Courtney Love, the sensational singer of the band Hole, is the best fuck in the world…”
It’s not the greatest performance of the song, but this is Nirvana hitting UK TV right as ‘…Teen Spirit’ and Nevermind were breaking, and you have to remember how much excitement there was at the time. The Word was something of a cult show here in the UK, responsible for breaking both Mark Lamaar and Terry Christian on TV, and it included other brilliant musical appearances too, including Hole in 1992 and a legendary L7 performance in 1993. Presenter Terry Christian has since said that Kurt spent the entire time before the performance alternating between drinking coffee and falling asleep.
TEEN SPIRIT on Top of the Pops, 1991
It’s just brilliant even now; seeing Kurt, Krist and Dave make a complete joke of the TOTP format, deliberate off-key miming and that superb Gregorian-style vocal by Kurt. And the first stage-invasion in TOTP’s at-that-time thirty-year history. Priceless.
KURT’S PIER 48 INTERVIEW, 1993
Of the various interview footage now available on You Tube, this is the one that still holds me the most, though I also remember seeing parts of it on MTV a very long time ago too. A very relaxed-looking Kurt talking about In Utero, his guitar-playing, the Seattle scene, his stomach problems, his drug issues, and various other things. A really interesting, laid-back, somewhat informal interview that really puts across Kurt’s affable, soft-spoken nature and his intelligence. Although a lot of earlier Nirvana interview footage has Kurt being difficult and confrontational, this really shows his more congenial side and that he could actually be a really good interview subject.
IN UTERO PROMO AD, 1993
Actually only came across this recently, but it’s really funny and worth checking out.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, 1992
It’s a brilliant TV appearance, a red-haired Kurt and Nirvana getting to rock out a good bunch of songs, including Aneurysm and Drain You. Dave’s drumming here is awesome.
READING FESTIVAL 1992
“With the help of his friends and family… he’s gonna make it…”
I know I said I wouldn’t include entire shows, but really this one and the next one had to be on this list. The entire Reading 92 show is brilliant to watch and is currently up on You Tube, and it has everything; great set-list, the wheelchair entrance, and some very funny, typically Nirvana-ish moments, including Kurt evidently getting bored during Sliver and deciding to experiment with his vocals to comic effect, and a very funny “More Than A Feeling” lead-in to Teen Spirit with Krist doing vocals. The fact that Kurt fucks up the easiest part of Teen Spirit suggests he does it on purpose, along with an utter laziness towards the guitar solo.
That headline appearance by Nirvana is already legendary, with rumours among the festival-goers all weekend that Kurt had actually died and Nirvana weren’t going to appear. I never got to be there, but I have a friend who was lucky enough to have been and he says it was just insanely special. One of the highlights is a few thousand people singing along with all the words to Lithium; another is a ridiculously out-of-tune Love Buzz – and I do mean ridiculously out-of-tune, made all the more funny for the fact that Kurt visibly appears to de-tune his guitar during the song. The entire Reading ’91 show is up too, but in poorer quality.
HOLLYWOOD ROCK FESTIVAL, Rio De Janeiro, 1993
Although there are now numerous entire-concert uploads on You Tube courtesy of industrious Nirvana fans (and God bless them for their service), I didn’t want to link to a whole bunch of them on this list, as they’re all obviously really good and worth watching. So I’m just highlighting one more particularly good one here, filmed in 1993 in Brazil.
It’s a very interesting show for a lot of reasons, but it’s one of the poorest as far as Kurt’s actual performance is concerned (don’t watch this show if you want to see Kurt as his best; there are better ones to watch for that – someone’s put up the entire 1991 London Astoria Show, which is awesome); Kurt really seems to let go and act strange in parts of the show. In particular seeing him crawl off-stage slowly, like some defeated, dejected child is very strange, slightly uncomfortable viewing. But it’s more than made up for by other show highlights, such Flea from the Chilli Peppers doing a trumpet solo on Teen Spirit (!) and an awesome version of ‘Dive’.
NIRVANA Interviewed at the 1993 VMAs
Very funny Nirvana interview, perfectly encapsulates the band’s unpretentious goofiness, along with Krist’s singular sense of humour (“they know where my little sister goes to school…”), and Kurt feeding little Frances and not-so-little Dave at the same time. Krist goes on to discuss the “concept” for the next Nirvana album. They clearly didn’t give two shits about the VMAs.
Pier 48 Rehearsal Footage
Although this would be something Kurt never intended to be watched, it is nevertheless very interesting, particularly if you’ve seen the full proper show of MTV’s Live and Loud. I remember seeing it for the first time in 1994 and it was awesome, the only live performing of In Utero material that I had seen at that time. This practice footage is quite comprehensive and has several particularly interesting parts, for example when Kurt is unhappy with the sound of the Serve the Servants chorus and so asks for Pat (Smear) to double-up with him on the vocal. The result in the live version with the double-vocal is subsequently much better. The reason I might find this video so interesting is probably because I’m a musician, so maybe actually this is one for other people in bands in particular.
Of course you should also watch the proper Live and Loud show, if you haven’t already. It’s superb, with particularly brilliant versions of Heart Shaped Box, Serve the Servants and Pennyroyal Tea.
And that’s my top 10. It’s Nirvana we’re talking about, so actually there could’ve been a top 40 really, but I’m a lazy, lazy motherfucker. It’s all out there though, tons of great material for any fan to sift through at leisure. There may also, in fact, be stuff that isn’t out there yet that maybe should be.
I could swear to God there was an interview Paula Yates did with Kurt Cobain at some point – maybe I’m remembering something that never really happened, but gosh, I’d love to see that some day if it does exist. If there’s anyone out there who has that footage, please do share…