DVD Revisits Nirvana’s Legacy

Reminisce about 1993 with Ryland at [email protected]

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It’s a tired story, I know, but it’s true: I cannot think of Nirvana without thinking of how the band came into my life one summer at a military camp. Raised around rap and Motown, Nirvana were definitely something new to me, as were reveille and formations. Enduring the heat of Indiana was not as difficult as enduring the nothing-but-fucked society of misfit kids gathered in my drum and bugle corps. My best memories of summer 1993 revolve around seeing “Jurassic Park” 13 times in the theaters and listening to my bunkmate’s tape of Nevermind at night on headphones. Nirvana were, for me, a kind of shining light: anxiety let loose, wild, loud. There were no cadences but rhythms; no regimented notes but shredded sound. What I did not know at the time was that their anger ebbed, too. In Utero blew Nevermind out of the water, but that December’s “Unplugged in New York” performance was really what turned them into the perfect kind of heroes for me, a child new to divorce and public schools.

Then, of course, Kurt Cobain died. The “Unplugged” performance became that much more legendary. Luckily, MTV replayed it a lot in April and May 1994. By the time it was put out as an album the following November, I had found that other outlet for cliched angst, Weezer’s Blue Album. Looking at the new DVD of the “Unplugged” performance (which hits shelves Tuesday), the gap between Kurt Cobain and Rivers Cuomo becomes, for this jaded viewer, rather immeasurable. The

difference is in their voices. You can hear Kurt’s insides falling apart; you don’t hear Rivers cry so much as complain. But to see Kurt singing with his acoustic guitar still shocks, thrills, slays me. Like I said, it’s a tired story. But Nirvana’s story endures, cliche or not.

The cliche begins with their name, right? Not that irony itself has become cliched but the band’s name has become over-determined by its place in pop culture. There will never be a place for another kind of Nirvana today. The reason I still listen to In Utero, and have delighted in reviewing the “Unplugged” DVD, is because Nirvana does not front. Not even Jack White can, ahem, save rock ’n’ roll, despite being something of a kindred genius. Although way less pained, White is not a lesser artist: He understands he can project a front that denies being read into and has thus protected himself in a way Cobain never could. Nirvana still resound because their music is naked: timid but loud, blessed pain. They are not the sublime, but they are reaching for it. Nobody really can reach nirvana, right?

You can see some of the unedited footage of the DVD on YouTube (from overpriced and fuzzy VHS bootlegs) but to watch the entire performance straight through without the commercials—replaced by the expected stage wit and crowd banter one always suspected—and looking beautiful is a completely different enjoyment. It’s not the same thing I lionized for so long. I know it’s a cliche to say, but this is better.

The appearance of this DVD almost parodies any fan’s relationship with the band. It’s the gift we’ve always wanted. Not only do you get to see the concert in its entirety, you get some soundcheck rehearsals, including a cover of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World.” But this is not simply tortured-artist-stripped-bare. Kurt laughs a few times and cracks a joke about “Rape Me,” which remains his most telling joke. For all the candles and white lilies, this is more fun than funeral.


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