Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sweet Home Seattle

Kurt Cobain just smiled. That is what drove me to write this post while watching the recently released Nirvana MTV Unplugged DVD. The man, who is now remembered as being a brooding individual uninterested in fame and ultimately uninterested in living, is cracking jokes with bandmates on MTV of all places. He is chatting in between songs. He is, well, an artist clearly relishing the spotlight (although he wouldn't have admitted it) and projecting a maturity in his music that does not appear to support the tortured soul theory very well. Ultimately what is really so great about the DVD is that all of the MTV editing and commercials have been eliminated and the uninterrupted essence of the concert bleeds through with a tiny glimpse at what it would have been like to attend this show.

Another fun part of the DVD: Dave Grohl looks like a preppy youngster in his navy blue turtleneck and clean shaven face rather than mired in his "posterboy of hipster fatherhood" look of today with his ever-present facial hair and tattered rock duds . Also, when an audience member predictably shouts "Freebird", Kurt says, "I've been waiting for that." Then the band breaks into a full on "Sweet Home Alabama" tease with guitar, bass, and drums and Kurt mumbling a couple lines. Truly amazing.

Its funny. It seems as though the "Nirvana in an acoustic setting" concept just makes so much sense and is so familiar. I, as well as a large portion of folks in their 20's, associate the band as much with acoustic guitars as anything else. But this show was a HUGE departure from their typical sound. The band typically rocked out; acoustic tenderness did not appear in their vocabulary. But the band, so understated in their sound, appears born for this night. It was like the stars were truly aligned. Whatever intern recommended Nirvana for this show should be knighted.

This Unplugged episode became so iconic not just because of how opposite an "unplugged" setting appeared to have been from Nirvana's typical sound, but also by how this show gave MTV actual artistic credibility. Instead of airing videos shot in advance on soundstages just to promote acts, the channel was presenting a true forum for artistic creation and risk taking. Nirvana without a net, if you will. And here we are a decade later and MTV now has no true cultural relevance anymore. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I suppose.

Yes, Nirvana unplugged is a time capsule. It reminds me of high school and signing up for the BMG music club (Anyone else get Nirvana Unplugged for just 1 cent?). But ultimately all of the songs stand on their own. Not because a rock/punk band changed their sound for a tv show. That novelty would have worn out long ago. Its because Kurt Cobain and the band laid their souls and hearts on the line without the benefit of amplifiers and let us into their living room jam session for a night. And luckily its documented to watch over and over.

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