Old Music Tuesday: Nirvana's 'Unplugged'

I was a huge Nirvana fan, and Kurt Cobain's suicide (while not entirely unexpected) knocked the wind out of me. It's the only time I've ever felt grief over the death of a celebrity. Like a lot of fans, I spent the days and weeks immediately afterward repeatedly listening to In Utero and Nevermind, partly searching for clues that might have foreshadowed Cobain's death and partly to hold tight to the connection I'd felt with his songs.

As the years have passed, I've listened to Nirvana less and less. These days I only think of Cobain's death when some ridiculous gossip story about Courtney Love comes out.

I never owned a television in the '90s so I never got to see what many consider to be Nirvana's greatest performance: their acoustic set for MTV's Unplugged series... though I did buy the CD of it when it was posthumously released in 1994. Now, nearly 15 years after it was recorded, Geffen is finally releasing the complete performance on DVD, along with some amazing extras, like 5.1 sound, outtakes and rehearsal footage.

I got a demo of the DVD recently and finally watched it over the Thanksgiving break. I found it absolutely mesmerizing. I gazed wide-eyed at the show for more than an hour. It's a remarkably intimate and deftly orchestrated set of Nirvana's best work stripped bare. Of course, I'd heard most of the songs before. But being able to see Cobain perform and interact with the audience was almost haunting at times. You can sense he was troubled. There's a distance in Cobain's eyes and tension in his jaw. He's not entirely comfortable being there. But his performance was stunning and flawless. At some point it occurred to me Cobain was only 26 at the time. He looks much older.

It's a moving and memorable production... and amusing, too at times, if only to see all the flannel shirts and ratty cardigans in the audience. Thanks to Geffen Records for sharing this clip of "All Apologies."

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The mental pause and line break between

"I was a huge Nirvana fan and Kurt Cobain's suicide"

and

"while not entirely unexpected, knocked the wind out of me."

was a little unsettling.

Sent by KG | 2:45 PM | 11-27-2007

I know how that feels concerning someone and suicide. It felt that way when Elliott Smith was found dead and the morning I was given the news my best friend jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.

Sent by Devin Rodgers | 8:21 PM | 11-27-2007

I was never a big fan of Unplugged, but that episode was definitely one of the finest moments in MTV history.

I was saddened by Cobain's death, but remember thinking how inevitable it seemed, which made it even more tragic.

Personally, though, I think I was more shaken by the death of Michael Hedges in a car wreck and Shannon Hoon's overdose, though I imagine it's because I met both of them. Hedges came by Northwestern on a couple of occasions, and since I edited the campus music mag, I got to chat with him before and after the shows. He was a really sweet, down-to-earth guy.

Shannon, meanwhile, played a show at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom back in the spring of '92, along with Live, PiL and Big Audio Dynamite. I spent most of the Live set hanging out back stage with Blind Melon, swapping concert stories over a sixpack of Heinekens. While the rest of the band was gregarious and relaxed, Shannon was intense and somewhat somber. He soon split off from the rest of us and cornered a groupie, whom he appeared to be lecturing on philosophy. For a guy who couldn't have been much more than 25 at the time, he seemed very, very old in his demeanor. Three and a half years later, he was dead. Such a waste....

Sent by andy carvin, npr | 3:29 PM | 11-28-2007

One of the most overrated bands ever.

Sent by Duane | 3:26 PM | 11-29-2007

Thought you'd enjoy this.

Sent by James Thomas Kobach | 8:43 PM | 11-29-2007

Thanks for your comments. I was also hit hard when Kurt Cobain died. I mean it hit me much stronger than when my own Dad died.

I'd met Kurt once, but it was very brief. Now the fact that the first thing he said to me was "Haven't we met before?" was strangely comforting and unsettling at the same time. The other thing that struck me was his eyes. They just had this incredible way of seeing right through you. I was MTV challenged at the time, so I didn't see the "Unplugged" performance until recently also. I love how they stripped their set to do the acoustic thing. I'm also haunted by the thought of the music he could be producing if he was still around.

He and Jimi Hendrix were both around so short they left behind legacies way too small for all the ideas in their heads, and the talent in their bodies.

Peace out,

Tommy B

Sent by Tom Berard | 2:58 PM | 12-1-2007

Is this the James Thomas Kobach, that maybe knows a Valorie?? I truly really need to know!!

Sent by Valorie Hammond | 11:50 AM | 3-2-2008