photo & text by nacrowe
i was 10 when KURT COBAIN passed away and my initial introduction to the MTV UNPLUGGED IN NEW YORK (GEFFEN, 1994) record was at a friend's house when my family were living in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. we didnt have MTV back then and in fact didnt see the actual show until it came out on DVD in 2007. which i have to say was a pretty surreal experience given that by that point i had long since committed every nuance of the recording to memory.
obviously this record is celebrated for its focus on COBAIN the songwriter in a stripped-back intimate setting. in my openly biased opinion several of these performances are iconic, especially "THE WHO SOLD THE WORLD," "ABOUT A GIRL," "ALL APOLOGIES" and especially "WHERE DID YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT." its ironic that people use this specific live recording to espouse at length about COBAIN's strength as a songwriter as six of its fourteen tracks are covers by the likes of LEADBELLY, THE VASELINES, DAVID BOWIE and THE MEAT PUPPETS. the original songs they did opt to play were largely deep cuts with the exception of NEVERMIND (GEFFEN, 1991) single "COME AS YOU ARE," which in and of itself is quite a confident statement.
what strikes me about these performances is not COBAIN the songwriter, but COBAIN the performer. in this bare-bones environment what really shines is his voice and his preternatural ability to connect emotionally with an audience. at times his performances are so authentic and so real that they are almost uncomfortable to listen to, as if you are hearing close family arguing. he comes off so vulnerable yet in firmly in command that you really sense being in the presence of a genius. you dont sense any affectation or posturing on his part, as you do other lesser performances by peers in this series (STONE TEMPLE PILOTS, PEARL JAM, etc), with the noteworthy exception being the ALICE IN CHAINS performance in 1996.
obviously the death of COBAIN in 1994 permanently effected the public's memory of this legendary performance. when i hear it i am transported back to my teenage years and it perfectly distills a lot of what i felt back then during that period in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. that included feeling insecure and a total outsider in a close-minded, often racist ORANGE COUNTY community that i felt little in common with. its funny to me now that i feel that i have more in common with those i met a few years later in 1996 when living in NIGERIA than i ever did back "home."
i wonder if COBAIN felt that way ever. if he ever found solace within a new home or community. to my ears this record sounds like a person profoundly in touch and cognizant of his own vulnerability. aware of his own search.
legendary performance by an iconic performer. well-worth revisiting and further investigation.