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.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005) by legendary DJ / MUSICIAN / DIRECTOR and original PUNK ROCK scenester DON LETTS is probably the most comprehensive documentary about the beginnings and evolution of PUNK ROCK, both stateside and in ENGLAND. it includes an exhaustive yet entirely impressive cast of participants, many now deceased, whose insights provide an appreciation for the wide array of interests and backgrounds that led to the formation of the genre. this includes, but not limited to, musicians such as JOHN CALE (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), JELLO BIAFRA (THE DEAD KENNEDYS), MARTIN REV (SUICIDE), CHRISSIE HYNDE (THE PRETENDERS), DAVID JOHANSEN, SYLVAIN SYLVAIN & ARTHUR KANE (THE NEW YORK DOLLS), MICK JONES & PAUL SIMON (THE CLASH), DARYL JENIFER (BAD BRAINS), POLY STYRENE (X-RAY SPEX), HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), WAYNE KRAMER (MC5), PAT SMEAR (THE GERMS), SIOUXSIE SIOUX (SIOUXSIE SIOUX & THE BANSHEES), TOMMY RAMONE (THE RAMONES), CAPTAIN SENSIBLE (THE DAMNED), ARI UP (THE SLITS), STEVE JONES & GLEN MATLOCK (THE SEX PISTOLS), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), K.K. BARRETT (THE SCREAMERS), RAY CAPO (YOUTH OF TODAY), GLENN BRANCA (THEORETICAL GIRLS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), ROGER MIRET (AGNOSTIC FRONT), PETE SHELLEY & HOWARD DEVOTO (THE BUZZCOCKS), DEE POP (THE BUSH TETRAS), ALICE BAG (THE BAGS), RICHARD MANITOBA (THE DICTATORS), JAMES CHANCE (JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS) and film director JIM JARMUSCH, CBGBs owner HILLY KRISTAL and various managers, writers, artists and photographers.
i think one strong suit of this documentary is its ability to elucidate the long line of influence that followed one band to another over time. how bands like THE DOORS influenced THE STOOGES who influenced THE SEX PISTOLS and BLACK FLAG and NIRVANA and so on. in essence you see how bands such as THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, SUICIDE, THE DEAD KENNEDYS, PATTI SMITH, THE DAMNED and THE RAMONES (among many others) are all linked and part of a greater movement towards challenging, complicating, questioning and, in turn, revitalizing the form of ROCK AND ROLL.
examples provided included the concurrent POST PUNK and NO WAVE that came about after the first wave of PUNK ROCK. both took the ethos of originality and freedom and applied such to the music, creating new takes on song structures and experimented with expanded palette of instruments.
the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s was the opposite of such in that songs got condensed and sped up even faster. scenes that began with first wave PUNK adherents more interested in art and originality were taken over by HARDCORE bands that were largely aggressive and violent. part of that anger was political at the REAGAN administration as well as a feeling that their lives were set to be disrupted by economic uncertainty. that scene begat the ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene of the 1990s, or as JELLO BIAFRA puts it "punk inspired rock bands." as the 1990s dragged on you get bands like KORN and LIMP BIZKIT with their dumbed down break down sections and shocking lack of social consciousness.
there was nothing revelatory about this documentary, but it serves as a welcome definitive statement about a genre for anyone new or interested in the place of PUNK ROCK in music history. it really gets at the core idea of the genre in spite of its many permutations: that being the value being an individual. finding your voice, whatever that may be, and speaking your truth vociferously with an almost disregard for the opposition. thats a healthy sentiment for anyone to learn.
my only gripe with this film is that they spends way too much time talking about THE CLASH and JOE STRUMMER, but that is my own personal bias making itself apparent. i still find that band, despite their influence, to be full of themselves. just my opinion.