"I would shiver the whole night through..."
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Dave Grohl is a drummer who lost his front-man, and a front-man who lost his drummer.
The tragic death of Taylor Hawkins got me thinking about the tragic death of Kurt Cobain.
And it reminded me of a great story Grohl told about playing one of his first songs to Cobain. He said Cobain liked it so much he jumped out of the tub and “kissed me on the mouth”.
Without that kiss, maybe there’s no Foo Fighters.
Nirvana exploded with no warning. Libraries have since been filled with "what it all means" screeds, but at the time I just thought it was cool to hear loud guitars on the radio again. Initially at least, nobody was trying to put a label on it. I hadn't yet heard the term "grunge", and the whole "fashion" part of it seemed silly because the guys dressed like Creedence Clearwater Revival. Hell, we all dressed like CCR. I didn't think I was breaking down any barriers by throwing a flannel shirt over my t-shirt. It gets cold here.
There's never been a single that hit quite like "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Somehow it sounded ever more ferocious coming out of a tinny car radio. I had no idea what Cobain was saying, but I didn't care. That riff, slightly pinched from Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla", alongside Grohl sounding like an entire construction site all by himself. It was irresistible, and it's hard not to imagine the record company hearing it and NOT thinking they were about to make a jillion dollars. I don't care what was on the radio before. This was our "My Generation". It didn't hurt that MTV was at its zenith, and that they played the video almost on a continuous loop. Or that Weird Al recorded a brilliant parody. "That's when I knew we'd made it", Cobain said of Weird Al’s video.
The band was great to look at too. Grohl looked like a long-haired spider back there, and the bass player looked 7 feet tall, which a penchant for throwing his bass in the air and having it come down on his head. And of course Cobain, whose wife would later remark "had no idea he was better looking that Brad Pitt". Blond hair, blue eyes, and enough teen angst to become the dreaded "spokesman for a generation". Nobody knew who Nirvana was, and in a matter of weeks they were the most popular band in the world. Nobody knew what to make of it, including the band, who were still touring around the country in a broken-down van listening to cassette tapes of The Smithereens and Cheap Trick.
The Smithereens were, of course, a glorious power-pop band out of Jersey who released their latest record the same day "Nevermind" came out, and it sank like a stone because their music was suddenly as toxic as hair metal on the radio. The "Seattle sound" had arrived, which initially was fine because there were so many great Seattle bands. Pearl Jam. Soundgarden. Alice in Chains. Mother Love Bone. The joke was nobody could get a plane ticket to Seattle because they were all being snapped up by A&R people desperate to sign the next Nirvana. If there's a parallel to this it's the punk explosion of the 1970s.
But eventually the place was stripped clean as if by crows, and bands who had no right even being IN a recording studio were getting huge record deals.
And then everybody suddenly noticed that Cobain was probably not the guy who was gonna handle sudden massive success very well. I suspect even if he never picked up a guitar he wasn't gonna live long. Whatever damage had been done to this kid was permanent, and marrying a drama-junkie like Courtney Love wasn't gonna help matters any more than his $400 a day heroin habit (“that was all I could get out of the ATM every day”, Kurt said).
But he did pick up the guitar, and he channeled all that rage and all those scars and wrote really loud pop songs with melodies as good as McCartney and Brian Wilson, and I don't care if you think that's crazy because it's true. There's a reason you're still bouncing up and down and singing along when you hear these songs. And it's why he became a legend and others didn’t. Because he really was that good.
And it's almost like he KNEW you'd call bullshit on such utterances, because he did an unplugged session on MTV and sang in a whisper, and sounded like a 100 year old man channeling the ghost of Leadbelly.....in one of the most intense and terrifying live performances ever. “I would shiver the whole night thru”, he sang and meant. He could have revolutionized folk music if he chose to.
But he decided he really didn't want to do any of it anymore. He cancelled a lucrative tour so he could "do heroin and play guitar in his bedroom", his wife said. Then he wandered into his own guest house, put an REM record on, and blew his own head off. One of the most famous men in the world laid there for 2 days before anybody found him.
We’re left with one of the greatest “what-ifs” in music history.
That’s my take on it anyway.
In a bit..