I just saw the entirety of Nirvana Unplugged for the first time.
I’ve listened to the album hundreds, if not thousands of times, but I had never actually seen the whole of the taped special, even though the special is almost ten years old.
I’d seen the performance of “All Apologies,” since it had been released as a single back when a) I still watched MTV on a regular basis and b) MTV still played videos. But tonight, flipping through channels, I saw the beginning of it come on, and I watched the whole thing, mesmerized.
There are minor differences between the CD and the show. Some banter is added, some removed. “Oh Me” and “Something In The Way” were both dumped for time restraints, which I think were the right songs to omit, if omission was necessary.
The most striking moments come just watching Kurt Cobain, though. His eyes (when he manages to open them) still have a vitality in them, even though at this point his heroin addiction was getting worse and worse, and within a year, he’d be dead.
The strain on his face, especially when singing in “Pennyroyal Tea” about cherry-flavored antacid (Cobain’s heroin addiction was apparently a product of an otherwise futile quest to silence debilitating stomach pain), is just wrenching, making the pain in his voice seem even stronger.
I’ve read dozens of descriptions of the taping of the show, and by all accounts, rehearsals had been disastrous, which makes the final product all the more amazing.
There’s one thing I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to listen to the same way again: The very end of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”. Simply listening to it still gives me goosebumps, even though I’ve listened to it and played it myself thousands of times.
But as he sings the very last line, Cobain’s eyes suddenly shoot wide open, exposing his beautiful, striking, and deeply frightened blue eyes for about a second and a half, before he launches into the last two shivering notes of the song.
I don’t think that image will ever leave my mind.
Watching it and listening to it again, I got so angry at Kurt for killing himself all over again. But alas, time has marched on, and the only time you can see him on MTV is at midnight on a Sunday, singing for kids who were five when he died.
Maybe, just maybe, watching it, these kids will get an idea of the magnitude of the loss that a lot of us felt in 1994. Or maybe they’ll just make fun of the flannel, and go back to listening to Christina Aguilera.
But I sure as hell hope it’s the former.