From the Archives: Jonathan Gold's "13 Ways of Looking at Nirvana" (Kurt Cobain, RIP 17 Years Ago Today)
1. A friend's East Village studio somewhere in July 1989. Nirvana, who had slept on the floor, are pissed, especially the quiet blond one in the sweater, Cobain. The show the night before, with Helmet at the Pyramid, had not gone well, although ironically, half of New York will later claim to have been present. Glass shatters. A paperback, Rilke I think, soars across the room. The cute guitar player, Jason somebody, threatens to quit. Nobody seems to object. The band breaks up. My friend starts to cry. Another hot afternoon in the indie-rock summer.
2. Raji's, in Hollywood, February 1990. Nirvana is all at once the best band I've heard in my life, deep metal riffs repeated as relentlessly as beats on a hip-hop record, washes of guitar white noise, Cobain bellowing punk koans in a rasp that seems to fragment into chords, like Sonny Rollins overblowing a saxophone, like a Tuvan throat singer -- like a skinny kid unaware of anything but the stink of his own noise, unaware that voices can be blown out like overstressed amps. "I'm a negative creep, I'm a negative creep, I'm a negative creep, and I'm stoned." Did we pogo? Yes we did.
3. A Fluid show, at a loft near downtown. I am for some reason in the back of the room with the suits, who seem bewildered that they are not attending Jam Nite at the Whisky instead. The one with whom I am the friendliest eventually discovered the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and 'N Sync, although at the time, everybody was worrying about who was going to get to sign Rhino Bucket. The Fluid are kind of great, but nobody talks about anything but Nirvana, about whom there is a buzz. A deal is about to happen. The number I hear repeated is less than some music executives happen to spend each year on wine.
4. In Sonic Youth's 1990 video for "Dirty Boots," a stage-diving teenage girl wears a Nirvana T-shirt. This is to say, Nirvana is being used as a cool credential by the band that is possibly the coolest in the world at the time. Somehow, this seems significant.