By Ron of “Joey and Ron”
On November 18th, 1993 the Seattle grunge poster band that was Nirvana would record a performance at Sony Studios in New York that would eventually spawn an album that became one of their most highly acclaimed efforts in the bands short but memorable history.
In the seven years that saw the candle of Nirvana being burned so brightly, the trio seared their name into the leathery and vice soaked pages of music history by speaking to a generation that pined to feed from their musically dynamic grunge blood with an almost unquenchable vampiric thirst. The worlds supply was sucked dry in 1994 when frontman Kurt Cobain was tragically led into the halls of “The 27 Club” at the hands of his own soul. He was found dead in his Seattle home from a self inflicted gunshot wound in the April of 1994 and their albums “Bleach”, “Nevermind” and “In Utero” would become the entirety of the albums that were released during their active career.
The November recording of MTV Unplugged in New York by Kurt Cobain, Krist Novaselic, Dave Grohl, guitarist Pat Smear, Cellist Lori Goldston and featuring Cris and Curt Kirkwood of The Meatpuppets would go on to be considered iconic for it’s year and decade. It would later be released as their first posthumous album and became a sombre reminder of the fact that the beauty of true artistic expression doesn’t necessarily precede beauty in the life of the artists.
The Lake of Fire – My Brother’s Mind-Bending Birthday Gift
I had watched Nirvana on January 3rd, 1994 with my brother, who had just turned 16 and previously convinced my parents to buy two tickets to the concert for his birthday. It was my second (first was nose bleeder seats at the Gun’s n Roses Use Your Illusion Tour March 1993 Vancouver) and last concert I would ever attend to date. To give you some sort of mental picture in your mind, think of 2 Asian kids, one 15(me portly and nerve racked) and one 16 years old(my brother, a grunged out 16 year old asian kid, seriously, I seen it.) stuck in the mosh pit of a Nirvana concert after the opening acts of Butthole Surfers and Choke Bore had just screamed through the stage.
When the lights went down and Kurt Cobain started hitting his guitar, the mosh pit exploded and everybody rushed the stage, sending me flying into the middle of an angry, human sea of exploding hair and swinging body parts. I vividly remember being struck with fear and clinging to the back of my brothers shirt as the music roared on in the background, fuelling the intensity that was driving us further and further into the depths of the seemingly uncontrollable pit of pure human enjoyment.
I still have lucid memories of the concert that float in my mind when I hear them play on the radio or somebody’s playlist. Thinking about being scared out of my mind as the mosh pit blew like a nuclear bomb, while my long haired son-of-the-grunge-era brother stood and listened in awe of his music heroes makes me feel like I was still standing in the middle of the pit’s chaos.. It was almost epiphany inducing. Being a 15 year old teenaged Korean/Canadian raised in a household of strict ideals and viscerally scarring punishments, I watched my brother and the rest of his grunge brethren openly wearing their torn emotions as flags hanging from their equally torn jeans. Though I stuck out like a sore Korean thumb in an ocean of cracked middle fingers it was one of the rare times in my life when I truly felt amongst my peers.
I would eventually make it out alive and in the process experience another pivotal moment in my entertainment life. Incidentally this event coincided with my first ever glimpse of live professional stand up comedy (a love of mine) as Bobcat Goldthwaite did a set for the show that just blew my mind and was instrumental in bolstering my growing love of the craft.
In April of the same year our high school was abuzz with news, all the kids had been talking about the grisly details surrounding Cobain’s demise. MTV aired Unplugged In New York quickly afterwards, the performance was featured heavily in the months that followed and became ingrained in the musical culture of all who grew up with memories of the grunge trio’s music.
Not Just Some Puppets
It’s funny looking back at a figure that dominated the culture of my youth. I grew up with Kurt Cobain when he was in his mid 20’s. When you’re a teen, the cool guys that were in their twenties seemed so wise and all knowing. They sang of rebellion, drug fuelled love and emotional depth that I just couldn’t understand at the time. Now that I look back on it and watch the video on youtoube (thank you technology) I see the face of someone that was not far off than where I was 8 years ago, when I was living in my own 27th year. Our outer shells were hardly a reflection but the emotions felt inside were resonant.
I’m 35 now and as the song Lake of Fire started to play, the 35 millimetre video of my mind sprung to life and brought back memories of coming home from school and having it play in the background of my channel surfing style of television watching. Although my brother had been following them for years and learning to emulate their music on his own electrified axe of teen angst, I was a relative new comer to the fold. A lot of my memories of Nirvana come from constantly seeing this performance on tv.
Seeing Kurt Cobain sitting on that stage again, except on the internet this time, feels like a strange experience. As I watched him tenderly clap his hands and grip his fists tightly in front of his chest before wailing out “Lake of Fire”, I noticed an eerie fragility in the grunge icon that 20 years ago seemed like a confidence that was unbreakable when seen through the eyes of a teenage admirer.
There’s an unsettling feeling that comes from living over a decade beyond the years of someone that was part of your cultural upbringing, When I look back, it all seems so different, what was once considered inherent genius and an unwavering cool is now seen as an unabashed expression of someones story and pain.
I’ve been trying to think of a way to finish this off and I can’t seem to come up with something so I think I’ll just take the cheap way out and end it with a quote. I’m feeling lazy today, deal with it.
“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.”