Verse Chourus Verse: The Recording History Of NIRVANA
Goldmine #432, February 14, 1997
PAGE: 17 | back
In the middle of the tour, Nirvana taped a performance for MTV's "Unplugged" series on November 18. at Sony Music Studios in New York. "I think having a cello lin the band] really tied in to 'Unplugged' happening," says Goldston. "Kurt wanted to have an oboe in there too, which I thought was great. That's an instrument you hear even less in pop music than a cello! And basically 'Unplugged' was an assignment-someone tells you, 'Come up with a whole acoustic set.' And it's a nice thing 'cause it gets you thinking about stuff you wouldn't necessarily be thinkin about."
Nirvana arrived in New York earlier that week to play two shows, November 14 at the Coliseum, and November 15 at Roseland. Rehearsals for "Unplugged" were held the same week at an SST rehearsal studio in New Jersey The set was an eclectic mix of songs from every Nirvana album along with six covers. Goldston remembers a few other songs were rehearsed but cut from the final set, including "Molly's Lips." "I was sorry to see that go," she says. "It's a really fun song to play. I think 'Been A Son' was also talked about at some point."
There was a final rehearsal the day of the taping. That evening, Goldston admits to another bout of stage fright. "I was pretty nervous," she says. "I think everybody was nervous. It's always hard to tell how things are turning out when you're playing them; it's really hard to have any kind of perspective. But when I hear it now, I think it sounds really good and it does sound relaxed. But at the time I never would've guessed that. Because I thought everybody was probably too nervous to play very well and itwas a little stiff. I was totally wrong. It sounds a little bit like we're just playing in somebody's living room. Which is I think ideal.
"I hated those cameras though," she adds. "'Cause they were flying around; it's MTV so the camera's moving around all the time and it's right next to you. It's hard if you're playing music. 'Cause if you're playing music and it's going really good, you want to just be out of your body and then this camera's just right next to you pulling you back into it."
A total of 14 songs were performed: "About A Girl," "Come As You Are," "Jesus Doesn't Wants Me For A Sunbeam," "The Man Who Sold The World," "Pennyroyal Tea," "Dumb," "folly," "On A Plain," "Something In The Way," "Plateau," "Oh Me," "Lake Of Fire," "All Apologies," and "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" The Meat Puppets, then touring with Nirvana, sat in on "Plateau," "Oh, Me," and "Lake Of Fire." Both "Oh Me" and "Something In The Way" were cut when the show was broadcast on December 16 (the show was also simulcast on radio).
If the band was nervous, as Goldston says, it didn't show during the taping. The band discussed what numbers to play next as if just deciding the setlist; after playing "Dumb," and prior to playing "Polly," Cobain told the audience, "The reason we didn't want to play these two songs in a row is because they're exactly the same song!" In the break before playing "Where Did You Sleep...," the crowd tossed out various requests, including "Rape Me" ("I don't think MTV would let us play that!" Cobain cracked). Finally, Cobain dismissed everyone's suggestions with a jocular, "Fuck you all, this is the last song of the evening!" Unusually for an "Unplugged," none of the songs were taped again; all were first takes. "I would've expected them to do some again," says Goldston, "but everybody liked it. I was surprised. I was glad it was over, that's all I remember! I still get nervous if I see the show."
Less than a month later, Nirvana was again in front of MTV's cameras again, taping an appearance for the station's "Live And Loud" New Year's Eve broadcast. The taping was held December 13 at Seattle's Pier 48, a terminal for ferries going to Victoria, B.C. The original line-up was to be the Breeders, Cypress Hill, Pearl jam, and Nirvana, but Pearl jam cancelled on the day of the taping, ostensibly because of Eddie Vedder's illness (the remaining members of Pearl lam had rehearsed at the venue the day before).
Nirvana rehearsed the morning of December 13. Goldston remembers the experience as being "so strange. It was in this huge building and it was freezing cold. And we were hanging out in these little ratty trailers inside the building. The sound was actually kind of rough. It was a little bit difficult for us technically. Everybody's stuff was set up on this tiny stage and it was all kind of crammed in. But it was enough fun that nobody cared that much."
The band turned in a powerful set, and, because of Pearl Jam's cancellation, was able to play longer than originally scheduled. Starting at 7 pm, the band's set included "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," "Drain You," "Breed," "Serve The Servants," "Rape Me" (finally, MTV did let them play the song), "Sliver," "Pennyroyal Tea," "Scentless Apprentice," "All Apologies," "Heart-Shaped Box," "Blew," "The Man Who Sold The World," "School," "Come As You Are," "Lithium," "About A Girl," and a final jam, during which the band destroyed their instruments, and Cobain beckoned the moshers to join him onstage. But the.MTV broadcast cut the set down to 10 songs, concentrating on tracks from Nevermind and In Utero: "Radio Friendly...," "Drain You," "Breed," Serve The Servants," "Rape Me," "Heart-Shaped Box," "Pennyroyal Tea, "Scentless Apprentice," "Lithium," and the final jam.
Alice Wheeler made it backstage with Lori Goldston. "I was just hanging out, and then I saw Kurt," she says. "I was like, 'Hey, Kurt, what's going on?' He's like, 'Who is that?' 'Me, Alice.' 'Oh! What are you doing? Do you have your camera? Take my picture!' Every time I saw him, he always demanded I take his picture." Wheeler took a number of pictures of Cobain wearing sunglasses and colored tinfoil leis.
December also saw the release of a second single in the U.K., "All Apoiogies." The 7-inch and cassette were b/w "Rape Me," the 12-inch and CD adding "mv" (as "Moist Vagina" had been renamed). 1993 also saw the release of a Sonic Youth promo CD that featured Cobain's artwork. Whore's Moaning (an obvious play on Nirvana's own Hormoaning promo) is a five track CD released to coincide with Sonic Youth's tour of Australia that year. The black cover features a copy of one of Cobain's dolls on the front, and a drawing by Cobain on the back. In light of subsequent events, the back cover took on disturbing overtones—the drawing showed a woman pointing a gun in her mouth.
Nirvana played their final U.S. dates January 7-8, '94, in Seattle. The venue was on the grounds of the Seattle Center, site of the 1962 World's Fair, and where Nirvana had last played at the Coliseum in 1992. The Arena is now called the "Mercer Arena" to distinguish it from the rebuilt Coliseum, now called the "Key Arena." Goldston remembers that the group was tired and ill by this point; "Everybody had just been sick-everybody'd gotten some horrible flu," she says. Goldston did not tour with the band when the tour continued in Europe in February '94; Melora Craeger was hired to play cello. Goldston returned to the Black Cat Orchestra, and the group issued their first CD last fall.
Immediately prior to their European tour, Nirvana entered the studio for what would be the last time. The band had heard good things about Robert Lang Studios in North Seattle, and scheduled three days of recording January 28-30. "The first two days Krist and Dave did tracking on a couple songs," says Lang (Smear was not at the sessions). "And then they did some other tunes. One song was totally completed with Kurt's vocals on it; Kurt came in Sunday in the afternoon and did some vocals. Then they did some guitar tracks and then we went and had dinner. They were so happy; the way the tracks sounded, how quick it went down; the whole vibe was really good. They actually had some time scheduled in here when they were going to get back from their European tour. And of course that never came to be."
Nirvana's final leg of touring began with two television appearances; February 4 on "Nulle Part A," taped in Paris, where the band performed "Rape Me," "Pennyroyal Tea," and "Drain You," and February 23 on "The Tunnel," taped in Rome, where the band performed "Serve The Servants," and "Dumb."
On March 29, In Utero was reissued in the U.S. with a new back cover. The change had been made due to the Wal-Mart and KMart chains' refusal to carry the album, ostensibly because of lack of customer demand, but really because the chains objected to the back cover artwork, which featured a Cobain-designed collage of flowers, bones and fetuses. A "non-offensive" section of the collage was blown-up to fill the entire back cover, and the song "Rape Me" was changed to "Waif Me." A remixed version of "Pennyroyal Tea," originally planned as a single release in the U.K., was also reportedly used on this reissue.
Questions were raised in the press about Nirvana's caving in to pressure to "censor" their album cover, but the band was dealing with a far more serious issue at the time. In contrast to some of the memorable dates on the fall tour, the European tour had not gone well, with Cobain getting progressively sicker throughout the month. After a final show March 1 in Munich, the tour was cancelled. Novoselic returned to Seattle; Grohl remained in Germany to work on a video for the upcoming Backbeat film (he played on the film's soundtrack); and-Cobain flew to Rome, where he checked into suite 541 at the Hotel Excelsior. Love joined Cobain on March 3.
In the early hours of March 4, Love awoke and discovered Cobain on the floor. He was rushed to the hospital in a coma. Though Gold Mountain claimed the incident was the result of an accidental overdose of rohypnol (a tranquilizer) and champagne ("He wanted to celebrate after not seeing Courtney for so long"), it later emerged that Cobain had actually taken as many as 50 the pills in an attempt to kill himself; he also left a suicide note. Few outside the band's inner circle-including some of the band's friends-were aware of the true nature of the event.
Cobain recovered, and within the week was sent home. By now, it was clear to those close to him was that Cobain was desperately unhappy with his situation. As Nirvana's success had accelerated, so had Cobain's drug use. Unfortunately, drugs then gave Cobain another problem-addiction- while exacerbating the situation he was trying to escape from-the pressures the band's success had generated.
As far as the general public knew, Cobain spent the month of March recovering from his "accidental overdose." In reality, his life was spinning out of control. On March 18, Love called police to the couple's new home in Seattle's exclusive Madrona neighborhood (R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Stephanie Dorgan, owner of the Crocodile Cafe, live in a house a block away). According to Love, Cobain had locked himself in a room and threatened to kill himself. When the police arrived, Cobain insisted he did not want to kill himself, and had simply been trying to get away from Love. Because of the "volatile situation with the threat of suicide" (in the words of the police report), the police confiscated four guns, 25 boxes of ammunication, and a bottle of assorted pills, but no charges were filed.
In an attempt to get Cobain to deal with drug habit (which he'd resumed on returning from Rome), Love then called an intervention, which took place on March 25. Cobain initially agreed to go to a rehab clinic in California with Love, but later refused to board the plane. Hoping that he would follow her, Love went on without him. Shortly after, Cobain again agreed to go to a clinic. Strangely it was arranged for him to check into Exodus, a clinic he'd been at two years previously and walked out of, saying of the place, "It was disgusting."
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