Down on the Bleach
Sounds, June 9, 1990
PAGE: 3 | back
THE SCALE of Nirvana's tour becomes clear the following morning. They've decided, after an angry night, to continue, but Chris has also felt it necessary to shave all his hair off (bar a small Confederate beard) in penance.
It's a six hour drive to Hampshire college in Amherst, and there's just the three of them, all their gear and a tourbus that looks deceptively like a smaller VW campervan with a flowery sofa wedged into the back. It's 92* in the shade, a hell I of a lot more on the freeway and no way we can use the air conditioner without running down the battery. The only consolations are a, loud tape machine that blares out the new Public Enemy album and an Action Man-sized Freddy Krueger doll which Chris confides has four tabs of top quality American acid shoved down its underpants.
Thankfully we reach Amherst without having to resort to it. Inside the College there's comprehensive chaos. Eight bands on two stages in just under three hours, minimal PAs and a pork-bellied security guard who refused to let anyone in until all the alcohol in the dressing room has been'removed'. Only students would be masochistic enough to arrange it all, only students would. want to.
Eventually, after an hour of negotiation and hurried beer consumption, Nirvana get into their groove, only tonight it's a little special. Chris' head looks red enough to bleed, while Kurdt has taken it on himself to don an audience member's dress. In return he gives them one of the band's hugely desirable tour T-shirts, which depict a naked John Lennon and Yoko with Sub Pop's Jonathan and Bruce's heads grafted on instead.
Tonight Nirvana's sound is far more forward than in New York, allowing all their subtlety to flood to the surface. It's this, along with their unashamed pop sensibility that separates Nirvana from the rest of the Sub Pop stable. Qualities that come as a surprise to those who see the band as little more than a dubious, uni-directional gang of greebos, yet which the band have always sought to achieve.
'We weren't making the music we wanted to a couple of years ago," admits Kurdt, "we were afraid to play pop music because we felt that people wouldn't accept it. Now we don't care if they like it or not, who knows, we may lose our entire audience after the next record. But at least we're happy now."
New songs, like 'In bloom', 'Polly' and 'Sappy', show a pop sensibility that was only vaguely evident on 'Bleach' and the single 'Blew'. Kurdt is quick to agree.
"I think of them as pop songs. They're arranged with the standard pop song format, I think: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, bad solo. There aren't songs as wild and heavy as 'Paper Cuts' or 'Sifting' on the new record. That's just too boring, I'd rather have a good hook."
Songs like 'School' show Nirvana at their best, their wilfully regressive, playground lyrics hiding a seriousness that many would deny existed.
"Displaying ideas in a really simple manner is something I intended," explains Kurdt, "but it has a lot more meaning than just that. It's about having to deal with social cliques."
KURDT IS well suited to the role of upcoming popstar. He combines a disturbing presence, half Charlie Manson's unblinking intensity, half childish innocence, With limitless enthusiasm and an intense sense of purpose.
"We're just babbling idiots, wise dickers, opinionated white trash," he mumbles almost in apology. "I burnt myself out when I was 13. I was really weird then. I decided when I was seven that all my surroundings sucked, there was no sign of anyone who would be into art or music.
"I had always wanted to play guitar, I listened to Beatles records every night religiously. That's all I did as a kid. After I reached my teens I decided I didn't want to hang out with anyone. I couldn't handle the stupidity."
In contrast Chris was kind of dumb as a kid, "I didn't really get along with other kids because I was too trusting and they took advantage of me. Our dad used to kick our ass all the time." Drummer Chad Channing, meanwhile, boasts he's moved house over 100 times, has never settled anywhere and is almost a gypsy.
The next day in Hoboken, New Jersey, a tube ride away from New York's Pyramid Club, Nirvana are astonishing. Here in front of a noticeably less 'hip' audience than in NYC, their sound is almost perfect, while their performance is shockingly inspired. In little more than 45 minutes they remind you that when they're on form they're one of the most visceral, intense and beautiful bands on the face of the planet. When they're on form you can understand why Jonathan is spending such a long time on the phone on their behalf.
Two days later, when Jonathan finally puts down the phone, a soundman flies out to Philadelphia.
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