meta-script"At Night, The Disco Goddess": Why Nirvana Songs Make For Killer House Music | GRAMMY.com
"At Night, The Disco Goddess": Why Nirvana Songs Make For Killer House Music

L-R: Cain McKnight & Jonathan Hay (background)

Photo courtesy of R.U.S.H. Music

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"At Night, The Disco Goddess": Why Nirvana Songs Make For Killer House Music

By now, almost everything Kurt Cobain sang or uttered has been dissected and monetized. But his values and raw compositional abilities are still worth exploring, as 'Come As You Are: Nirvana Reimagined As House & Techno' attests

GRAMMYs/Jul 2, 2021 - 12:33 am

Now that Kurt Cobain has been dead roughly as long as he was alive, what's left to absorb about him? Every utterance has been picked to the bone; his thrift-shop MTV Unplugged sweater commands real-estate prices; his doomed visage is now an NFT. But talk of drugs, guns and dying young obfuscates the most interesting things about Nirvana: Their melodic gifts, moral compass and chemistry as a band. And that's where producers Jonathan Hay and Cain McKnight come in.

"When you dive into it, you can tell the band was so tight. You can feel the core values that he had," Hay tells GRAMMY.com. "The more you dig deeper into Nirvana, you see their messages and beliefs and everything else. I think this will be cool to bring people into that awareness. There's more here than people know about."

To this end, Hay and McKnight spearheaded Come As You Are: Nirvana Reimagined As House &Techno, a compilation transmuting Nirvana songs from "Sliver" to "All Apologies" to "You Know You're Right"  into electronic music. The 27-track collection—one track for each year of his life—arrives via R.U.S.H. Music on July 30.

If the genre pairing seems random at first, it's not. First, Kurt Cobain's Beatles-level gifts as a singer, songwriter and melodist mean the songs maintain their integrity in any idiom. Second, Cobain was a fierce supporter of queer culture, which is part and parcel of dance music.

Listen Up: 5 Trans & Nonbinary Artists Reshaping Electronic Music: RUI HO, Kìzis, Octo Octa, Tygapaw & Ariel Zetina

Outside of the early Nirvana track "Hairspray Queen," which contains references to a "disco goddess," Cobain mentioned dance and electronic music very little. That said, he said plenty about homophobia and elevating what we now call LGBTQ+ voices.

He spraypainted the provocative phrase "God is gay;" he wore dresses in public; he journaled that while he wasn't gay, he wished he was, just to "piss off homophobes." "If you're a sexist, racist, homophobe, or basically an asshole, don't buy the CD," Cobain wrote in the liner notes to 1993's In Utero. "I don't care if you like me, I hate you." 

"He was a supporter of LGBTQ+ when it wasn't politically correct to be so," Hay explains. "He's about love and positivity, which is what house music is all about. So, it just made sense for us."

The road to Nirvana Reimagined was paved by Hay's, producer Mike Smith's, and saxophonist Benny Reid's jazz-inspired remix of Eric B. and Rakim's "Follow the Leader" back in 2019. As with the Nirvana project, the point was never to shoehorn a prestige artist into a random genre, but to get at the less-understood essence of their spirit. "Jazz was the flow of my youth," Rakim told Billboard that year, and Eric B. concurred: "I'm from Queens, so I'm automatically a Louis Armstrong guy."

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In order to successfully repurpose well-worn Nirvana songs for the dancefloor, the pair went with Cobain's MO as a songwriter: Melody is king. "Kurt's focus was the melody," Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl once told VH1. "He used to say that the music comes first and the lyrics come second."

To this end, Hay initially wanted Nirvana Reimagined to be instrumental—until Cain reminded him how important Cobain's vocal melodies were. By not messing with Cobain's majestic harmonic concepts—which he arrived at by his ears alone—they propel these house tracks authentically and believably.

Come As You Are features a gaggle of musician's musicians, like Fishbone bassist John Norwood Fisher, GRAMMY-winning trumpeter/producer Maurice "Mobetta" Brown, Pink Floyd saxophonist Scott Page, J Patt of The Knocks and the drummer/producer Andy Kravitz.

In line with the LGBTQ+ slant, the producers are putting their money where their mouth is, donating a share of the proceeds to GLAAD and the Recording Academy's non-profit for musicians in crisis, MusiCares. Overall, the pair hopes to financially support this cluster of marginalized communities while bringing house music listeners into Nirvana's fanbase—and vice versa.

And while a fair amount of tomb-raiding has occurred on Cobain's behalf—Nirvana Reimagined is one of a few tributes that align with his principles. Back in 2014, the surviving members of the band played at St. Vitus in Brooklyn with a succession of female lead singers, from Joan Jett to St. Vincent—which Cobain, an ardent feminist, arguably would have loved.

Now, we have this unconventional, electronic tribute, presenting Cobain in a context that few would think of, but which makes perfect sense in retrospect. The disco goddess is dead. Long live the disco goddess.

Nirvana's Era-Defining 'Nevermind': For The Record

Behind The Scenes With Nirvana Photog Charles Peterson: 6 Images From His New Book
Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain in Seattle on September 16, 1991.

Photo: Charles Peterson

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Behind The Scenes With Nirvana Photog Charles Peterson: 6 Images From His New Book

In 'Charles Peterson’s Nirvana,' the Sub Pop photographer chronicles the career of Kurt Cobain and his Seattle band — from their indie days to stardom. Speaking to GRAMMY.com, Peterson shares behind-the-scenes stories about some of his favorite shots.

GRAMMYs/Feb 20, 2024 - 04:07 pm

When photographer Charles Peterson first saw Nirvana at a small Seattle club in 1988, he was so underwhelmed he didn’t bother taking a single picture of them.

The band shared a bill with local act Blood Circus, who, Peterson says, "put on quite a grungy show; lots of hair going everywhere and guitars flying." When Nirvana came on, "they had the lighting guy dim the light really low and Kurt [Cobain] just stood there and stared at his feet. The music came off as kind of heavy, really difficult to play. I just didn’t get it." At one point Peterson even turned to Sub Pop Records co-founder Jonathan Poneman and asked him, "Jon, are you sure about these guys?"

 Sub Pop was sure about Nirvana, and would later sign them. And as the label’s in-house photographer, Peterson (who was in his mid-20s at the time) documented the band’s career for the next five years — from their indie days to international stardom. In his latest book, Charles Peterson’s Nirvana, from Minor Matters Books, Peterson has winnowed down his impressive catalog of an estimated 3,000 shots to a well-curated 90. 

Released on Feb. 20, Cobain’s birthday, Charles Peterson’s Nirvana features shots from his first session with the band, lounging in the wilds of Bainbridge Island, Washington ("They did have that kind of hippie aspect to them") to his last, a promotional shoot for In Utero ("They all, Kurt especially, just seemed a little tired"). While the book tells the band's story, it's less of a history and more reflective of Peterson's own experience. 

As Peterson recalls, Minor Matters Founder Michelle Dunn Marsh defined the book’s direction, believing Peterson's "artistic sensibility and how it moves the viewer and portrays the power of the music" set his work apart from the thousands of other images taken of Nirvana. 

Peterson spoke with GRAMMY.com about the stories behind five images in the book. "And like I say in the introduction, go put on a Nirvana record before you look at this book, and you really get that idea of immersion in the music," the photographer advises.

All images © Charles Peterson/Minor Matters Books

Kurt Cobain, University of Washington, Seattle, Jan. 6, 1990

Kurt Cobain, University of Washington, Seattle, Jan. 6, 1990

Peterson Got Up Close & On Stage With Nirvana

Peterson had ready access to the band in their pre-Nevermind years. "It was great, in these early days, to be able to just crawl around on the stage, go do whatever I wanted to," he says. "It does bring an intimacy that you lose later on when you’re stuck in a position like the pit or off behind a PA or something."

In his early days of photographing Nirvana, Peterson had free range of movement and often stood behind the band or close at their side. The musicians had also become a lot more active on stage compared to when Peterson first saw them. 

Krist Novoselic, University of Washington, Seattle, Jan. 6, 1990

Krist Novoselic, University of Washington, Seattle, Jan. 6, 1990

"I don't know what it was, if it was having Chad [Channing] as their drummer or the addition of Jason Everman for a while [on guitar]; maybe that allowed Kurt to worry a little bit less about hitting the chords perfectly so that he could jump around and go face down on the stage and roll around and do all that," Peterson says. "Even so, he’s not holding the audience’s attention. They’re not looking at Kurt; they’re all looking at something over there, which must be somebody stage diving or something.

"It’s all those little details that you pick up on that are great; there’s a piece of crumpled paper in front, and another photographer up in the back," Peterson notes. "And again, in the Krist shot, he's looking at me yet everyone else is looking away. There’s all this other stuff going on that you don’t even have to pay attention to the band. There’s feet in the air here. A lot of Converse in the photos!"

Nirvana Crowd shot, Motor Sports International Garage, Seattle, Sept. 22, 1990

Crowd shot, Motor Sports International Garage, Seattle, Sept. 22, 1990

Nirvana's Audience Was Just As Important — And Interesting

Peterson always focused his lens on the audience as much as the bands. "I love this one because you’ve got a Nirvana shirt there. One person is looking at me; nobody else is. Bare chests. A lot of sweaty, sweaty hair," he says of the above photo, taken at a makeshift venue that was actually a parking garage.

"Seattle crowds, we’re some of the best. And it just didn’t seem right to isolate the power of the bands from the effect that they were having on the audiences," Peterson reflects. "I found that the photos had just that much more power if you could anchor the band in their time and space with the audience, and see what that reaction is between the two, versus it just being the beauty shot of the singer." 

Peterson says there was both a symbiotic and cathartic relationship between Nirvana and their fans. "People would be like, ‘Oh my God, look at those audiences in Seattle!’" The photos distill the essence of that relationship. "The bands are great, the personalities in the bands are great…that idea that it’s a complete scene, that the participation of the audience is just as important as the participation of the bands."

Peterson recalls standing next to the PA at stage right during this show.

"What I would do is, with one hand, lean out holding the camera upside down over the audience. And then I would have my flash in the other hand, so that the light gave a nice kind of mottling to it. Not looking through the viewfinder, just photographing. I do a lot of that," he says. "The camera takes the picture whether you’re looking through the viewfinder or not." 

Kurt Cobain, Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, BC, Canada, March 8, 1991

Kurt Cobain, Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, BC, Canada, March 8, 1991

Peterson Sensed This "Smells Like Teen Spirit" Shot Was Something Special  

Peterson knew immediately that something special had occurred when he took this picture. "I remember pushing the shutter on this shot and going, What just happened? But then the show moves on." 

A few days later, Peterson was in his darkroom developing the film and finally saw the impact of the moment he captured. He printed the image and a proof sheet, and gave them to Nirvana’s Seattle publicist Susie Tennant, who shared them with Cobain. The picture is on the back of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" single. 

The photo became one of Peterson’s most widely reproduced images. "I think what makes a photo iconic is that the photo reads easily and at the same time is larger than life and dramatic," he says. "And despite the fact that it reads easily to the eye, there’s a lot of other stuff, hidden stuff going on that you need to think about. 

"It’s also a photo that you can sort of transport to any time and place. It doesn’t necessarily have to be locked in with this particular show or anything. It really goes beyond that and then that ends up standing the test of time."

Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain, Beehive Music & Video, Seattle, September 16, 1991

Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain, Beehive Music & Video, Seattle, September 16, 1991

By '91 Nirvana Inspired Mosh Pits Everywhere, Even In Stores

Peterson calls this in-store appearance, a week before Nevermind was released, as "a watershed moment." 

"This was the last time I saw them play on a floor, which to me makes for great photos because you’re right there at the same level as them. It really is in your face," he says. "What was totally surprising was the subsequent mosh pit in the store, with people being hoisted on shoulders." 

There were also signs of how things were about to change for the band, Peterson recalls. "Kurt was besieged by autograph seekers outside the store. It was the first time I think that really happened to him. He was definitely overwhelmed by it."

Peterson had some challenges in the darkroom when developing this film, which led to a "weird graininess" that differs from many of his other images. "At the time I was like, ‘Oh God!’ But I think it has a unique look that you just don't get with digital now, unless you really manipulate it."

Kurt Cobain, Reading Festival, Reading, UK, August 30, 1992

Kurt Cobain, Reading Festival, Reading, UK, August 30, 1992

Kurt Cobain Cared About His Peers

By the time of this show, Nirvana were a bonafide international sensation. The band were plagued by stories of drug use and rumors about an impending break-up, while Courtney Love had just given birth to her and Cobain's daughter. All of which attracted huge media interest in this performance. 

"I was a little shocked when I went into the press tent; I had never been to a festival like this before and there were 96 photographers listed on the dry board!" Peterson reflects. "Photographers that were shooting from the pit in the front of the stage, they would bring them out and give them five minutes each."

That was not going to work for Peterson. 

"And all of a sudden, Nick Cave finished and there was this huge rush to the stage. And [Nirvana’s UK publicist] Anton Brookes grabs me by the wrist and he’s like, ‘Dude, come with me!’ And we all start running up onto the stage, up the ramp. I was taking a few snaps and then everybody settled into their place. There was Eric Erlandson [from Hole] next to me, and to the right was Mark Arm [from Mudhoney] and some members of L7," Peterson says. "I didn’t have an official stage pass or anything like that, but as long as I was with those guys, it was all cool. That was my spot, so I didn’t dare move from it.

"This photo was a really, really special moment. Kurt, in between songs, he just looked over at us, and mouthed something like, ‘How are you guys doing?’ And we’re like, ‘We’re fine.’ And then we started waving like back at him, like, ‘Go play, dude! Don’t worry about us,’" Peterson remembers. 

"It was like he wanted to check in with his peeps on the side of the stage. It’s one of my favorite photos."

A potential volume two of Nirvana photos is being considered, as is a retrospective of Peterson’s work, which includes photos of Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, TAD, Mother Love Bone, Beat Happening, and a multitude of others. But Nirvana invariably tops the list. 

"You can talk and write reams about the dramas and the ins and outs. But it’s the power of the music that keeps people coming back," he says of the band. "And the fact that it’s not rooted in a time and place; you can make the music be whatever you want it to be. I mean, half the time you don’t know what Kurt’s singing about or even what the words are, but you can shout your own words along to it if you want. It’s the music that really is that lasting, lasting legacy."

11 Reasons Why 1993 Was Nirvana's Big Year

GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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11 Reasons Why 1993 Was Nirvana's Big Year
Nirvana performs on "MTV Live and Loud" in December 1993

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

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11 Reasons Why 1993 Was Nirvana's Big Year

While 1991 was the year Nirvana broke, the Seattle grunge pioneers continued their impressive streak. With the release of 'In Utero,' multiple massive shows and now-legendary appearances on MTV programs, 1993 ended up being Nirvana’s most productive year.

GRAMMYs/Sep 21, 2023 - 12:33 pm

By most measures, 1992 was a massive year for  Nirvana. The Seattle grunge pioneers achieved international fame when their major label debut, Nevermind, topped the charts and was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album at the 34th GRAMMY Awards. 

But the band (and lead singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain in particular) quickly became overwhelmed by their unexpected success. Nirvana retreated for most of the year, only playing about a month’s worth of shows and delaying work on a follow up album. 

So there was much ground to make up in 1993.

But Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl rose to the challenge. There were a few bumps along the way — such as a kerfuffle when it was reported that Nirvana bowed to record company pressure to remix tracks on their new album, thus making them "sellouts" (the band insisted they alone decided what changes needed to be made) — but '93 ended up being one of Nirvana’s most productive years.

Thirty years ago, Nirvana released an acclaimed third album (In Utero), an indie single ("Oh, The Guilt"), and created one of their most haunting videos ("Heart-Shaped Box"). And throughout their first U.S. tour since 1991, the band proved again and again what a powerful live act they were — whether playing a former movie house or a mega stadium — showing that a noisy band could still pack a punch by going acoustic. 

In honor of the 30th anniversary of In Utero (and a forthcoming reissue), GRAMMY.com revisits 11 of Nirvana’s most memorable moments from 1993.

Nirvana Affirm Their Indie Cred With "Oh, The Guilt"

Nirvana recorded three songs during their sole studio session in 1992. "Curmudgeon" ended up as the B-side of "Lithium," "Return of the Rat" appeared on a Greg Sage compilation, and "Oh, The Guilt" finally turned up as part of a split single with Jesus Lizard on Touch and Go Records. 

Back in 1988, Cobain had sent several copies of Nirvana’s first demo to the Chicago-based Touch and Go. Following the major label success of Nevermind, Nirvana clearly wanted to make the effort to keep in touch with their indie roots. 

"Nirvana became like the Beatles of the ’90s, but they still wanted to do it," Jesus Lizard’s David Yow told Seattle music magazine The Rocket. "And we had to figure out, well, do we want to do this and look like we’re riding on Nirvana’s coattails, or we could just do it and not worry about it, which is what we ended up doing." 

Released on Feb. 22, the grinding "Oh, The Guilt" set the stage for the rawer sound of Nirvana’s next album.

The Band Played "One Of The Best Shows Of Their Lives" At The Cow Palace

Nirvana had played only five major U.S. concerts in 1992, so there was much anticipation for this concert in Daly City, just south of San Francisco. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic organized the show, a benefit for the Tresnjevka Womens’ Group, a Zagreb-based organization aiding Bosnian War rape survivors and refugees. 

"The Cow Palace show was high-stakes," says Michael Azerrad, author of Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana (due to be reissued next month in an expanded edition), who was at the show. "Some of the people who worked with Nirvana were a little dubious about the material the band had recently recorded for  In Utero.  Kurt, Krist and Dave knew they had something to prove. But they hadn’t played live in a couple of months — and now they had to get up in front of an audience and play one of the best shows of their lives. And they did just that." 

At the April 9 show, the band came roaring out of the gate with "Rape Me," and went on to deliver a fiery 23-song set, debuting a number of songs from In Utero, and encoring with a noise jam that ended with the obligatory instrument destruction. In Azerrad’s view, "The Cow Palace show was truly a triumph."

Fans Got A Taste Of Pre-Fame Nirvana In 1991: The Year Punk Broke

When David Markey packed up his Super-8 camera to follow various indie bands on a European tour in 1991, he had no idea he’d be capturing Nirvana on the verge of becoming the biggest band in the world. In Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana Cobain recalled this as the period when "there’s so much excitement in the air you can just taste it," and it’s riveting to see the band without the baggage of worldwide fame dragging them down. 

Markey's documentary, 1991: The Year Punk Broke, was released on home video in April 1993. "Smells Like Teen Spirit," not yet released as a single, sounds fresh and invigorating; older numbers like "School" and "Negative Creep" are sizzling. 

"That tour was easily the most fun I've ever had on any tour, anywhere, anytime," says Markey. "And that feeling was shared by everyone who was on it, I promise. Forget the fact that Nirvana and Sonic Youth were on fire at every stop along the way. Same with the other bands: Dinosaur Jr. Babes In Toyland. Gumball. And of course the Ramones. 

"I remember nothing but smiles and laughter," he continues. "The fact that I was tasked with documenting it with nine hours of Super-8 film cartridges shoved into a giant suitcase seemed like an afterthought. It wasn’t just a job. It was everything."

The "Sliver" Video Offers A Glimpse Into Cobain's World

In December 1992, DGC, the same label that put out Nevermind,  released Incesticide, a collection of Nirvana’s non-album tracks. The video for "Sliver"  was belatedly released to promote it in May 1993, but what’s more interesting is the glimpse it gives into Cobain’s private world.

Originally released as a single on Sub Pop Records, the song is a childhood reminiscence that showed Nirvana charting a new course into more pop-driven territory. The band members look like giddy teenagers practicing in their parent’s garage, and the location is, indeed, Cobain’s own garage. It’s a room filled with ephemera: a wind-up toy of a monkey playing the cymbals, a can of Prairie Belt sausages, a copy of Better Homes and Gardens with the words "Indie punx still sucks" scrawled on the mailing label. It’s no surprise to see a poster of Mudhoney on the wall — but Mikhail Gorbachev as well? As a bonus, Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean Cobain pops up repeatedly throughout the proceedings.

Nirvana Go Bigger, And Acoustic, At The Roseland Ballroom

Nirvana was a last-minute addition to the roster of acts performing during the New Music Seminar, a summer convention for music industry professionals in New York City. The July 23 performance served as a dry run for Nirvana’s Unplugged performance later in the year. 

The band also experimented with filling out their sound by adding a second guitarist (John Duncan as a temporary fill in). They performed most of the songs from In Utero, sounding a good deal tougher live than on record. Then, to the audience’s surprise, the band sat down and brought on cellist Lori Goldston for a short acoustic set. The set is initially hampered by a poor sound mix (Novoselic can be heard calling out "More cello!") and disinterest on the part of some loudly talking audience members. 

Listening now, it’s an impressive moment, as the band works to make their performance more than simply a standard run through of the hits. As Everett True wrote in his review of the show for Melody Maker, "Cobain is, in his way, a master manipulator, a brilliant strategist who understands that noise alone is not drama and that good hooks always draw blood."

Nirvana Raised Money For The Mia Zapata Investigative Fund

Theater in Seattle raised money to help solve the murder of Gits’ singer Mia Zapata, who had been killed the previous month, with TAD headlining. Nirvana was added to the bill to boost sales.

While the crowds turned up, according to guitar tech Earnie Bailey, they nearly missed out. The show was running overtime, meaning a full changeover of gear between TAD’s and Nirvana’s sets would mean Nirvana could only play one or two songs. Instead, the TAD crew allowed Nirvana to use their gear, and Nirvana went on to have great fun with their set, throwing in covers of Led Zeppelin’s "No Quarter," and, more unexpectedly Terry Jacks’ weeper "Seasons in the Sun." 

The show has never been released in any form, so there was great excitement when a 20-minute excerpt appeared on YouTube this past August. It was Nirvana’s last show as a trio.

Cobain & Co. Release Their Third Album, In Utero 

Nirvana’s long-awaited third album was first released in the U.S. on vinyl on Sept. 14; the CD version, the dominant audio format at the time, followed on Sept. 21, and debuted on Billboard’s Top Albums chart at No. 1. 

In Utero  stands as Cobain’s most personal work, his response to the turbulent events of 1992: the sudden rush of fame, substance abuse, parenthood, and the demonization of his wife. In contrast to the commercial sheen of Nevermind, In Utero  has a harsh, confrontational sound; songs like "Scentless Apprentice," and "tourette’s" are frightening in their intensity. And even if you don’t take lines like "What is wrong with me?" ("Radio Friendly Unit Shifter") and "Look on the bright side is suicide" ("Milk It") as foreshadowing, they’re nonetheless indicative of the pervasive sense of unease that permeates the record. 

From the opening salvo of "Serve the Servants" that caustically rejects fame ("Teenage angst has paid off well/Now I’m bored and old") to the plea for transcendence in the closing "All Apologies," In Utero is an album of emotional pain that rivals John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. A 30th anniversary release of In Utero is set for October 2023.

"Heart-Shaped Box" Single And Video Are Released

Released in September, "Heart-Shaped Box" shares the same sonic dynamics as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (quiet verse, loud chorus), but is tempered by an underlying melancholy, along with striking imagery ("meat-eating orchids," "umbilical noose"). The song’s video was equally compelling — and spooky. The main set is a creepy forest where fetuses dangle from the trees and an elderly man in a Santa Claus hat climbs on a cross to be crucified. 

In the director’s cut of the video, the last verse shows Cobain lying asleep in a field as mist slowly rises around him, an image that became even more haunting to look at after his death (in the initial cut, Cobain is shown singing the final verse). The hospital sequences echo the album’s themes of illness and decay. Cobain later told MTV, "That video has come closer to what I’ve seen in my mind, what I’ve envisioned, than any other video."

Nirvana Appear On "Saturday Night Live" 

This was the first opportunity for most fans to see how In Utero’s songs translated to live performance. First up is "Heart-Shaped Box," more powerful than on record, Cobain’s vocals transitioning easily between the subdued verses and the raging chorus. 

"Rape Me" debuted on the 1991 tour; Cobain subsequently added a bridge attacking media hypocrisy, and this performance burns with righteous fury. The show also marked the debut of Pat Smear, formerly guitarist with L.A. punk act the Germs, to the lineup, sharing guitar duties with Cobain. He’s certainly the most animated band member, bouncing around the stage with high-spirited energy. And don’t overlook how forcefully Grohl attacks his drum kit.

Nirvana Do A Masterful Performance On MTV’s "Unplugged" 

The idea of an incendiary band like Nirvana doing an "unplugged," sans their raging volume, seemed an oxymoron. Even the group seemed uncertain how to handle the task. The show’s producer, Alex Coletti, later recalled how MTV execs were unhappy that the band didn’t want to perform their signature hits, and that their choice of musical guest was not a similar headliner like Eddie Vedder, but a lesser-known indie act, the Meat Puppets. Before the taping on Nov. 18, the band hadn’t even done a complete run through of the set. 

It was a situation ripe for disaster. Instead, Nirvana pulled off what’s considered one of their most masterful performances. The band chose their more acoustically-driven numbers ("About a Girl") and songs that worked in a stripped down format ("Come As You Are"), though they weren’t entirely unplugged; Cobain’s guitar was put through a Fender Twin Reverb amp and effects boxes. 

The covers proved to be the most interesting choices — David Bowie’s "The Man Who Sold the World" was mesmerizing — and the Meat Puppets’ numbers underscored Nirvana’s own idiosyncratic indie roots. "I thought the Meat Puppets’ inclusion was especially magical," says Lori Goldston, cellist during Nirvana’s fall tour. "Curt [Kirkwood, Meat Puppets’ guitarist] was used to being the lead, not an accompanist, and afterwards he mentioned that it felt luxurious to play guitar without having to worry about doubling as a vocalist," a hint at how collaborations with other artists might have gone. 

The band finished up with an extraordinary performance of Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter’s "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" that left the audience stunned.

Nirvana Close Out 1993 With MTV’s Live and Loud 

Pearl Jam’s loss was Nirvana’s gain. After Eddie Vedder declined to appear at MTV’s New Year’s Eve gig (which was actually taped on December 13), Pearl Jam was cut from the lineup and Nirvana’s set was extended (other acts included Cypress Hill and the Breeders). 

The band had been on the road for two months now, and were firing on all pistons; the relentless "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" proved to be a powerhouse opening number and there was a scorching performance of "Scentless Apprentice." One moment not seen in the original broadcast (the entire show’s since been released on DVD) was when an audience member shrieked out "MTV sucks!" In response, Cobain smiled and quite sensibly asked, "Then why are you here?" But he perhaps revealed his own feelings about the network when, during the closing jam/end-of-show destruction, he looks straight into the camera and spits onto the lens. 

The final destruction sequence was particularly intricate on this night, starting out simply enough with Novoselic strumming his bass, then rising and falling in volume over the course of ten minutes, climaxing with Cobain swinging his guitar and decapitating one of the stage props. It brought Nirvana’s year to a suitably explosive close. 

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Here's What Happened At The Recording Academy's 2023 Special Merit Awards Ceremony Honoring Nile Rodgers, Ann & Nancy Wilson of Heart, Nirvana, The Supremes & More
(L-R): Nirvana's Pat Smear, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl accept the Recording Academy's 2023 Special Merit Awards Ceremony.

Photo: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

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Here's What Happened At The Recording Academy's 2023 Special Merit Awards Ceremony Honoring Nile Rodgers, Ann & Nancy Wilson of Heart, Nirvana, The Supremes & More

In addition to seven music legends receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award, the GRAMMY Week event honored recipients of the Music Educator Award, Trustees Awards and Technical GRAMMY Awards.

GRAMMYs/Feb 7, 2023 - 10:14 pm

Amid the madness of GRAMMY Week, there was an air of tranquility surrounding the Wilshire Ebell Theatre on the afternoon of Feb. 4. The sunlit streets were nearly empty, the red carpet was discreetly hidden from public view. Inside the theater, music royalty, entertainment journalists and GRAMMY nominees congregated for one of the week's most emotionally charged events: the Special Merit Awards Ceremony.

Music teacher Pamela Dawson beamed as Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. handed her the 2023 GRAMMY Music Educator Award. Mama Dawson, as she is known among her students at DeSoto High School in Texas, is loved by all for her relentless positivity and encouragement. "I thank you God for giving me the gift of music," she said. "My mother believed in me even when I didn't. My heritage is a big loving heart that I can give to others."

In the Technical GRAMMY Award department, the Academy recognized the efforts of the Audio Engineering Society and Dr. Andy Hildebrand — inventor of the Auto-Tune software program.    

The Trustees Awards honorees were Henry Diltz, who photographed iconic album covers of the '60s and '70s; the late Ellis Marsalis, jazz pianist and educator; and the late Jim Stewart, founder of the mythical Stax Records.

"Dad had an open-door policy that helped create a utopian reality," said Stewart's daughter Lori, addressing the label's unusual-for-the-time policy of working with talented artists regardless of their racial or ethnic background. "More than a business, Stax was a family."

Then, it was time to salute the recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the gallery of selected artists painted a wondrous picture of popular music — from classic rock and grunge to soul, hip-hop, funk, jazz, and blues.

In his typical unconventional fashion, 10-time GRAMMY winner Bobby McFerrin accepted his award doing what he does best: singing. "I want to have some fun today," began the "Don't Worry Be Happy" hitmaker in his inimitable falsetto. Backed briefly on vocals by his three adult children, McFerrin smiled and improvised, surprised and delighted, crediting his late father — the first Black singer to be offered a contract at the Metropolitan Opera — as a major inspiration. "Have fun," he concluded. "Play. Don't think. Be good to yourself.'

Equally moving — but in a more grungy, Seattle kind of way — was seeing the surviving members of '90s pioneers Nirvana. "Kurt Cobain is never far away," said the band's bassist and founding member Krist Novoselic. "Just turn on the radio." He also thanked young people from all over the world for the many fan letters he continues to receive, as drummer Dave Grohl and guitarist Pat Smear stood by his side, nodding approvingly.

Legendary blues singer Ma Rainey (1886-1939) received a long-overdue induction to the Lifetime Achievement gallery. On hand to collect the award were her great nephew, Frank Nix, and great great niece Cassandra Behler. "Ma was an amazing performer and businesswoman," said Behler. "I can't imagine the sacrifices she made for her career and lifestyle."

Prolific beyond any reasonable expectation, guitarist and producer Nile Rodgers was visibly moved — almost lost for words. "I'm sorry to be so emotional," he told the crowd, which responded with an even bigger round of applause. "This journey was a series of steps." 

The founder of disco-funk collective CHIC, Rodgers is known for his unmistakable guitar sound — adding waves of funk to every single genre it touches — and sensitive production work. When he thanked the musicians that he worked with, the list was regal, including David Bowie, Diana Ross, Bryan Ferry, and Beyoncé — the latter of whom he would go on to win Best R&B Song with at the 2023 GRAMMYs (and accept on her behalf!).

"Do you like my coat?," asked English-American rapper and producer Slick Rick "The Ruler," showing off an elegant, light purple coat over his suit and matching tie. "Macy's women's section." Slick's speech was as witty as his rapping. He mentioned listening to Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By" as a kid, then outlined his love for the music of the Beatles, the Supremes, Jamaican dancehall and hip-hop — and his fateful move to the U.S. in 1976.

Fittingly, the Supremes were also honorees this year. During their induction, Florence Ballard's daughter Lisa Chapman explained that she couldn't share any personal anecdotes because her mother died when she was only 3 years old. "I thank [the late] Mary Wilson, because she never left my Mom's side," she said. "They're probably sipping on the finest champagne right now," added Wilson's daughter Turkessa Babich. "They are always with us."

The last artists to be honored were two immensely talented sisters, Ann & Nancy Wilson of Heart. The sibling duo changed the nature of the game for women in hard rock, and guitarist Nancy Wilson spoke of her beginnings in music. "I left college in 1974 to join the band," she recalled. "Our dream was to be the Beatles. Not to be their girlfriends, or marry one of them, but to be them — and we did it." 

Wilson was effusive in praising her sister, powerhouse singer Ann. "We survived the sheer insanity of a rock 'n' roll circus. We were two military brats, two badasses, and we stood up. We rocked our butts off, and we did all of it together."

Wilson's last words — bringing the event to its conclusion — were dedicated to the fans: "You were always the reason for us to catch dreams in our butterfly nets."

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