It’s always been a pleasure noting that the end of Nirvana didn’t sever the friendship between its surviving members. Over recent years Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl have been spending musical time in one another’s company while Pat Smear (Nirvana’s second guitarist during the In Utero tours) rejoined Foo Fighters on a permanent basis.
Things like this have led to rumors of, and calls for, a ‘reunion’ of Nirvana. I use the quote marks deliberately because with a project so centered around the output of a single individual there’s no way some kind of performance could qualify as a reunion.
I’d be perfectly happy to hear the band back together pumping out the music — for two generations of fans it’d be the closest we could come to experiencing Nirvana and the appeal is obvious. But I’m not sure I can see anyone taking over Cobain’s vocals. It isn’t that there aren’t candidates who could mimic the style; and it isn’t that there aren’t individuals who would have a certain legitimacy in the role…
…But that’s the point. It’d be a role, theatre not authenticity. To take songs as loaded with personal pain and experience as the catalogue of Nirvana and replay them as pantomime, no matter how skilled the performer, would be hard to swallow. Kurt Cobain was a singer who used to shred his voice on stage as he tried to push as much power and emotion out as he could. For anyone else to take his words, even if willing to put in that same all-out spirit, it’d only be mimicry. Losing your voice for someone else’s song would make it a quality rendition, a heartfelt effort at showing respect, but still just a good cover of the original. In the context of a performance draped in the identity of a long dead band no amount of effort would allow the performer to truly possess the song — it’d always be a tribute and a facsimile and nothing more.
Foo Fighters performing Nirvana songs or some regrouping of Nirvana’s survivors would be worth a watch. Also these guys — consummate performers one and all — have a legitimate right to perform the songs they helped create and bring to the world. But a piece is missing. It’d still lose the earnest emotion at its centre. Best to adopt a different name, make it something independent and different, to be enjoyed without the feeling that it’s a cash in on an identity. It would also clear up any questions if they could simply say “we’re not Nirvana, we’ll never be Nirvana again…But we love these songs, they’re a part of us and we wanted to perform them again.” That’s not unreasonable and it’d be a pleasure to listen.