No Melvins = No Nirvana

On here’s the sample chapter from Dark Slivers again, I know its buried down in the blog now…

Dark Slivers Book-A5-chapter14

And apologies for the delay in the Saturday post – it all depends on what time I wake up on a Saturday AM.

It seems impossible to overstate the importance of Melvins to the story of Nirvana. In Kurt Cobain’s reminiscences, contained within Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana and within his Journals, he defines the most positive aspects of his teenage identity in terms of music. His ‘Road to Damascus’ conversion is the discovery of punk music via Melvins, the role models he describes are Melvins, his first experience of the life of a gigging band (as a roadie) comes from the Melvins. As a formative experience only the divorce of his parents is more significant.

Musically the influence was also explicit. Kurt Cobain’s Fecal Matter demo sounds like early Melvins combining a sound emerging from the hardcore scene with a slower, narcotized vibe on many songs (the version of Downer lasts around a minute longer than the 1988 rendition would.) Kurt Cobain was following the most immediate model available to him which was this local band. It’s 1987 before Kurt Cobain truly begins to try on other sounds with his music from that year sounding far more edgy, far more new wave. Members of Melvins also provided Kurt with his first on stage music experience joining him both as Fecal Matter members and also in a short lived project known as Brown Towel (see Nirvana Live Guide/LiveNirvana for more info.)

The Melvins’ influence continues though. Jack Endino is clear that he only took the Nirvana studio booking because Dale Crover was on drums for the band — Dale’s presence assured Jack that this band must have something to them. Nirvana’s first media coverage specifically hinged on the band’s link to Melvins suggesting that practice might even make them “better than the Melvins!” This is quite a list of firsts owed to Melvins; intro to punk, roadie experience, first proper demo, first press, first live performance, first studio session.

Nirvana would share a split single with Melvins as each band struggled in late 1989-early 1990 to expand their audiences. The Here She Comes Now/Venus in Furs covers single was one of only three split singles Nirvana released, one with The Fluid being Sub Pop’s decision, the other, with The Jesus Lizard, being a fan-boy wish-fulfillment in 1992-93 giving Kurt the opportunity to show love to some of the remnants of Scratch Acid, a major early influence.

That loyalty to Melvins continued right through Nirvana’s career with Kurt Cobain being willing to have his name associated with Melvins’ major label debut Houdini. While the extent of his participation in the recording/production of the album is debatable, my assumption is that Kurt was sharp enough to know that his name on the album was enough to guarantee it extra media coverage and probably a certain quantity of sales thus benefitting his friends directly. This was the same thinking that led Cobain to write the liner-notes to the reissue of The Raincoats’ debut album and to put so much attention into The Vaselines or Shonen Knife. One of the few powers he enjoyed once famous was that it allowed him to support those he adored. He also had the band support Nirvana for a few dates in December 1993 and then throughout most of the band’s last shows in February 1994 onto March 1, 1994. Melvins played to some of the biggest audiences of their career, just at a time when they needed such support to ensure the success of Houdini — it’s safe to say Kurt Cobain knew precisely the commercial power he was putting at their disposal and took some satisfaction from it.

What really makes the difference in my eyes is that, by the end of his life, Kurt had repudiated his links to many formal friends and idols. He wrote dismissive letters (unsent) to Calvin Johnson and Krist Novoselic while publically criticizing Sub Pop, grunge, riot grrl…He never did this to Melvins. The best indication of the importance of Melvins to the Nirvana story is that he always supported them throughout his teenhood and his traumatic last decade.


2 thoughts on “No Melvins = No Nirvana”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s