1992: Incesticide’s Title Lettering, Nirvana and Sex Pistols Syndrome

Posted: July 16, 2013 in Incesticide

In various sources people have pointed out that with one exception (the false ending provided to Pen Cap Chew so Nirvana didn’t have to pay for another reel of tape in January 1988) Nirvana songs didn’t end with fade outs – they all end dramatically on a final punched chord or a collapse into feedback. While this has often been said as if it had some mystical significance the same statement could be made of much output from the punk scene – I’m presently unable to think of a Sex Pistols song that fades…

As drug rumours circulated in 1992 Cobain took to making gallows humour comparisons recasting himself and Courtney as Sid and Nancy and even booking Nirvana into a recording session as The Simon Ritchie Bluegrass Ensemble in a reference to both the drug-addled collapse of the Sex Pistols’ number one fan and final bass player and to the general perception of Nancy Spungen as the woman who got Sid Vicious (A.K.A. Simon Ritchie) addicted to heroin just as Courtney was receiving blame for hooking Kurt on drugs (for the record, no, she didn’t.) This was as far as the connection seemed to go.

A deeper connection exists, however. I was questioned last year on whether I knew whether Kurt Cobain had made the decision regarding the lettering for Incesticide’s front cover and whether it existed on the initial painting he supplied to Geffen. I admit I didn’t, however, as Cobain was specifically granted complete artistic control it was, at the very least, approved by him. My belief at this point, however, has gone deeper.

Very early in Nirvana’s career the typography of their logo was set and remained relatively stable throughout their career – omnipotent during their major label spell with the exception of this one major release. The change to newspaper lettering was an echo of the Sex Pistols’ use of ransom-letter-style slicing of anonymous newspaper print. The original use of this in the 1970s was designed to be simultaneously a high-art concept indicating the way in which the influence of the media was integral to the success of the Sex Pistols to such an extend that it was integrated into the very way they presented themselves, as well as to exude pseudo-cheap n’ nasty qualities which were just as much a component of the identity.

The reuse of the concept by Kurt Cobain/Nirvana in 1992 came at a time when Cobain seems to have been well-aware of the points of comparison between his own band and their seventies’ precursor. By deviating from the band’s normal practice and adopting a Sex Pistols-esque text format for Nirvana’s name what was being pointed out was the way in whcih the band had suddenly become as much a construction of the over-the-top and ridiculous media frenzy as a real band. Nirvana in news-print was their primary existence in 1992, a year in which they barely toured and in which the majority of interaction with audiences and fans (and enemies) was conducted via newspaper and magazine pages. Similarly the trashy aspect of it fitted well with the nature of Incesticide, a leftovers collection, and with Cobain’s increasingly soured view on what was his main creative outlet.

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Comments
  1. Marcus says:

    Two things:

    1. “Negative Creep” fades out.
    2. The NIRVANA on the Incesticide cover isn’t spelled out in newspaper lettering. Those are small metallic self-adhesive letters, bought in hardware stores, or ironmongers as we used to call them, typically for either the naming or numbering of a house, or to claim ownership of some other items.

    You’re very welcome!

    • Marcus says:

      I’d be looking at the cover of that Lithium single, Nick. Once they got their Onyx logo, is that the only other occasion apart from Incesticide where they didn’t deploy it? Not sure if that helps, since “In Bloom”, released closer to the time of Incesticide, also uses the logo.

      Who knows?

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