In yesterday’s piece we pointed out that, between 1992 and 1994, two of the major pieces of being a genuinely active band, performing and recording, were missing. In this blog’s first post we showed that another piece, writing songs, wasn’t figuring on the front-man’s agenda. What other pieces of being a band with a life exist…? Let’s talk about media relations.
I’ve used the archive at the Internet Nirvana Fan Club and sifted it to find Nirvana’s interviews between 1988 and 1994 giving me a total sample of 64 to work with. The biggest phase of attention was naturally after Nevermind emerged, the first half of 1992 is swamped but it doesn’t ‘fall off a cliff’ after that, but given this is a band at their peak, they’re barely engaging more than they were in the years when they were just another unknown band.
And hold up… Take a look at the nature of the interviews conducted across the years:
That 33.33% in 1994 is earned via a single interview which seems to feature Kurt, Krist and Courtney altogether. There’s a clear trend toward the band no longer acting as a unit in front of the media; primarily Kurt conducts solo interviews, there are equal numbers for Krist solo interviews and Kurt interviewing with Courtney present.
The allocation of blame is a way of pretending that life is subject to human will rather than an unpredictable gut reaction to the clash of nature, circumstance, frailty and unforeseen consequence. But, if we were to play it, then the person with primary responsibility for halting Nirvana as an active and creative unit was Kurt Cobain.
The first piece on this blog a few weeks back was Trending Kurt Cobain’s Creativity which simply pointed out that between September 1991 and the end of his life Kurt wrote barely a dozen new songs. There are other ways of looking at Nirvana’s last two and a half years:
1992-1994 were Nirvana’s least productive years as live performers since 1988 when they were barely more than a part-time effort. In fact between the end of the Asia/Pacific tour in February 1992 to the commencement of the In Utero tour in October 1993 there were 21 shows in total.
Let’s try it again, with the stats for Nirvana’s studio visits:
In summary, by the end of the Nevermind sessions Nirvana had spent 58 days in studios despite the budgetary limitations in the early days. After that date, even though they increasingly used the studio to substitute for practice sessions, they only spent 21 days in studio. And that 21 doesn’t include Kurt Cobain not showing up to day one of the October 1992 session and being distracted on day two. It doesn’t show that he wasn’t present for the whole three days in January 1993. It doesn’t show that he only turned up to one day of the January 1994 session. It also doesn’t show that the 12 days of the In Utero session in February 1993 included overdubbing and mixing with only around half the days consisting of the band actually playing. Kurt Cobain’s personal statistics would have shown barely 18 days in studio after June 1991.
We’ll continue later today…
With so much Nirvana material now available — officially or unofficially — it’s possible to take a shot at tracking the peaks and troughs of Kurt Cobain’s song-writing. Take a look. This may vary as more information becomes available (in which case I’ll update this), however the basic point is extremely clear. Kurt Cobain produced 84% of his songs (with Nirvana and solo) prior to Nevermind being released.
That figure may, in fact, be even higher. Curmudgeon debuted in October 1991 suggesting it had been written prior to Nevermind’s release. Meanwhile the main riff from Tourette’s is performed at a sound-check in Vienna in November and, according to Gillian G Gaar’s book Entertain Us, Krist Novoselic believes the song was written in 1989. She also states that a 1987 practice tape features two additional unknown compositions Nirvana were jamming on.
This leaves Heart Shaped Box, Serve the Servants, Very Ape, Milk It, M.V., Scentless Apprentice, Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle, I Hate Myself and I Want to Die, Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip plus The Other Improv — with You Know You’re Right and Do Re Mi the only results of the final thirteen months.
Does it matter? Well, I’d argue yes. It suggests that Nirvana, at the height of their fame between 1992-1994, barely existed as a productive and creative group, they just tidied up leftovers. It also suggests Kurt Cobain’s crisis leading to his death was not a short-term crash sparked in 1994. Instead it looks like part of a malaise stretched over a significant period of time, around thirty months in which he barely wrote a fresh note.