April 10th: April Joan Jett nails “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with Nirvana at the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I proceed to write about how it made me cry.
Weeks later: I revisit my blog after weeks of not posting anything.
I replay the video of Joan Jett and Nirvana’s performance at said ceremony.
I still get chills watching that video.
Then, I bring up iTunes and listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – the original recorded version from Nevermind.
I revel in the greatness that is the original song, disregarding with every ounce of my being any diminishing effects wrought by over-saturation of the song on radio and everywhere else.
The final chorus starts. I nudge the volume level – which is already high – a little higher.
The chorus resolves to the song’s finale – “A denial!…”
I slam my hands to my headphone-covered ears, as if I am trying to drive the song even more emphatically into my brain and my soul.
As a result, the highs are somewhat muted. Some of the lower mids are somewhat muted. I let up on the phones a bit, and – in doing so – reach as perfect a balance as I can muster with such an impromptu, primitive mixing endeavor (and such crappy headphones).
The mantra repeats.
The guitar and bass move in concert.
The drums have effectively doubled their urgency. I live by the beat of the drums, while I ride the repeating vocal…
It can never be like the first time… or, for that matter, like hearing it the first time after Kurt died. But it is still a heavy, powerful song.
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Thursday night (April 10th), Nirvana* was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were inducted by Michael Stipe, who is one of my favorite singers, and they played four songs with four different vocalists:
- “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Joan Jett)
- “Aneurysm” (Kim Gordon)
- “Lithium” (Annie Clark)
- “All Apologies” (Lorde)
Of course, the induction ceremony was not televised live; rather, HBO subscribers (not me) will be able to watch it when it premieres on May 31st. Which is more than seven weeks after the ceremony. Which is annoying, because I would have loved to have watched the whole thing.
Fortunately, I did get a chance to watch the band’s performance of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I came across an article on HuffPost on Friday that included** audience recordings of “All Apologies” and “Teen Spirit.” While the title, Lorde Covers Nirvana with Joan Jett, Kim Gordon and Annie Clark, was obvious click-bait (and the post itself barely mentioned the other three singers), it did include a video of Jett’s performance.
I watched the video twice.
The first time, during the second chorus, I found myself welling up. For the first time in years, a Nirvana song had moved me in some way other than simply making me want to move my head/hands/body with the music.
A few minutes later, I watched it again, and I cried almost the whole way through.
I loved Nirvana as a teenager. The first time I remember hearing “Teen Spirit” (etc.) was in the early spring of 1992, in my friend Mike’s car one afternoon after track practice. Mike went on to the Naval Academy and eventually became a commander in the Navy Seals, and he died in 2005 in Afghanistan when his chopper was shot down during a search and rescue mission.
I went on to different things. I grieved, like so many did, when I heard about Cobain’s death in 1994, and watched MTV Unplugged all day. I listened to, and devoured, whatever Nirvana music I could get my hands on until it dried up. And I eventually moved on to other music.
Nirvana’s music is awesome, but I saturated myself in it to a point where it ultimately didn’t move me like it had before, and I decided to give it a rest. I rarely purposely listen to Nirvana anymore – although “Drain You” (live, From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah) is a more-than-occasional favorite – but the love and appreciation of their music is still here within me.
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Watching Joan Jett with Nirvana on Friday was a catharsis of sorts.
Joan, well, she nailed it – she was the perfect choice. Her voice fit the song so well, and she was in complete command.
Krist Novoselic was the rock, the steady rumble beneath Nirvana’s howl. He bobbed and bounced and rocked out in his Krist-like way, and it was wonderful.
And Dave Grohl absolutely killed it on the drums, as always. One of my life’s great pleasures is watching him play drums, because he gets such obvious pleasure from it. Seeing his huge grin always brings me joy.
And as I watched that performance, I lost control. Kurt died 20 years ago, and he took his future with him. Many have speculated about what he might have done, had he lived: would Nirvana have continued? If so, what would their future albums have sounded like? Michael Stipe invited Kurt to work with him; how would that have turned out?
Those things will never be definitively answered, because sadly, he died before they could come to pass. But here I was – 20 years later – watching Dave with his big grin, and Krist rocking out, and Joan kicking ass… Suddenly, I was grieving again, for Kurt and his band and the people who knew and loved him. And for my friend Mike, and probably for other things. And the tears ran down my face, and my chest shook, and it felt like a relief.
In some small way, Joan Jett fronting Nirvana was the most perfect coda to Nirvana’s career.
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* Along with Kiss, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Gabriel, The E Street Band, Hall & Oates, and others.
** I say “included” because I very much expect audience recordings to be removed for copyright infringement sooner than later. I fully expect to have to remove the video at the top of this post at some point soon for that reason…
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I started listening to Lou Reed in 1998.
I know that’s not a hip, “I’ve been listening to Lou Reed since I was in short pants” story. But I don’t care. The fact is that Lou Reed’s music came into my life in 1998, and it has deeply affected me ever since.
Rolling Stone reported the sad news on Sunday, that Lou had passed away earlier in the day at age 71.
More than fifteen years ago, during my senior year of college, I was reading an article about Lou Reed in a guitar magazine (either Guitar World or Guitar For The Practicing Musician – I forget which). He was doing press around that time for his new live album, Perfect Night: Live in London, which was recorded at the Meltdown Festival in 1997. He played the show with a new amplified acoustic guitar that he had heard of and was inspired by… and I read words in that article that were similar to these, which are from the liner notes to the album:
The night of the show, when the band and I hit the stage, I was really pumped. I had an acoustic guitar with the sound of diamonds, a sound that no one had ever really heard before. I had a sound and I knew it, and I was going to be able to share it. Me and the guys in the band.
The words in the magazine were not necessarily those exact words, but this was gist of the excitement he was sharing at the time in many conversations. To someone who had never really listened to Lou Reed before, the article was inspiring. My interest was piqued, but I didn’t really have a chance to hear Perfect Night until I found the CD at the Norristown Public Library later that year. I borrowed it, and took it home to check out.
As I sat, fascinated, and listened to the first several songs, I was initially struck by two thoughts: “Man, this guy is a terrible singer!” and “This is amazing!” It was a mind-blowing experience – I had never heard anything like it. After the first listen, I dubbed it onto two blank cassettes (one to play constantly wherever I went, and one to make another copy of when the first copy wore out), and took it back to the library.
Over the next several years, I expanded my knowledge of Lou Reed. I bought Perfect Night. I dubbed my father’s copy of White Light, White Heat. I bought several albums from different eras, ranging from Peel Slowly And See – the Velvet Underground box set – to Transformer and Berlin, to all of his albums between New York and Animal Serenade, including the much-maligned Velvet Underground live reunion CDs. I also got the NYC Man greatest hits set as a gift. And since I’m a fan of both Lou Reed and Metallica, I picked up their frustrating-to-listen-to 2011 collaboration, Lulu, which I reviewed here at the time.
I pored over the liner notes and extra tracks on Peel Slowly – I was particularly thrilled by the demos. As this was my first exposure to The Velvet Underground’s complete studio work, I was able to absorb most of it as “new” material, collectively, and I came to enjoy Velvet Underground (the eponymous third album) the most.
I listened to Set The Twilight Reeling a ton during 1998-1999. Post-New York, it seemed – at least in part – like a love song to New York City. Then again, it seemed like many of his albums were love songs to his home town. But “NYC Man” has long been an all-time favorite Lou song to me, and will likely always be.
At some point, I made a mix tape of some of my favorite Lou/VU songs and sent it to my friend Kirk. We would have long conversations about music from time to time, and sometimes we argued over which versions of certain songs we preferred. I took a lot of flack from him for saying that I preferred the performance of “Heroin” from the reunion show over the original; this is apparently akin to heresy, but while I do like the original version a lot, something about hearing Lou’s more mature voice on the live album made the song seem more haunting at times to me. Listening to it now, I’m revisited by that feeling.
At any rate, that period of time, spent – in part – immersing myself in Lou Reed’s catalogue, was one of the most creatively fruitful and musically inspirational periods of my life. After a while, my infatuation with his music naturally settled down into a deep love, and that love has been a part of my life ever since.
I don’t have everything he’s done: in particular, I don’t have much from the mid-seventies through 1986. I don’t have all of the live albums, or any of the VU live albums, as a matter of fact. But I have a stack of CDs that will once again be in heavy rotation for a while now. I spent much of Sunday afternoon feeling heavy of heart about his death. Watching some videos of him during the afternoon, it was eerie to consider that he was here, and now he’s gone. This happens when we encounter death, of course; however, it’s a strange feeling when we can see someone who’s passed, but is nonetheless right there in front of you on-screen, doing what he or she has always done.
Some of his music is good. Some of it is great. Some of it is difficult to ingest to varying degrees. That’s ok – the songs of his that I didn’t care for never made me like his other work any less. Lou had an ethic that was inspiring to more people – musicians and music fans alike – than can ever be counted. And I am one of those people.
I’m so glad to have discovered Lou Reed, both the man and his music. It’s been a life-changing experience. Were it not for him, I would be both a different music fan and musician today. In the sadness over his passing, it will be fun to celebrate his life through memories of that time of my life where I learned about him and grew to love him, and by listening to his music.
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