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Greatest Hits (Nirvana) Liner Notes:

On Sunday, January 30, 1994, Kurt Cobain walked into Robert Lang Studios in
northern Seattle
and recorded the first song in this album. It would be Kurt's final session with
Nirvana, and
he made it count. He was also late, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl had been at
Langs for two
days waiting for Kurt using time to fill tape with some of Dave's songs. But when
Kurt
finally rolled up on the third day, with no particular explanation, the real work
was done
in minutes.

Nirvana had already performed "You Know Your Right" in concert on October 23,
1993, at the
Aragon Ballroom in Chicago - and fired it around on soundchecks that fall, under
different
names ("Auto Pilot," "On a Mountain"), with touring guitarist Pat Smear Strangely,
two nights
after that Aragon show, Kurt practically denied even writing the song. "I don't
have any new
songs right now," he told me. "I have absolutely nothing left. I'm starting from
scratch for
the first time and I don't know what we're going to do." That Sunday at Lang's was
Kurt's
first formal recording date with Nirvana in nearly a year since the In Utero
sessions with
Steve Albini in February of '93. The band played all day but finished only this
one song.

It was enough. Kurt Krist and Dave connected with a fierce telepathy tearing
through "You
Know Your Right" in one live take. Kurt then put down a few vocal tracks and a
little extra
guitar. There was no need for more. "You Know Your Right was a perfect storm,
consummated
with prophetic urgency and - although it seems crazy and cruel to say it now -
something that
sounds a lot like joy, the kind you get when a band has its whipped-raw back to
the wall but
plenty of fuck you left., ready to fly. You could drown in the black rains of
distortion and
sarcasm: 'Things have never been so swell/And I have never been so well.' We Know
now that
everything was wrong and getting worse.

But you can live in this noise too: In Kurt's prayer-bell harmonics, plucked from
behind the
bridge of his guitar in monastery echo, in the spears of feed-back and the saving
blaze of the
chorus, where Kurt belts and holds the single word pain in one long murderous
breath; in the
brotherly lock of Krist's marching bass and Dave's fighting drums; and in the
diamond-hard
melodies that always cut through the chaos.

To Kurt music was shelter, because he never enjoyed or truly knew any other kind
as a child,
raised in a broken home, and an isolated uprooted teenager. On Nirvana's 1990 Sub
Pop single
'Sliver,' he turned a mundane slice of boyhood - getting dropped off with his
grandparents
for a night of mashed potatoes and television - into searing flashback, acute
memories of
desertion intensified by the mounting tensions in Kurt's vocals the grainy doubled
harmonies;
the way he jumps into a higher strained register. Ever as a star, Kurt never made
peace with
the material rewards that hit him like a ton of bricks. "If there was a rock star
101 course,
I would have liked to take it", he said that night in Chicago. "It might have
helped me."

Kurt recognized the power of myth, of a juicy twisted truth: He long claimed that
he really
lived a time under that bridge in the first line of "Sonething in the Way" on
Nevermind. But
Kurt slept in abandoned buildings and on a long line of coaches, in Aberdeen and
Olympia,
Washington, on hos way to Nirvana. "His thing was, build your own world." Krist
once said of
Kurt. "Wherever he lived he'd have all this stuff on the walls, drawings or music
or things
he had collected." The floods of impulse - lyrics, letters, artwork - that he
poured into his
journals; the songs he wrote to put on records; the shows and tour-van rides;
those
three-and-a-half minutes of "You Know Your Right" at the end of January, 1994 -
for Kurt,
that was home.

The absolute magic and democracy of rock & roll is that anyone with a good hook
and a fighting
heard can change the world overnight. Kurt did it twice: on September 24, 1991,
the day
Nevermind, Nirvana's second album went on sale and loudly announced that Michael
Jackson was
toast and rock was a weapon again: and on April 8, 1994, when Kurt's body was
found dead by
his own hand, in a room over his garage in Seattle. The gaping hole he left in the
belief of
Rock & Roll saves lives is still there. So is the tear of going all the way that
paralyzed
so much of the music ever since.

But this record is about what happened before, and between, the turning points. It
tells us
how Kurt was reborn, and bloomed, inside his writing and singing. And it makes
brutally clear
how Kurt and Krist - bonded since high school in Aberdeen - and Ohio born Dave, a
D.C.-hardcore
veteran who joined on the eve of Nevermind, made the music a living thing, along
with those who
passed through the early bedlam: guitarist Jason Everman, drummers Aaron
Burckhard, Chad
Channing, Dale Crover of the Melvins and Mudhoney's Dan Peters. "All the albums I
ever liked,"
Kurt said, "were albums that delivered a great song, one after another:
Aerosmith's Rocks, the
Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks, Led Zeppelin II, Back in Black by AC/DC."
That's exactly
what you get on Nirvana.

Rightly, the last great song Kurt wrote was followed by the first. "About A Girl,"
track three
on Nirvana's 1989 debut album, Bleach, is a conflicted love song draped in spidery
jangle and
hung on a bewitching see saw melody, invented on night after Kurt spent hours
listening
non-stop to Meet the Beatles! Kurt later complained that Nirvana had complained
that Nirvana
had not done enough with the power and quiet, that had waited too long - until
Dumb and All
Apologies on In Utero to show how much he loved and learned from the Beatles and
R.E.M. But
in the clean swing of 'About A Girl' and the Gregorian garage spell of Kurt's
double tracked
singing, with that extra haunted vocal floating just over his shoulder, Nirvana
provoked that
punk and grunge were very small words for the pop in Kurt's head.

The amazing thing about these songs, and the recordings, is the force of
subversive detail,
especially on Nevermind; the tidal crash of Dave's tom-tom roll at the front of
Smells Like
Teen Spirit, the literal sound of a revolution at birth; Krist's watery bass intro
to 'Come
As You Are', and the way Kurt reconfigures the word memory with a long Spanish
sigh at the
end as if hypnotized by need; the whiplash contrast in "Lithium" between Dave's
jazzy restraint
in the verses, stinging cymbal, the one two doorknock of his kick drum; and the
power-trio-Avalanche in the chorus. Kurt transcribed the uproar of his life into
words and
music, with care often over time. Song titles changed, the meat of an arrangement
could turn
from one rehearse to the next. Krist remembered first playing In Bloom at
practices, ' like
a Bad Brains song. But then Kurt went home and hammered it. When Kurt was done, he
called
Krist and played the song over the phone. The nuclear sugar inside had come out.

Success made Kurt distrust that gift. He responded with In Utero: made at
breakneck speed
with Albini, the king of live fuzzbox v�rit�. Nirvana cut the album in two weeks,
Kurt sang
most of his vocals in a day, in one seven-hour stretch. But the haste bothered
him. Heart-Shaped
Box was given to R.E.M. producer Scott Litt for a remix. Even after the album was
released in
September, 1993, as Nirvana played the songs on tour. Kurt openly spoke of his
disappointment:
"Definitely Pennyroyal Tea - that was not recorded right. I know that's a strong
song, a hit
single." Litt remixed Pennyroyal Tea for a 1994 release, but Kurt's death ended
all promotion
for the album, and the single was canceled Eight years later. Litts treatment is
finally on
record, and we can hear Pennyroyal Tea the way Kurt wanted to hear it.

Kurt also felt that with In Utero, he had worn out the soft/loud dynamic in his
writing,
gutting it of all worth and fun. He was wrong. "Heart-Shaped Box" is an explosive
tangle of
devotion and exhaustion in the heat and worry jammed into the sharp sudden shout
'Hey! Wait'
the raw hopeful are of Kurt's guitar break in 'Rape Me', the jolt from droning
surrender in
the verses to full-throttle violation in the chorus comes with a cleansing
defiance. And it's
worth noting that 'Dumb' was first recorded as an electric trio whisper for the
BBC in the
fall of '91, before Nirvana-mania. Here, with the combined melancholy of cello and
Kurt's
vocal harmonies, the song carries the added weight of those two years with a
cracked-feather
grace. "I think I'm dumb, maybe just happy": Kurt was never the former, still
aching from the
latter.

A confession, I did not watch the original broadcast of Nirvana's performance on


MTV
Unplugged. I have never seen it on video. I don't need to. I was there, at the
Sony Studios
in New York on November 18, 1993, and I keep that hour in my head, with a clarity
unspoiled
by jumping camera angles and commercial breaks, the garlands and candlelight, the
hushed
strength of Krist, Dave, Pat Smear and cellist Lori Goldston; the hint of dare in
the way Kurt
opened the show with "About a Girl" ("This is off our first record. Most people
don't know
it.") and how "All Apologies, near the end, affirmed that early promise . And I
recall my own
gasp of recognition when I heard the slithering cobra guitar of "The Man Who Sold
The World,"
David Bowie's 1970 reverie on power, celebrity and death. "I guarantee you I will
screw this
up" Kurt said. But he slipped into Bowie's silken ambiguity - and the unmistakable
parallels
to his own life - like second skin. Kurt did not sound bummed or bitten, just
painfully wise,
willing to laugh at himself and comfortable in a good song.

"It's easy to remember him being sad," Dave told me last year, "But the things
that I like to
think about are his happiness, and how much he loved music, whether it was sitting
in a living
room and playing an acoustic guitar, or playing at the Off Ramp in Seattle. He
really loved
creating music."
This is the world Kurt built for himself, when the real world was not enough.
Listen again
if you think you know it, listen loud if you don't know it yet. Then build your
own.

David Fricke
New York City
October, 2002