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I have a vivid memory of driving home from the record store on my birthday in November ’91 with my best friend, jamming to the Nirvana album he’d just purchased. I’m pretty sure I made some comment like, “This sounds like some Slayer shit.” I hadn’t heard Slayer.

Looking for referents that explained the sheen given to noise, I stumbled. Rolling Stone awarded Nevermind three stars that season — in a review by Ira Robbins no less. Because we didn’t have MTV, I’ve no idea how ubiquitous the video was. Spring and summer ’92 were pretty great radio seasons, to which Nirvana contributed. By late spring “Come As You Are” was blasting out of cars in the parking lot next to Kriss Kross and “I Love Your Smile” and Joe Public’s “Live and Learn” and “I’m Too Sexy.” In this context Nirvana didn’t sound revolutionary; they sounded like a damn fine rock band, no more no less (and I loved Vanessa Williams’ “Save the Best For Last” too). The myth machine didn’t start, in my experience, until the months leading up to the release of In Utero.

I don’t hold it against Nirvana that the rock press licked their asses as soon as Kurt Cobain got cold, but I also haven’t listened much in the last twenty years. Hole speaks more to me: Courtney Love is a consistently fascinating singer and lyricist, bibulous private life notwithstanding. But there isn’t a month when I don’t sing “I love myself better than you,” one of the aptest taunts to appear in a pop punk tune. A few days ago, after several years’ distance, I re-listened and dug In Utero. Even with Scott Litt remixes this album conceded nothing to popular taste; at the time it was the most abrasive album to hit the top twenty since David Bowie’s Low sailed to #11 in 1977.

Finally, about the documentary: honoring the side of Cobain that put talent into his notebook doodles and his art into songwriting, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is twenty minutes too long and the interviews at times are inconclusive, slackening the film’s rhythm. But I hadn’t seen his early life conjured with this detail, his parents and stepmom given the chance to be people instead of caricatures, their motives as complex and mysterious as Cobain’s best material.

Songs:

1. On a Plain
2. Drain You
3. Verse Chorus Verse
4. Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle
5. Breed
6. Lounge Act
7. Sliver
8. Something in the Way
9. The Man Who Sold the World
10. Rape Me
11. Dive
12. Aneurysm
13. Pennyroyal Tea
14. In The Pines
15. Molly’s Lips
16. Floyd the Barber
17. Heart-Shaped Box
18. Very Ape
19. I Hate Myself…
20. Even In His Youth
21. You Know You’re Right
22. Smells Like Teen Spirit
23. About a Girl
24. Lithium
25. Territorial Pissings