Kurt Cobain was found dead on April 8, 1994. He had died on April 5, but his body wasn’t found until three days later. The discrepancy always makes the anniversary of his death a little cloudy.
Five months earlier, Nirvana taped its landmark performance for “MTV Unplugged.” The performance first aired in December 1993, and at the time most of the attention around it seemed to center on the band’s decision to shun its hit singles (no “Teen Spirit?” no “Heart Shaped Box?”) in favor of cover songs (David Bowie, Lead Belly) and cameos from friends (the Meat Puppets!). But after Cobain’s death, the hour-long special played seemingly around the clock on MTV, and only then did it gain the classic stature it enjoys today.
Here is a video of the full MTV Unplugged performance, unedited, via Death & Taxes. It’s great. Just watch it.
I’ve seen the “Unplugged” show countless times — I’ve said many times if I could go back and attend any performance in history, it would be this one — but watching the full performance I picked up on several things I never had before. Here’s 10 of them:
1. Kurt is basically sitting in an office chair. You’ve gotta sit in something, I guess, it just seems odd that for such a ghostly performance, Cobain is sitting in a chair that looks like it was picked up by an intern at the Office Max around the corner a few hours before the show started.
2. Dave and Pat step out for a smoke during “Pennyroyal Tea.” “Am I going to do this by myself?” Kurt asks at the onset of “Pennyroyal Tea.” When it’s determined that yes, he is, Dave Grohl asks Pat Smear if he has a smoke. You can then see Smear put his guitar down and walk to the backstage area, where he’s joined by Grohl. (18:25)
3. Kurt didn’t want to play “Dumb” and “Polly” back to back. “Because they’re exactly the same song,” Cobain explains. (26:43) “Who cares, it will be edited different. This is a television show!” he reasons. (22:30)
4. Kurt and Krist discuss “Davey and Goliath.” “Remember the little black bird on ‘Davey and Goliath?’” Novaselic asks Cobain midway through the performance, harkening back to the 1960s Christian-themed stop motion series (from Detroiter Art Clokey). Cobain doesn’t, but he does have other memories of the show. “Remember that really evil episode where he was really mad at this kid and he had all these visions of how he was going to, ‘First I’m going to take him up to a hill and tie him to a tree and tar and father him!’” Cobain recalls, adopting his best Davey voice. “It was evil! That wasn’t Christian at all.” (38:18)
5. Kurt reads zines in his downtime. While a guitar is being tuned off stage, Kurt can be seen on stage reading WFMU’s First Catalog of Curiosities. WFMU is an influential indie radio station in the New York area. (41:11)
6. There was almost a performance of “Sweet Home Alabama.” Kurt slurs and grunts his way through the first two lines of the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic during downtime before the Meat Puppets are ready. (41:15)
7. Kurt came in early on the first chorus of “Lake of Fire.” Oops. Hear him catch and cover up his mistake at 50:12.
8. The setlist didn’t seem to be ironed out ahead of time. Fans shout titles from the audience and the band considers them, and at one point Grohl suggests they do “Sliver,” but Cobain decides against it because he has to scream in it. “What else do you want to do?” Grohl asks him. (57:30) The band also at one point toys with doing “School.”
9. Pat Smear didn’t wear shoes. See shots of his socked feet throughout.
10. On his way off stage, Kurt stops to sign autographs for fans. Nice guy, that Kurt. (1:05:40)