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Stillerman: They just respectfully but not ambiguously declined to do that. It was weird. So be it. McCarthy-Miller: He looks at me and he says, “My management told me I need to smile more. And it was close enough to Christmas that I put Christmas paper on it and I walked in. It was me that brought that kind of gloom into the shorthand of how we would describe it. The floor cloth was the one place you could make a statement. He was a nice guy. Grohl responded, “Do it by yourself.”. Editor's note: As Nirvana drummer-turned-founding Foo Fighter Dave Grohl turns 50 Monday, USA TODAY looks back on one of his most iconic recordings: Nirvana's "MTV Unplugged In New York," which turned 25 on Nov. 18, 2018. I agree that Nirvana is an amazing band, and it's a shame it ended the way it did. You’re not gonna get to do this again.” And they listened and they weren’t just dismissing it. I just handed them to him sheepishly because, you know, I’m gonna be an asshole. I’m like, “At the end of the day, I’m still just getting you a Kleenex.” And someone took my seat! Him not being around … I just wasn’t comfortable making those decisions. The ultimate outsiders are being canonized by the white-haired insiders. It was a mix of real and artificial flowers—real lilies for the foreground, artificial to fill in further back. Kurt wanted to meet me, so he interviewed me on the college radio station, even though we were both guests. Nirvana has undeniable talent, much like the Beatles or Led Zeppelin or whatever band you want to argue with me about. Just to piss ’em off. Kurt Cobain himself is over. McCarthy-Miller: I will never forget those last vocals. For those of us who got into Nirvana from outside of punk, MTV Unplugged in New York was a gateway to Kurt Cobain's genius and madness. And we all just kind of kept going. box for Hoboken, New Jersey. McCarthy-Miller: The design, all the flowers and candles and stuff, were all things that Kurt really, really wanted on the set. Nirvana's first official release was a cover of "Love … And they were secure in that, and it turned out to be incredibly right. Oh, it was blue, and red, and orange. Nirvana had done a fully electric taping for MTV in 1992, at the peak of their Nevermind-era hysteria, but Cobain had thought so little of it that he only authorized the network to air one song. It was a show of respect towards the band to be so quiet. Equally brilliant was the band’s choice to forego their biggest hits, instead choosing a divinely inspired mix of eight Nirvana songs and six covers, including the Vaselines’ “Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam," the traditional folk song "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" and, most memorably, David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” which is now as classic as the original. Just days before the taping, Unplugged producer Alex Coletti visited the band during a stop on the In Utero tour. I knew if I could get the bass run down, it would bring it all together. They didn’t transpose keys. And he’s like, “Yeah, could you do it?” And I’m like, “OK, sure, yeah, we’ll do it.” At the end of [“About a Girl”], he finishes the song and he does this crazy smile. Deanna Mitchell (vocals-bass, Frightwig): My ex-husband, Steffan Chirazi, who’s pretty much a heavy metal writer, he interviewed Kurt in December, right after they had taped that show. When he said it, there was no organ sound effect. Mark Kates (A&R, Geffen Records): Kurt wanted to prove to himself that he could do this in an artistically successful way. I knew I couldn’t touch Tony Visconti’s bass line, so I figured out the basic elements of the song that stand out, which is that bass run and those flourishes that he does. It was kept on the down low, just because of that element of celebrity where you can hardly leave your fucking hotel. I was putting sand on the stage. Most people don’t own it,” he said, before starting “About a Girl.” That set the tone for a warm, banter-filled performance. He’s a great guy. They could have done so many more amazing things. It really fuckin’ hit on a point. Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam (The Vaselines cover) 4. It was really funny. Because it was very difficult. It was lit beautifully. and Mazzy Star. But the parents couldn’t come in. The show was directed by Beth McCarthy and aired on the cable television network MTV on December 16, 1993. “You knew for sure that history was being made,” said former MTV executive Amy Finnerty, who worked closely with Nirvana. Thanks to them, the early … And it had taken something like four hours. And if he were alive and there, we could fix it or use another take. One person can talk to Kurt. I would have the VHS screeners at home and I’d just put them on my TV and listen to them at night. No one in attendance on the night of the taping knew it at the time, but the performance would later be viewed as a living funeral. Recorded 25 years ago in New York City on Nov. 18, 1993, Nirvana’s "MTV Unplugged In New York" album holds a different place in the band’s short-but-legendary discography, an album of transcendent folk rock that glimpsed what could’ve been the band’s next post-grunge era, had frontman Kurt Cobain survived long enough to see its musical leanings through. Novoselic: I still can’t believe we pulled that show off. He was really friendly. Scott Litt (producer, MTV Unplugged in New York): The only thing I thought might be tricky was trying to play Nevermind songs in that acoustic vein. Before Nirvana made it big, Seattle’s big cultural claim to fame was being the birthplace of … I’m not gonna be the sacrificial lamb. Coletti: I got to watch from stage that night and I was so blown away by Dave’s power that I left thinking, “He could potentially be the issue.” Because what I found is, if the drummer plays loud, than everyone turns up their acoustic guitars, and they just sound like shitty electric guitars. So I pretty much sat right next to her. NIRVANA'S FIRST SINGLE WAS A COVER. Curt Kirkwood: We were walking toward the playing area from backstage, and I was talking to Kurt and I was recalling when I was little. And I threw out “Verse Chorus Verse,” and there was one song that was a B-side that Dave sang, “Marigold.”, So honestly, I wasn’t doing what MTV wanted, which was getting hits. He walked away. And while nobody in the audience on Nov. 18, 1993, knew that Cobain would be dead less than a half-year later, it’s impossible to listen to Nirvana’s "MTV Unplugged" album and not hear the demons in his head, so present it’s as if they’re singing backup onstage. I left out the features, but I put in the flowers and the bones. And it was like there was a ghost in the room. He had so many different talents—as a songwriter, as an image-maker, as an extremely good guitarist—to me he also had one of the greatest voices ever. Then the singer asked the band if he would be doing the next track, “Pennyroyal Tea,” solo. McCarthy-Miller: I was like, “If you want them to do ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ you can go ask ’em, because I’m not. Goldston: The rehearsal space was above a huge pinball machine store, and the owners had parked a Scopitone machine in Nirvana’s space, so breaks were very entertaining. Cross: Kurt was just such an incredible singer. And I let them decompress and chat, chat, chat, chat, and he finally looked at me, and I said, “Hey it’s Alex from Unplugged.” He said, “Great, what’s going on?” And I said, “I have some sketches.”. Coletti: Even if it went well, that first song there’s this tentativeness between an audience and an artist being that close for the first time. I was like, “This is for the photographer.” But Kate Moss, I didn’t want to chase away. So in the moment, you weren’t aware you were taping what was Nirvana’s last album. Bailey: When they pulled “The Man Who Sold the World” together during the first taping, I was in disbelief from what I’d heard in New Jersey. Dave Grohl (drums): We’d seen the other Unpluggeds and didn’t like many of them, because most bands would treat them like rock shows—play their hits like it was Madison Square Garden, except with acoustic guitars. His volume never increased. edit: just so I'm clear, I love Nirvana. Cross: You get the sense that he’s just gonna fall apart, it’s like a car without its wheels, and yet, in the end, he plows through it. Nirvana was an American rock band formed in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987. Now’s the time. His creative mind at that time was going more in a quieter direction. Novoselic: For David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” I sat on the edge of my bed the night before the show and tried to figure out what the hell the bass was doing. It seemed like a dozen people waiting to get into this somewhat secretive show. Places they hadn’t gotten to on the last tour. And Krist, I think he said, “No, Pearl Jam already did it.” And I thought that was funny. I just remember getting like a beard burn. They redid every song. And Kurt told him, “Tell Deanna I dug out my Frightwig shirt and I wore it on Unplugged.” My kid was about a year old, and we weren’t playing anymore. And probably a half-dozen kids and they were like, “Give us your autograph!”. So I went out and went to the florist and bought some of those and shot them for the package. And so he asked me to take him outside and walk him around the block. You knew the dead second that it was happening that you were witnessing something phenomenal. It was before cellphones. Jim Merlis (publicist): The day before, Stone Temple Pilots had done [Unplugged]. I think Kurt had been hearing/imagining the cello’s function very clearly, so it was maybe more an issue of communication than invention. Then, like 10 months later, I just got a random letter in the mail that said, “Nirvana’s playing an Unplugged in New York, and they wanted their fans to be there. As the show progressed, those in attendance began to realize that what they were watching would become legendary. I was really thrilled to be able to play with the guys because I really liked ’em. The story of Nirvana Unplugged began 25 years ago, when MTV’s influence on popular culture was at its peak. And they were really, really expensive. Cobain’s take on the early 20th-century folk singer’s version of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”—itself an adaptation of “In the Pines”—was the night’s last song. McCarthy-Miller: Me and my [assistant director], Joe DeMaio, we walk in the room and they’re up on stage working out the set. Curt Kirkwood: I’d known Pat since we were babies. Cris Kirkwood: They insisted that they wanted to have us go on. That moment when he breaks, you think, “This is over. He had them all over the stage. And that’s what Kurt was like in person. Can you make sure [manager] Janet [Billig Rich] and all of our friends are up front so I can just look at you guys so I won’t be nervous?” So I was like, “Sure,” and then I went and set some seats aside. “Look what I did! Cris Kirkwood: [He introduced us as] the “Brothers Meat.”. We had a little group of friends that hung out. Coletti: Nothing about the show, minus the fact that Kurt died shortly thereafter, has a funeral vibe. Curt Kirkwood: Kurt wanted me to play Pat’s Buck Owens American guitar. Sullivan-Kaplan: You can see me in my [black] Sub Pop Records “LOSER” T-shirt. The richness and resonance of his voice, particularly on “The Man Who Sold the World,” there’s no other word for it other than haunting. I’m glad we did. My mom would take me to a restaurant. And he said, “Benson & Hedges.”. Galluzzo: [Galea’s] like, “Can I have one?”. He’s a beautiful man. Litt: There might have been a thought of making an album out of it because they were so happy with it. Mac Foster (fan): Krist Novoselic looked over at us and was like, “Let me know if I’m slouching.”. And Krist is playing the [newsstand owner], and he gives Robin a hug. Nirvana are one of the biggest and most influential bands in music history. Particularly “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” I did it with Dave and Krist in my studio in Los Angeles. Wearing a fuzzy cardigan, ratty button-down, Frightwig T-shirt, jeans, and Converse sneakers, Kurt Cobain—with help from drummer Dave Grohl, bassist Krist Novoselic, guitarist Pat Smear, and cellist Lori Goldston—orchestrated a performance that was heartfelt, funny, uncomfortable, and mesmerizing. Curt Kirkwood: They’re a very similar band to us. Kurt knew how to write catchy songs that appealed to people who were desperate to find a voice. Quotes from Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic were culled from articles in Rolling Stone and Bass Player, and an MTV News clip. Kurt bought one and I put it on and I started playing it. Litt: Sometimes people say that a good song will sound good no matter the instrumentation. The press, that’s who I was dealing with, were sort of lamenting that they had to go through this again. McCarthy-Miller: After the show they had Kurt come into the control room and look at some songs. Coletti: They had a game plan, clearly. We were walking on thin ice with Unplugged when they saw that we were using an acoustic guitar with electric guitar pickups, through several electric guitar pedals, and into an electric guitar amp. I go, “Well Robin [Williams’s] character gets over the death of his son too soon.” So I came up with this scene that wasn’t in the script, where Robin’s in front of a rack of porno and he starts crying. It’s a testament to how deeply and intimately Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl understood their material as a band that they were able to filter through their catalog of popular hits and fan favorites, cut the songs that didn’t fit the format and emerge with a track list of songs that would be transformed in the "Unplugged" setting. He was truly falling apart. Litt: I know they were feeling pressure from MTV to play songs from Nevermind. And it felt like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Cross: That’s the song that Kurt stops halfway in between. I was so tired of it. But seeing him on the monitor right in front of me kind of freaked me out. It was funny because I called him up and I was like, “Hey, you want to be in the movie?” And he’s like, “Why?” I go, “Because you’re funny.” He goes, “I am?” I go, “Yeah.” And I was like, “You know, it’s about when someone dies and people that don’t really know them reinvent it and make it all about themselves and forget about the people who were really close to the person.” And Krist said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”, Coletti: In the moment, I think the band was having a pretty good time and the audience was too. It was a huge influence on our Unplugged thing. Finally, Dave Grohl, because he’s the most gregarious out of that bunch, was like, “Hey, who are you guys?” We were like, “Oh, we’re the directors, we’re just here to kind of take a look at the set list.”. I was lonely. Finnerty: There’s always the chance that somebody could walk if they’re not comfortable. Cris Kirkwood: I ended up sitting where Krist had been, and there was a microphone. There was a tiny, tiny ad that just said Nirvana Fan Club, and it was a P.O. At that moment, I felt like I was off the clock and that it was time take a deep breath. Merlis: I remember ultimately they didn’t do the live record because it was just too intense. Coletti: When we shot it, this wasn’t meant to be the last thing they did. There was laughter. Cross: You kind of had Kurt Cobain at his wit’s end with everything going on with him in his life. Coletti: I always first think of “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam.” Krist playing the accordion. To me it is his most vulnerable moment and one of the reasons that I think it’s his greatest single moment on stage. I can give him what he wants.” But I saw it was an issue. Galea: I wasn’t a smoker but I asked him for a cigarette. So the guy’s saying, “Oh man, I feel nervous, uncomfortable, I still feel like it doesn’t feel like Unplugged. He wanted to meet me. And no one walked off the set. Merlis: I saw him on the phone. The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie cover) 5. I was to his right. Acoustic basses were hard to come by. I’d go underneath the table. Because these guys are pretty good, and we’ll never hear from ’em again.” And then about [three or four] years later, maybe, I was opening for them while they played arenas. The room’s haunting vibe later led the event to be described as sorrowful, but despite Cobain’s well-documented struggles at the time, the evening was far from dour. Coletti: I remember Kurt, he wasn’t happy with the stool, so he came into the control room and grabbed an office chair and wheeled it out, and said, “I’m gonna use this.” And we said, “OK. Chiusano: All of a sudden, Kurt’s walking by and he’s got two cups of tea and kind of like stops and looks at us and is like, “I’d give you all a hug, but I’ve got my hands full.”. Finnerty: I remember that Kurt wanted to make sure to have some time to kind of connect with the fans before he played. And I kind of did the wave and they looked at me. It was wonderful. I felt bad to pop his bubble. Bailey: After we got the band set up to rehearse, I recall setting up a small workshop nearby to dismantle and modify Kurt’s Fender Mustang guitars for the In Utero tour. So I managed to find locally, [where I was based] in Pennsylvania, [a company that made] a kind of fabric flower, and they did stargazer lilies. At that point, no one wanted to seem opportunistic. Cobain had played guitar and added background vocals on friend Mark Lanegan’s cover of the track, which appeared on the Screaming Trees frontman’s 1990 solo album The Winding Sheet. I remember getting in, and I saw Dave Grohl wandering around with a beer in his hand. I don’t know if my mom knew what was up. But it was still kind of strangely relaxed. There was no internet yet. Cris Kirkwood: I remember going up to his room, maybe a couple of times, helping him practice even more, getting the stuff all the way down. And yet, on stage, once the tape starts running, it’s absolutely mesmerizing. He wasn’t doing that big, big Dave thing that he could do so well. Someone yelled out “Free Bird,” and they did [a few notes of] “Sweet Home Alabama,” which is kind of meta. He has a cameo. Never seen a frown on that guy’s face. Peter Baron (head of video production, Geffen Records): I have a vision of a moment of walking into the sort of green room or whatever it was, and Kurt was sitting there with Bobcat Goldthwait, like literally together. We did a great job.” It was really like a kid had gotten an A on a test. Robert Fisher (art direction–design, MTV Unplugged in New York): Kurt was really into those lilies. Coletti: It only took on this huge resonance when Kurt died, and when we played it around the clock because it was such an appropriate elegy. I didn’t think anything other than, “Oh, it’s other fans I can trade bootlegs with.” So I wrote to it. Cris Kirkwood: The scene wasn’t necessarily anti-celebrity, but to have it thrust upon you to that degree ... Finnerty: There were no secrets about [Cobain’s] struggles with addiction back then. After the rehearsals, some of us went to see Bob Dylan play at the Supper Club. Twenty-five years ago today, Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York arrived on … I recall it being the back of a Spin magazine. It’s been called the best TV episode of the ‘90s and the best live album of all time, hailed as a masterpiece from the decade’s defining band. He hadn’t been sleeping. I couldn’t find anywhere to sit, and he gave me his seat in the front row. I flat out was not going to not use the microphone. They know what they’re doing. And I just assumed we were gonna stay in Manhattan. Here we are now: Nirvana's 'Nevermind' at 25, Ranking the songs on Nirvana's classic album, Your California Privacy Rights/Privacy Policy. Amy Finnerty (vice president of music and talent, MTV): Everybody wanted to see Nirvana do an Unplugged. Everybody was just really excited when they agreed to do it. Finnerty: Because of the immediacy of their fame and success, it put them in a self-inflicted but uncomfortable position, in that they were suddenly a much bigger band than their predecessors. Krist Novoselic (bass): The rehearsals didn’t go well at all, so to help prepare myself I invited Cris and Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets to my hotel room just to jam out the songs with me to get the details down. Everyone’s sitting up there, don’t worry.” So I go running up, and he goes, “Can you get me a Kleenex?” I’m like, “Oh my God, are you kidding me?” So we used to joke around. If there’s an entry point to who Kurt Cobain was as a songwriter and a singer, Unplugged is that. For the normally ear-splitting band and its hardcore fans, the pre-performance atmosphere was surreally understated. They obviously had a very clear vision of what they wanted to do. Charles R. Cross (journalist–Cobain biographer): They played six covers, four songs from Nevermind, three from In Utero, and one from Bleach. They were asking us about if they were gonna release this. I used to disappear under there, find my favorite color, pry it off, and chew it. The thing about Kurt that most people didn’t know was that he was a real perfectionist in his own way. And he just proved the versatility of the band and, I think, the quality of the band. It was really bad.” I was like, “Oh my God, you’re out of your mind.” I walked him up to the room. Recorded for the TV show MTV Unplugged, which aired on December 16, 1993. Nirvana’s appearance on the acoustic series proved something that close observers already knew: The loudest band on earth had a stunning amount of depth. AIC ,better song writers ,better musicians . Like the Beatles experience or something. Touring sucked. We went from being fucking sulking dirtbags to kids again. He’d rub his face onto mine. And so in between the camera rehearsal and the show, I stood with Kurt and Krist and Dave, and [manager] John Silva might’ve been there as well, in the dressing room at Sony, and I basically begged them to play some more music, which was silly, because they had so clearly prepared so meticulously for this performance. Finnerty: I was in my 20s. He was in a sweater that he got at like, a thrift store. Cross: Kurt is leading every moment and every gesture in a way that you don’t observe when you watch a Nirvana show that’s electric. During that time, all the rage was MTV’s Unplugged show. It was just the sweetest thing and the most respect. Goldthwait: I remember during that show, he was funny, cracking jokes. So when they were invited to do the show, we had some big questions to figure out. We started to screw around for rehearsals for Unplugged. I’m like, “People just saw their version of God playing 3 feet in front of them.”. Merlis: The album Unplugged was supposed to be a two-record set. I'm just trying to put into words what makes them so special, but I can't (they just are), so I wanted to know what others could come up with. The music was prepared on its own terms but with an eye on Unplugged.

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