Nirvana’s influence lives on
GRUNGE PIONEERS INSPIRE A NEW GENERATION.
On 8th April 1994, the body of Kurt Cobain – lead singer of Nirvana – was found dead at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard East, Seattle, WA. Forensic analysis determined he had committed suicide three days earlier on 5th April.
It’s certainly one of the first “celebrity” deaths I can remember having an impact on me and shockwaves went around the world as the power of MTV brought the news to millions of Nirvana fans in every far-flung corner of the globe.
Many of our writers and indeed many of the acts we cover on Folk and Tumble are too young to remember Nirvana in their prime, to remember hearing the first pounding drums of ‘(Smells Like) Teen Spirit’ echoing in walkman headphones and the subsequent thrill of delving through tape shelves of your local indie store to find ‘Bleach’ and a plethora of rarities and bootleg concerts.
Nirvana was probably the first band I organically discovered without radio and television forcing them upon me.
To this day, the discovery of a new act brings a similar thrill and it’s safe to say that 22 years after his death, the music of Kurt Cobain continues to inspire and influence a horde of younger artists, equally keen to discover the lyrics, discordant melodies and the raw vulnerable self-destruction of the grunge single.
Take that back catalogue of song, take a generation of artists bringing music back to it’s most bare of roots and you’re left with something like this.
PATTI SMITH – ‘(SMELLS LIKE) TEEN SPIRIT’
Probably the best-known artist on our list takes on the behemoth of Nirvana’s greatest hit from 1991’s ‘Nevermind’. It’s given some dirgy Appalachian banjo treatment here.
STURGILL SIMPSON – ‘IN BLOOM’
Darling of the country scene right now, Sturgill Simpson may not be an obvious choice to cover the second track from ‘Nevermind’ but this classic country rendition with haunting strings and Nashville brass has got something special.
CIVIL TWILIGHT – ‘COME AS YOU ARE’
We’re staying faithful to the track-listing of Nirvana’s 1991 masterpiece so far even if the artists aren’t. This moody, piano-led rendition wouldn’t sound out of place bringing the sounds of grunge to a new generation raised on indie-rock American TV soundtracks.
KID CUDI – ‘WHERE DID YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT?’
This one goes a little leftfield. Nirvana’s ‘Unplugged In New York’ record from 1994 included several covers including the pained and strained trademark vocals of Cobain reworking Lead Belly’s folk standard ‘In The Pines’. Here we hear it reinterpreted again by rapper, producer and actor Kid Cudi who somehow manages to stay faithful to both and yet neither.
AMANDA PALMER AND THE GRAND THEFT ORCHESTRA – ‘POLLY’
Perhaps no one on this list gets this emotion of a song quite the way Amanda Palmer does with ‘Polly’. It’s a dark song to start with but the eerie threat of the instrumentation and hard hitting video would surely have found favour with the author of the original.
WILL DAILEY – ‘TERRITORIAL PISSINGS’
Side one, yeah remember tapes, of ‘Nevermind’ rounded off with the thrashing aural assault of ‘Territorial Pissings’and twenty years later on a 20th anniversary record entitled ‘Come As You Are’, songwriter Will Dailey took this on a bombastic indie journey. Think OK GO and try to forget 1991 for three minutes.
HORSE FEATHERS – ‘DRAIN YOU’
Horse Feathers really took ‘Drain You’ on a journey. It’s gone all the way from backstreet Seattle divebar to somewhere in the mid-west sitting on a back porch listening to Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’. This is all out folk with finger-picked guitar, fiddle and strings and delicate three-part harmonies. It’s miles away from Nirvana but highlights the songwriting chops that Cobain’s own musicianship often obscured.
JESSICA LEA MAYFIELD – ‘LOUNGE ACT’
A surprisingly sweet, almost pixie-like rendition of what’s a real snarling piece of rock and roll on ‘Nevermind’. This Jessica Lea Mayfield retains a little darkness behind those melodic vocal lines and is probably the best track on the ‘SPIN’ 20th anniversary record from 2011.
THE ALBUM LEAF – ‘ON A PLAIN’
Astute songwriters in their own right, The Album Leaf do a stellar job on their cover of ‘On A Plain’ in highlighting Kurt’s talent. Opening as a fairly faithful, if much slower, version of the original this eventually meanders into lo-fi indie territory with snare rolls and crescendo building harmonies.
WILLIAM FITZSIMMONS – ‘SOMETHING IN THE WAY’
Other than a few instances on ‘Unplugged In New York’, this album closer on ‘Nevermind’ is probably the closest Nirvana got to the acoustic vibes we usually have looping round the Folk and Tumble offices. Who knows where the following twenty-two years would have taken Cobain? He could be rocking some dirty bluesy Seasick Steve type tunes or treating us all to some scathing psychedelic laments on the American dream by now.
FATHER JOHN MISTY – ‘HEART SHAPED BOX’
Of course the aforementioned prog-folk despair of modern America is the stuff of Josh Tillman records. In the Father John Misty guise, he’s provided not only a great commentary on his contemporary homeland but also conjured up some stellar folk tunes along the way. With his disdain and despair of Hollywood and celebrity culture, perhaps it’s only fitting he chose to cover the love song Kurt penned for Courtney Love on 1993’s ‘In Utero’.
POLYPHONIC SPREE – ‘LITHIUM’
Few artists really threw as much of their tortured soul into their work as Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. Even when he opens ‘Lithium’ stating his apparent happiness, you feel it might never last. The perennially joyful Polyphonic Spree lent their mass orchestration and charming indie-pop sensibilities to the tune a few years back giving it a sense of radio friendliness and accessibility. Underneath all the pomp though there’s still that enduring feeling that lingers in Cobain’s songwriting.
While it may have seemed better to Kurt to burn out rather than fade away, the legacy of his work has done neither. I suspect in another twenty something years, someone somewhere will still be compiling these lists.