Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Revisiting what it was like when Nirvana broke big

I’ve been revisiting Milk It by Jim DeRogatis, an opinionated, controversial journalist and the co-host of the very best rock podcast, Sound Opinions. It’s a compilation of his writing from the 1990s and is one of the definitive documents of the height of “alternative.” I’ll have more summaries over the book in due time, but here are the most interesting nuggets about Nirvana, which takes up a sizable portion of the start of Milk It.

  • DeRogatis opines that Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl's releases with Foo Fighters - except for the band's debut - are trash. But 1997's The Colour and the Shape and 1999's There Is Nothing Left to Lose are hand's-down power-pop classics. (At first I wasn’t crazy about the FFs’ first release but it has aged very well into one of my favorites.)
  • 1991's Nevermind was the first punk record to hit Number 1 and now stands as the 29th best selling album of all time.
  • Cobain liked how Steve Albini used lots of mics around the studio to try to capture the sound of the band being right next to the listener on In Utero. But the one thing he regrets about the recording was not double tracking more of his vocals like Butch Vig had done with him on Nevermind. I agree that would have made In Utero even better.
  • In Utero opener “Serve the Servants” has a guitar solo that sounds like Robert Quine but Cobain claimed to not know who that was. In actuality, his knowledge of punk was scattered because of his hard-earned music knowledge growing up in the sticks of Aberdeen, Washington.
  • If you’re looking for the ultimate book about Cobain, DeRogatis recommends Charles Cross’s Heavier Than Heaven.
  • Of all the riches Nevermind brought the band, Bassist Krist Novoselic was perhaps proudest of his two vinyl jukeboxes.
  • Of course DeRogatis always has to be controversial in his tastes, with disses against Paul Westerberg and Pavement (two of my very favorites) included in the Nirvana section of his book.
  • On Foo Fighters’ debut, Grohl played everything except for one guitar part on “X-Static” by Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs.

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