By Scott Reid | 4 July 2008
In the spirit of Listravaganza, I present you my 10 favorite quotes from the In Utero recording sessions.
But first: these are 100% real and taken from Michael Azerrad’s Come as You Are, all these years later still the best Nirvana-related book out there. Written pre-suicide, it doesn’t focus on eulogizing or forgiving Kurt, and in terms of Nirvana merchandise to drop your money on, it’s about as far as you can get from the grave-scraping (er, urn-scraping…er, maybe not even that anymore since Courtney Love managed to lose his remains and realistically they could be anywhere, which…god, how much worse can it get for Kurt; even as a pile of powdery ashes she’s fucking him over?) shit like his collected personal journals. Which boggles the mind, seeing how the same person responsible for those ever seeing the light of day also famously fought tooth-and-nail over unreleased Nirvana material, trying her best to keep control away from Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, who were in the fucking band.
Such is the post-Kurt Nirvana legacy: fraught with absurd drama and questionable releases, all of it distracting from what makes this band worth all this bullshit in the first place. (The ashes disappearing, though…that one was unexpected.) I won’t focus on this for long, but real quick: I can sort of buy some of Love’s claims, and generally Krist seems like he can be a bit of a dick (clue #1: he’s a politician now), so it’s easy to see why she’d clash with him; but fighting with Dave Grohl? C’mon. Everybody loves Dave Grohl. Even Steve Albini has a man-crush (“Dave’s a very pleasant, very goofy guy to be around”) and he hates everyone, Courtney very much included. Shit, he even probably hates himself since inking that deal to work with Bush, a band that very clearly and shamelessly wanted to become the soul-devouring, Satan-blowing, “corporate indie” cashcow that DGC was eager for, if not in some ways counting on, Nirvana to embrace post-Nevermind.
Which brings me to why In Utero is a record worth believing in, from the ethos behind it to the face-melting rock it births. First, Albini’s work on both In Utero and (ugh) Razorblade Suitcase mark huge disparities in artistic intent. Whereas Bush unmistakably wanted to cash in on American indie-rock in the mid-‘90s, Kurt—a huge fan of Big Black, Surfer Rosa, and Pod—hired Albini to avoid DGC’s commercial-minded wishes at all costs. He had turned on Nevermind completely, dismissing it as a processed, tamed, corporately constructed version of his music that he was anxious to obliterate with In Utero. Knowing Albini could pull this demolition/re-construction off, they set off to Pachyderm Studios in Minnesota (fun trivia: using the mixing board responsible for Back in Black); a mere week of recording later, Cobain, Novoselic, Grohl, and Albini had sussed out the Great album Nirvana had always been capable of.
Embracing Albini’s first-take, bare-bones approach, Kurt was finally able to capture “the sound that [he] hear[d] in [his] head”—what he had really envisioned for Nirvana before the suits and production gloss and big fat album advances came into play. Even though the band would pussy out a bit when DGC reps balked at the album, eventually hiring Scott Litt to punch-up “All Apologies” and “Heart-Shaped Box” (totally about Love, and boy did he sound smothered), In Utero remains a stubborn rock masterpiece, a “powerful, personal punk rock record” (-Albini) stacked with phenomenal and (somewhat) diverse songs, the lot of them consumed with all the awful Cobain’s psyche could disperse: disease, depression, obvious father issues, rape, Patrick Süskind’s Perfume, perfectly good blankets ruined by cigarettes, “aqua seafoam shame” (whatever the hell that is), abortion tea, love, Love. It was the group’s re-defining statement, the kind of messy rebirth that the title and creepy liner artwork hinted at, uncomfortable squalls of afterbirth (uh, “Tourettes”) and all. This is Nirvana at their most visceral and spontaneous, and it fucking destroys, no less today than it did in 1993. Throw on “Milk It,” you’ll see what I mean.
10. Kurt Cobain, on Steve Albini: “Steve was really into lighting his ass on fire. He’d pour rubbing alcohol on his ass and light it on fire. He likes to do that.”
9. Steve Albini, on Nirvana: “R.E.M. with a fuzzbox…an unremarkable version of the Seattle sound.”
8. Steve Albini, on why the fuck he took on the project then, besides that cool $100k: “In a way I felt sorry for them.”
7. Steve Albini, on every other person involved in the enterprise that is Nirvana, besides the band itself: “Every other person involved in the enterprise that is Nirvana, besides the band itself, are pure pieces of shit.”
6. Steve Albini, on the non-Nirvana players and movers and shakers of the music scene: “The players and movers and shakers in the music scene are real pieces of shit.”
5. Steve Albini, on Courtney Love: “I don’t feel like embarrassing Kurt by talking about what a psycho hose-beast his wife is especially because he knows it already.”
4. Courtney Love, on Steve Albini: “The only way Steve Albini would think I was a perfect girlfriend would be if I was from the East Coast, played the cello, had big tits and small hoop earrings, wore black turtlenecks, had all matching luggage, and never said a word.”
3. Steve Albini, pretending to be Bowie/T. Rex producer Tony Visconti, in a prank call to Eddie Vedder: “Your voice really speaks to me, I can get you in a real band to do some recording.”
(Azerrad: “Vedder bought it.”)
2. Steve Albini, on the album he made for the band he felt sorry for: “I find myself listening to it of my own free will, occasionally.”
1. Krist Novoselic, summing up this record as only the guy who threw his bass ten feet into the air only to have it come down and smash him in the face live on TV could: “Shit, it’s art. What are you going to do about it?”