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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Remembering Nirvana’s Final Album ‘In Utero’

Cover art for "In Utero," Nirvana's third and final album. The album is being reissued to mark its 20th anniversary. (Nirvana)

Cover art for “In Utero,” Nirvana’s third and final album. The album is being reissued to mark its 20th anniversary. (Nirvana)

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s third and final record, “In Utero,” Here & Now speaks with pop culture critic Renee Graham, and Here & Now producer and director Alex Ashlock shares these thoughts:

I never bought all that “voice of a generation” stuff about Kurt Cobain. I was nearly 40 when he killed himself at the age of 27, so we weren’t even from the same generation. But the music he made with Nirvana spoke to me. It was often bitter and snarling but tender and melodic at the same time. He played a universal chord.

There was a feeling that the pain he was expressing, the anguish really, came from was a very real place. And that place was probably his dysfunctional family life, his parents acrimonious divorce, being shuttled from relative to relative in the gloomy northwest.

Kurt Cobain committed suicide at his home in Seattle in April 5, 1994. There were signs it was coming. There were drug overdoses. There was also a strange article I read in Spin Magazine, I think. The author riding around in a car with Cobain in some suburban neighborhood and just dropping him off to wander home or wherever he was going next in the pre-dawn darkness. I just never forgot that image. Here was one of the biggest rock stars in the world alone on the streets. He was lost.

On Here & Now we’re marking the 20th anniversary of the release of what turned out to be Nirvana’s final record, “In Utero.” The record came out in September 1993. It was the hugely anticipated follow up to “Nevermind” and its blockbuster hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Cobain thought “Nevermind” sounded too polished, so he and the band brought in Steve Albini in to produce “In Utero.” But Albini’s mixes of songs like “Heart Shaped Box” and “All Apologies” were too heavy for a record company that wanted another hit like “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” So another producer was recruited to buff them up. And those are the mixes that made the record that was released in 1993.

But now, thanks to a deluxe anniversary edition of “In Utero,” we can finally hear those original mixes. The anniversary edition of “In Utero” also includes a Nirvana concert recorded in 1993 in Seattle. It’s a reminder of how powerful the band could be on stage, but it’s also a reminder of what we’ve lost.

I saved a bunch of articles from newspapers and magazines after Kurt Cobain killed himself and put them in a notebook. There’s also my ticket stub from the only Nirvana show I got to see. I was looking through that notebook this morning and just felt sad.

Alex Ashlock's Nirvana ticket stub is pictured on a magazine page featuring Kurt Cobain. (Here & Now)

Alex Ashlock’s Nirvana ticket stub is pictured on a magazine page featuring Kurt Cobain. (Here & Now)

Guest

  • Renee Graham, pop culture critic for Here & Now. She tweets @reneeygraham.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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