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Feature [Issue #12]
Nirvana: A Personal Note on Nirvana: With The Lights Out
By Mandana Beigi
With the Lights Out (CD/DVD Geffen)

After cashing in on Kurt Cobain’s private diaries and the rushed release of “You Know You’re Right” in the fall of 2002, Courtney Love is now gladly accepting your $60 for an elaborate box set of Nirvana rarities, just in time for the holidays.

Because grunge and commercialism go so hand in hand and because Nirvana and Kurt’s story reminds us so much of Christmas, Universal Music and Courtney Love are rewarding the fans by releasing the long-awaited box set after more than seven years. So, why now? Why not on a more meaningful day that meant something to him or to us? If this box set was truly meant to celebrate Nirvana’s music and Kurt’s memory, then why let it out on the most commercial release date along with U2, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson, Goo Goo Dolls, and many more? Because when it comes to Nirvana, it’s all about cash. What’s more profitable than putting together a bunch of outtakes, unfinished songs and home videos, selling it for $60, and calling it a “deal” for the Christmas shoppers? Isn’t this against everything that Nirvana stood for? What happened to the foundation of grunge and the punk/rock ideology?

Universal’s Geffen label recorded close to 400,000 advance orders of the box set priced at $60 (although you could find it for as low as $40 at some retail stores). And according to Billboard, With The Lights Out, sold over 106,000 in the first week of release and brought in the biggest opening sales for any box set since Garth Brooks' The Limited Series in 1998. That’s more than $5 million worth of revenue for the label and Courtney Love in only one week. Needless to say, the set will continue generating even more profit in the months ahead and let’s not forget the revenue from international sales.

The four-disc set, With The Lights Out, includes 81 tracks, 68 of them previously unreleased. It was originally planned for release in 2001, but a dispute between Courtney Love and the surviving band members delayed the project. Kurt died without any legal agreement or a valid will, thereby giving control of 96% of Nirvana’s publishing rights to Courtney Love. In 1997 Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, and Courtney Love signed a partnership contract, which requires that all three vote unanimously on decisions such as the release of Nirvana’s songs, etc. Shortly after, Love filed a lawsuit against Novoselic and Grohl to break up the partnership and gain 100% rights to the wealth of material Kurt and Nirvana left behind. Krist and Dave wanted to release the box set earlier (to commemorate Nevermind’s tenth anniversary), but Love disagreed, arguing that a best of Nirvana CD should come out first. They wound up in court, but settled; the best of Nirvana album (another quickie holiday release) hit the stores in November 2002 with only one previously unreleased track, “You Know You’re Right.”

With The Lights Out features three CDs, opening with a live cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbraker” from the band’s first public performance in 1987 and a DVD of rare performances and rehearsal footage - including a handful of rehearsals at the home of Krist’s mom when Kurt was only 20.

Disc 1 includes the earlier days of the band and the poor quality of recordings on “Mrs. Butterworth” and “Help Me I’m Hungry” makes you feel more intimate to the beginning of Nirvana. “If You Must” (recorded in 1988) is a perfect example of an early track reflecting the band’s sound and dynamics, which seem to have been born from the very early days. Kurt’s rough guitar tone, Krist’s flexible beat on the bass, and their explosive swings in the beat make this previously unreleased track sound like an old familiar tune from Bleach or In Utero. On the more melodic side, we’ve got “Dive” (also recorded in 1988), which, in retrospect, vibrates the mood and the sound of Nevermind. And finally a bluesy trio of Leadbelly covers including “They Hung Him on A Cross.”

Disc 2 is mostly post-Nevermind Nirvana with Dave as a permanent member in the band’s lineup. Many of the bootlegged Nirvana tracks that have navigated the net for years have been compiled into one CD, which includes: “Verse Chorus Verse,” “Old Age,” a cover of Velvet Underground’s “Here She Comes Now,” and the Wiper’s “Return of the Rat.”

Disc 3 features a wide range of outtakes, studio sessions, and home recordings - from the In Utero demo sessions in Rio De Janeiro to Kurt’s home recording of “Rape Me.” Moving forward in the chronological format of the set, we arrive at “Do Re Mi” and “You Know You’re Right,” which were both put to tape only weeks before Kurt’s death. The tunes are so alive, explosive, and vibrating. It’s like a melancholy, bittersweet feeling that takes you back and forth in time and makes you want to avoid the ending that we all know too well. And for me, this just reconfirms my own personal take on his story and the fact that he was still so full of music and soul, even to the last minute.

So, all of this, the recording, the songs, the outtakes, the home videos, and the pictures go inside a glossy box on the retailers' shelves. And my problem is not just the inappropriateness of the release date; my problem is the lavish treatment of this material, which Kurt would have never wanted. My problem is pricing it at a level that many Nirvana fans can’t even afford. My problem is the industry that has squeezed an unplugged album, a live CD, a single box set, a best-of album, and now a complete box set out of a band that only had three studio albums. If it’s a financial gain, then let’s put a sticker on it and dedicate a percentage of the profit to fund schools and develop the music programs. If it’s “for the fans” as they claim it, then let’s just put it on the Internet for free or downplay the extravagant packaging and lower the price point. The music and the man’s memory are just too sacred to be thought of and treated as corporate entities and financial investments.

With The Lights Out does have some very amazing and spine- tingling moments and I am sure that the hardcore fans will enjoy every minute of it. Is it a treasure for the fans? Most definitely. Has it been handled and presented the way Kurt (and the true Nirvana fans) would have wanted it to? Certainly NOT. But in the end, who I am to tell you what to think of this box set? Who am I to tell you how it should have been done? All I can tell you is that I personally am not putting a penny in the pocket of the music industry or Courtney Love for offering me a “deal!”

With the Lights Out

A Personal Note on Nirvana: With The Lights Out Nirvana With the Lights Out

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