Thursday, December 13, 2012

No. 539 – Polly

Performer: Nirvana
Songwriter: Kurt Cobain
Original Release: Nevermind
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: MTV Unplugged in New York, 1994

This song, the unplugged version of it, was the song was that convinced me beyond any debate that Kurt Cobain was a brilliant songwriter. It’s ugly subject matter, but the vocals on the chorus, with Dave Grohl singing high harmony, soar.

Unplugged in New York was a constant play when it came out—post Kurt, alas—but one thing bugged me about the CD. Actually, it was true of several CDs at the time, but this was the first one where I really noticed it. The CD was cut purposefully for radio play. In other words, the tracks are cued so they start as soon as the song starts.

That’s fine for a studio album, but on a live album, you sometimes have spoken introductions to songs. On Unplugged, all of these, with the obvious exception of the one for About A Girl, which, of course, is the show opener, are tagged at the end of a completely unrelated song.

It sometimes adds another minute or two of banter to a track and bugs the crap out of me when it comes up in shuffle mode, but, hey, whatever is good for radio, right? Now that music radio is dead, maybe that will change.

Awhile after the cutting up of Unplugged in New York bugged me, the album bugged me for a different reason. Debbie and I used to play this album all the time—at her place, at my place, didn’t matter. Then, one day, that stopped.

I can’t remember the circumstances, but it was at her apartment one night in 1995. We had this album on during dinner. I don’t know whether we had bad food or too much wine (doubtful) or what. Something was off.

We concluded that Unplugged had something to do with it. It was the wrong music at the wrong time. It’s not as though we got any bad news or got into a fight. (Our first real fight wasn’t until 1997.) The weird thing is whatever it was, we both felt it. Listening to something else seemed to make things instantly better.

I got over whatever it was pretty quickly, because it’s a great album—witness the number of definitive versions from this album on this here list—but Debbie didn’t for a long time, maybe ever. In fact, I remember putting it on at the house once—this was two, maybe three, years after the first night—and Debbie said she didn’t want to hear it. Maybe I’ll try again later, she said.

As far as I know, she’s never heard the album since. (When we split, I got custody of almost all of the music that she didn’t already own when we moved in together.) Pretty strange … but not nearly as strange as having Paul McCartney guest as the fourth member of Nirvana. What, Dan Fogelberg wasn’t available?

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