Early Kurt Cobain Demos Unearthed

 

30-track collection
reportedly dates back to the Nirvana frontman’s childhood; estimated as being
worth “seven figures” or more.

 

By Fred Mills

 

A trove of dusty Phillips cassettes purchased by a
self-styled “junker” at an Aberdeen,
Wash., garage sale have turned
out to be early demo recordings by the late Kurt Cobain. It marks the first
time since the 2004 Nirvana box set With
the Lights Out
that heretofore unheard Cobain material has surfaced, and
Nirvana experts are hailing the 30-plus tracks – some of them full songs,
others just “sketches” – as likely representing the earliest known Cobain
material in existence.

 

The individual who bought the box of tapes initially got
curious when he spotted the initials “KDC” (as in, “Kurt Donald Cobain”)
scrawled in black magic marker on the side of each cassette. Upon listening to
them he contacted a music industry lawyer, who in turn contacted
representatives of Cobain’s estate and Cobain’s record label; the tapes were
subsequently verified by noted music producers Jack Endino and Butch Vig (who
both worked with Nirvana) as being legitimate. The finder is reportedly now in
negotiations to sell the tapes to the estate and label.

 

One industry observer estimates the potential value of the
tapes as being “in the seven-figure range.”

 

 

Cobain, who was born in 1967 and attended high school in
Aberdeen while living there with his mother, apparently recorded them on a
vintage 3M Wollensak mono tape deck when he was in elementary school –
presumably about the age of 8 or 9, as several of the song titles focus on
people and events circa 1974-75: “Nixon Must Die (Or Resign)”; “I Wanna Be Just
Like a Weatherman”; “Carlos the Jackal”; “Shazam!”; and the collection’s lone
cover, a ukulele version of the Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker.”

 

According to a source who has heard the material, the tunes are “mostly singalongs” performed on acoustic guitar or the
aforementioned ukulele, along with some rudimentary percussion performed by an
unknown additional musician,  “There’s
nothing there that would really give a blindfold test listener the sense that
Cobain would go on to form one of the biggest bands on the planet, although it
is worth noting that even at that age you could hear the initial stirrings of
his trademark rasp – kinda like any kid sounds after he’s been punched in the
throat a couple of times, actually.

 

“With that said, however, a few recurring lyrical motifs,
somewhat precocious on one level and disturbing on another, do provide ad hoc
foreshadowing. At least three songs contain the word ‘vagina,’ each part of
some childlike rhyming scheme, one of them being ‘your mama’; and there’s an
unusual fixation on firearms too, such as in ‘…Weatherman’ where he sings in a
kind of taunting tone of voice, ‘You’ll wish you were dead/ When I point my gun
at your head.’ That’s followed by the popping sound of a kid’s cap gun.”

 

Genuine historical artifact, or merely a curio for hard-core
Cobain and Nirvana fans? With interest in both the artist and the band never
having waned since his death in 1994, it’s likely that “The KDC Tapes,” as
they’re being referred to in industry circles, will eventually anchor several
archival releases: a CD of cherry-picked highlights, a collection of DJ
remixes, and the inevitable big-ticket boxed set – possibly even a DVD
documentary outlining the finding-of, the cleaning-up-of and the marketing-of
the tapes.

 

Also likely: the unknown percussionist will turn up wanting
his cut of the profits. Already, the Cobain estate has reportedly been
contacted by several individuals claiming – rather implausibly, and without
credible documentation – to be the percussionist. As Cobain’s mother, Wendy, told
a Seattle newspaper reporter, “Kurt really was a surly, unpleasant child to be
around, and while he’s been characterized as being the type of musician who
didn’t like to play with just anyone, it was actually the other way around –
nobody wanted to play with him.

 

 

 

 

 

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