Incoming: Box Set of Early Cobain Demos

To be released next
week in both standard and deluxe editions,
Before Nirvana: The Notorious
Kurt Cobain KDC Tapes will mark the first
official release of the earliest known recordings of the late Nirvana frontman,
who passed away 17 years ago, on April 6, 1994.

 

By Fred Mills

 

It’s easily the most exciting music news to arrive this year
– and also, given its stealth-press release this morning by Universal, the most
surprising. A Kurt Cobain boxed set will hit stores next week, on April 5, just
one day shy of the 17th anniversary of Cobain’s death.

 

Last year the news of the discovery of some 30-odd unreleased
early Kurt Cobain demos electrified Nirvana fans across the globe, setting off
endless speculation as to their purported authenticity – as well as endless salivation over the prospect of them
soon seeing an official release after sonic experts (including former Nirvana
producers Jack Endino and Butch Vig) hired by Nirvana’s parent record label,
Universal, verified them last August to, indeed, be the real thing. It marks
the first time since the 2004 Nirvana box set With the Lights Out that heretofore unheard Cobain material has
surfaced.

 

 

Just to bring you up to speed: Sometime in late March of
2010 an attendee at an Aberdeen,
Wash., garage sale bought a box
of “dusty” cassette tapes, having become curious after spotting the initials
“KDC” (as in, “Kurt Donald Cobain”) scrawled in black magic marker on the side
of each cassette. As original reports described the tapes, “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.'”

 

The reports went on to quote an unnamed industry source who
had heard the material: “[The source] described it as being ‘mostly singalongs’
performed on acoustic guitar or the aforementioned ukulele, along with some
rudimentary percussion performed by an unknown additional musician… It is worth
nothing 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… 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.'”

 

“The KDC Tapes,” as the trove has come to be called unofficially
at least, represent the earliest known recordings from Cobain, and at least one
individual from the Nirvana inner circle must have leaked some of them, as bootleg
EP featuring 3 of the above-mentioned songs surfaced back in June. Titled With The Lights Back On (a nod to the Nirvana
official box no doubt) and released by the so-called Zapple label, the CD was
quickly squelched by Universal’s battery of lawyers, with the label
confiscating and reportedly destroying as many copies of the release as they
could recover, although not before the EP made its way to the internet, where
it remains a hugely popular mainstay of file-sharing services.

 

Now, though, comes word that Universal and the Cobain estate
have been busily hammering out an agreement for an official release of the material
in order to meet the Cobain anniversary deadline The title is Before Nirvana: The Notorious Kurt Cobain
KDC Tapes
, and it’s to be available in multiple formats:

 

*two-CD version

*digital download

*four-LP 180-gram
vinyl edition

*one-CD “highlights”
edition

*two-CD / one-DVD
“deluxe edition”box set featuring all the songs plus a teeshirt and, on the
DVD, two documentaries (“Junker’s Journey,” which recreates and tells the story
of the lucky person who found the KDC Tapes; and “From KDC to Nirvana,” a kind
of “video biography” of Kurt Cobain during his pre-Nirvana years, utilizing
both unseen and previously-released footage of the guitarist as a child,
featuring interviews with various friends and associates, and lovingly narrated
by his mother, Wendy)

 

Apparently to increase suspense about the release, no
tracklisting has been announced. (Sorry kids, you’ll have to wait until you
traipse down to the record store or open up your iTunes account next week.) Appearing
in the initial promotional materials for Before
Nirvana
, however, is one tantalizing fact: a copyright blurb pointedly
notes “all songs written by Kurt Cobain and previously unreleased.” Fair
enough. But remember that mentioned above was that Cobain had apparently
recorded Steve Miller’s “The Joker”? Does the copyright blurb mean it will not
be included? When contacted by BLURT to inquire why the omission,
representatives at Universal remained mum, referring us back to the same press
release; the Steve Miller camp did not reply to our email and phone call.

 

However, in a stroke of lucky prescience, yours truly
actually chatted briefly with Miller last December when he performed at the
annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam. Spotting him backstage before his set, I
walked over and engaged him in small talk, then casually inquired if he’d heard
the Cobain version of his song. At that he visibly stiffened, scowled, and
practically muttered under his breath, “Goddam
Seattle grunge
crap…”
I asked him if he thought the song might get released and he just
shot me a nasty smirk, then excused himself and walked back to the dressing
area. The implication was pretty clear.

 

 

 

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