Nirvana — “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (from Nevermind) — Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nevermind

Tori Amos — “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (from Crucify) — Smells Like Teen Spirit - Crucify - EP

Even though he thinks he’s not a fan of the music from the grunge era, A was quite upset that none of the genre’s classics managed to make their way into this space during our trip to Seattle — the musical movement’s epicenter — last week. So, to appease his wailing soul, we’re going with the classic, the epic ode which captures with a brilliance that is as perverse as it is pristine the dizzying drama of teen angst, the one tune without which none of those other tunes would have stuck their landings. The specter of Mr. Cobain’s tortured spirit hovered over a goodly portion of this particular vacation; A and I spent a riveting morning at Seattle’s Experience Music Project, which is currently running an in-depth exhibit that examines Nirvana’s inexorable participation in, as they put it, “bringing punk to the masses,” and we also spent a pretty powerful bit of time just outside Kurt’s former home, a lovely and disturbingly unassuming abode which sits on the banks of Lake Washington. (Outside looking in, naturally, and would Kurt have had it any other way?) On the plot of ground just beside the home sits a cozily secluded park with a pair of benches, onto which have been etched and scrawled a literal thousand messages to Kurt — thanks, prayers, wishes, a marvelous mural of grace and gratitude, wooden (but strangely alive) paeans to what could have been but also to what was — and though we didn’t write anything on them ourselves, it was impossible not to be rocked to the core by seeing the words “hello / how low” painted on one of the seat backs. (I’m also including my beloved Ms. Amos’ magnificently mellow cover of “Teen Spirit” — recorded roughly a year after the original — here, because it still fascinates and bumfuzzles me, even a full two decades after I first heard it. What I wrote four years ago on this very topic I still believe to this very minute: “In one of the ballsiest moves popular music has ever witnessed, the wickedly ambitious (and then-largely-unknown) Amos decided to take Kurt Cobain’s aural touchstone and, using her piano as a flashlight and her piercing voice as a divining rod, flesh out the pain and haunting sincerity in his words, almost daring to use the phrases against him, almost begging the lyrics to defy their author, to bring him to his knees.
The utter resignation in her tone as she slips into the final chorus is chilling.”
Hello, how low in-fucking-deed.)

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