In June of 1989, a little-known punk trio from Aberdeen, Wash., called Nirvana came to Santa Fe to play the now defunct Rockin’ T.P. alongside a pair of our legendary local punk acts. It did not go exceedingly well.
"My band Monkeyshines opened and we sucked," says formerly local drummer Tom Trusnovic. "27 Devils Joking was next [and] I wasn't in the band yet, but they were great. Nirvana was way too loud, and frankly, their sludgy, aggressively audience-unfriendly set made them kind of like a scumbag metal band…I can tell you they cleared the room of all but the metalheads."
Country-rock troubadour Sean Healen also recalls the show. "Don't hold it against me, but I was drinking beer in the parking lot," Healen tells SFR. "The show was loud. Really f'n loud."
Why all the sudden interest in Nirvana? Well, besides that they are one of my favorite bands of all time—and I'm still seething with the rage that comes from not having been at this show despite complaints of high volume—a new coffee table book about Nirvana has recently been released by Voyageur Press.
Nirvana: The Complete Illustrated History is a fascinating look through the brief career of the band that brought grunge to the masses. With hundreds of photos, flyers, interviews and even abbreviated essays on Kurt Cobain's 50 favorite records, this is much more than a mere coffee table book.
To be fair, the life and times of the band that brought us such killer records as In Utero and MTV Unplugged in New York (which turns 20 this year—yep, you're old) is pretty well-worn territory. Considering Nirvana only operated for six-ish years and released a mere handful of albums, they've been dissected and discussed and compared for years. But whereas previous efforts in book and film have proven to be tainted by an almost Godlike reverence for Cobain, The Complete Illustrated History is presented in almost textbook form. This isn't to say that it is dry or painful to read, but rather, that authors Charles R Cross, Gillian G Gaar, Bob Gendron, Todd Martens and Mark Yarm have compiled historical non-fiction and presented it with a non-stop array of photos, concert flyers and more.
By separating themselves from the subject matter and looking at the history of the band, the authors have created a time capsule of sorts that almost clinically examines fact rather than presenting blind admiration.
There is obvious reverence from any author on any subject, but given the dark realities of Cobain's later years and the subsequent strain on the band, his roles as husband, father and bandleader (and his now infamous drug use) it's refreshing to see a book that tackles the subjects without shrinking from the harsh truths. Previous books and films that provided insight into the world of Nirvana always seemed to employ a "But his life was totally hard, so who could blame him?" qualifier. That's not the case here. It's interesting to see into the tragic elements of the band that, while totally publicized before now, still paint a captivating picture of loss, gain and Cobain's ultimate self-destruction under the pressure of his own success.
What's that old axiom about music suffering after its creators get clean? One wonders if Nirvana would still be around today had Cobain survived and, if so, would they still be any good? As it stands, the years of Nirvana's operation will forever be frozen in a six-year period of brilliance, accessible forever and ever.
And when we think back to what was once the biggest band on earth playing a tiny venue here in Santa Fe while the bulk of the audience drank beer outside (by the way, video of the performance is available here), it's so much easier to, like Nirvana: The Complete Illustrated History, look at the human aspects and the real life behind one of the most important bands in rock history.
NIRVANA: THE COMPLETE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY
Available at voyageurpress.com and fine booksellers everywhere $35.99