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Last-Second Gifts: Two New Nirvana Books 

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This gorgeously designed, objective look at Nirvana comes from a variety of reputable sources, including Todd Martens (pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times), Jim DeRogatis (author of the ultimate Lester Bangs biography) and Gillian Gaar (author of four books on Nirvana).

But The Complete Illustrated History is unique in that it includes rare photos, early flyers and an in-depth analysis on why and how Nirvana exploded. Rather than sticking to the usual “MTV did it” theory, the book digs deep into the reasons why Nirvana came out of apparently nowhere to become the world’s biggest band and discusses how much the band disliked Butch Vig’s production of Nevermind (he recorded the trio live and later added overdub vocals and guitars, which Cobain hated) and Andy Wallace’s mixing (he boosted the drums with equalization and blended samples and each song was processed to “smooth out and modernize the nakedness” earlier found on Bleach).

“Looking back on the production of Nevermind, I’m embarrassed by it now,” Cobain told author Michael Azerrad on his book Come As You Are. “It is closer to a Mötley Crüe record than it is a punk rock record.”

In the same book, former Nirvana drummer Chad Channing agreed.

Nevermind isn’t grunge,” he said. “It’s a freaking rock album. That’s what happens when you get to major labels. They want everything so crisp and clean, so perfect. And that really sucks, because it sucks the soul right out of the music.”

After dissecting the many factors that took Nevermind to the stratosphere (MTV, yes, but also Saturday Night Live and the post-Christmas surge that made the album explode three months after its release in 1991), DeRogatis closes the Nevermind chapter with something Cobain told him shortly before the release of In Utero. His words give an early indication of Cobain's state of mind at the time—all he wanted to do was write and play songs, and now he was a “rock star” finding it harder and harder to remain hungry. He had no time to seriously consider anything related to a so-called “grunge explosion.”

“I don’t understand how these people can come from an environment and a lifestyle after so many years of being in underground music and keeping that kind of music alive, and now it suddenly seems like a desperate attempt by some of these bands who’ve never been recognized at trying to say we deserve that,” Cobain said. “It’s kind of sickening to see how these bands become careerists all of a sudden. That’s what everyone was against when they started these bands. The reason I wanted to be in a band was to be in a band and write songs. You can be validated if you sell 2,000 records, and you should be happy with that.”

The book also includes a list of Kurt Cobain's all-time favorite 50 albums, which include the Clash's Combat Rock, the Shaggs' Philosophy of the World (!) and the Beatles' Meet the Beatles.

The book has 192 pages and costs $35.

Go to the next page to see read about the other book I'm recommending: Experiencing Nirvana.

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Kurt Cobain at Rome's Coliseum, November 27, 1989.

"Finally, a Nirvana story with a happy ending" is the perfect tagline for Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989, the fascinating photo book by Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt. The book includes more than 200 rare photographs by Pavitt, each chapter covering one day of one particular week during Nirvana's six-week 1989 European Tour that took them from Rome to London. It is Nirvana before it became NIRVANA, with the band opening for then-label mates Tad and Mudhoney. Soon, they would win over the British press, which started calling them "Sub Pop's answer to the Beatles." Look at a clip from a show in France (whoever filmed couldn't even spell the band's name right; that's how early this footage is):

The book has 208 pages and costs $34.95.

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