Kurt Cobain’s Home Demos: Early Versions of Nirvana Hits, and Never-Released Songs

When our favorite musi­cians leave us, whether they die young or live to ripe old age, we’re guar­an­teed to keep dis­cov­er­ing new mate­r­i­al from them. Some­times this hap­pens through the ques­tion­able remix­ing of their unfin­ished work, and the results can be dis­ap­point­ing, if not down­right dis­re­spect­ful. More often, we’re treat­ed to hours of rough demos, home and con­cert record­ings, and alter­nate takes. And while these may not always live up to the pol­ished stu­dio ver­sions, they nonethe­less open intrigu­ing win­dows into the cre­ative process of artists we love and admire.

In the case of Kurt Cobain, we’ve heard for a cou­ple of years about unre­leased demos for a solo album the Nir­vana front­man sup­pos­ed­ly had in the works before his sui­cide in 1994. What might it have sound­ed like?

Well, it might have sound­ed some­thing like Cobain’s wife’s band, Hole—or at least like their song “Old Age,” released that same year with the sin­gle “Vio­let.” Cobain wrote the song and record­ed his own acoustic demo, which you can hear at the top. Dis­sat­is­fied, he gave it away to Court­ney Love. Just above, hear anoth­er acoustic home demo, “Do Re Mi,” that Hole co-founder Eric Erland­son told Fuse offers a hint of what might have been.

Until, if ever, the actu­al record­ings of Cobain’s planned solo album come out, we can only spec­u­late. But whether or not the noto­ri­ous­ly intro­vert­ed singer would approve, we do have many more acoustic demos and home record­ings of songs we know and songs we prob­a­bly don’t. Many of these appear on the Nir­vana box set With the Lights Out, which, in addi­tion to con­tain­ing “Old Age” and “Do Re Mi,” has acoustic ver­sions of In Utero’s “Rape Me,” “Pen­ny­roy­al Tea,” and “All Apolo­gies” (above).

What you won’t hear on the box set is the song above, “Cre­ation,” a home demo Cobain made in the late eight­ies, using a 4‑track recorder to mix his vocals with a bassline and drum­ming on suit­cas­es. This track appears on an unof­fi­cial 4 CD boot­leg set called Nir­vana: The Cho­sen Rejects along­side a good many demo tracks from Cobain’s first band, the obnox­ious­ly-named Fecal Mat­ter, which he formed with future Melvins drum­mer Dale Crover in Aberdeen, Wash­ing­ton.

“Cre­ation” presages the dron­ing, rhyth­mic melod­i­cism that became the hall­mark of Cobain’s Nir­vana song­writ­ing. But as for that sad­ly abort­ed solo album, it seems the singer may have been mov­ing into some very eclec­tic ter­ri­to­ry indeed. Cobain, says Erland­son, “was head­ed in a direc­tion that was real­ly cool. It would have been his White Album.” Alas.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Nir­vana Plays in a Radio Shack, the Day After Record­ing its First Demo Tape (1988)

Nirvana’s Home Videos: An Inti­mate Look at the Band’s Life Away From the Spot­light (1988)

Hear Dave Grohl’s First Foo Fight­ers Demo Record­ings, As Kurt Cobain Did in 1992

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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