Nirvana’s The Man Who Sold the World Performance was Haunting

Nirvana The Man Who Sold The World

Photo By Ryanw2313 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Nirvana’s haunting version of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” was filmed on November 18th 1993. The performance was part of the MTV Unplugged television series. The show was recorded at Sony Studios in New York City. For the show, Kurt Cobain and his bandmates decided to perform cover versions of lesser known songs from other artists. The band also explored some of the less common songs from the Nirvana catalog. For the performance, Nirvana re-imagined such songs such as  Vaseline’s “Jesus Want’s Me For a Sunbeam,” The Meat Puppet’s “Plateau, ‘Lake of Fire’, ‘Oh Me,” and Where Did You Sleep Last Night,'” which was a traditional song with an arrangement by Lead Belly. However, the most astonishing augmentation of the night was Kurt Cobain’s arrangement and performance of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World.”

When first hearing Kurt Cobain’s opening guitar lick to the David Bowie song, one may wonder why his acoustic guitar sounded electric. It was later discovered that Cobain had run his acoustic guitar through a fuzz box that he could trigger with a pedal. Utilizing the fuzz box enabled Kurt Cobain to switch back and forth between the strumming sound of an acoustic guitar and the harsh dark sounds of his guitar on the song’s lead licks.

Nirvana’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” performance was mesmerizing. Kurt Cobian’s haunting vocals overtook and descended the Bowie lyric into an arena of darkness and hallucination that seemed to be David Bowie’s original intent. On stage, Nirvana was joined by the Meat Puppets Cris and Kurt Kirkwood. Their presence, along with Cobain’s lyrical phrasing and gritty yet humbling resonance, left the audience spellbound. Sadly, Kurt Cobain committed suicide before the MTV Unplugged album was released.

David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” was originally released on David Bowie’s third studio album under the same title. The Man Who Sold The World album was issued first in November of 1970 in the United States. The album was later released in the United Kingdom in April of 1971.

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