AS people get older and enter middle age, they often look back at their teenage musical heroes with a sense of embarrassment.
Maybe the music or questionable lyrics haven’t aged well, the artist’s flaws are now painfully obvious or the songs that moved that hormonal teenager no longer connect.
Nirvana are the exception to that rule.
The band disbanded in 1994 after frontman Kurt Cobain committed suicide, but the band’s music sounds as fresh and vital as it did back then.
That’s partly down to them being the last great rock ’n’ roll guitar band, creating timeless music that wasn’t flabby, self-indulgent or cock rock.
Cobain has also dated well – he publicly called out misogynist lyrics and attitudes in the early 90s decades before #MeToo, and when his daughter Frances was born at the height of Nirvana’s fame in 1992 he put her front and centre – the very antithesis of the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.
End of Fashion frontman Justin Burford is a Kurt Cobain diehard.
In September 2022 he fronted Come As You Are at the Astor Theatre – a theatrical recreation of Nirvana’s iconic MTV Unplugged show from New York in 1993.
At that time, some were unsure if Nirvana, stripped of their crushing distortion and caveman drumming, could cut the mustard acoustically.
But the show was a massive success with Cobain’s intense performance winning him newfound respect and a new legion of fans.
Burford is following Come As You Are with a more intimate version of the Unplugged concert, featuring him on acoustic guitar and the occasional guest musician at Mojo’s in North Fremantle.
The show will include all the Nirvana favourites, as well as some rarities, with the 42-year-old Burford reflecting on how Cobain has impacted his life.
“As I state in the show, it’s weird to think of one’s self having a relationship with someone they’ve never met but I believe the word is appropriate,” Burford says.
“Especially with someone like Kurt who found fame against all odds precisely because they were relatable.
“My perceptions have definitely changed as I’ve grown older. I see him as more human, more damaged, more flawed. Some of the characteristics and attributes I admired as a child I can look back on with a more critical, albeit still empathetic and sympathetic, eye.”
In an era of fake news, dubious politicians and scripted reality TV, Burford says Cobain’s authenticity has never been more apt.
“I think authenticity remains relevant no matter the time and age. In times like these, people are more hungry than ever for someone seeming to speak their truth,”says the Perth singer-songwriter.
“There’s contrivances in every art form and every artist but those contrivances can still come from a place of meaning and authenticity.
“He was a contradiction in his desire for success but his outward rejection of it. I think it speaks to how a lot of people feel. We’re all dichotomies.
“We’re nurture and nature. We’re primal and civilised. Kurt captured that and people resonated with it.”
In the months leading up to Cobain’s death, the cracks were starting to deepen in Nirvana and they were on the verge of splitting up.
It looked like Cobain was ready to spread his wings and had done some recordings with novelist William Burroughs (Naked Lunch). There were also rumours about a musical project with Michael Stipe from R.E.M.
“I think he [Cobain] was definitely ready to take some time away from the band and the spotlight in general,” Burford says.
“Maybe some solo albums similar to Neil Young’s more sombre turns.
“Music was in his blood but I could see him putting more time into his painting, sculpting and poetry.
“There were even rumours of him trying out some acting. We’ll never know, unfortunately.”
Justin Burford Sings Nirvana Unplugged is at Mojo’s in North Fremantle on Saturday May 27. Tix at oztix.com.au
by STEPHEN POLLOCK