The Making of Nirvana’s Most Vulnerable Album

Kevin Estrada/MediaPunch/IPX

In the 25 years since Nirvana last performed, we’ve seen a slew of posthumous releases and documentaries. One of the most enduring monuments to the band’s brilliance is their 1993 MTV Unplugged performance. Yes, they played a rare acoustic set. They played Leadbelly and David Bowie covers, and were joined by the Meat Pupppets. But the show contained an affecting vulnerability that still cuts right through people like me, who are old enough to have watched the show when it first aired. Kurt laughed. He talked with the crowd. The audience wasn’t moshing or jumping around. Fans were enchanted, especially when Kurt spoke with them one-on-one after the show. Unplugged became one of the band’s best selling albums. For The Ringer, Alan Siegal talks with the musicians, producers, and fans who made this historic night happen.

Craig Marks (editor, Spin): When he did “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” it wasn’t one of those things where a month later, or a week later, or a year later, you’re like, “That was great,” even though you didn’t really know it at the time. You knew the dead second that it was happening that you were witnessing something phenomenal. You didn’t really even know he had it in him. It was that good.

Bobcat Goldthwait (comedian-filmmaker): When they did that song, I remember the hair standing up on my arm.

Beth McCarthy-Miller (director, MTV Unplugged): That song told a thousand tales. It felt like he was singing all the pain that he had through that song. It was crazy.

Charles R. Cross (journalist-Cobain biographer): You get the sense that he’s just gonna fall apart, it’s like a car without its wheels, and yet, in the end, he plows through it.

Gillian Gaar (journalist): The thing he did, and he did it in a number of Nirvana songs, you’ll notice, [is] where he’ll be singing full bore, going all out, but then in the final verse he’ll go up an octave. And then really ratchet the energy up.

Scott Litt (producer, MTV Unplugged in New York): It fucking killed me—particularly where he paused before the end and gasped.

Amy Finnerty (Vice president of music and talent, MTV): The breath in between the breath. He made time stop. Time just stopped.

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