Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Smells Like Teen Spirit - Part One

Umlaut Note: I met Drunk Ted in the early-90's when he wrote for the legendary Flipside magazine. Although we met via Grunge, we also share Old Metal Roots. HAIL-S8-10!

Submitted by Drunk Ted:

click for larger image

Nirvana was playing at the Roxy on a Friday night. I knew it was sold out. Most shows of up and coming bands who just signed to a major label were sold out. Usually the label would buy up all the tickets and give them out to ensure a sold out house. I just didn't want to be bothered trying to weasel a ticket from someone. I wasn't writing for Flipside just yet, so it would've been even harder to do so. And truth be told, Nirvana was so good at the Casbah about a year earlier, that I just didn't want anything to mar my memories of that show. So I didn't even try to get in and went down the street to Raji's to see the Muffs (I'm pretty sure it was them. Maybe it was the Lazy Cowgirls. Or Claw Hammer. Or any combination of the three.).

While I was waiting in line to get inside after going to my car for a quick swig of vodka, a friend who just got back from the Roxy came up to me and gave me a flier for a Nirvana video shoot the next day and said that they really need people to be there. Turns out the video shoot was just 2 miles away from me (at Culver City Studios, not Fairfax High School like everyone says it was. I think the scenes of the janitor were shot at the school, but that's it.) So the next morning, I decided to go down with my friend, Raidy, who I believe used to be in Verbal Abuse.

Nirvana was fairly big back then. I mean, they could probably sell out Raji's or the Roxy on their own, but they still were just a club band. The flier told us not to wear any clothing that had "logos" or "band names" on them and to just wear what you would've worn in high school. I can't remember what I wore, but I think it was my Sub Pop "Loser" t-shirt, probably a big no-no considering they were filming a video for a Geffen release and Nirvana kind of left them on bad terms. Whatever I wore, it didn't fit the guidelines.

We were kind of separated into two groups. Three, if you count the band. There was the group who were to be in the bleachers who either won a radio contest or had the connections to be there, and then there was the rest of us, who were just grouped to be next to the bleachers, standing to the side. The band was sectioned off by the basketball net. I thought it was unusual the band was so separated from everyone else. You weren't even allowed to go talk to them. That was very weird considering that they just weren't that big of a band! Why all the security?! Kurt mostly kept to himself behind the line. No one was really talking to him. Nor did it seem he wanted to talk to anyone. Dave (the new guy) was mostly hanging out by his drums, and Chris would occasionally walk around and talk to people. In fact I totally blew it in front of him.

While walking up to try and meet Kurt, I overheard two people talking behind me. One of them was saying "I can't believe there's a video shoot going on!" I turned around and said really sarcastically "Yeah, man, they just sold out so they could make a ton of money." One of the people turned out to be Chris who got extremely bummed out and said to me "Oh man, do you really believe that?" Not really, but I knew that they should film a video in order to at least get more exposure. I felt really embarrassed and disappointed with myself that I really bummed Chris out. I think I kind of stuttered "Well, the label does want to make sure they can maybe sell some records.". Keep in mind that I think there is nothing wrong with "selling records". I have no problem with that, as long as you can keep writing good songs. But my sarcasm was lost on Chris and his friend. And my delivery stank.

The conditions were horrible. All that smoke you see in the video? It wasn't smoke. More like chalk dust to show up for the cameras better. I can't stand cigarette smoke and this was worse. It was incredibly hard to breathe there. And the song was "ok", but nothing special. They had it coming out of one speaker that was placed on the right side of the basketball court. It was incredibly muddy. Imagine taking a 10th generation cassette copy of the song, putting it on "mono", with the bass turned all the way up and no treble. That's what my first half dozen times of hearing 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' sounded like. The whole time I'm thinking, "They're doing a video for this song?!?!" It wasn't until a couple weeks later when I heard KROQ playing 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' by "this new band called "Nirvana" that I "got it". Oh yeah, this sounds SO much better!

There was a ton of waiting around too. Too much waiting around. When they were ready to shoot, we were directed to stand around and watch and look bored. Then as the chorus and comes up, we were to get "really into it". We were also told to not directly look at the camera. Having only been living in LA for a few months and not being used to being around cameras, I couldn't help myself but look directly at the camera as they were passing it around us. I had my glasses on and as the song got to the part where people were to get "really into it", this guy jumped off the bleachers and landed right on my head, almost breaking my glasses.

By then I was so fed up with the conditions, the waiting, the people almost breaking my glasses (and maybe even my neck), I mostly hung out in the back of the crowd until lunchtime. Right before lunch, we did one last take, and everyone just charged the band. That was pretty funny. I don't remember being directed to do it, but when people rushed the band, I was wondering if I missed some direction or something. I got in there a bit, but kind of late. Then again, I was really self conscious and feeling "unhip", so I didn't really even try to get in the frames more.

A few months ago, I bought the Making Of Nevermind DVD and went through 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' frame by frame, but couldn't see myself in it at all. I can understand why though. I wore a shirt with a logo on it, I was looking directly at the camera, and had my glasses on. Three no-nos, I'm sure. That guy jumping off the bleachers? That was probably my head he landed on. I don't remember anyone else diving off the bleachers except that one time. I think they did a few more shots after lunch, but the conditions, the waiting, and the rude security guards were just too much. We waited until they fed us (sandwiches & chips; we were singing "Hold the mayo, and the tomatoes" to the chorus of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'), ate, said "Fuck it", then left for home. All the time not having a clue as to just how big this video would become and how important Nirvana would be. I really don't think anyone did.

Click HERE for Smells Like Teen Spirit - Part Two: Drunk Ted meets Kurt Cobain AND saves Courtney Love's ass!