Experiencing Nirvana: Bruce Pavitt’s New Photo Book Chronicles Groundbreaking ’89 Tour

by (@BHSmithNYC)
Mark Arm

Mark Arm of Mudhoney. Kurt Cobain is the onstage spectator wearing scarf and holding aluminum beer can, Lame Fest UK, 12/3/89.

Why do you think the Seattle scene was like that?

I think there were some key personalities. First and foremost, I believe Mark Arm, from Green River and Mudhoney, was a real leader in the scene. His commentary on stage was just hilarious. And Tad was hilarious and so were the Nirvana guys. Kurt was understated but he definitely had a sense of humor as witnessed in a lot of the Nirvana videos that became popular. You know, sometimes it just takes a personality or two to set the tone for a scene. I did a lot of the “ad copy” for Sub Pop and my strategy was to be as self-deprecating as possible but speaking in kind of fake corporate language to parody and undermine it. It was still punk, but a different take on it.

Self-deprecation though often belies real confidence, in your case, that these really were the best bands in the world which is a double edged sword.

It is and we worked at it as hard as we could. When we talked about “World Domination,” it was always kind of a joke but we half believed it and half thought it was crazy. And we found out the more exaggerated and outrageous our proclamations were, the more and more it started to manifest as reality. I’ll tell you, that was pretty strange.

So many bands came out of the early Sub Pop scene. What are some of the other Seattle bands that you wish had been bigger?

First and foremost, Tad. They rocked London too. When you read all the British press reviews that are in Experiencing Nirvana half of them say that Tad stole the show versus Nirvana. Their album Eight-Way Santa was pulled after two weeks because of a very controversial cover then they had a single that was pulled after a few weeks. They lost a lot of momentum in that first month and I think that really harmed their trajectory. It’s kind of a sad state of affairs because Tad’s music was awesome and as a personality he’s one of the most interesting, humorous, and creative people I’ve ever met. You get that guy in front of the camera and somebody’s going to start giving him a million dollars a year for a reality TV show. That guy deserved to be a star because he is a star. He is truly larger than life personality.

These were some of the things we would take into account when we signed bands, like, sure they write good songs, etc, etc, but when these people step into a room, do people look up and go “Damn, who are these people?” Did they have personality? I think that’s really key. One other band I would mention is Malfunkshun with Andy Wood. They were a pretty amazing group in the early days. And The Melvins. They’ve definitely had a successful career on their own terms but I think they deserve to rock stadiums.