In 1989, few people knew who Nirvana was, and even fewer knew that they’d soon go on to revolutionize modern music. Among those early believers was Bruce Pavitt, the founder of the band’s now-legendary original indie label, Sub Pop.
When Pavitt and business partner Jon Poneman met up with Nirvana in Greece towards the end of their 1989 European tour supporting debut album Bleach, the band was wiped out and on the verge of breaking up.
As Pavitt worked to life the spirits of the band (particularly singer Kurt Cobain), he documented their travels to London in pictures. The tour culminated in a triumphant showcase as part of the LameFest UK, which many point to as the moment Nirvana broke, leading to their seismic impact just a few years later with Nevermind.
Now a full 23 years after the fact, Pavitt has collected those previously unseen photographs in a new e-book, Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989, available exclusively on Apple’s iBookstore. Documenting the eight days of November 27 through December 4, 1989, the book is a literal snapshot of what would become the future of rock as the band teetered on the brink of legend.
“It was really interesting to see these different personalities on the tour. It was like a little soap opera of sorts. They all had their little quirks, and Kurt was the shy sensitive one,” Pavitt told Entertainment Weekly about those fateful days. “But Kurt loved talking about music. The musicians involved in the indie culture were music geeks who got together to perform music as a hobby, not as a career option. Even after Nevermind, Kurt kept talking about people like Daniel Johnston and Shonen Knife—the true outsiders, the fringe of the fringe. That’s part of what made Nirvana so revolutionary.”
The intimate and candid photos capture the band both onstage and off, offering fleeting glimpses of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana’s original line-up (Dave Grohl wouldn’t join the band until 1990) looking impossibly fresh-faced and young, despite the exhaustion of the 6-week tour.
“I think Kurt’s death is very traumatizing for a lot of people, and it was hard for me to even listen to the music for a long time,” Pavitt continued about the inspiration for the e-book. “When I went through the pictures I realized they told a story, and it was a Nirvana story with a happy ending. I thought the world could use a Nirvana story with a happy ending.”
A portion of the title’s proceeds will be donated to the Vera Project in Seattle, an all-ages music and arts venue that “strives to fulfill its mission to foster a participatory creative culture through popular music concerts,experiential learning and volunteer opportunities for all ages, especially young people.”
Nirvana fans can also look forward to Record Store Day 2012 (November 16), when a special 20th anniversary edition of the band’s final studio album, Insecticide, is released. Pressed on two 180 gram vinyl discs cut to 45 RPM for higher sound quality, this new edition recreates Cobain’s original jacket design and comes with lyric sheet art in a deluxe gatefold sleeve.
–Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local