As a lifelong Nirvana fan, it has always stuck out like a sore thumb to me that the single ‘Lithium’ never had a proper music video.
It was in fact the only single from Nevermind that didn’t have a proper video: ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, ‘Come As You Are’ and ‘In Bloom’ all had what are now pretty iconic videos to accompany them.
For so iconic a song as ‘Lithium’ to not get a video always felt a little incongruous. Not that music videos are important necessarily: but if there had been no videos for Nevermind, it wouldn’t have felt like an issue.
It’s the fact that ‘Lithium’ was the odd one out. That song was one of the defining pop/rock songs of its generation; and the single came out at the height of ‘Nirvana mania’ in the middle of 1992.
There was a video for MTV play, of course: but it was a cheap promo video, consisting purely of live footage. In my mind, I remember inventing various vague ideas for a ‘Lithium’ video as a teenager.
I wasn’t aware that it had bothered anyone but me.
But, as it happens, I’ve not been alone. And a friend of mine recently took the step of creating a whole music video for the Nirvana classic.
She uploaded it to her YouTube channel (‘Rebellious-jukebox-on-film’), where the video has gotten a lot of attention and has proven popular. I absolutely love it. It’s not the imagined ‘Lithium’ video from my teenage mind, but it’s probably better than whatever I had thought of.
What’s stunning, for something being put together decades after the original, is how quickly and immediately her video strikes you as being totally legitimate: as if it’s always been that video.
Her edit takes footage from the film Street of Crocodiles by the Brothers Quay.
Kurt, as she explains, was obsessed with dolls, particularly old dolls made from clay; which he described at one time as being replicas of old 18th century Yugoslavian dolls. Kurt had in fact wanted the Brothers Quay to do the video, but the duo had declined.
As she explains, ‘Kurt Cobain was influenced by the Brothers Quay, a puppeteer duo who have made many films, music videos and art pieces over the decades. My favorite Brothers Quay film is called ‘Street of Crocodiles’. I edited the film together with ‘Lithium’ in an attempt to create something like the music video that might’ve been had those weird and creative people collaborated’.
I asked her about where her inspiration first came from. She says, ‘I first heard about the Brothers Quay in an interview I watched years ago that Kurt gave for the MTV Live and Loud concert they did with the Breeders. Knowing that Kurt had wanted the Quays to do a video for ‘Lithium’ and seeing so much of the shared aesthetic between the three artists, I decided to try to make that collaboration happen.’
It definitely feels… right.
It just works. And I get the sense Kurt would’ve been really happy with this. What also struck me immediately is that this video does bear some relationship to the cover artwork for the ‘Lithium’ single: so it does indicate that this is the kind of imagery Kurt might’ve very much had in mind back in 1992.
What’s kind of stunning is that she did the whole thing on her phone: not even on a laptop or a PC.
She explains, ‘I went to see which parts of the ‘Streets of Crocodiles’ video would fit with the mood of the song. Through tedious trial and error of editing, I found the key moments of the movie that synched up with ‘Lithium’ almost as if they were meant to go together. Those moments served as anchors around which I could edit the other parts’.
Well, she’s done a great job.
I also put to her that another iconic Nirvana single that never got a music video was the band’s final release before Cobain’s death: the ‘All Apologies’ single. Does she have any ideas what a hypothetical or parallel universe ‘All Apologies’ video would look like?
Given her creative mind and her passion for Nirvana, we might get to find out sooner or later.
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