The untold story and never-before-seen photos of Nirvana in Madison

Madison Magazine publishes historic account and images that add to the Nirvana archive
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Tim Burton holds the color negatives from Tyler Jarman's disposable camera from 1990.
Photo by Tim Burton

The story of Nirvana’s time in Madison shortly before the band made it big has never been documented in full detail until now.

For Madison Magazine’s July issue — on the 30th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album — freelance writer Kurt Stream collected accounts and previously unpublished photos that tell the story of Madison’s pivotal role in the band’s breakthrough success.

The never-before-seen photos and story take you back to 1989, when a not-yet-famous Nirvana made its Madison debut playing for about 30 people at O’Cayz Corral. A year later the band would return to town for a recording session with Butch Vig at Smart Studios. It was there that Nirvana would record eight songs, many of which were early versions of what would appear on “Nevermind,” considered one of the most influential albums of all time. The song “Polly” was the one recording from the Madison sessions that would end up on “Nevermind,” locking in the album’s true start at Smart and forever linking the band to Madison.

The July feature includes historical band flyers from Nirvana shows in Madison, the original Smart Studios invoice sent to Kurt Cobain’s address, Vig’s mixing notes from the Madison sessions and photos taken by Tyler Jarman from Nirvana’s visit to WORT 89.9 FM radio station in April 1990.

“They are the only known photos to ever surface of them in Madison,” says Stream.

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Color negatives from Tyler Jarman’s disposable camera from 1990.

Stream’s story, accompanying photos and archival materials paint a full picture of the band’s Madison connection, documenting in incredible detail the events leading up to Nirvana’s swift and meteoric rise that defined a culture in the early ’90s.

“I’ve been fascinated with Nirvana’s ties to Madison since I was a teenager, but, like many Madisonians, I only knew the basic storyline,” Stream says. “I thought somebody should write a more complete history before all the small details are lost in time.”

Read more behind-the-scenes details in the extended July issue editor’s note on madisonmagazine.com, The Rock Star Among Us. The Nirvana in Madison story and photos will first be available to Madison Magazine subscribers starting June 17. Madison Magazine is printing a special collector’s edition of the July 2021 issue featuring Nirvana on the cover for newsstands, available starting June 30. You can find all local newsstand locations by clicking here, or you can buy a single copy of the collector’s edition issue (return to this page on June 30 for a link to buy). Subscribe to the magazine by clicking here. Kurt Stream will also be hosting a “Nirvana in Madison” special on WORT 89.9 FM that will air at 8 p.m. on July 2.

For media inquiries, please reach out to Madison Magazine Editor Andrea Behling at abehling@madisonmagazine.com.

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