Mike Gitter
Kurt Cobain
Krist Novoselic
Dave Grohl
Publisher Title Transcript
Kerrang! Revenge Of The Nerds Yes
EC East Coast Rocker Nirvana: A Steady Current Of Mistrust And Contempt For The ‘Average American’ TBC
RIP Head Full Of Hate: The World According To Kurt Cobain Yes
Kerrang! Bleach Bums Yes

Nirvana frontman Kurdt Kobain is an angry fucker. Rednecks, morons, the average American male citizen, he hates 'em all. Fortunately for MIKE GITTER and the rest of us, all that anger has spilt over into the grungaloids' major label (Geffen) debut 'Never Mind'. And this long-awaited mutha proves that the dawning of the age of the nerds is nigh…

Chris Novoselic, Nirvana bassman and moody malcontent is upset by the Hollywood Palladium's choice of backstage beverages.

The venue hasn't taken into account Nirvana's objection to a well-known US brewery owner's alleged history of right wing, anti-gay and anti-Communist activity. Last night's entertainment, Latin American 'sensation' Gerardo, didn't seem to mind.

Nirvana do. They've been driving for the past seven hours from last night's gig in San Francisco and they're thirsty. But adamant, politically correct and unassuaged.

Mind you, Nirvana probably wouldn't mind a corporate beer sponsorship.

The bottom line with this trio from the trailer-park of Aberdeen, Washington is that they care. A lot. Not as a matter of convenience like REM, whom they hold in high regard, but as a day-to-day underlying ethos.

Goateed manager John Silva (who also handles the career of concerned buffalo owner Neil Young) knows this all too well and immediately heads off to rectify the situation at hand.

A roadie is handed some cash and heads out in search of a case of apolitical Budweiser instead.

Apathy is a stance that just doesn't register for Nirvana. Anyone familiar with their Sub-Pop 'Bleach' album can instantly recognize the feeling of outrage with which they alchemize pure pop into pure sound, pure noise. 

Nor is the trio's grungaloid promise sweetened or abated on 'Never Mind', their Andy (Slayer) Wallace-mixed Geffen major label debut. Nirvana are still Nirvana: dealing in catchy pop songs set to furiously heavy riffs.

Tempers and instruments fly. Frontman Kurdt Kobain wrestles with his guitar, shucking off glorious feedback, howling his belief in the sanctity of relationships and his contempt for the average American jerk. Chris pogos like a man on a live wire whilst gangly drum-god Dave Grohl (ex-Scream) is a blur of rhythmic zest.

Nirvana are it. The shit. The beef. The most likely to succeed. The Seattle band destined to go where no current or ex-Sub-Popper has gone before.

Songs like 'In Bloom', 'Drain You', or 'Teen Spirit' are that good.

Are Nirvana really just reluctant pop gods?

"We're a very, very heavy pop band," Kurdt shoots back. "Like if Cheap Trick were to have a lot of distortion in their guitars. That's about the closest you can get to it - if anything, we still consider ourselves a punk rock band."

"Yeah, punk rock just like Foghat, Pure Prairie League, Poco, Toto, Yoko Ono!" Chris guffaws. "Definitely punkier than Al-do No-va!"

"The Beatles and Black Sabbath are probably my two biggest influences," Kurdt confesses. "I listened to both of them at the same time when I was a little kid in fourth grade, hanging around with a lot of older kids in the trailer park where my dad lived. In the Summer, they would come over to our trailer when Dad wasn't home to smoke pot, screw their girlfriends and listen to records. They turned me onto a lot of really cool hard rock at a really young age."

"Not to mention, about a week before we recorded 'Bleach' we were listening to this tape that had Celtic Frost on one side and the Smithereens on the other," Chris adds. "How could we deny the influence?"

All in their early 20s, Nirvana's three members are prime examples of disenfranchised American youth. Before forming Nirvana in 1987, Kurdt was the only punk in the US logging town of Aberdeen, a brain-dead and uglier-than-'Twin Peaks' setting he describes as "totally secluded from any culture at wall with nothing but recknecks and guns and booze.

"I never had a friend my whole time living in Aberdeen," Kobain recalls. "I don't know why. I knew I was different. I thought that I might be gay or something because I couldn't identify with any of the guys at all. None of them liked art or music, they just wanted to fight and get laid. It was many years ago but it gave me this real hatred for the average American macho male."

"I still have those feelings towards those people," Kobain maintains. "I always will. I don't feel sorry for them or feel that they're particularly misguided. I just think they're uneducated dickheads. There's a lot of them and they aren't just in Aberdeen. They're everywhere. I was really surprised to find them in New York City, which is supposed to be a really cultured place. I thought that it was only in logging communities that these people existed. They're all over and I enjoy hating them."

So is Nirvana intrinsically a 'Revenge of the Nerds' proposition?

"That'd be an easy thing to say," he smiles. "I'd rather be an adult, saying that I just want to ignore it and go on. I have to admit that there's a lot of hatred still there. It's revenge for me, yeah. I'm also not going to stop talkin' about it. There are a lot of people in the entertainment industry who really, really offend me, like Andrew Dice Clay. I find him really offensive. The guy's an asshole. A stupid f**k."

So what's wrong out there? Why's the Dice-man struck a chord out there with so many like-minded folks?

"They don't pay teachers enough," believes Dave Grohl, the latest in a long line of Nirvana drummers. "My mom's an English teacher and she doesn't get paid shit. She's an excellent teacher. High schools in America are just breeding morons."

"There's no way that just because we're on a major label now, surrounded by people who know him and like him, I'm going to stop talkin' about how much I hate people like that," Kurdt continues, still worked up. "They should be shot."

Unwilling to compromise for a major label, Nirvana claim they didn't need one all that bad, either.

"It was just something to do. For a while we were thinking about putting out the record ourselves," Kurdt says. "Punk was mainstream when it first hit - the Sex Pistols were on a major label right away. They sold hundreds of thousands of records. That's what they started out as - a commodity."

Besides, with Soundgarden and Mother Love Bone (now Pearl Jam) signed off to the land of corporate big-time, and Tad and Fluid both seeking similar pricey deals, the dream that was SubPop Seattle is dead. Gloomatopia is (sadly) no more.

"They all came sniffing," Chris snickers. "MCA, Capitol, Charisma, Columbia, Slash, Polydor, PolyGram… all the Polys."

And the victor? DGC.

"Geffen had a good track record (particularly with Nirvana's pals Sonic Youth); they understand our boundaries. They gave us total artistic control and don't seem to want us to do anything that'll damage our credibility," says Kurdt. "Plus, it's nice to get our records distributed better - like in K-Mart!"

The budget was a meagre $250,000; enough to re-record an intended sophomore SubPop release (currently a hip item on the tape trading circuit) with US noise production guru Butch (Laughing Hyenas, Smashing Pumpkins) Vig and Slayer engineer Andy Wallace.

"Andy used the magic dust, man!" Novoselic beams. "He stole Slayer's soul and now they're soulless! We have their souls now."

They paid off Sub-Pop, hired a few lawyers and accountants and "now we have $20,000 to live off of for the next two years!" Dave howls.

"It'd be nice for a 15-year-old kid in Aberdeen to have the choice of buying a record from a band like us," Kurdt adds. "That wasn't an opportunity I had when I was growing up. I remember reading about the Sex Pistols and the Clash in old Creem magazines, and when I was finally able to find a Clash record at the library, it was 'Sandanista'! They'd already become a lame reggae band! It really turned me off punk until Black Flag came along and rescued me from my Iron Maiden records!"

Post-gig Kurdt, Chris and Dave are backstage, bathed in sweat from their biggest and most memorable LA gig to date. Echoes of headliners Dinosaur Jr's cenozoic plod compete with the voices of friends and fans scoffing up the politically kosher Budweiser. It's the usual Nirvana after-gig, save the presence of one moustachioed Metallican and fervent Nirvana-fan, Kirk Hammett, who's slobbering to Kurdt: "You guys are my favorite band!"

Cool. So about that opening slot, Kirkie-babe?

Now there's a thought - and with the monumental buzzdom surrounding these trailer-park revolutionaries, not exactly an unimaginable scenario.

"Yeah, that'd be cool," Kobain trails off, not really giving a shit either way. You get the feelings that Nirvana's motivations run a whole lot deeper than that.

"We're entertainers, that's all we are," Kurdt insists. "That's what music is - entertainment. The more you put yourself into it, the more of you comes out of it. You can't help but hear a little of your own personality screaming out sometimes."

© Mike Gitter, 1991


© Mike Gitter, 1991

Talkin' ‘bout pop music: “Until us, I hadn't heard any really heavy pop bands – like if Cheap Trick were to have a lot more distortion in their guitars. It's not like we got together one day and said, ‘Hey, let's be a heavy Cheap Trick!’ The way we write songs is in your standard pop way. We don't jump from riff to riff like every metal band out there. I don't consider that pop, I consider that chaos. I dunno, I grew up listening to The Beatles, and then I got into Black Sabbath, and I haven't denied either one of those influences. The week before we recorded Bleach, we had this tape we kept playing over and over again with the Smithereens on one side and Celtic Frost on the other. I think that probably had a big influence.”

Growing up in Aberdeen: “It's about 100 miles away from Seattle. No culture at all. Nothing but rednecks and guns and booze. I never had a friend in my life, the whole time I lived there. I hated everyone, and I didn't know why. I knew I was different. I thought I might be gay or something, because I couldn't identify with any of the guys at all. None of them liked art or music, they just wanted to drink and fight. I just couldn't deal with it, so there's many years of built-up hatred for the average, American macho male. I still have those feelings for those people and probably always will. I don't think they're misguided, I think they're uneducated dickheads, and there's too many of them. I hate 'em.”

On rednecks: “Getting beaten up by them was the worst. One night I was on acid, hanging out in my apartment after a party we had. All my friends had left except for this one guy who came by on a scooter and parked it on the other side of the building, which was next to my redneck neighbor's apartment. My friend went downstairs to get something from his scooter and, all of a sudden, I heard this commotion. I came down, and the redneck had him by the neck and was beating on him. I pulled him off, and my friend ran away down the street. The redneck grabbed hold of me and held me down for two hours, beating on me, but not beating me hard, to where I was bloody and unconscious and close to death or anything. It was this really sick power trip he was playing. He was breathing in my face, snarling at me like a cat playing with a mouse. It was doubly worse because I was on acid.”

Why Kurt hates Andrew Dice Clay: “I don't find him or anyone like him funny at all. I find what he's got to say really offensive. Just because I'm on a major label now and because we're surrounded in the entertainment industry by people who know him and who like him, I'm not gonna stop talking about how much I hate people like that. I think he should be shot. What a typical f***.”

Leaving Sub Pop: “Being on an independent label, you're stuck in the position of being able to sell your records to the same people over and over again. it does get limited. A lot of indie labels like Sub Pop found themselves in the position of getting really popular and becoming a business, when all they really wanted to do in the first place was put out records by their friends. Most of them don't start out being businessmen, and they're forced to become them. It's hard.”

Signing to a major label: “It was just something to do. There was no reason other than we'd like to get music distributed better – y'know, get it in K-Mart! It'd be nice for a 15-year-old kid in Aberdeen to have the opportunity to buy our record. I didn't have that opportunity. I was dying for something different, because all I could get was the Bee Gees! There were a lot of labels that we talked to, but there was no way we could sign with most of them. DGC was the only one that had a clue of what to do with us. I guess signing with a major sort of goes against the whole punk-rock ideals. The funny thing is, during the time we were talking to seven or eight majors, we were also toying with the idea of just putting the record out ourselves!”

On apathy: “I don't feel much sincerity from people my age at all. Just look at how many people just sit there and watch TV all day, and it's really obvious that all it does is exploit macho-sexism 24 hours a day. People are stupid enough to eat it up when it's just so obvious that the government is behind it – or at least they support it. I just feel really ashamed of my generation. I seriously want a revolution. Wouldn't that be really exciting and fun?”

© Mike Gitter, 1992

American punk heroes? Teen pin-ups? Multi-Platinum saviours of rock? The star turns of this week’s Reading Festival are all things to all men. As DAVE GROHL works solo, CHRIS NOVOSELIC grubs around in Seattle’s grassroots scene and KURT COBAIN awaits his firstborn, MIKE GITTER investigates the pop phenomenon the kids are calling NIRVANA…

IT’S JUNE 1991, mere months before the revolution, and Kurt Cobain is wrestling with what then seemed like a preposterous dilemma.

"I don't see Nirvana getting as big as Metallica or Guns N Roses," he says backstage at a Hollywood Palladium gig supporting Dinosaur Jr. The clamour of the evening's openers, a caustic, mostly female, grunge-noise called Hole, is echoing all around as they soundcheck.

"There's just no way those people would like us," Kurt stresses. "And we're not gonna shut up about some of our ideas, no matter how cliched they are. I just can't accept that mainstream macho-dickhead attitude. I wouldn't be comfortable having that many people in my audience every night that are like that, and there's nothing I'm doing about it.

"It's almost unfair. It's like ripping them off and not caring about your audience. I really care about our audience. I know that they have pretty much the same views that we do."

The little band that almost no one had heard of from Aberdeen, Washington, were already big news at Geffen, the label that had just signed them for a reasonable $275,000.

NO ONE was more excited by the prospect of bringing the SubPop hair-shock to the mainstream than Cobain – he just wanted to be as big as, say, Sonic Youth, maybe the Pixies.

"I think that as many people in the world as possible should hear punk rock," he admits, changing his tune. "It really doesn't matter if it's being exploited or not. I guess it's better to try and compromise rather than saying, 'F**k the oppressors and f**k everything that's gluttonous and everything that we disagree with'. Let's just try to work together and do something with it."

Kurt scampers off to watch Hole. In retrospect, if all seems somehow apocryphal, strange and ironic. Just a year and two months later, Nirvana haven't just 'made it', they've MADE IT.

Not just big, but REALLY BIG. In the US, four-times Platinum big and climbing, with God knows how many copies of the brilliant 'Nevermind' sold worldwide – without the usual shameless self-promotion, baby-kissing, et al. Smells like a success story.

They were the band I deemed "most likely to" by SubPop co-founder Jonathan Poneman, when they had just a single out and were just another name among the Seattle underground which would also spawn Soundgarden, Mudhoney, etc. Since then, they've overtaken the likes of Metallica, U2 and Guns N' Roses in the charts and on MTV, devoured magazine front covers, and turned down tours with everyone from Rush to Axl and co. They've even been parodied by Weird Al Yankovic and had their own comic book.

MAYBE IT was something everyone was waiting for and no one had gotten right till then. That's what Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore thinks.

"Nobody really did anything, they just put the record out. They were on tour with us at the time," the lanky guitarist recalls. "It was what people were waiting for, the best of Metal meets the best of REM. It's been building up through the years, from REM to Husker Du to Black Flag. Nirvana came along and delivered the goods – they made the Cars album, the Knack album, for punk rock. It was very pop but very honest and very authentic of the whole American punk rock ethic."

Something that Bon Jovi with his hard-rock swagger-candy or the idiosyncratic Guns N' Roses weren't. Blame it on Nirvana making a great record, one that was instantly pop-friendly yet uncompromisingly eerie, challenging, thrilling, terrifying. Nirvana's label only pressed up 40,000 copies to begin with. So much for lofty expectations!

"Let's face it; Geffen and their management were basically smoking cigars with their feet on the desk when it all went up!" Thurston sniggers.

Not even a year ago, was rock so fresh and invigorated with a flood of new band like the Afghan Whigs, Wool, Surgery, Polvo, Cell, Big Chief, Therapy?, Superchunk and virtually anyone with a loud guitar and a shred of indie credibility being offered outrageous major label deals and being touted as 'rock's new hope'?

Ask Page Hamilton, guitarist for New York noisters Helmet, whose name is still being bandied about by A&R men as 'the next Nirvana' and who netted a cool seven-figure deal with Interscope after a bidding war involving every major label going and absurd quantities of cashola.

Hamilton: "We were talking to a few labels right around the time the Nirvana record came out – then everything exploded. We should send them a thank-you card, maybe a fruit basket!"

CUT TO the present. It's a Lollapalooza Summer and underground stalwarts like Sonic Youth, Rollins Band, L7 and Babes In Toyland are more prominent than ever before. Even the mind-rattlingly unaccessible Melvins have recently inked a deal with Atlantic, with fan and roadie Cobain rumoured to be taking a hand in the writing of their next album! It's a new punk nation rising, and Nirvana are largely to blame.

"The doors are wide open," Moore reckons. "Nirvana going multi-Platinum changed the outlook of almost every A&R geek in corporate labeldom. While we were working on our new album, our producer Butch Vig (who also spun knobs on ‘Nevermind’) was getting cassettes from all these major labels of records for him to remix to sound more 'alternative'. It was such horrible shit. He was like, "We should keep the vocals and have you guys play on top of it."

Sugar's Bob Mould, one of the pioneering voices in this fairy tale of grunge, who blazed the trail for the tuneful trio with his band Husker Du, finds the whole 'post- Nirvana' climate ludicrous. "Nirvana touched a nerve, MTV jumped on it. MTV made 'em, simple as that. Is it gonna happen again? I doubt it," reckons Mould, who opted to sign Sugar with Creation, a strong indie, rather than jumping on the 'post-Nirvana' major label gravy train.

"I think you're gonna see a lot of labels go under, absolutely and completely under," Mould sighs. "A lot of these custom labels that are attached to majors are gonna be the first to go. What's going on now isn't healthy, and I don't think it's a secret how much a few of these bands that are putting their first records out on majors right now have got for their deals.

"I'm appalled. I'm appalled that they would take that kind of money knowing that they would probably never make it back.

“How is the Helmet record doing? Is it gonna sell a million? The whole Nirvana thing is both a blessing and a curse. It opened the door for a lot of bands, but most of the bands aren't ready for it."

IRONICALLY, when the storm of fame, fortune and umpteen record sales hit, it was the ability to give that sort of exposure to the scene that spawned them that so excited Nirvana.

"That's the most flattering part of it, being able to take some totally great bands along with us," Kurt reasoned on the band's last UK tour. "Bands like the Melvins, Shonen Knife, Captain America, Urge Overkill, some really great bands."

"The big corporate ogres have finally realised that a lot of these bands are a viable commodity, so there's plenty of incentive for them to cash in," believes Nirvana bassist Chris Novoselic. "Besides, the old guard could only be around for so long. That's always been the nature of rock 'n' roll – to progress and let new things come in. Major labels and rock radio have denied it for so long, they finally have to give way.

"Imagine if Black Fiag sold a million records – like they should have," Novoselic continues, excited by the prospect. Imagine what kind of social value that would have! It just seems like things are really consistent in the mainstream with TV and music; it's all become kind of sterile. People would be less inclined, less doped up, because they've been fed such shit by the media for so long."

Since the gold rush, the media's been both friend and adversary to Nirvana, turning them into something they never intended or particularly wanted to be pop stars. "You're constantly being told you're number so-and-so with a bullet on AOR radio and blah, blah, blah," groans drummer Dave Grohl. "What are you supposed to do? Jump up and down and clap your hands?"

"What's really funny are the meet-and-greets backstage after a show," adds Cobain. "They're just hilarious, because all the record and DJ geeks come back and say, 'Hey, you beat out Metallica on the requests the other day'. "How am I supposed to react to that? What am I supposed to say – 'That's exactly the reason I wrote that one song!'?"

Dave: "It doesn't even matter. All this is like an extra-curricular activity, that's my favourite catch phrase at the moment."

Since then, it's all gotten stranger – particularly for the three individuals at the centre of it all.

Live dates have been sparse, just a few European shows to make up for gigs the band had to cancel late last year due to Kurt's ill health.

Dave Grohl has been recording a tape of solo material, highlighted by a chaotic speed jam entitled 'Weenie Beanie'.

Chris has been involved with various grassroots groups in the Seattle area, while Kurt is currently residing in LA with wife Courtney Love of Hole. The two tied the knot at a small service in Hawaii in February this year and are currently awaiting the birth of their first child.

Of course, there's trouble in paradise, with the flood of malicious stories that have plagued Nirvana, particularly Kurt Cobain, since the band's rapid rise. Drugs? The scurrilous Sid and Nancy-style tales of binges and experimentation, exacerbated by a recent story about Love in Vanity Fair magazine. Who gives a shit, really?

Cobain has denied that he is a heroin addict. He's just never been among the healthiest of people anyway.

"It's quite astounding that Nirvana achieved a certain visibility; there's been a massive amount of people who felt that they had to take a stand on them," says Reuben Radding, a long-time friend of Dave Grohl's who played in the DC Hardcore band Dain Bramage with the drummer, and still remains in contact.

"Either they're pro or con but in a very adamant way, people who otherwise would never have thought about them or cast an opinion.

"They would have otherwise been just another rock band to these people, but because of their visibility everyone felt they had to make some kind of moral choice. I find it very curious.

"I look around and I see lots of people either defending them, who would never thought of defending them, who are doing it because they've become a current event more than a band. It seems people see someone attain a successful level and they don't trust that.

"But that's also true of the guys in the band. They seem to be the same way, yet they're also in the strange dichotomy of being there. That's not lost on them."

So where next? This week, Reading. Tomorrow? All indications point to Nirvana returning to the studio, pronto, to record the followup to 'Nevermind'. Demoed material is reported to find the band straddling the melodies that made them a household name with the grunge of their first album, 'Bleach'.

No, they aren't about to self-destruct. Will they continue to be the object of Michael Jackson-esque derision and speculation? Will they make an album that no one even gets? Who cares? Nirvana just seem more set to get back to the business of just being in a band.

© Mike Gitter, 1992