LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE December 7, 1991 - London, UK
- Robyn Doreian
- Kurt Cobain
"IF PEOPLE WANT TO KISS MY BUTT, THAT'S FINE. MAYBE I'LL ASK THEM FOR A MANICURE TOO!", remarks a jovial Kurt Cobain.
With all the attention Nirvana are receiving of late and the phenomenal success of Nevermind, Robyn Doreian wonders whether they have turned into rock stars with overblown egos. She thinks not...
Unfortunately not everyone gets the joke. Take Nirvana's gig at the Kilburn National Theatre a couple of nights back as a case in point.
Y'see Kurt had organised for a couple of his accomplices to assume the role of members of the constabulary, and inbetween songs, come onstage and dust down both his and Chris' guitars with feather dusters and spray them down with cleaning solvents. This hygiene ensuring practice was swiftly followed by a fastidious sweeping away of debris from the front of the stage.
The audience's reaction?
"They screamed 'sell out!' and spat on us!", recounts Mr. Cobain. "English humour. I'll never understand it, and what's more, I don't really think I want to."
I feel I must point out to him that Britain is reknowned for it's subtle wit and riotious comedies, such as the legendary Benny Hill Show...
"Oh God, give me a break!" laughs the singer. "There are only so many times you can see the scenario of two balding fat men looking at a pair of boobs holding ice-cream cones and thinking they are binoculars and sticking them in their eyes. Haven't you seen that one? I've seen them do it on so many episodes."
Kurt has a finely tuned sense of the ridiculous which regrettably not everyone has the capacity to appreciate. You ask him a simple question, and without a shadow of a doubt, his answer will predictably enough consist of something his fertile imagination concocted to amuse hopefully someone else other than himself. Talk of the wonder of Sea Monkeys, Dolly Parton Land and hermaphrodites become common fare during our conversation, but underneath it all is a man who is suffering from serious fatigue.
As Nirvana's European tour draws to a close, the rigours of non-stop gigging, demanding press schedules and unadulterated hero worship have started to take it's toll.
"At a show in Edinburgh, my throat was so swollen and sore that whilst I was singing I started vomiting. That's what comes from screaming for all of these nights. We've been on the road for three months straight, so it's bound to wear you out. But we only have another week, and I managed to get some good cough medicine today, so hopefully that I will put a bandaid over it for a while until I get home. Then I can go to some herbal stores and buy the wing of a bat and drink it with water," laughs Kurt.
So what else have you found to be of a taxing nature?
"That's about it except for autographs. I don't mind compliments from people, but autographs are becoming really obnoxious for me. I'm planning to have an official Kurt Cobain autograph stamp made up."
I also believe you are pretty fed up with doing interviews.
"YES I AM!", he states in no uncertain terms. "We've been blowing off a lot of interviews lately which has been pissing off our record company, but that's the only thing we can do to keep ourselves sane. This is the first one I've done for a couple of days. I've decided that I'm only going to do them when we are guaranteed (bursts into laughter) to be on the cover of a magazine or for a fanzine. The kind that are xeroxed and stapled together by students. I don't want anymore promotion. We have gone much further than we ever expected to, and I see no reason to make our lives miserable."
So how have you kept yourselves sane during the tour?
"I haven't drunk alcohol for about two weeks. I've been coming back to the hotel every night and just going to sleep."
Somehow this doesn't sound like the Kurt we have come to know and love.
"Well, except for last night. It was a celebration. Our last show with Captain America, so we broke out the Vodka and went disco dancing. We went to this club where they play nothing but SubPop and grunge music, and there are all these 18 year-olds with striped sweaters dancing to grunge music. It was like a little SubPop planet."
Despite the fact that Nirvana are approaching sales for Nevermind in the vicinity of one and a quarter million records in the USA alone, things have not always been like this for the band. It may appear to be some fairytale overnight success story to some, but the truth of the matter is, as Kurt reflects, they have in fact paid their dues throughout their five year history.
"We recorded our first album in five days for $600 with Jack Endino at Reciprocal Studios. I can remember being very sick during the last three days of the recording. I was under the influence of some form of cough medicine, so I wasn't really aware of what was going on. I just recall nodding off and waking up every few minutes and telling Jack to turn up the bass.
"Then there were two hell tours that we went on in a van that barely ran. We ate tins of beans every night. It was really uncomfortable to sit in the van, because every time you wanted to get in or out you had to take our boxes of T-shirts, because there were all these boxes that fitted around us. It was kind of a congested trip.
"We headlined these clubs on the east coast and we had a lot of beer thrown at us. People didn't really respond beside throwing beer at us and telling us we sucked!"
To what do you think you can attribute the popularity of this record to?
"A lot of payola! No, I have no idea.
"When we signed to Geffen we thought a realistic amount of records to be sold by the end of the year would have been 200,000, and we would have been very happy with that and surprised to sell that many. To sell what we have is beyond anything I ever imagined. I can't say it's a thrill because we never wanted it in the first place. Whether you believe that or not it's true! The good side of it is that there are a lot of kids who have gotten to hear our music and who have bought our record and have liked it. I hope they will look into other underground music."
As with most artists signed to the Geffen label, Nirvana have complete artistic control over everything they do.
"I designed our T-shirts, and we have had control over things like how long we tour and who we tour with, and we had control over what songs we recorded."
Whilst on the subject of the aesthetically pleasing cover of Nevermind, I enquire as to whether the boy is actually a photo of Kurt as a little tacker.
"No, it's not", he remarks dryly.
Has there been any trouble from censorship groups such as the PMRC for blatantly displaying a willy on the cover?
"No, surprisingly not. We were prepared to alleviate that problem if anyone were to freak out about it by putting a sticker on it saying, 'if you are offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile.'"
I guess it must be pretty difficult for the band to take seriously the accolades of rave reviews, people kissing their butts left right and centre and all and sundry wanting just another piece of this year's grunge heaven sensation. I ask Kurt what it feels like to be a hugely famous rock star and having people consistently telling you how great you are.
"For most of my life I've had people telling me I'm a piece of shit, so maybe one day I will rise up to the right level", laughs Monsieur Cobain. "Most of the compliments come from the fans, so that's flattering. I take that well, it doesn't bother me at all. It does get trying at times, especially when people aren't into your music. I don't pay attention to reviews of our album. I've only read a few. If people are trying to kiss by butt, that's fine. Maybe I'll ask them for a manicure as well.
"Well, the only time I feel like a rock star is when I am accused of it, when people say, 'What is it like to be a huge rock star?'. For one thing, we haven't been back to America yet. We only hear rumours and statistics from our record company and a few friends when we call them, but I haven't had the chance to experience Nirvana Mania because I haven't been home.
"I don't know how I am going to deal with that, because I have never wanted that. I'm sure it will start bothering me when people come up to me and start hounding me for an autograph in the grocery store. If that's going to happen I'm not going to like it. I built the boat that I'm in, and I'm going to have to deal with it. If I can't, I'll either kill myself, or become a monk. I'll move to the Catalonian regions of Spain and try to pick up on Salvador Dali's vibes. I'll live alone on a sheep farm."
"Yeah, pigmy goats and sheep." . . . . . . . . . . . .
Once home, with you feet firmly resting on the scatter cushions, what do you plan to do on Christmas Day?
"Burn my TV dinner!"
Surely you won't be having TV dinners?
"I don't know. I haven't decided whether I am going to go home or go to L.A. for little while in the warmth as I hate the cold. I want to start work on our next video, which is Come As You Are. We are going to film it so it will look distorted and kind of washed out so you can't see out faces. We will have the band lip syncing and imaged superimposed over the top of it like sperm, plankton and Sea Monkeys. Have you ever seen them close up? They are just little blind shrimp, but they look neat.
"Could you imagine the responsibility of cultivating a little community of naked little people like that? They'd all be breeding, f_king and dying in the same little aquarium," fantasizes the imaginative frontman. I suggest to Kurt that maybe it would be safer to have an ant farm.
"Yeah, ant farms are great!"
And what about your plans for New Year's Eve?
"I think we will be playing in San Francisco with the Red Hot Chili Peppers."
What did you do last year?
"I have no idea! I've been drunk every New Year's Eve since I was five! I can't even remember the last ten birthdays I've had! I have chronic conjunctivitis, spinabifida and really bad short term memory loss..."
Oh no, Kurt's on a roll. I figure it is time for him to go bye byes. Take your medicine and say nigh nigh Kurt. Now there's a good boy...
© Robyn Doreian, 1992