LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE October 19, 1992 - Los Angeles, CA, US
- Everett True
- Kurt Cobain
- Courtney Love
|Melody Maker||All You Need Is Love: Face To Face With Kurt And Courtney||Yes|
|Melody Maker||Kurt And Courtney||Yes|
Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love are the most controversial rock couple since Sid and Nancy. Critics of their relationship have cast Courtney as a scheming, parasitic bitch who's ruthlessly exploited her feeble, unwitting husband, whose career she seems determined to f*** up. In this exclusive interview with EVERETT TRUE, the couple come out fighting in defence of their marriage and lay into their detractors with a vengeance. Pics: Stephen Sweet.
This is the hardest job I've ever had," reluctant star begins. "I can't believe it…" He pauses.
"I like it, though!" he exclaims. "I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. It's just a lot more demanding than I expected."
He pauses again.
"You know, she can fart as loud as I can…"
"Oh Kurt!'' his wife interrupts, offended.
"And burp as loud as I can," he finishes unabashed, smiling his mischievous little smile.
"Keep it down," his wife scolds him. "It's not feminine."
But she's a baby. Babies are allowed to fart.
"Oh, okay," the protective mother says, mollified, looking proudly at the wide-eyed sproglet by her side.
Does having a baby make you see life in a different way?
"Definitely," replies Courtney. "Yeah…"
She stops, distracted by the look in her husband's eyes. He's rolling 'em.
"Stop it! Why do you do this?" she shouts.
"Do what?" he asks, innocently, as Frances Bean reaches out for his hand.
"Switch off when the tape recorder switches on."
"I've pretty much exhausted the baby opinions," Kurt Cobain - America's most successful "punk rock" star - says, defensively. I just don't have anything important to say. I mean, duh, it's fun, it's great, it's the best thing in my life."
Silence falls over the bedroom. We go back to watching the latest "Ren And Stimpy" cartoon, the new cult favourites of young America. Frances Bean Cobain's nanny appears, ready to take the little 'un - a bouncing, almost nauseatingly healthy, blue-eyed child (Kurt's eyes, Courtney's nose) - downstairs for her nap.
Silence. Courtney takes a sip of lukewarm strawberry tea, I take a gulp of vodka. Kurt belches.
We all have appearances to keep up.
Kurt and Courtney's new apartment is prime LA: near the top of a hill overlooking West Hollywood, surrounded by palm trees and winding pathways lined with foliage and security fences. You need an elevator - with a private key - to reach it.
Inside, one room is set aside for Kurt's paintings - strange, disturbing collages and images (he used to paint headless babies when his wife was pregnant, now he paints angels and dolls). There's a large, old-fashioned kitchen with a mirror running along the length of its outside wall, sundry quest rooms up top. Upstairs, Courtney's wardrobe, is crammed with antique "baby doll" dresses. It's larger than some flats I've lived in. (Well, almost.)
Pizza crusts and half-full doughnut containers litter the spacious main room. There's a telescope, guitars, old rock books, clipped photos, baby things scattered everywhere - prime space is even given over to a tasteful pink crib, bedecked with ribbons. A stereo in one corner blares out Mavis Staples. The place has an air of being only half-lived in, as do most LA residences.
As I arrive, the couple are lying on the double bed in the master bedroom with Frances Bean ("Frances! Say hello to your uncle Everett!" - Courtney.) She: wearing a nightie. He: in pyjama bottoms and the ubiquitous scruffy cardigan and tee-shirt. On the TV screen, three huggy male rock musicians in dresses surreally smash instruments, regardless of the backing track. It's the new Nirvana video for "In Bloom".
Courtney's sifting through a coloured box-load of Nirvana letters, sent to Kurt by just one girl. There are about 30 or 40 of them, all painstakingly hand-coloured, hand-lettered with audio tape accompaniment.
"Look, Kurt!" Courtney picks on one particularly lurid specimen. "She's spelt out your name over these envelopes… oh, there's a picture of her (pause)… oh, she's got a muscular wasting disease… we have to write her back! We've got to! She's an outsider, just like me!"
Kurt grunts affirmation. We pour over her scribblings with renewed interest, grateful that we've never been thus afflicted. Someone puts her name down on the Christmas Card list.
Kurt decides he wants to tell us about his high school days, but then dries up.
"That's because you're a stoned retard," Courtney teases him. (It's well-known that Kurt spent a fair few hours at school partaking of the demon weed.)
"Go on!" Courtney urges her husband. "I always talk! I'm sick of it."
Another pause. Frances gurgles slightly, a happy thought obviously striking the Bean. There's no sign of the "Diet Grrrl" graffiti her father had wickedly drawn on her stomach earlier. Kurt sighs.
Kurt 'n' Courtney (or "Kurtney," as they're collectively known) have only ever given two joint interviews before this - both to American publications. They wanted to speak to The Maker to clear up certain matters - mostly arising from a profile of Courtney which appeared in the September issue of Vanity Fair, an up-market fashion magazine.
Clearly, we'll have to tread carefully.
Courtney mumbles something from where she's sitting, behind the bed by the ghetto-blaster. Sorry?
"You were wrong," she says. "I should have been sullen and demure."
"When I asked you that question a couple of years ago," she explains. "In a bar. In LA"
You can't hide your personality - well, maybe you can.
"I Wouldn't have minded," she whimpers. "I used to be sullen and demure."
She's referring to when she first met me, last year, when she asked me how she should behave in relation to the press.
"I used to be really loud and obnoxious," Kurt interrupts. "And then I stopped hanging out with people."
The singer shifts from where he's lying, sprawled out on the mattress. Courtney moves to switch the TV off.
"Because I was tired of pretending that I was someone else just to get along with people, just for the sake of having friendships," he replies. "I was tired of wearing flannel shirts and chewing tobacco, and so I became a monk in my room for years. And I forgot what it was like to socialise."
But didn't you drink?
"Yeah, I drank," he agrees. "And I was obnoxious when I drank too much. Then there was a period during the last two years of high school when I didn't have any friends, and I didn't drink or do any drugs at all, and I sat in my room and played guitar."
Then, when you formed Nirvana, you started drinking and hanging out with people, and you were back to where you were a few years before…
"Not really," responds Kurt, stretching. "I still have the same best friends I had a few years ago. The scale of social activity that I have is so f***ing minimal - nothing, my entire life - so the little bit of socialising I did at parties when I was loud wasn't much more than when I started socialising again in Seattle.
"I started hanging out with people like Mudhoney," he continues. "Mainly they were just other people in bands. I wasn't really part of a thriving Seattle social scene. Both Chris and I thought of ourselves as outsiders - we wrote that song, 'School,' about the crazy Seattle scene, how it reminded us of high school.
"It hasn't got any different. I just…"
He pauses, choosing his words carefully.
"I guess living in LA makes me more reclusive," he says, "because I don't like LA at all. I can't find anything to do here. It's pointless going out and trying to make friends, because I don't have these tattoos and I don't like death rock."
"Axl wants to be your friend," Courtney reminds him, sitting back down again. "Axl thinks that if I wasn't around, you and him could be backstage at arena rock shows f***ing self-hating little girls."
"Well, that was always my goal," replies Kurt, sarcastically. "To come down to Hollywood and ride motorcycles with Axl on the Strip - and then you came along and ruined it all."
"That's what Axl says," Courtney explains. "Did you hear about that show where he got on stage and started saying something like, 'Nirvana's too good to play with us. Kurt would rather be home with his ugly bitch…'?"
Well, it's true, isn't it. (Not the "ugly" part.) Kurt would rather be home with you, bathing Frances Bean, wandering around in your nightie, than out bonding with Axl and the boys. Why should he act any differently? It's weird how some famous people seem to want to hang out with other famous people, just cos they're all famous.
Do you like it here in Hollywood, Courtney, or are you fed up with running? From what I know of your past life - as much as anyone can know - it seems to me you've been running for a very long time.
"I just always ended up back here," she muses. "Jennifer [L7] lives here, and she's always been a pretty good friend. I'd call her and say, 'This town didn't work out!' And she'd go, 'Oh, come back to LA!'. It's so big, it can just absorb you. People here are so…"
She pauses, struggling to find the right words.
"We thought it might be easy to live here because people are trained to deal with fame," she says. "The thing is, however, it's not really like that. They don't stare, but they know who you are and the second you leave the store, they're on the phone to friends .
She pauses again.
"It's not even that," she corrects herself. "I wouldn't have got nearly as much trouble if I hadn't chosen to live here. I just thought it would be interesting to go into the mainstream and f*** things up because people always say they're going to, but no one ever does - and I didn't have any choice really. It's weird here: nurses calling Cowboy Capers (a Hollywood delivery firm) for their valium subscriptions. It's scary, because everybody wants the fame. They all want fame."
"Fame is more of a reality here," her husband agrees.
"See, here's where it started, too," she adds, "before I became the prisoner of my husband, before I occupied this position I'm now in. But until we started going out, I never realised that's how people in LA really are."
Do you feel poisoned by Courtney, Kurt?
"By Courtney, or by Courtney's stigma?" he replies. "Poisoned by… the whole f***ed-up misconception of our relationship. Everyone seems to think that we couldn't possibly love each other, because we're thought of as cartoon characters, because we're public domain. So the feelings that we have for each other are thought of as superficial."
"It's not everybody that thinks that, though," Courtney adds. "It's a couple of has-been, pontificating, male rock stars and, mostly, women who work in the American music industry. I think that's because, in the early Eighties, if you were a woman and you wanted to play music, there was a real slim chance you would succeed. So a lot of women who wanted to empower themselves within rock without being self-loathing joined the music industry - and these are some of the most vicious women I know.
"I've heard industry women talking about how horrible L7 are, I've heard industry women talking about how unattractive PJ Harvey is, which is ridiculous… I just think these powerful women have this real competitive, jealous nature which manifests itself like this. And when I married Kurt, they went into overload.
"It's insane, this real complex issue… It's an attempt to create something out of nothing - the whole superstar thing. They at least try to take away my intellect, and take away my ethics, and create…"
She pauses again, jumbled.
The thoughts are pouring out of her too fast for coherent speech now. Spend even five minutes in Courtney's company, and you'll be overwhelmed by the sheer torrent of words and ideas that pour from her. Courtney is rumoured to spend 12 hours a day on the phone. To her, to think is to be.
You must find it annoying, Kurt, that people perceive you to be this stupid hen-pecked husband, because that's implied in the whole image of Courtney Love's devious and evil nature.
"Yeah, there've been quite a few articles like that," he growls. "I don't know how to explain what happens to me when I do an interview, because I usually shut myself off. It's really hard to explain. I just don't like to get intimate. I don't want anyone to know what I feel and what I think, and if they can't get some kind of idea of what sort of person I am through my music, then that's too bad.
"I don't see how people an get the idea that I'm stupid," he continues, "because I know my music's semi-intelligent. I know it takes a bit of creativity to write the kind of music I do, it's not just a wall of noise. I know there's a formula to it, and I've worked really hard at it.
"I've always been the kind of person that if I think someone thinks of me a certain way - like I'm stupid - then I'll act stupid in front of them. I've never felt the need to prove myself. If someone already has a misconception about me, then fine, let them have it all the more. I'll be happy to massage that."
Jackie, Frances Bean's nanny, shouts from downstairs that Kurt is wanted on the phone. Kurt tells her to tell whoever it is to call back later. I take another gulp of vodka and continue.
Here's a question that's been bothering me for a while. How subversive are Nirvana? For a number of reasons, not the least of which is her sassiness and the way she gets up the establishment's noses, Courtney is subversive.
"We aren't," replies Kurt, tartly. "It's impossible to be subversive in the commercial world because they'll crucify you for it. You can't get away with it. We've tried, and we've been almost ruined by it."
"There have been things that have happened to us that are so…" Courtney trails off, momentarily wordless.
"Like, after the baby was born," she continues, "a social worker walked into my room with a picture from Vanity Fair, trying to take our baby away. Having to get lawyers just to the hospital, just having crazy, crazy shit. Having friends' mothers horrified, because one person lied! It's okay to say that I'm obnoxious, because I am…"
Her anger overcomes her.
"It's amazing what damage that one article has done!" Kurt snarls. It certainly painted Courtney in a very bad light, as the "bad girl" of American rock - a gold-digging parasite, a mother who took drugs while she was pregnant, a "Yoko" who tried to break up Nirvana, a malcontent who argued bitterly with her "best friend" Kat Bjelland, a fraud, an obsessive, a heroin addict. It conveniently overlooked the fact that she used to be - and presumably will continue to be in the future - a highly respected artist in her own right. Especially if the new single is anything to go by.
"Kurt didn't want to play the (MTV) video awards, for instance," his wife continues. "Never mind that if he didn't play the video awards, they'd never show clips of his or my band again. That wasn't it…"
"Also," says Kurt, "they wouldn't have played any Gold Mountain (Kurtney's management company) acts, like Sonic Youth, Beastie Boys…"
Yeah, I heard about that from Thurston. They threatened your management with a boycott of all their acts if Nirvana didn't toe the line. You can be as subversive and radical as you like, but they only really bother with you once you're big enough to be a threat.
"So all the political nastiness that I've heard of for years from independent record people is true," Kurt snarls. "A lot of people, especially people like Bruce Pavitt and Calvin Johnson - people who have been pretty successful throughout the years with introducing underground, independent music and creating a community feel within their environment and just exercising the whole DIY ethic - have known a lot of people who have experienced the major label f***-overs…"
Calvin Johnson runs Olympia's fiercely partisan, independent K records (Olympia being where Kurt moved after leaving Aberdeen and forming Nirvana). Calvin used to help Bruce (Sub Pop) Pavitt run a fanzine in the early Eighties.
Olympia is a small liberal college town an hour's drive away from Seattle, which, in 1991, hosted the International Pop Underground Convention - thus providing the initial impetus for Riot Grrrl. Nirvana even contributed a track to the convention's "Kill Rock Stars" compilation LP, before being (apparently) ostracised for signing to a major label.
Kurt continues his rant.
"I know that some of these people I used to look up to - people who have put out magazines or who've had a record label for years - these people have had the real inside dirt on what a major label is like, but they never told me…"
He sounds oddly betrayed.
"I never paid any attention to mainstream press, either," Kurt continues. "I never understood the mechanics of it, how it works. I never read a major record label rock 'n' roll interview, except when I was a kid in Creem magazine and that was always so tongue-in-cheek. I've never read a Rolling Stone article that I can think of - just skimmed through a couple of the political ones."
From below, we can hear the sound of Frances Bean crying. Kurt half-rises to go downstairs, but changes his mind.
"Now that it's happened, I still can't help laughing about it," he adds. "But it went overboard. It went just a little bit too far to take in good humour…"
"A little bit?" Courtney interrupts him, angrier than ever. "Social workers coming to take your baby because of something you didn't do and you didn't say is not judicial, and it's not justice…
"That article," she spits. "The whole drug thing…"
She's floundered because she's so riled.
"We did drugs and it was really fun, and now it's over. Anybody who knows me knows I'm way too paranoid to get wasted all the time…"
She pauses again, searching for the right words.
"It's just so insane," she cries, "what it's done and who it's hurt because of one woman's vendetta. When you look at it, Everett, I think the end of rock is pretty damn near when Madonna is trying to buy Pavement for a million dollars and put out Xerox fanzines. When Madonna thinks that I am the cutting edge - that's how you can judge how out of it she is."
The Vanity Fair also dwelt shortly and harshly in Courtney's claims that Madonna was vampiric, ready to take from Courtney what she wanted and leave the rest of her for dead.
"Who," Madonna was quoted as saying, "is Courtney Love?"
She should know. It was Madonna who asked her manager to sign Courtney's band to her label last year. It was Madonna herself who phoned Courtney to arrange a meeting. Wanna know why I'm so sure? I spoke to Courtney immediately after the call - and nobody makes shit like that up.
"I wish I'd never come in her eye-line," Courtney cries. "Isn't there any punk rock value in the fact that I turned her down and she then sent one of her toadies to execute me? The Vanity Fair piece would never have happened if I hadn't turned her down."
"It's twice as bad for Courtney," explains Kurt, "because she hasn't even had the chance to prove herself like I did. It's one thing for me to be subversive at this point, because I can afford to be. I can pretty much get away with ripping up a picture of the Pope on television and it wouldn't create so much of a stink as someone commercial like Sinead - or Courtney, who doesn't have the security of having sold lots of records…"
The baby cries. Courtney interrupts her husband, excited.
"How did it go so fast," she asks, sounding genuinely bewildered, "from having a record of the year in the Village Voice and being perceived as an artist, to being Nancy Spungen in three months?"
There's something I'd like to get down on tape now. I'd forgotten that Hole were one of the original inspirations for Riot Grrrl. When Cathi of Bikini Kill saw Hole, it was pretty much what inspired her to form a band.
"Cathi wrote me a letter saying she wanted to start a band and what should she do," recalls Courtney. "And I wrote back and said she should find the biggest slut-bitches in her town that everybody hates. I thought if there were three people who were like the town bitch in one band, that would be f***ing amazing. I don't know if that really happened, but it turned out to be…"
(Cathi actually recounted this event in her fanzine, Bikini Kill, about the formation of her band, adding that when she saw Courtney, it was like, "the guitar went into flames - almost a religious experience.")
"I'm very supportive of them, on a personal level," she adds.
She then moves on to talking about Julian Cope, stung by the adverts for his tour which were then running in the music press, where he - among other stupid and provocative statements - wrote, "Free us (the rock 'n' roll fans) from Nancy Spungen-fixated heroin a-holes who cling to our greatest rock groups and suck out their brains…"
"He's one of these people who actually knows me," she says, hurt. "Not well, but he does know me, and who was somebody - for all his horns and back-up singers - when I was younger, really affected me and charmed me and made me feel, 'Wow, for an English person he's pretty original and cool.'
"And for him to be slagging me off in his poem in his ad, it's like…"
She pauses, struck by another thought.
"Wait, where do people get this f***ing Nancy Spungen thing from?" she demands. "I'm sorry I ever dyed my hair. Is it that superficial? Is it just because I'm blonde?"
Well, it's partly because you joked about it in a couple of interviews.
"It's this Nirvana/Sex Pistols thing, too," she corrects me.
But Your jo(e) Average Person On the Street never seems to realise that people in power can joke about what are perceived to be serious matters. Perhaps they aren't allowed to. Maybe it's just because Your jo(e) Average Punter is obtuse, but I doubt if it's even that. It's probably more that it's always been the case that people take whatever they want from what they read.
"Right," Courtney agrees. "But the fact of this, too, is how women, unless they totally desexualise themselves, have no intellect subscribed to them…"
"That's totally true," murmurs Kurt.
"If I were subscribed intellect, nobody would ever think that I was Nancy Spungen, because Nancy Spungen is not an intellectual," she finishes. "It's because I've chosen to negotiate the world on the world's terms - I've said, 'Okay, I'm going to have this experiment,' after having spent most of my life being plain and un-decorative. So I decided to lose some weight and wear some lipstick and see what f***ing happens - be a little dangerous, more subversive."
"It's a lot f***ing easier," her husband says.
"It was for me," she agrees, "but, at the same time, now what's happened is that we are married and these people are trying to take away my livelihood and they're trying to take away the thing that matters the most to me, other than my family. And now they're even trying to take away my family.
"So me and Kurt get married and we're peers - his band were always ahead, but they started before us - then, suddenly, his band get real successful and we're not peers anymore. He's involved in free trade in America and I'm not making much of a dent. It's really amazing to see."
(And so for the moment, do we.)
© Jerry Thackray, 1992
Love and hate and the whole damned thing.
The story so far…
Courtney Love is still livid about the profile of her that appeared last September in the American magazine, Vanity Fair. No f***ing wonder. It alleged that she'd taken drugs during her pregnancy, thus endangering her unborn child. The implication was that she was dangerous and irresponsible, unfit to be a mother. Call her paranoid, but Courtney is convinced that the hostility of the profile had something to do with Madonna, who wanted to sign her to her fledgling Maverick label and been unceremoniously rebuffed.
Kurt Cobain, meanwhile, is increasingly incensed with being cast as the "unwilling dupe" in their relationship, easily manipulated by the devious Courtney because he's dumb and can't see what she's doing to his life and career.
As you join us, Courtney has just been wondering how her fall from grace - from having a record of the year in Village Voice to being the Nineties equivalent of Nancy Spungen - came about so fast.
Frances Bean Cobain went to bed half-an-hour ago.
"One thing that's pleased me," Courtney says, drawing on a cigarette, "that I've been really surprised by and learnt a lot from, is the psychic protection I've got from so many girls and women…"
She pauses. I'm not sure what point she's trying to make.
"I mean, it's really f***ing obvious, unless you're stupid," she goes on. "Like, I walk around and say, 'Oh, he should have married a model, but he married me', with a straight face."
This is more familiar territory. This is, in fact, the line Courtney usually takes when she's trying to wind up the people who think Kurt's marriage to her was ill-advised. Her argument is something like, well, who should he have married then? A model? The point being… Kurt's not like that.
"There were like 60 sarcastic things I told Vanity Fair," she goes on, "that they quoted straight because they're so stupid. Their whole attitude was like, 'Let's go and be condescending to these wacky punk rock kids and make allusions to how, in their world, success is bad. Aren't they cute?'"
But Kurt, you never said success was bad, did you?
"What kind of success? He sighs. "Success in general? Financial success? Popularity in a rock band? Most people think success is being extremely popular on a commercial level, selling a lot of records and making a whole bunch of money. Being in the public eye.
"I think of myself as a success because I still haven't compromised my music," he continues, "but that's just speaking on an artistic level. Obviously, all the other parts that belong with success are driving me insane - God! I want to kill myself half the time."
But people still don't get it. Nirvana catch a lot of flak from people I know because (a) Kurt Cobain whines a lot, and (b) Nirvana slag off corporate rock bands, even though they're one themselves.
"Oh, take it back from him, the ungrateful little brat!" mocks Courtney.
"What I really can't stand about being successful is when people confront me and say, 'Oh, you should just mellow out and enjoy it,'" explains her husband, interrupting her. "I don't know how many times I have to f***ing say this. I never wanted it in the first place.
"But I guess I do enjoy the money," he relents. "It's at least a sense of security. I know that my child's going to grow up and be able to eat. That's a really nice feeling, that's fine, but you know…"
But Frances will only be treated nice to her face: people will kiss her butt and stab her in the back at the same time.
"Yeah, but she'll know about it, because she'll come from us and she'll be cynical by kindergarten," Courtney answers, looking fondly at the empty crib. "She's already cynical."
"I don't mean to whine so much," continues Kurt. "There are just so many things that I'm not capable of explaining in detail."
"I am," Courtney interjects.
"But people have no idea of what is going on," her husband complains. "The sickening politics that are involved with being a successful, commercial rock band are real aggravating. No one has any idea."
"It doesn't matter though," Courtney almost shouts. "The whole thing with you is that you've got your success and been victimised by it and, at the same time, I still haven't proven myself to myself.
"I remember last year Kat came up to Chicago and we went to this bar and they started playing 'Nevermind' - this was just when it was starting to get really big. So we sat there and drank and drank, and got really mad. Because we realised that no girl could have done that. I want to write a really good record and I haven't done it yet."
This is where I disagree with you, Courtney. 'Nevermind' was a great record. But so was 'Teenage Whore'. 'Nevermind' was made by a bunch of blokes. Why should it have been made by a bunch of girls?
"No girl could have come from the underground and done that," she argues. "It's just the fact that somebody did it. It happened."
But Hole were an astonishing band, particularly live. I can't think of many artists who come across so powerfully and fatally magnetic on stage as you. I mean it.
"Yeah, but Everett, not many people remember that," whispers Courtney, touched.
But what I'm saying is that you're judging yourself on your husband's terms, and that's ridiculous. You don't write songs like Kurt writes songs - why should you? You're completely different people. If the commercial market refuses to accept your music, then it's a failing of the business, not with your music.
Another couple of things: your marriage and pregnancy means that your own career has been on hold this last year. You haven't written many new songs, you haven't had a record out, you haven't played live. Which means that people who only know about you through Kurt have nothing to judge you on but your very public "bad girl" image.
The bottom line is, you have to get back out there and perform, if you want to regain the respect for your music you once had. No amount of hedging will alter that.
"The fact I judge myself on Kurt's terms is part of me subscribing to the whole male rock ethic, too," Courtney explains. "You know, Kim Gordon - like every woman I respected - told me this marriage was going to be a disaster for me. They told me that I'm more important than Kurt because I have this lyric thing going and I'm more culturally significant, and they all predicted exactly what was going to happen.
"I said, 'No, that's not going to happen,'" she recalls, bitterly. "Everyone knows I have a band, everybody knows about my band, I can do this - my marriage is not going to be more important than my band."
She pauses, then explodes.
"But not only has my marriage become more important than my f***ing band, but our relationship has been violated," she cries. "If we weren't doing this interview together, no male rock journalist would dare ask Kurt if he loved his wife. 'Do you love your wife? Do you guys f***? Who's on top? …I'm not saying you would, Everett.
"They wouldn't ask him to explain his relationship with me, because he's a man and men are men and they're not responsible for any emotional decisions they make."
She's shaking with emotion now.
"Men are men!" she exclaims. "They do the work of men! They do men's things! If they have bad taste in women. whatever! All of a sudden, Axl and Julian Cope and Madonna decide I'm bad taste in women and it's the curse of my life and tough shit. What can I say?
"I never experienced sexism before," she says, excitedly. "I really didn't experience it in any major way in connection with my band until this year, and now I have. The attitude is that Kurt's more important than me, because he sells more records. Well, f*** you. Suck my dick!"
There's a brief silence. Courtney's just taking a breather before going for the kill.
"You wouldn't look good in leather," Courtney says to Kurt, looking fondly at him. "Kurt and Julian Cope and Axl Rose and Danny Partridge riding around in a limousine, f***ing women that are idiotic and self-hating that want to f*** them to get some attention for themselves, instead of grabbing their guitars and going 'F*** you, I could do this better, with integrity and with more ethics than you, and with revolution and - f*** you!' I created this rock thing in the first place for my own amusement and I'm going to take it back.
"I always have lofty ideals about it and yet I deserve it." She's resorting to sarcasm now, she's so worked up. "I deserve to get raped by a crowd if I stagedive in a dress, I deserve to get raped if I go to a bar and I'm wearing a bikini, I deserve to get raped because I did all these things I said before - nipping a hot young rock star in the bud, having a baby, having been a stripper, having used drugs.
"And then to be perceived as a child abuser!" she exclaims, anguished, off on another exclamatory track. "Two of the last people on earth that would ever hurt a child or a harmless person. Ever. I've never picked on harmless people. I've always picked on people that I felt were corrupt or more corrupt than me."
"Alright," she adds, gently. "I'm done now."
From far off comes the sound of a baby crying.
"I didn't think on those terms when I was doing my record," Kurt says, stirring. "Although, at the end, I did allow the record to be produced cleaner and more commercial than I wanted it to be. I don't know what the reasoning for that was, besides just being dead tired of hearing the same songs. We'd tried remixing it three times and we rang this professional mixologist to do it and, by that point, I was so tired of hearing the songs, I said, 'Go ahead, do whatever you want.'"
"You say you didn't think in those terms, cos you're more punk than me?" Courtney asks him, affronted.
"No, I'm not saying I'm more punk than you," snaps Kurt. "Actually, I'm wondering right now if I wasn't subconsciously thinking that I did want success, because I did."
"Is it such a sin to say that you wanted to be in Billboard?" she asks him. "That you knew you were going to be popular, or that you were going to be rock stars?"
"I knew we were going to be popular, but I didn't know we were going to be this popular," he says. "I'm so tired of saying this. I'm so tired of saying, 'Oh, we thought we were going to be as big as Sonic Youth', and all that shit. It's so f***ing boring at this point."
"But isn't there another part of you, that personality who wrote 'Aero Zeppelin' that…?" starts Courtney.
"Right!" her husband exclaims. "There is! And maybe, because I allowed the record to be mixed commercially enough that any song could get on the radio, maybe I was thinking it would be kinda funny, really hilarious to see how far we could push it, how popular we could get."
"Well, that was my excuse until this marriage thing happened," Courtney shrugs, "that it would be really funny and kinda hilarious, and now I don't think it's either of those things. Yet the desire is still there. And I'm not the Yoko Ono of Nirvana - I'm the one who lost two band members, not Kurt."
"You didn't lose any band members over this," Kurt shoots back, annoyed.
"Not over this," Courtney replies. "But my band lost two members. You can make what you want out of it, and say that you were running my life. Where's the theory that you're the one wearing the pants? That you're running me into the ground? Nobody's come up with that theory. You haven't been victimised with the whole macho guy persona."
"I'd rather be in your position than to be thought of as a f***ing idiot," complains Kurt, "a puppet on a string, being manipulated 24 hours a day. You didn't lose your band members over anything connected with this marriage, or by being associated with me at all."
"I'm not saying I did…"
"I've lost more drummers that you have," Kurt points out.
It's interesting that Courtney should raise this point about the imbalance in your relationship. Someone remarked to me recently that they think Kurt Cobain is one of the biggest sexists in America.
Kurt becomes seriously upset.
"That's not true," Courtney says, leaping to his defence. "No. I've looked for it, but not at all."
"A comment like that is just such a pathetic last attempt at having some kind of opinion…" starts a riled Kurt, before I cut him off.
No, hold on. I think what they're referring to is your relationship - the way it's so effectively castrated Courtney's art (especially when Courtney was such a strong female role model before her marriage). The comment wasn't meant to be a reflection on you, just on the way people perceive your marriage.
"Right," says Kurt. "I don't understand why that happens."
"The whole thing of the media theorising on two people's relationships," says Courtney, "is my fault for allowing journalists into my home. I see now why people say, 'I'm not going to talk about my famous husband.' I understand now. We've become these two cartoon characters you can theorise about…"
She stops, and starts on a different tack.
"You can't please everybody," she says. "I don't care if I get criticised. I don't give a shit if I get a bad review. I don't care if people say I'm a bitch or I'm obnoxious, cos I am those things. Or that thing of being a witch, or that Paul Lester guy saying I'm ugly and Debbie Gibson's pretty… I f***ng think that shit's funny. It's this crazy lying. Do you understand?"
She's starting to rail again now.
"It's my life," she says, almost spelling the words out.
"A social worker coming into my hospital, trying to take my baby away from me, trying to take my baby away from me. Spending hundreds of thousand of dollars on lawyers - all of Kurt's money went to lawyers because of f***ing Madonna, because I turned down Maverick. Whatever. I know it sounds crazy…
She pauses, takes another breath.
"The Vanity Fair article put quotes in my mouth, there were things I was supposed to have said about Madonna that I never said," she continues. "They twisted things around.
"I didn't do heroin during pregnancy. And even if I did, even if I shot coke every night and took acid every day, it's my own motherf***ing business. If I'm immoral, I'm immoral. It's not your goddamn business if I'm immoral or not."
She pauses, trying to sort her words out.
"A photographer for Vanity Fair caught me smoking a cigarette. It was on my birthday. I smoked something like four cigarettes in six hours. I was smoking a cigarette in one of the pictures. And the lines around the block for magazines that wants that picture is so big that this motherf***er has charged me $50,000 to get the pictures back. It's blackmail, pure and simple. And if I don't get them, they'll keep after her [Frances Bean]."
In some states in America, these photographs would be enough to prove that Courtney is "unfit to mother", thus giving the State legal rights to remove the child into their custody.
"They filed a legal report on me based on Vanity Fair and nothing else, no other f***ing evidence, that I was an unfit mother," she continues. "That I smoked during my pregnancy. F*** you, everybody smokes during their pregnancy - who gives a shit? And it's all because I married Kurt, because he's hot, young and cute.
"And I certainly don't buy people worrying about the baby," she adds. "If you want to ask about my drug problem, go ask my big fat smart 10-pound daughter, she'll answer any questions you have about it."
"I just want to get back to the Kurt-complaining-about-his-success thing," says Kurt, interrupting his wife's flow of invective. "How many questions in every article are placed on my success? People are so obsessed with it, that's all I ever get a chance to talk about. Ten different variations on the some question every interview."
"'You funny little boy!'" Courtney squeals, mocking his tormenters. "'You didn't set out to be successful! What an angle! Cinderella!'"
"It's a fine scam, it's a fine image," he says, sarcastically. "I'm getting really f***ing bored with it."
"Why don't we switch?" Courtney says, bringing the interview full circle. "I'll be demure and sullen and you'll be loud and obnoxious."
Then you'd be Axl Rose.
"No, then I'd be his codpiece," she corrects me. F*** me Kurt, f*** me Julian, f*** me Julian's drum tech, make me feel my worth! It's ridiculous. And, for $50,000, I have to buy this image of a really pregnant woman with a garland in her hair smoking a cigarette, this whole fertility image with a cigarette. As if I did it deliberately, as if I did it to provoke!"
She's off again.
"Someone called up my manager after the Vanity Fair article, saying, 'Does Courtney think she's being that whole Seventies cool shock rock thing?' - as if I had planted this whole drug, cigarette sensationalism!
"Ask Kurt," she continues. "I didn't want to talk to Vanity Fair, because I knew it was based on the Madonna thing and our marriage. They don't even do rock people - I sell 60,000 records, what the f*** do they want with me? But I did it anyway, because I was so sick of industry women talking and saying terrible things about me.
"I thought, if I was in Vanity Fair, it would shut their f***ing mouths and they'd leave me in peace," she laments. "But that was my mistake and I just shouldn't have done it. I should have known more about the mainstream press and how they operate.
"Also, the whole thing where it made me seem to be so competitive with Kat [Bjelland: Babes In Toyland] is just like… I was totally provoked. I was mad with Kat about something, and I got provoked into gossiping about something off the record."
According to Vanity Fair, Kat and Courtney were embroiled in a bitter argument over who first started wearing the "baby doll" kinderwhore dress both are famous for. Kat was quoted as saying, "Last night I had a dream that I killed her [Courtney]. I was really happy."
"And then she provoked Kat into saying things about me, by telling her what I said," Courtney continues. "If you notice, Kat hasn't gone on record as saying anything shitty about me, and I certainly didn't mean to go on record saying anything shitty about her. We're not best friends anymore, but we don't hate each other. It's ridiculous that it's been turned into something where you have to choose between one of us. We're different. We write differently.
"But that's why it's so competitive," she adds. "That's why this whole foxcore/Riot Grrrl thing is so competitive. It's like rap music. There's a void, and there's only room for one of you in the void."
The tape switches off. Courtney decides that she's said enough. Kurt nods in agreement. Time to view the new Nirvana video once more, and discuss whether to go out tonight (Therapy? Are playing the Whiskey).
Courtney decides to accompany me - the first time she's been out in LA since giving birth.
Kurt prefers to stay in, and mind the baby.
© Jerry Thackray, 1993