- Amy Raphael
- Kurt Cobain
- Krist Novoselic
- Dave Grohl
It was a year when Nirvana were much vilified but rarely heard, when grunge
became more about catwalk capers and bandwagon bores than inspired music.
Things are different now. The Seattle trio are about to have their say
"Being a celebrity is like rape" - John McEnroe
The Cobain family are having a nice day out. It's late afternoon in a photo
studio in downtown Manhattan. Daddy Cobain is careering from one end of the
room to another, steering his 11-month-old daughter around in her pushchair,
dressed in a suit that suggests he could well be auditioning for the role of
Tigger in Winnie The Pooh. He looks ridiculous. Frances Bean is gurgling
uncontrollably, a big grin on her angelic face. Courtney Love-Cobain is lounging barefoot on a sofa. "Where are my babies?" she demands, her arms
outstretched. Kurt changes direction, pretends to be out of control and stops the pushchair just short of the sofa. He leans over his wife and
kisses her. Long and passionately.
This is no ordinary family. This is royalty. Grunge royalty. This is as
intimate as most people will ever get with Kurt Cobain, Nirvana frontman,
so-called king of grunge, the X generation's rock star. He excels at not
letting anyone inside his head. He has opinions, sure, and he's vocal about
many of them, but when it comes to baring his soul, well, he'll take you so
far and then dump you. Listen to his lyrics which hint and tease but never
quite come clean. For someone so insular, Kurt Cobain has mesmerised thousands - millions - of (young) people.
It seems like a long time ago now since Nirvana first arrived. In autumn
'91 they released their second album and their first Geffen product,
"Nevermind". It was followed closely by "Smells Like Teen Spirit". The
single became an anthem for a pissed-off generation who'd known little else
other than the oppressive, right-wing administrations of Reagan and Bush. It
was on the radio in the US constantly; MTV rotated the video relentlessly.
"Nevermind" hit the top of the American charts in January '92. And then the
rumours started. And they've never really stopped.
Kurt Cobain is dead. He's hooked on heroin. He's addicted to cough
medicine. Kurt marries Courtney Love in Hawaii (true) and rumours abound
that she wasn't keen on inviting the other two members of Nirvana and their
partners. The couple visit detox clinics. They announce they're having a
child (true) and the drug talk escalates; Kurt has a tummy ache and discovers stomach ulcers brought on by a bad diet and manic touring (could
be). Courtney is rushed to hospital a month before the baby's due with womb
problems while on the road with Nirvana in Spain. The now oft-quoted Vanity
Fair article on Courtney Love goes on the stands: the Nineties Sid and Nancy
are scrutinised at length. Courtney is reported as talking frankly about
taking heroin in early months of pregnancy. Despite everything, Frances Bean
is born in August: does she have one head or two? Is she featherlight or
While Nirvana and Guns N' Roses continue a war of words (the former
disgusted by Axl's penchant for dodgy lyrics and comments) and trouble brews
with Victoria Clarke and Britt Collins' unofficial biography, talk of the
follow-up to "Nevermind" starts. "It'll be crap," someone comments. "I want
it to be crap," someone quotes Kurt as responding. Opinions from all quarters on the state of the new album appear everywhere; the story of
Geffen finding it "unreleaseable" even makes it to American current affairs
magazine Newsweek. In direct response to Jeff Giles' report, the band take
out a full-page ad in Billboard to tell their side of things.
More horror stories: Kurt buys some guns, tries to choke Courtney in their
Seattle home and ends up in jail for a few hours.
Oh, and in that two-year period, Nirvana, world famous rock band, released
a few singles ("Come As You Are", "Lithium", "In Bloom") and made a few classic, humorous videos. They also recorded "In
Utero", their third album.
It should confound many critics. It may not (happily) be "Nevermind Part
II", it may not capture a moment as that album did, but it has the same sparks of genius. The rough and raw feeling from their first album,
"Bleach", is captured but tempered by melody. Kurt Cobain's primal scream is
as ungracious and rasping as ever but there are also some beautiful goosepimple songs. And a handful of people-friendly singles.
AS SOMEONE ONCE OBSERVED, a celebrity is someone who works hard all their
lives to become well-known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being
recognised. The success of "Teen Spirit" and the media explosion of the
grunge phenomenon, both in music and on the catwalk, brought instant fame to
Nirvana, who were given the grunge crown. "Teen Spirit" transcended any one
genre of music even though it was essentially a rock record; Jeremy Healy
played it alongside house and garage records in London clubs, and now most
people in their teens or twenties have an anecdote to tell about when they
first heard it. "Maybe it's the same as Kennedy being assassinated," drummer
Dave Grohl suggests drily at one point.
As the charismatic but elusive frontman, Cobain is usually the one wearing
the shades. We are in New York for three days of press mayhem. Courtney is
sitting in the hotel lobby with Frances Bean, who is passed around for everyone to hold. She is way more trusting of strangers than her parents
are, smiling happily at anyone who picks her up. Courtney talks non-stop
about anything and everything. Conversation gets round to the possible
B-sides of "Heart-Shaped Box", the first single from "In Utero"; one may be
called "Moist Vagina". Courtney dismisses any suggestion that it is about
her and refers to it as a "D-side". Kurt later explains it's about the way
bodies are compared, "as though it's relevant to say one pair of breasts is
nicer than any other". Courtney jokes about how Kurt wants to arrange to
meet some journalists at a crack house. He doesn't like their magazine.
After some time, Kurt Cobain appears from nowhere. He wanders towards us
slowly, wearing jeans, a T-shirt, a pink and white cardie, dark shades with
white frames, his hair falling over his face. His red nail varnish is badly
chipped. He looks like that rare thing: a natural rock star. He asks of no
one in particular: "You been waiting for me?" and no one in particular responds. He's not listening anyway; Frances Bean is the focus of his
attention. Their hotel lobby is the meeting place for the three days of promotional duties, and Kurt is not merely often but always late for interviews and photo sessions. Subjecting people to his waiting game doesn't
seem to be an ego thing as much as a time thing: his body clock is tuned
into the small hours. Catch him after midnight and he's Mr Accessible.
AS COBAIN'S NOT UP FOR any interviews yet, I talk to the Other Two. Drummer
Dave Grohl and bassist Chris Novoselic are articulate and opinionated and
have their own slant on things, but they're not Kurt Cobain. "People like to
get a lot of time with Kurt," explains Grohl. "But when we first started
doing interviews, he wouldn't really say anything, even though people would
try to direct questions at him. Nobody would get Chris' bizarre sense of
humour and I'd just occasionally interject with smartass comments. Interviewing us was a fucking nightmare."
Grohl (the youngest at 24 to Cobain's 26 and Novoselic's 28) is almost the
boy-next-door type, the regular nice guy. He is fanatically punctual when it
comes to turning up for interviews, maybe not as much out of respect as
wanting them out of the way. He's simply into the music and having a blast.
It's not cool in New York, but he's promoting a multi-layered look of two
pairs of shorts over long johns. He doesn't feel the heat, he claims, because he was brought up in Washington DC where it was "fucking hot as
shit". When we meet, in the sterile environment of the hotel's conference
room, he's just finished talking to his photographer fiancée on the internal
phone, and ends their murmurings with an unabashed "I love you".
Grohl, who joined the band in 1990, tries to keep a firm grip on the fame
thing, but he's still evidently puzzled by all the hysteria. He's more excited about his mum coming to New York for their gig than he is about
hearing a line of journalists telling how great his record is. "What's the
big fucking deal? We're just a band, it doesn't seem like it should be any
big deal. But to a lot of people it is." He pauses, doodles on the paper
table mat and sighs. "I'm kinda proud of being the drummer in Nirvana, because we've done lots of good things, we've shaken things up a little bit.
It took me a while to realise that. Everyone kept on telling us: 'You guys
really ruffled the sheets of the music industry.' I found it hard to believe
'cause, you know, how could three fucking losers from Nowheresville make a
dent in rock'n'roll… it doesn't seem to fit."
Shades are an unnecessary accessory for the drummer boy; he doesn't get
hassled that much. Only when "Teen Spirit" had reached saturation point and
people would come up to him and say: "Hey man, if I hear that fucking song
again, I'm gonna kill somebody." He grins as he recounts the tale. "I'd just
say: 'Look, you know, I'm not the programmer of any radio station.'" The
only occasion he'll admit to losing his rag is around the time of the
unofficial biography fuss. "It seemed like that book was a lot more important than making a new record. I ended up pretty angry because whose
business is it what we do outside of the band? Who gives a shit?"
When we meet up again the next morning in the hotel lobby (Kurt's still
snoozing), Grohl is even more hyperactive than usual. He's excited and nervous all at once about the prospect of their "secret" gig that evening at
the 4,000-capacity Roseland. Coffee is ordered, but after waiting for 20
minutes Dave becomes impatient and goes walkabout, taking my tape machine
with him and talking into it Agent Cooper style. He records a five-minute
spiel in a croaky, stonehead DJ take-off. "Well, here we are at the New Music Seminar '93 and the hot ticket for tonight: Nirvana and Jesus Lizard.
An alternative spectacle, something not to be missed. The phenomenon of [stumbling]… Nirvana is revealed on stage. Yes, a band that has become the
godfather of grunge as we know it. Grunge: '92's coined term. G-R-U-N-G-E.
That Sound From Seattle, that crazy mix of Stooges meets Black Flag. Yes,
that's grunge and that's tonight at Roseland with the Jesus Lizard, one of
the most unprecedented freak-out bands…"
DADDY COBAIN IS NO LONGER running around the studio making Frances Bean
gurgle. He's taken off the Tigger suit in favour of a dress and some bold
black eyeliner and is being photographed on the roof. Frances Bean is also
there in her pushchair, wrapped in a big white woolly jacket. She's with her
21-year-old nanny, Cali, who looks as though he should be in the band rather
than looking after the baby. Kurt's been posing for various photographers
all afternoon and the most animated he gets is when he stands on a piece of
glass without his sneakers on.
Chris Novoselic comes up on to the roof with a freshly-made mixed fruit
drink and sits down. He's taken off the bear suit, which made him look even
more toweringly tall than usual and which made him so hot he spent much of
the photo session lying horizontal in front of a fan. After some idle chat,
he starts talking about the interview we'd done a few days earlier in the
hotel conference room. Cobain might have angrily written in the sleeve notes
of the "Incesticide" compilation: "If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different
colour, or women, please do this one favour
for us - leave us the fuck alone! Don't come to any of our shows and don't
buy our records." But Novoselic is the self-appointed politico of the band
as much as he is an off-kilter wag. He'd tried to steer the conversation
away from Croatia, where his parents were born and brought up before moving
to California, or Clinton, who he still believes is the best of a bad bunch,
but the topics came up time and again.
As we sit watching the sun set, he says he's worried he might come across
as being "too heavy" in print. I remind him that as well as talking about
his involvement in projects such as the Balkan Women's Aid Fund, he also
described the early days of Nirvana, then called Skid Row and influenced by
Black Sabbath and Black Flag. And how he and Kurt, who both grew up in Aberdeen, a redneck backwater
near-ish Seattle, were always in different
bands. "One of The Melvins [still one of Nirvana's favourite bands] would
join for a while, but it was never serious. Finally, back in '87, Kurt and I
got together and decided to start a real band. So we found this drummer,
scrounged equipment and rehearsed constantly. I used to take things so seriously, I'd get all pissed off if we had a bad rehearsal: God, it's gotta
be good, it's gotta be rock, it's gotta be fucking fun.
"And we were lucky 'cause we had a van - we were the only band signed to
Sub Pop at that time with a van. It was even mentioned in our press release.
There was always something around the corner, a show in Olympia, in Seattle,
an opening for the Butthole Surfers or Soundgarden. I can remember Soundgarden signing to a major for something like $175,000 and I was
incredulous. What were they going to do with it all?" With the money Chris
later earned from being in Nirvana, he bought a "modest house" in Seattle
and a run-down 40-acre farm, three hours drive from the city. There are no
phones out there and that's just how he wants it.
At around the same time money began coming in, Chris started to have
recurring dreams about being naked in public. "I guess the transition thing
happened so fast." Various interviews last year quoted him as saying he'd
got into drink too heavily and had consequently given it up. "Not really,
I've been pretty consistent with the drinking. I just made it through. I had
to experience all kinds of feelings and stuff. Being famous, the band… but
I came out of it a better person. Much stronger and more mature. I just worked things out, accepted things. I have a way of not dealing with things.
I've got to work on that." His wife helped him out, "just by being there to
turn to, to be on your side - you need someone to crawl to".
The only one crawling around on the studio roof is Frances Bean. Chris
finishes his drink and, still concerned, asks once more: "If you're sure I'm
not too much of a hippy dippy…"
NIRVANA ARRIVE ON STAGE. They open with "Serve The Servants", the first song
on "In Utero". The opening words are very Kurt - "Teenage angst has paid off
well/Now I'm bored and old". The crowd, which is very male, very macho, get
straight into mosh mania. Kurt later expresses his disgust at the high "meathead" quota, saying it's not normally that gender imbalanced. The
audience can't seem to get enough of the succession of new material which
opens the first part of the show. Familiar songs "Lithium", even "Teen Spirit", which the band keep promising themselves they'll never perform
again - are greeted with increasing enthusiasm. At its best, this could be
pure '77 punk revisited. Big John, Kurt's guitar roadie and former member of
the fairly dismal British punk band the Exploited, joins in on guitar for a
few numbers; this succeeds, but the cellist who comes on for the acoustic
numbers at the end is lost somewhere in the system. The band, all seated,
have been too ambitious with this idea; what could have been a curious side
to Nirvana is too quiet to even hear.
After the gig, Kurt looks crap. His skin is blotchy and he looks as though
all the energy's been sapped out of him. When asked if he's ready for the
interview, he smiles weakly and says, "Yeah, sure."
"I'M STILL TOTALLY NARCISSISTIC, I still hate the majority of the world. But
not with as much venom as I used to. To hate that much is a matter of being
naive. Maybe that negativity has to do with not being in love or being lonely or not having a child." There's a glimmer of a smile here. "Certain
things just force you into being more positive and I'm really grateful for
them. I got sick of myself, I was sick of myself for so many years. I was a
punk rocker hating everybody. Sometimes, looking back on it, I couldn't imagine what I was like to some people."
It's 1.30am. Kurt has had a shower and has come up to my hotel room, where
MTV flickers silently in the corner. He lies on the bed, head propped up on
two over-sized pillows. He seems in a mellow mood. In two hours he moves
only to the visit the bathroom, to reach for another cigarette or to take a
sip of Evian. He talks softly. He's not keen on the backdrop of New York -
"I hate this fucking city" - but says this is the first time he has had any
fun talking to journalists. "I really, really enjoy doing every interview
for this album 'cause I've things to talk about. I want to defend myself.
All this bullshit which has been printed about us is reason enough for dialogue." He laughs and draws hard on his cigarette. "I also have something
to say about our album other than: 'Er… most of my lyrics are poems, you
Everything in Kurt (and Courtney's) public and private life has been
scrutinised under a magnifying glass. No escape. The heat of the spotlight
may seem to have fucked Kurt up, but then he'll tell you he was fucked up
anyway. "I had a shitty life till I was about 17. I sat in my room for 90
per cent of the time. I'd go home after school, play my guitar and listen to
music. The States seemed so big to me that I thought I'd never leave the
region. At a younger age, everything seemed so simple and easy, I thought I
could be President. By the age of nine, I pretty much gave up any idea of
ever even surviving the age of 21 because I felt so completely alienated. I
probably alienated myself more than the other way round. I was always trying
find someone who liked art or music, but it was always sport."
MTV'S ONLY HIGHLIGHT BEGINS its nightly slot. Beavis & Butthead is a colour
cartoon which surpasses the dorky humour of Wayne's World. It's all about
anti-social behaviour and bad manners, as exemplified by tasteless metalhead
adolescents Beavis (in the Metallica T-shirt) and his bosom buddy Butthead
(who favours AC/DC). Everything is "cool, dude", they shop at Babes R Us,
strum air guitars, talk over rock videos (including Nirvana's) and massacre
them. They're super ugly and they don't give a shit. The major cringe factor
comes with their sick Muttley laughs. Kurt, who earlier dismissed MTV as "an
advertisement station", turns the volume up. "I have to admit, I like this.
I think I've seen every episode."
"I know so many people like that," Kurt says, laughing at the cartoon's
inane humour. "I grew up with people like that. Literally. To the tee. I
mean, carbon copies. I've sat on couches with people like that and smoked
pot with them while they critiqued television shows for hours and hours." If
it was so unbearable, why subject yourself to it? "A lot of times, I put
myself in those situations when I was buying marijuana. I had to be around
people like that every once in a while while I was waiting for the marijuana
to show. People like that are a majority in Aberdeen."
Kurt felt as though he had something special to offer the world. Encouraged by his mother to paint - he spent his childhood travelling
between his mum and dad's after they got divorced - he decided to become a
commercial artist, and won various awards before winning a scholarship to go
to art school. "I knew I was better than anyone in my school but then I realised there were bigger schools, larger cities and people who were going
to be a lot better than me. I lost interest. I quit school in the last month. I also didn't want to go to college in Texas or New York, it was too
frightening for me. And I realised I liked music a lot more."
He dropped his abstract drawings, his "dreamland, stoner art" and soon
after moved to nearby Olympia. The town had a few more things going for it
than Aberdeen: a liberal college, a music scene centred around Calvin Johnson's K Records label and regular punk gigs. "Living there taught me a
lot. It was great, a really nice place to live. Then, after about four years, I had grown tired of it. I became just as depressed as I was in
Aberdeen. I'd used up everything it had to offer."
AS HE SAYS EARLIER, Kurt Cobain's wife and child keep him from teetering
over the edge. But the self-destruct mechanism, the notorious heroin indulgences - how much has Kurt really changed in the year since Frances
Bean was born? "It has completely changed my whole outlook on everything. I
don't know…" He drifts off. His eyes well up. "It's nice to know that we
can have the luxury of a nanny. It's great that she's never ignored. And
she's learning to have relationships with people." I point out that she's
the antithesis of her parents, she's so trusting. Kurt laughs. "When we were
young, Courtney and I were both very trusting and naive. But we learnt."
Would you have lost it somewhere along the way if you hadn't had a child?
"No, because I started to heal my negative attitude when we got married.
Just finding a marriage partner, a soulmate, I never expected it to happen.
I wasn't nearly as self-destructive as has been sometimes reported. I was
doing drugs for a while. But I knew that would get old as I'd done every
other drug. Heroin was the last drug to tamper with."
Kurt readily admits that he's had problems with heroin; he even refers to
himself as a junkie. "It's a part of my life that I'm not too proud of. It's
been going on for years. Then I slowly decided not to self-destruct. I wasn't familiar with what heroin does to people. I did it first in '85/'86
in Aberdeen. I'd wanted to try it for ever. I wanted to be a junkie for a
few months after 'Nevermind' and the tour. It was a really stupid idea. I
didn't understand how evil it is, how hard it is to get off it. It's the
most addictive thing I've ever tried. It's an ongoing dilemma. I still have
problems with it. This year I've fucked up a few times. But I'm not addicted
any more. I haven't had any drug dealings for a long time. I couldn't fool
myself or anyone else that I won't do it again; I'll always be a junkie.
I've had to excommunicate my drug-taking friends and focus on my family and
Has experimenting with heroin made him feel more mortal? "That's a weird
question. I don't know. I've never thought of that. I'm still not any more
easily amused. I don't know. There are certain privileges that I can use,
and I'm grateful for that." Money or not, at the end of the day, do you still feel you can live forever? A long pause. Does he want a different
question? "No. No, I like this question. But I don't know the answer." What
about life after death? "Sure. I believe if you die you're completely happy
and your soul somehow lives on and there's this positive energy. I'm not in
any way afraid of death." When did you start to think like that? "Oh, forever. For as long as I can remember." He clears his throat. "I'm afraid
of dying now, I don't want to leave behind my wife and child, so I don't do
things that would jeopardise my life. I try and do as little things as I can
to jeopardise it. I don't want to die. I've been suicidal most of my life, I
didn't really care if I lived or died, and there were plenty of times when I
wanted to die, but I never had the nerve to actually try it." Why did you
want to die? "Because everything was hopeless and I thought I knew everything when I was young."
You can't help feeling that no matter how rich or successful he is, no
matter how much he loves and is loved by Courtney and Frances Bean, that
Kurt Cobain will never find an inner peace. Especially while he's a rock
star. He will always be leaning on the self-destruct button in a way that's
become almost masochistic. Like he's been on the edge for so long that he's
addicted to hatred, misery and frustration. But then if he woke up happy and
in control one day, he'd lose his touch of genius.
KURT COBAIN LIKES PLAYING the flippant rock star. He calls
fluke and doubts "In Utero" will sell as well unless Geffen gives it the
same push. He claims that he never wanted to be famous in the first place.
"I don't give a fuck. So to put out music now is even easier 'cause I'm not
worried about it. I don't think I was ever worried about reviews, except for
in [indie rock 'zine] Flipper. I'm so glad to put out this album now - it's
totally, exactly what we wanted to do. At least a handful of people will
accept it and we'll still be able to tour, even if we have to go back to
Why so defensive? Being signed to a major label is at odds with his "Fuck
you, I won't do what you tell me" punk ethic. He likes selling records and
making money, but he won't conform. And all the pre-release speculation about "In
Utero" didn't help. When their Geffen A&R heard the Steve Albini
mixes, Kurt says, he thought it sounded terrible, he couldn't listen to it,
he didn't like the songwriting. In short, he didn't think there was much
going for it. Kurt wanted to work with Albini because of his work with The
Pixies and The Breeders but now has few good words for him. They remixed two
songs with REM producer Scott Litt and managed to "cure" the other tracks.
The bad vibes may not have stopped the band from believing in the product,
but they have been made to wonder if their importance in the music world
will continue to be reflected by record sales.
Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman told Jeff Giles in the Newsweek article: "Nirvana ushered in a cultural revolution and made the Geffen
company millions. If they want to make an album of hand claps, they have
earned the right." But Kurt, for all his defiance, admits that's he's beyond
spiting everyone for making him famous. "I'm really glad we didn't put out a
purposefully bad record. I would've done it for sure a year ago, but now
I've learned to ignore everything, all that celebrity thing."
I TELL KURT THAT I was wandering around his hotel lobby for the past few
days singing one of the tracks on "In Utero" before really realising what I
was doing. "Rape Me" opens with the same chords as "Teen Spirit" and could
be taken as a response to the immediate fame which the single brought. Kurt
says it's not. "I was so tired of talking about sexism in interviews. I realised that I'm not making a big enough impact. There are still macho
meatheads in our audience. I dunno… if you want to say something, it has
to be so direct and obvious that in a way it's a mockery. That's why I wrote
an anti-rape song called 'Rape Me'. It's not poking fun at rape in any way,
it's poking fun at the way those issues have to be so obvious; to really
succeed, you have to have simple facts on pieces of paper, you have to hand
them out to each person who walks into your show."
Although they performed the song on last year's MTV Video Awards (it
didn't go down too well), Kurt says they're not putting it out as a single.
But even as an album track, who says people will see the mockery, especially
if people are as stupid as he thinks they are? "It would've been harder if
we put it out on 'Nevermind', but I think there have been enough articles
for us to have got our message across… I can't help feeling that everyone
knows we're anti-rape. I totally agree that it's weird for you to be singing
it. I have a problem with that too. You're not the first to point it out…
but it was out of desperation, that's the only excuse I can come up with."
He looks crushed, so we move on. He is mentally planning the video for
"Heart-Shaped Box". He wants William S Burroughs to do a cameo in it. They
recently put out a record together, Kurt using the pseudonym (sort of) of
"Kurtis Cobhaine", but they didn't meet up, or even speak on the phone. "I
heard he really liked my lyrics, but I doubt he likes the music. It's a real
compliment, fuck yeah. It's a total blessing. I don't want him in our video
just because of who he is. He's also this really interesting-looking old
man. I want to meet him too; I'd be nervous, but I've met other idols. I've
met Iggy Pop. I'm supposed to be doing a record with him." He stops short.
"My God! Listen to me namedrop."
THE MEDIA HAVE BECOME so fixated with Kurt and Courtney - not only a Nineties Sid and Nancy, they observed, but a Lennon and Ono too - that the
band now issue a statement to tell their side of things every couple of months. Last year Kurt did a cover story with
The Advocate, America's highest-profile gay magazine. In the Q&A he talked about hanging out with
gay guys at high school, sometimes pretending to be gay himself to wind up
the Beavis and Butthead types and how, had he not met Courtney, he would
have continued a "bisexual lifestyle". He got a great response from those
who read the interview. But? "But the AP Wire reported it and twisted the
words, saying I was a practising bisexual, that Courtney didn't mind 'cause
we have an open relationship. Everyone gets their news from AP Wire - even
MTV, so we had to release a statement."
More recently the English music press quoted from a new, authorised
biography by Rolling Stone journalist Michael Azzerad: "I have no respect
for the English people." Kurt denies having been that general: "I meant I
hated English journalists." In this, he doubtlessly includes Victoria Clarke
and Britt Collins, who wanted to call their unofficial biography after the
Nirvana T-shirt which said: "Flower-sniffin'; kitty-pettin'; baby-kissin'
corporate rock whores". The couple's investigations into Nirvana got too
detailed, too inquisitive, thought Kurt and Courtney, who finally lost their
cool. Last October, Clarke played a message of her answering machine to publications from Select to the Independent. It was Kurt Cobain, saying he could have her "snuffed out", but would "try the legal way
Since then, no one has been quite sure if the book's actually coming out.
"Their publishers are so afraid we're gonna sue them that we received a copy
of the book yesterday to proof read. We get to edit anything we want." Kurt
laughs at the absurdity of this, but his face is weary rather than gleeful.
"I guess we've done a pretty good job of scaring them." At the time of going
to press, the book had no publishers. "It's not been finally decided yet,"
said Clarke and Collins' agent. Will it definitely go ahead? "We hope so." A
proof of the book shows they've kept the working title, even though Nirvana
insist it is their copyright.
The concluding word in the epilogue is dedicated to anyone considering a
career as a rock biographer - "Don't". The biography is as you might expect
it to be: a detailed look at Nirvana, their rise to success, their foibles,
lots of quotes from interviews and a whole section on Courtney Love. The
most bizarre part is the chapter entitled "Load Up On And Kill Your Friends", which attempts to sidestep possible legal proceedings by taking
the form of a "Pinteresque comedy in three acts, on the drama, the dilemma
and absurdity of being a rock star." A jumble of disparate quotes stitched
together, it is both intentionally and unintentionally comical.
A few months ago everyone was talking about Kurt's spell in jail.
"Obviously Courtney and I have had lots of times to figure our story out
right. We were playing loud music, the neighbours called the cops. The cops
were totally friendly and treated me with a lot of respect - they didn't
even figure out who I was till they took me to the police station. They said
one of us had to go to jail, some new Seattle law about domestic violence.
"Courtney and I started arguing about who was gonna go to jail. I have to
admit I was rather drunk - I get drunk easily - and I don't remember the
whole chain of events. We got into a scuffle, Courtney was wearing a choker
and I ripped it off because she threw juice in my face. She did that 'cause
we were yelling at each other. It turned into a domestic fight in front of
the cops. They asked out of the blue if there were any guns in the house. I
said no, but Courtney thought she'd co-operate and said: 'Yeah, they're upstairs in the closet put away safely, with no bullets in them.' So they
confiscated my three fuckin' guns. The police report came out as us fighting
over guns, me assaulting her with a gun and trying to choke her. The last
thing I want to be thought of as is a wife choker. It's just another perfect
example of how cursed we are."
Cursed they may be, but it's not as cut and dried as Kurt makes it sound.
The royal couple have not exactly gone out of the way to lead straight, clandestine lives. The on/off drugs stories, the abusive phone calls to
Clarke, the continuous and at times confused acknowledging and then dismissal of the media. As Yoko Ono was accused of putting a knife in John
Lennon's career, so Courtney has been charged with toying with Kurt's. Kurt
has his own view on things. "We just happen to piss people off. Courtney's a
really threatening woman. She's totally smart and she speaks her mind, she
speaks too much of the truth."
IT'S GETTING LATE. Kurt is fading fast. Walking down to the lobby of the
hotel - a hideous place with shagpile carpets and uptight staff which was
once owned by Leona Helmsley, a big Reagan supporter and tax evader who's
now locked up - he talks about how important it is to have friends outside
the music industry he can trust. "Like Frances' nanny, he's become one of my
best friends. He's not at all thrilled by what I do. I totally look forward
to seeing him every day. Knowing that I can establish a relationship like
that, being a big rock star, that makes me happy." A big rock star? "That's
what I call myself now." A smile flickers across his face. He stops by a
vase of unnaturally huge flowers in the lobby. There's a purple one which
looks especially ridiculous. Kurt pulls it out. He walks towards the revolving doors and out on to the street. "This is for Courtney," he says,
grinning to himself. Grunge is dead. Long live King Kurt.
© Amy Raphael, 1993