- Jennie Boddy
- Kurt Cobain
- Krist Novoselic
- Dave Grohl
||Oh Gawd, Part II
Nirvana's second record kicks butt, rocks the casbah, is a pop masterpiece, oh, nevermind. By Jennifer Boddy
If ever a band were a bunch of fudge packin, flower sniffin', crack smokin', kitty pettin', Satan worshippin', baby kissin', corporate rock whore motherfuckers, it's Nirvana. They are a nine-sheets-to-the-wind trio of dichotomy, the music at once innocent and jaded, punchy and proverbial, backwoods and inner city, Shocking Blue and the Knack, vitamins and cigarettes, sideways and straight-on. And the best incongruency of all, they are a testament to the reason rock 'n' roll doesn't matter and the reason it matters so much.
See, they don't go for the pretences and larger-than-life rock star thing, but are just the fellows to be rock stars. And, unlike other Northwest bands hanging onto the whole Seattle thing, Nirvana — one of the initial Northwest-sensation bands — bypasses it altogether. In fact, they've been steadily heading away from the metal/grunge thing all along. Jason Everman, former guitarist (who never actually played on any releases but went on to a stint as Soundgarden bassist) had more hard rock ideas, which explains his mutually agreed upon departure.
Songwriter/singer/guitarist Kurdt Kobain and bassist Chris Novoselic preferred a punk pop format, which Kurdt describes as "Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, bad solo." The first full-length release in 1989, Bleach (recorded in three days for $600), Is a heavier and angrier Nirvana than on Nevermind (from "Negative Creep" to "Love Myself, Better Than You" — "On a Plain"). On Bleach the hint was there, but on the "Sliver" Sub Pop single, the direction of the music came on in full force. Now, on Nevermind, we get all sorts of pop piss-pourings — powerful choruses, quick changes, swollen-gland /almost sick vocals, tempered with deep chunky bass lines and slaughtering drums. Still angry, still edgy, still right-on, with lines like "I'm so ugly, but that's OK 'cuz so are you" ("Lithium"), or "I feel stupid, and contagious/ Here we are now, entertain us" ("Smells Like Teen Spirit") or the chorus "I Don't Care I Don't Care I Don't Care" ("Breed"). Emo-pop.
The amazing music comes no matter the band's penchant for food fights, fire extinguishers and fuck yous. By leaving behind all the rock 'n' roll premeditations and belabouring, they create songs, real songs that you want to sing with, music so simple and so true it gives you an unreachable sense of near-bursting. As Rockpool wrote in a review, "if Nirvana doesn't do it for you, you are imbeciles."
"Well," says Kobain, "we had two years, and its the best of two years of material. But some of the songs weren't written until just before we recorded the album, and most of the lyrics were written while we were recording. In fact, a couple of days everyone had to wait around for me to finish the lyrics."
"So we were just standing there with our arms crossed and our feet tapping, just staring at Kurdt as he sat there sweating and writing and looking and writing and looking," says Novoselic. "Just breathing down his throat, so that pressure element was there. I think the pressure element was healthy."
Probably a lot healthier than some guy somewhere in the bowels of MCA, the parent of their now label, the David Geffen Company, shooting Alka Seltzer shots, trying hard to understand them. The dichotomies, remember, innocent and jaded; third grade idiot savants on parade. And life on a major can be fun, what with larger distribution and so many new toys to play with.
Nirvana found Geffen CDs ideal for carpet-skiing and crusty when microwaved. Another good game is building towers to run crashing through, though Kobain clarifies it wasn't Sonic Youth stuff (and won't be Teenage Fan Club either, now that they're on DGC). There's more catered parties on Geffen, thus a larger food wardrobe, and Nelson records look spiffy with pentagrams drawn on them. Then there's those zany mishaps causing some MCA-size ulcers.
"We were doing an ID for this Japanese TV station and Kurdt goes, 'You're watching Space Shower TV,' and I go 'You're watching golden shower TV,' and they didn't catch it at all. They just said 'thank you, thank you,'" says Chris. And at a Los Angeles in-store appearance the band played at — well, sort of played at, since Novoselic was too drunk and someone from the audience was hired to be him — Geffen A&R bigwig Gary Gersh wanted to express his awe. After telling Kobain how amazing he thought they were, Kobain says, "That's nothing, watch this," and threw up.
Maybe the Alka Seltzer guy would feel better knowing that Bruce Pavitt, co-owner of Nirvana's former independent label Sub Pop, didn't fare any better, then or now. After Nirvana was recently kicked out of their own record release party at Rebar and took the festivities elsewhere, and just after Pavitt threw up in a sink and was sitting woozily on a curb, Kobain pelted eggs at him from a window. This is not malice, really, this is kicks. The Electric Company of the David Geffen Company.
"It's just like, rock 'n' roll, what is rock 'n' roll? You know, Geffen makes a big deal about it — this Guns N' Roses attitude about rock 'n' roll and how rebellious they are. I mean, if people don't have a sense of humor, then what is it they are so serious about?" Novoselic says.
In another Nirvana inconsistency, however, don't think the three are merely a bunch of buffoons (though they might be the first to say they are). I mean, they care about how they are represented, especially that it is not phony. For instance, the band found the original Geffen press release a bit serious and stuffy, so they took matters upon themselves to include material a little more giddy. As to how Chris and Kurdt met (at the Grays Harbor Institute of Northwest Crafts), they write "I liked what Kurdt was doing. I asked him what his thoughts were on a macaroni mobile piece I was working on. He suggested I glue glitter on it. That really made it!" Yes, that's way more Nirvana than any sort of key selling points. Plus, they design their own t-shirts, decide where and with whom they tour, have total artistic freedom and are not required to do any of the newly abundant in-store appearances or countless interviews. But they do them, as responsible buffoons.
"We're just now coming into doing so many interviews that we're becoming exhausted by it, at least I am," Kobain says. "I mean, every waking day of my life is Nirvana now. Phone interviews and just constantly being tooled around."
"But at least we can got stoned and stuff — we try to make the best of it. Try to wreck some guy's car, throw pizza at each other, kooky, zany things, you know. Squirting flowers, hand buzzers…" explains Novoselic.
It is for the kids, anyway. "We love baby goats. They're so cute," Novoselic affirms. They were just getting a little too darn popular with the kids, too, and since their music could be loved by a skate punker or frat boy — usually at blows on anything else — by the young or the old, lovers of hardcore or soft porn, the life-affirming or suicidal, they need the more expensive push and larger distribution Geffen could offer. And they're getting it: full page color ads in trade magazines, promotional CDs given away like crazy, and a press and radio assault.
"I think it's just kind of a progression," says Novoselic. "When we were at Sub Pop we had a really good time doing all those tours and stuff, and the whole Sub Pop craziness of two years back helped us out a lot, so that was cool," says Novoselic. "You know, Sub Pop was the nest, and Bruce and Jon were the mommy and daddy birds."
"And they regurgitated worms and shoved them down our throats and it gave us a lot of protein, so we became healthy enough to go on to commercial labels," adds Kobain.
"So we flew out of the nest, and Bruce and Jon were standing there wing in wing with a tear in their eye.
"They taught us how to fly and kicked us out."
Actually, Sub Pop bigwigs Pavitt and Jon Poneman couldn't be happier for the band. For one thing, Poneman walks around whistling Nevermind songs while Pavitt tap dances. Poneman says he thinks the guys in Nirvana are akin to modern day Bruce Springsteens, especially Kobain, with the working-man-slash-insightful-genius thing going. For another thing, the Sub Pop logo is on all the releases (three times on the CD) part of a special arrangement including $750,000 billion, stretch limos and a prize-winning goat named Buck Buck.
"People try to blow up the band by bragging about some unimaginable amount of money," says new drummer Dave Grohl, formerly of the DC band Scream. "Somebody heard so much money, and the next person can't really remember, so they spit out something else, someone hears that — it's like that game telephone."
(Spin magazine printed they received $750,000 in one of the largest deals made concerning an indie band. Though neither label will reveal the terms of the deal, this amount is greatly exaggerated.)
I went home to DC and people are asking what I did with the million dollars. I told them we spent three-quarters of it on our video, filmed at the Epcot Center in 3D with the entire cast of Disney."
"The new Mouseketeers," adds Kobain.
Grohl fits in perfectly as third weird guy. He is the band's fifth drummer in the true rock 'n' roll drum searching fashion. He wails on them like he has a personal vendetta and wants those drums dead. So his playing style and personality are right in sync. Plus, he balances out the height difference.
"We told him that if he didn't join the band we would kill him. Now he's still living in fear, a perpetual state of being kidnapped all the time. And we make him buy us drinks," Novoselic says.
"it was almost Danny [Peters] from Mudhoney, and that would've worked out really great, but Dave came along and he can sing back-up vocals. And he had long hair," Kobain says.
"See, Dave and Danny played Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, and Danny by chance had the screwed up robot — the one if you just kind of shake it its block would be knocked off. I don't think it was a fair fight, but that's how it goes," Novoselic explains.
The three of them recently returned from three weeks in Europe touring with Sonic Youth, and you might say Kim Gordon has nothing on them in the wildness department.
"Kim got the card saying, 'Welcome to MCA Nirvana,' and wrote 'Fuck you all' on it and taped it to our mirror," Novoselic says.
"When we walked in after playing I noticed the card and thought, 'gee, that's kind of harsh,' that some MCA woman would put 'fuck you' on that," Grohl continues. "But I thought, oh, maybe she's trying to be rock 'n' roll. She came back after we had already trashed the dressing room and left, and she wrote a note saying 'Fuck you guys too' and we overheard her later totally cursing us and calling us evil pagans and bastards and 'I hate them I hate them.'"
Actually, that's pretty mild. The rest of the trip included, in no particular decadent order: flying chairs, backstage Belgian strippers, whipped cream and sparklers, beaning a drunkenly unaware Shane MacGowan with edibles, rearranging Ramones name tags, oil-douching cars and Courtney Love…
"Then we lit her on fire and she ran out on stage with Iggy Pop and did 'I Wanna Be Your Dog,'" Grohl finishes.
This country better gear up, because the tour is on, with lots of interviews, in-store appearances and the like. "It's kind of cheesy, but we'll just get drunk and bust the place up," Novoselic says.
But what the hell, it's only music, right? Where Kurdt Kobain gets off being a musical genius or why his name is now spelled "Kurt Cobain" on Nevermind — well, who knows. Maybe it's divine inspiration, maybe it's all a mistake. The most important thing is the song.
"We just want people to have a chance to buy our record, you know?" Novoselic says. "There's a lot of hype behind it, but I have confidence in our record. I liked the way it turned out. If there was a lot of hype and I wasn't really confident with the record I'd be apprehensive about it, but if people are going to go out and buy it they should like it. Hopefully. If not, oh well. There's always Tacoma."
(Nirvana and Mudhoney are at the Paramount in Seattle 10/31. Wanna bet they're in Portland, too. I thought so.)
© Jennie Boddy, 1991
Those stinking negative creeps with the steamy musical droppings have spread their territorial pissings onto larger terrains of melody, song structure and teen Spirit. The pop rocks Nirvana lay down burn with a slow sizzle or an immediate bite. Not only have they revolutionized underground music to the point where a band might actually be able to play good music and make a living at it, but they are messing with minds ever since Nevermind catapulted them over the rainbow and the moon.
With songs about “rape, confusion and sparklers,” according to singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain, the band pooh-poohs attitude, pooling their energies on humdingers of songs. On Nevermind, they took a luxurious three weeks to record, unlike the six days it took to record their debut LP, Bleach (for only $600, to boot).
“Bleach was recorded on a boombox in our garage,” Novoselic says. “An industrial sized boombox, at an industrial site by the airport,” adds Nirvana's fifth and final drummer, Dave Grohl, formerly of DC band Scream.
Wherever they roam, a trail of total destruction, or at least the remains of a food fight, are left behind. Cobain appeared on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball in a yellow Elizabethan gown (“It is a ball, isn't it?”). And on their recent European tour, Novoselic says, “Fire extinguishers got squirted all over, TVs thrown out the window, red snapper flicked, a car driven in the pool…”
So maybe Nirvana's mental attitudes remain somewhere in the realms of third grade problem children, but the music has never sounded better. Sure, they're on a new road, not because they switched to a major label, but because they're van exploded. “After thousands of miles and ten tours, it cashed in its chips,” Novoselic says. “It was just like Starsky & Hutch - we were running toward it and suddenly, boom, and we all landed on our stomachs as the pieces fell. Then we were like the Blues Brothers, kind of nodding at it, taking our hats off for all the years of service.”
© Jennie Boddy, 1992