- Tony Woolgar
- Kurt Cobain
||Nirvana: Document Number Three
When Nirvana hit West Yorkshire, Tony The Woolgar, a chairleg of the odd-shaped piece of furniture known as the Leeds Music Scene, grasped the tape recorder and marched bravely forward, past seething security and tour managers with the springs and wires hanging out of their skulls like the aftermath of a hammer's meeting with a walking talking baby doll, and approached the newly press phobic sex objects Nirvana, specifically Kurt Cobain. Tony had been equipped with a ticket from a Newcastle metro train on which various probing questions were scrawled, and Eugene and Tracee, Leeds' Sleepers, helped him execute the interview (well, whatever they did to it, it certainly didn't escape alive).
"I haven't seen a fanzine since I was a young child," Kurt announces cheekily, upon finding himself confronted with yet another gang of keen kids with tape recorders.
"You've gone really mega, you've sold loads of records," they astutely point out. "What happened?"
"Making It," he divulges. "There was a TV show on ABC at 8 o'clock in the late seventies called Making
It, it was a disco orientated show… (sings) 'Making it, you've got your chance, you're taking it, come on, come on…'"
HOT VIDEO ACTION
Tracee really likes Kurt's green t-shirt on the "Teen Spirit" vid.
"I haven't been able to bring myself to wear that t-shirt since the video was filmed," Kurt reveals. "Obviously because it's my favourite shirt."
One of Tracee's favourite songs on the new album is 'Lithium'.
"To me it sounds like it's something to do with religion, taking drugs and being brainwashed," she says.
"Yeah, all that bohemian shit," Kurt agrees.
"So what is it actually about?"
"Well, the way that I picture it, the visual part of the song would be the skinny, long legged puppet from the Brothers Quay… you ever see a Brothers Quay movie? Well, they're these guys who pose as Eastern Europeans but they're typical bohemian art students from Philadelphia but they like to put out the image that they're from Eastern Europe and most of their short films are about ten minutes long and they have these really old-looking puppets that move around in a surreal way and they pick up screws out of the ground and it's really dirty and beautiful and that's what I pictured for this song when I was writing the lyrics. Really there's no meaning al all. Hopefully when we do our video, because that will be our next single, (it wasn't. - Ed) we'll hire the Brothers Quay if we can hunt them down."
ON NEPOTISM AND SELLING OUT
Nirvana do a lot to promote other bands. They took their favourites, Captain America (ex-Vaselines), from Scotland, and Shonen Knife, from Japan, on their big tour with them. Tony asks whether the latter are popular in their native land.
"No, I don't think so. I don't think they're really popular anywhere other than in a cult sense in America, a very small group of people like them, but it's obvious they made everybody in the whole place tonight very happy, everyone was just smiling."
They ask whether Nirvana will bring out a single with Seminal Twang, a fave label.
"I feel a special bonding with Dave (ST boss) even though I've never met him. Everything he's put out I've totally loved, y'know, Daniel Johnson stuff, The Vaselines, I mean, wow!"
"How many people like The Vaselines in America? Are they a cult band?"
"I don't think we're really aware of The Vaselines in the States but that's not very surprising when a band don't have the privilege of promoting or distributing their music. But then again, maybe it's so sincere that they just wanted to put out a record, that they wanted to record together and write some songs."
"Do you think that's something which may not be part of Nirvana anymore, because of the fact that you're getting bigger and bigger?" they ask. "It must be really frightening." This is in fact Kurt's cue to talk about his justifications for being on a major label.
"It's not so much frightening as it is embarrassing because really we'd be just as happy playing together in our basement, we really would. But at the time we were on Sub Pop we thought there were too many people coming up to us after shows saying 'We can't find your records', so we just decided to go onto another label and we were under contract to Sub Pop for seven more years, so there were no independent labels that would even touch us, there was no way that they could buy us out of the contract so we had to go onto a major label. We're not ashamed of that, we're quite pleased with it because DGC is a really good major label."
"Is it true that Mudhoney were gonna sign with Geffen because you did?" A chance for Kurt to continue his justifications.
"It doesn't have much to do with that. I mean it could have something to do with that because we signed with DGC because Sonic Youth joined, which means they've proved they can handle an independent band and promote them in the right way. But besides the fact that Sonic Youth were on the label; the people at DGC, they just convinced us that they could do their job. There are a lot of people at DGC who have worked at other independent labels before, so they're totally aware of it, they're very independent orientated."
"So you're happy anyway?"
"Yeah, sure. I've made my own bed, I can't complain too much because there's nothing I can do about it at this point unless we break up; and we don't want to do that, we like playing together still. I mean, if it gets too out of hand, and the shows become so huge that we don't feel that it's very personal anymore, we'll just break up and change our name and start over again and hopefully we'll write good songs."
"It's not true about the turtle farm is it?" (Our reporters have been doing their homework.)
"I read an interview that said you had a turtle farm," they say.
"You're English, aren't you? You're aware of the English papers. It's as simple as that, I mean, I don't have to say anything more…"
While Tracee and Eugene casually slander Everett True, the subject of The British Music Press arises. And Kurt is upset. "Every article that's been writes about us has been so completely exaggerated, taking things so literally. In an NME article [written by Mary Ann Hobbs], they took a quote out of another one months before, and the quote was exaggerated and rewritten and she took that right out and I mean, we sat around for two hours and gave her, in my opinion, pretty good statements but she only used a few of them and she reworded all of it, every bit that came out of my mouth was completely reworded. And I don't mean to be so picky about it, I don't like to look at everything and analyse it and say, 'This is wrong', but it's so ridiculous when something is written about us in these major papers that it's really distressing."
"Which punk rock bands were you into, then? What made you start off?" This is Kurt's cue to slag off straight edge.
"Stuff that made me start off was stuff like the Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid and Flipper, very noisy bands, because that was really the time when hardcore was very big in America, this straight edge and very philosophical type of music… they don't have sex, they don't smoke cigarettes, they don't drink, I mean it's fine if somebody wants to do that, to promote it to such an extreme but it's offensive to me.
"So did these hardcore bands make you start writing?"
"The hardcore bands made me rebel against the very typical form of punk rock at the time. I tried to find other bands that were subversive to that kind of music; like Flipper, Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid were bands that were completely the opposite, they were very much more like '77 punk rock when
things were a bit more open. The stuff I've been into in the last few .rays is different, even though 1 still really like those bands, but I've been listening to The Raincoats and Half Japanese and Jad Fair and Beat Happening, Kleenex, The Marine Girls, Slits, a lot of English bands from the early '80s."
"It's really strange because a lot of your music is quite melodic really."
"Yeah, people would expect us to be listening to Godflesh… I mean, I don't have anything against them but it's just not my cup of tea. Most people would expect us to be listening to nothing but grunge music all the time, so they have no idea we like melodic pop music."
In response to what must have been a question about their reaction to Freddie Mercury's death from AIDS, which had occurred a couple of days earlier, he says,
"I started getting into Queen, sort of in a jokey way, and I went out and bought this Queen's Greatest Hits tape at a truckstop and I was just getting into it and then, bam, Freddy's dead… It's sorta weird, cos Magic Johnson, the famous basketball player, got AIDS and it sort of slapped everyone into reality - 'oh my god, normal people can get aids too!' The fact is, although he's always had a reputation for being homosexual, he could equally have got it from a woman, or from shooting drugs. You just wait till President Bush gets AIDS, and then maybe the bullshit'll be turned around a little bit…"
This sojourn into reality proves a little taxing. Kurt is asked whether he likes The Pastels.
"Yes, I like The Pastels," he says.
Eugene looks at the ticket and says, "What are you going to do on Top Of The Pops?"
"Either we'll do the thing that everyone expects us to do, or we'll, erm… I have no idea, we've only had five hours' sleep in the last two days and we're supposed to do it tomorrow morning. If the vocals are lipsynched, we'll be able to fuck it up even more…"
"Are you gonna do a Kylie?" asks Tracee.
"Kylie Minogue, she goes on in bondage outfits."
"We'll decide tomorrow morning, it'll depend what mood we're in."
The performance in question proved to be a historical, inspired, adrenaline rush of an event, extra wonderful for the fact that dull establishment TV was being subverted so joyfully. They made no attempt to play out the well known lie, but held their guitars above their heads, threw them around a bit, and the kids leapt onstage in a beautiful surge. After which, the presenters were their usual grinning idiot selves and carried on as if nothing had happened.
"Did you have a happy childhood?" asks Eugene.
"A very happy childhood, yes indeed."
'Were your parents into rock music as well?"
"No, my parents weren't into rock music, not at all. My parents…"
He was interrupted by someone, then was asked something else, and the next round in the competition to see who could be the most unprofessional interviewer began.
"What are your favourite pets?"
"I got a very definite bonding with cats," replies Kurt
"Yeah cats, especially charcoal grey," says Tracee. "I'd really like a charcoal grey cat. But I'm not allowed because…" (goes on at length about why she can't have a cat).
"Do you have pet cats?"
"I can't keep cats any more," says Kurt. "I'm on tour so often I can't afford to pay my friends to feed them and take care of them."
"What would you call a cat?"
"I would call my cat Dollyrocker. It's a Syd Barret song, it goes 'Dollyrocker, Dollyrocker, Dollyrocker.' It's just a cool name, I'd rather be called Dollyrocker instead of Tracy. My mother called me Tracy," says Tracee. "My mother has no imagination, she went to the movies a lot so she called me Tracy after Spencer Tracy, and that's so shit, she could have called me something better, she could have called me Dollyrocker. Anyway, shall we change the subject?"
SCARY IMAGE MACHINE
"Why are you so scruffy?" asks Eugene, the question asker. "You don't need to answer that one cos you've only had five hours sleep!" he immediately decides. But Eugene, my faint astral projection whispers, I wrote the question before seeing them this evening - I wrote the question because all their press shots show them as the messiest looking band alive… oh,
On a less visual theme though, there've been conflicting reports about Nirvana: on the one hand there's the 'New Age' man dealing with issues responsibly, and on the other they're smashing everything up.
"It's part of human nature to appreciate all forms of emotion and to not deny any of them; if you're a true person you shouldn't deny any of them. You shouldn't feel that you should go in one specific direction to promote the image of your band. We like to fuck off, we like to have fun and we also care sincerely about specific things that affect us…"
"So what makes you want to smash things up?" they ask, concerned.
"Well, actually there's the fun side of it…" Kurt giggles.
"How do you prefer to be portrayed?"
"Just like this" Kurt says. "As the sensitive artist type, the frontman with long blond hair."
Everyone gasps, and the tape recorder is turned off.
© Tony Woolgar, 1992