LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE June ??, 1992 - Los Angeles, CA, US
- Everett True
- Kurt Cobain
|Melody Maker||In My Head, I'm So Ugly||Yes|
In the frankest and most comprehensive interview he's given since "Nevermind" blasted Nirvana into the rock super league, Kurt Cobain talks to Everett True in Los Angeles about the calming influence of his marriage to Courtney Love, being ripped off by the corporate machine, paranoia, being misunderstood as a moody, pissed-off neurotic, rock'n'roll sexism and the bands next album.
For logistical reasons this interview took place in Kurt Cobain's LA apartment during the second week of June, a couple of weeks before his band's short tour of Europe.
The day's cloudy, the room dim and slightly messy. Scraps of diaries containing lyrics and ideas from both Kurt and his wife Courtney Love plus a couple of guitars and amplifiers, litter the main room. A few weird-looking stick dolls, made by Kurt for use in a future video, nestle next to multi-coloured bird feathers and jars full of flowers.
In the front room, where Kurt lounges in an armchair, looking studious in his 'geek' glasses and short, bleached hair, a Patti Smith record plays quietly in the background. A small kitten darts about, tigerish. Courtney, several months pregnant, is asleep in the bedroom with her TV tuned quietly to daytime MTV.
Earlier, Kurt had shown me the video to Nirvana's new single, "Lithium", on the same TV set. Compiled from live footage of the band at last year's Reading Festival, a gig in Seattle and a show in Rotterdam where he first romanced Courtney, its breath-takingly ferocious. Live videos usually suck, this one doesn't. Work it out for yourself.
As you join us, Kurt's been telling me how, the older he gets, the more affinity he feels for feminine people.
"I was always more of a feminine person when I was young, I just didn't know it," he says, taking a sip of strawberry tea. "Then, when my hormones started swinging around and I started getting facial hair, I had to let off my male steam somewhere, so I started smoking pot and listening to Black Sabbath and Black Flag. It took the Pixies to put me back on the right track and off the whole macho punk rock trip."
The trouble with punk was that it thought it was cool to put down women. I could never relate to that. Here was this movement which was supposed to be right-on, but it excluded over half the people I knew.
"Definitely," he agrees. "That was something I realised later, cos I didn't experience punk in the Seventies. There was this live record, 'Night Of The Living Dead Boys', where Stiv Bators was spewing off about how some girl was sucking his cock while he was on stage. That was the common accepted thing."
Watching "Headbangers Ball" on MTV, nothing seems to have changed. Music, especially metal, still reinforces all the scummiest aspects of being a male.
"It might be getting a little better because of bands like Soundgarden, who are obviously metal," says Kurt. "They have a good, healthy attitude, and maybe others will follow them. Even Pearl Jam, who were obviously cock rock poseurs down on the Strip last year, are preferable."
The singer pauses, struck by a thought.
"You know, there's an LA band called Love Buzz (title of the first Nirvana single), and their first album is called 'Grunge'. I want to get that album real bad," he laughs.
Does feminism have any bearing on your life? Courtney has gone on record as stating that she views herself as a feminist. What does a statement like that mean to you?
"It means women controlling their own lives, and me not standing in their way by being a male," Kurt responds. "It's not so much of an ideal as a sense. It doesn't seem like there's such a thing as a recognisable feminist movement like there was during the Seventies, more a collective awareness. It's in the way you live your life."
What would you say the main differences between having a masculine and feminine outlook are? Kurt carefully considers his words before replying.
"Being aware of not offending women and of not supporting racist act," he offers. "But not so you become paranoid that you can't feel comfortable in a woman's presence. Sexist jokes are harmless as long as you're aware of them, but I also know a lot of people who put on this pretend macho redneck act 24 hours a day …they use the redneck lingo and spew out sexist quotes …and then they claim that they're simply trying to remind you that's how rednecks are. I've noticed that if someone does that for too long they turn into a redneck."
That was one of my main bones of contention with Sub Pop a couple of years back, that they didn't realise they were turning into the people they aped.
"Absolutely," Kurt agrees. "That's the main reason I never got along with very many people in the Sub Pop world."
It was funny for a while, but then you started wondering whether they meant it and whether that even mattered. Dwarves (West Coast scum punk band who give interviews about shoving various items of furniture up pregnant women's orifices) are a good example of that.
"I kind of respect people who go out of their way to act like an asshole when they're really intelligent, though," Kurt counters. "It's a nihilistic statement, like saying there's no point in trying to be a human any more because things have gotten so out of hand. It's a very punk rock attitude, but I also think it'd be boring to be Johnny Rotten after all these years. I'm not talking about sexism, but that kind of negative attitude when you're no longer able to appreciate passion or beauty."
You've retained certain aspects of the punk attitude, though.
"Of course," replies Kurt. "Because, even though Black Flag were too macho, I still love the music."
You've talked in recent interviews about how you want to help to build up the underground network of alternative bands so that they become better-known, by name-dropping other bands like Bikini Kill and Sebadoh.
"Yeah." Kurt sighs, heavily. "That's one of the few good things we can do, except for pleasing people with our music. The corporate side of our image is so exploitative, it's one of the only ways we can retain our dignity. One of the main things I regret about the success of this band is… this crap." He brandishes a copy of a Nirvana comic book and a Nirvana poster booklet. "We're being totally raped by these people, we have no control over that stuff. They sell hundreds of thousands of those magazines and we don't get a dime out of it, we don't have any say-so in what pictures are used and what quotes are re-written.
"The comic book's quite funny," he adds, "but then you have to laugh, don't you?"
Do you feel any responsibility towards the people who buy your records?
"Not until people started telling me that l did," Kurt states honestly. "That, and the realisation that we have letters from nine-year-old kids coming in all the time. I can't talk about smoking marijuana in interviews, l can't talk about drugs. I can't talk about things that'll influence these kids, but I don't want to be so aware of it that it stops me from saying anything.
"So when I am outspoken and I say nasty things about Pearl Jam," he continues, "I get a lot of flak, and people condemn me and call me an asshole. There are so many people who hate my guts because I put down Pearl Jam. But what value do these people have in my life? I have to speak the truth, I have to tell them what I feel. I'm being honest and people aren't used to that, especially in the metal world."
But isn't the problem that then someone like Inger Lorre can come along and claim that she too is telling the truth, totally abusing people's credulity, so that they end up not knowing who to believe? It's difficult for people to differentiate.
"I can see that."
The phone rings. It's someone from a radio station, wanting to know what type of music Kurt listens to. He tells them, "Adult-Oriented Grunge". It rings again. It's Corey from Touch & Go, seeking Kurt's advice over a problem which has arisen with Kurt's management over a projected joint Nirvana/Jesus Lizard single on his label. Kurt listens carefully and promises he'll resolve the situation with his manager.
Despite reports to the contrary, Kurt looks a lot healthier than the previous times I've met him. I wouldn't say that he glows, but he definitely radiates something… happiness in his new-found stability of marriage, perhaps.
I suggest to him, when he eventually comes off the phone, that he seems much more relaxed.
"Oh yeah," he replies. "But that's because when we last met (in October last year), I'd been on tour for five months, and I haven't played for a while now. Plus, I was getting pissed off doing commercial radio station interviews with all these DJ voices and not having any idea who the fuck we were. How much exposure does one band need?"
Granted. At one point, around the start of this year, it seemed that you couldn't pick up a British music magazine without Nirvana being on the cover, usually with a re-hashed or 10-minute interview inside.
"Right," Kurt agrees. "I practically adopted the J Mascis Fifth Amendment, because I couldn't deal with so many interview."
"I don't have narcolepsy."
Who started that.
"I did. It's the only defence mechanism I have."
The phone rings again. It's for Courtney, but we aren't mean enough to wake her. Talk turn to Kurt's recent marriage.
How much did meeting Courtney change you?
"Totally," Kurt says, emphatically. "I'm not as much of a neurotic, unstable person as I was. I used to feel I was always alone, even though I had lots of friends and a band that I really enjoyed being with. Now I've found someone I'm close to, who's interested in the things I do, and I really don't have many other aspirations."
Did you know who she was before you met her?
"Not really, no," he replies. "I'd heard about her, though… some nasty rumours, that she was this perfect replica of Nancy Spungen."
Kurt laughs again.
"That got my attention," he remarks, maliciously. "Live everyone else, I loved Sid cos he was such a likeable, dopey guy. I've often felt that many people think of me as a stupid, impressionable person, so I thought that maybe going out with someone who was meant to be like Nancy would stick a thorn in everyone's side, cos it's the exact opposite of what they would want me to do.
"Courtney certainly helped me to put Nirvana in perspective," he adds, "to realise that my reality doesn't entirely revolve around the band, that I can deal without it if I have to. Which doesn't mean I'm planning on breaking up the band or anything, but that the minimal amount of success I strived for isn't of much importance any more."
Has the success put any pressure on the band?
"I don't know," Kurt says slowly, considering his words. "Because of my reputation for being this pissy, moody person, I feel that everyone is expecting me to freak out and develop some kind of ego or quit the band. But there's no way I'm going to do that. I still like playing with Chris and Dave, and I know our new songs are really good and I can't wait to record the next album. And the album after that."
"At least," he laughs. "But I'd also like to have a side-project. When you've been working with the same people for a while there's not much more you can do, even though I feel we have succeeded in coming up with some new styles. It'd be fun to play with someone else. But every time I do that, I end up regretting it. Because, if it sounds good, I wish that Nirvana had done it."
Kurt starts flicking through the Nirvana comic, and pauses, struck by a sudden thought.
"People think I'm a moody person, and I think it's lame that there are only two kinds of male lead singer," he complains. "You can either be a moody visionary like Michael Stipe, or a mindless heavy metal party guy like Sammy Hagar."
I tried to portray you as a mindless party animal type and you got annoyed.
"Oh, okay," Kurt laughs. "I guess it is better to be called a moody visionary than a mindless party animal. I tried to become an alcoholic once, but it didn't work."
We wander through to the bedroom, to see if Courtney's awake yet. Just. The box in the corner is still dribbling out MTV. Talk drifts on to how MTV totally controls the American rock world.
"I want to get rid of my cable," Kurt declares. "I've done that so many times in my life, where I decide I'm not going to have television, become celibate. It usually lasts for about four months."
I was just going to ask you about your fondness for smashing up guitars. Don't you ever get bored with that?
"No," replies Kurt. "I don't do it nearly as much as everyone thinks I do. I just wait for a good time to do it… like when I'm pissed off, or if I want to show in front of Courtney. Or if I'm appearing on TV, just to piss the TV people off. I have my guitar-smashing room in the back, where I practice four hours a day."
Pause. Kurt's building up for another rant.
"You know what I hate about rock?" he asks me. "Cartoons and horns. I hate Phil Collins, all of that while male soul. I hate tie-dyed tee-shirts, too. You know there are bootleg tie-dyed tee-shirts of Nirvana? I hate that. I wouldn't wear a tie-dyed tee-shirt unless it was dyed with the urine of Phil Collins and the blood of Jerry Garcia."
Courtney overhears this last comment from her bedroom.
"Oh God, Kurt, how long have you been thinking about that one?" she castigates him, annoyed.
"Well, fuck," he whines. "No one ever prints it."
"It's fifth grade!" Courtney yells. "It's so boy!"
"Well ex-ker-use me!" Kurt shouts back, sarcastically.
Courtney's up and about now. This means it must be time to close the interview soon, because there's no way my tape can compete with the demands of Courtney Love in full flight. Sure enough, Courtney suddenly appears with a book written by her father… a road manager for The Grateful Dead in the Sixties… which includes postcards sent to him by Charles Manson. Weird. Then she produces the original lyrics to "Teen Spirit", scrawled on a scrap of lined paper.
"Thought you might enjoy seeing these, Everett," she announces blithely, oblivious to hubby's annoyance.
"Can Everett have this, Kurt?" she demands. He growls.
Time for one last question, then.
What's the new album like?
"Like the tape you heard," Kurt tells me.
Oh yeah, the tape I heard. It sounded like the melodies of "Nevermind" melded to the grunge of "Bleach" on a fast listen. It sounded pretty fucking awesome.
"We haven't decided on a studio yet," he continues. "I'd like to do at least 50 per cent of it on eight-track. Then, hopefully, it will be exactly like "Bleach" and "Nevermind" split down the middle (see, told you). It will definitely sound a lot rawer then "Nevermind".
Any regrets, Kurt? Have you ever felt like turning the clock back and reclaiming the past?
"If I wanted to, I could," the singer replies. "If, after this dies down, we started putting out records which were unpalatable to the general public, we'd eventually start playing smaller places and…"
You'd be the new Beastie Boys.
© Jerry Thackray, 1992