- Keith Cameron
- Kurt Cobain
- Krist Novoselic
- Dave Grohl
|New Musical Express
||Love Will Tear Us Apart
|HBO Documentary Films/Universal Pictures
||Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck
As "Nevermind" zoomed past Bono & Jacko, so the rumours
started: Kurt Is Dead …Kurt and Courtney and heroin …As the
bulldozers continue to gather up the money, will NIRVANA survive the
madness of mega-success? But more to the point, will they survive
Courtney Love? KEITH CAMERON waits patiently for an audience & soon
spots that all is not well in their domain. 15 minutes of frame: STEVE
Imagine a wedding without a bride and groom. Or a banquet without the
food, a candle without a flame, a film without a star. A mother without
a child. It's not right - it's not ready. It can't happen. They
aren't here yet.
So, somewhere deep in the pristine recesses of Madrid's
Velodrome, we have to wait. And wait. Hey, don't worry, we've got really
good at waiting over the last couple of days. Have a coffee, eat some
food, do a little pacing up and down. Oh yes - waiting, we know how to do
There's a slight commotion in the distance and all eyes turn at
once. Here they come! She leads him by the hand, and from a distance
they resemble those drawings of Christopher Robin dragging Winnie the
Pooh along the ground.
As they get nearer, though, the vision fades. Christopher Robin
was never this female, never this pregnant, and Pooh never wore such a
sappy grin or had a blood red lipstick welt on his right cheek. She
looks angry. He looks cute. Everyone else looks relieved.
Ladeeez an' gennullmen …I give you King Kurt and Queen
Courtney, newly crowned monarchs of the former Republic of Nirvana. Pray
silence for her Majesty!
"Here he is!" she shrieks. "Here's everyone's
God, don't you just hate royalty and their bad jokes?
I Hadn't seen Nirvana since December '91, when they'd played the
Transmusicales Festival in Rennes, France. It was the band's last date
before cancelling the rest of their European tour due to Kurt Cobain's
ravaged voice and, although messy in places, their performance still
heaved with a sometimes dangerous, sometimes carefree sense of abandon,
enough to be a vivid reminder of just why this band had meant more than
any other for years.
In the dressing-room afterwards, all were exhausted. Chris
Novoselic rolled a cigarette with the deliberate, weary motions of a man
three times his age, while Dave Grohl sat motionless for ten minutes
with a towel over his head, every now and again moaning, "I think
I'm about to die".
Kurt, however, was remarkably animate, clearly happy it was all
over, and talked enthusiastically about how much he'd enjoyed touring
with Shonen Knife and was now just looking forward to going home for a
rest. Considering his band had clocked up four months on a promotional
treadmill that had become steeper and faster the more 'Nevermind' sold,
he looked in pretty good shape.
See you next year, Kurt.
He smiled. "Sure."
Next year turned this year, 'Nevermind' zoomed past Jacko, Bono
and Axl. Nirvana did Saturday Night Live, the Rolling Stone
front cover, landed the Reading Festival headline slot, the whole
shebang, and suddenly ghoulish rumours concerning the health - physical
and otherwise - of the frail genius at the centre of what was now the
Nirvana Phenomenon started to become commonplace.
It got harder to laugh at the weekly brace of 'Kurt Is Dead'
stories when various credible sources were whispering about Cobain and
partner Courtney Love doing heroin together, about them being completely
out of it all at their wedding in Hawaii, about them going into detox
and then quitting. About how the band were on the verge of splitting up.
About Courtney doing junk while pregnant…
As far as the tabloid music press were concerned, Nirvana were
just too good to be true. Rarely had the rollercoaster dynamic of
rock'n'roll been so extreme - unknowns shoot from nowhere to top of
charts with incendiary musical formula. The all-important twist? They
didn't even try! They don't want to be successful! Brilliant. And now,
with the accountants still hiring bulldozers to gather up the money,
they've begun to blow it all via smack, the biggest sucker punch of the
lot. From nobodies to superstars to fuck ups in the space of six
months?! That had to be a record.
Nirvana Inc battened down the hatches and made to ride out the
storm. It was business as usual. The band were taking a break from each
other, but they'd be working on some new material soon with a view to
releasing a new song as a single to coincide with Reading. Everything
was fine, really it was.
During this rest period I interviewed Chris by telephone and
asked him how the wedding of the year had gone. "Oh, quiet."
Masterful diplomacy. Chris in fact hadn't been at the wedding, since
Courtney had refused to let his wife Shelli attend. Meanwhile, Kurt
repeatedly and vehemently denied taking heroin.
As stonewalls go, this all highly impressive. Sure, the rumours
continued, but while Nirvana weren't actually doing anything it wasn't
hard to dismiss this as nothing more than the idle tittle-tattle that
was the inevitable lot of a multi-million selling rock band. Then came
the time to really pick up the slack once more. A two week tour of
Europe was organised for late-June/July in order to make up for the
shows cancelled at the end of last year. After the gig at Belfast King's
Hall, Kurt was rushed to hospital suffering from acute stomach pains.
"Ulcers," sez Nirvana. "Oh yeah," yawns
Could so much have changed in six months? Moving round the
archways of Valencia's bull-ring where, that night, Nirvana would give
Spain its first in-the-flesh taste of what this nonsense was all about,
it was almost a relief to greet Kurt Cobain once again, a paler,
bleached-haired, bespectacled Kurt Cobain, but recognisably the same
lovable scruff who late last year turned rock'n'roll upside down with a
song named after a deodorant. Chris Novoselic ambled up to say
"hi" and bemoan a chronic hangover - the inevitable punishment
for a late-night sesh with support band Teenage Fanclub - and Dave Grohl
soon emerged from down the rampway that led to the sun-baked arena, all
smiles as ever.
Hmmm, I thought. This doesn't seem so bad. OK, so I've never seen
Kurt look quite that pale before, and I'm not sure it's such a good idea
for Courtney to be zipping about with Kurt on that hired motorbike while
seven months pregnant but, hell, it's not as if anyone's dead.
No-one is dead. That much we can take away from this latest close
encounter with planet Nirvana without fear of contradiction. But death -
specifically heroin-induced - has been a talking point amidst US
underground circles recently. During the New Music Seminar, NYC noise
harbingers Unsane lost their drummer Charlie Ondras to an overdose, then
the following week Stefanie Sargent from Seattle band Seven Year Bitch
died in similar circumstances. What year did you say it was?
We are sitting in one of Nirvana's dressing rooms after the taming of
the bull-ring. By Nirvana's standards, it's been pretty lacklustre
stuff, but the crowd didn't seem to mind. Kurt is showing me his glasses
which, along with his new hairstyle, are supposed to enable him to walk
down the street unrecognised. I suggest that people will most likely
stare at him anyway.
"You're probably right."
Chris and Steve Double are talking cameras, the bassman's current
pet hobby, while Dave dispenses beers and chats to Anton, Nirvana's UK
Courtney Love, meanwhile, is sounding off to anyone within earshot about
Stefanie Sargent. For the record, Courtney's current reading material is
12 Days On The Road, the recently published account of the Sex Pistols'
fatal American tour.
"People say she was a junkie but how do they know that? I
mean, I don't think if you do it once or twice it means you're hooked,
that's not a junkie. And if you have someone with you, too, that's good.
She was alone, though, you know that? Still, it's sooo
Spend two days in tour fatigues with this new, arena-compatible
Nirvana production machine - "I don't know the names of most of the
crew," admits Dave - and it dawns on you that the overriding issue
here is not that Kurt Cobain is on heroin (or isn't, or was, or is and
is trying to get off) but that his wife is a Grade A pain in the arse.
She seems almost universally disliked. "The Wicked Witch Of
The West," is one crew member's assessment, while someone else
refers to Kurt being a nice guy BC - "before Courtney ". Any
impression of calm and harmony is down to the fact that everyone close
to the band has obviously passed the Krypton Factor-sponsored How To
Tolerate Courtney test. Chris and Shelli simply ignore her. The
irrepressible Dave alternates that approach with some impressive mimic
routines. During the Valencia show, Courtney is sitting on the stage,
near Grohl's kit. "Courtney!" he screams in mock petulance,
"Get the f- off my stage! " It's just the sort of thing
Courtney would say.
A recent addition to the Nirvana entourage is Janet Billig, who
looked after Hole's affairs in her previous employ at Caroline Records.
Her role on this tour is like a cross between wet nurse and human
sponge, indulging whims and soaking up all of Courtney's excess
One of the reasons for her unpopularity could be because right
now she - and only she - has the full confidence of Kurt Cobain, the man
without whom Nirvana can't function. As demonstrated by their regal
entrance prior to the Madrid show, Courtney is only too well aware of
this. For much of that day, everything is put on hold - Nirvana's
soundcheck, interviews, the NME picture -session, Teenage Fanclub's
soundcheck, everything - because Kurt isn't around, still holed up with
the missus back at the hotel. Anton repeatedly tries to speak to him
but, on the one occasion when the phone gets picked up, Courtney yells
"He's asleep!" and slams it down again. Eventually she lets
Anton talk to Kurt, who seems unaware of all the fuss. After four hours
of waiting, Steve gets a 15 minute photo-shoot. There is no Nirvana
The Fanclub's Gerry Love casts Nirvana's hassled tour manager
Alex a sympathetic look.
"There is no way," he states firmly, "we're ever
gonna let it end up like this."
Whether heroin is at the root of this unreliability I don't know for
sure, nor am I about to proscribe the freedom - or is that stupidity -
of anyone to take whatever substance they choose to take, be it alcohol,
tobacco, heroin or carpet cleaner. But the fact is that Courtney's
dealing the hand of an unborn baby as well as her own. The health of
little Frances Bean Cobain is the X factor that elevates all this
second-hand scandal into
something a whole lot scarier, something much more important. She
doesn't have a choice.
The most recent scare story concerning Nirvana involves Courtney
being admitted to hospital in Bilbao - Nirvana's final port of call
before heading back to the US - having damaged her womb. She is advised
to stay there for five days but insists on going back with the band.
Then Kurt has to shell out a considerable amount of money, maybe
$25,000, for the first class plane seats so that Courtney can fly home
lying down and a specially appointed ambulance to pick her up at LA
Ok, another story, another rumour, but who'd take the trouble to
make this stuff up? This is serious shit, and it's no wonder some people
are freaking out and saying Reading will be it. Game Over. The End.
And all because this cool band sells a supertanker load of
records! That's the disconcertingly prosaic truth of the matter. In
Spain, about the only times when things got put in this much perspective
were when Nirvana were actually playing - Madrid was still below-par,
frenzy-wise, but a thrilling experience purely because the audience was
so enthused by it all - and when I finally interviewed Dave, Chris and
Kurt. Away from the panic, the waiting, the torn-up schedules, hell, it
seemed almost like old times,
"Petty tour drama can be an ordeal," considers Dave.
"People have tantrums, people's tempers flare- But I can block
everything out. I'm not really an emotional person at all, just because
I'd rather ignore emotion than confront it, so when it comes down to
really heavy shit it kinda just breezes right by me. I don't really want
to get involved in anyone else's problems and I don't want to be the cause of anyone else's, so I just
lay low. I think maybe that's what'll keep me sane through this whole
What causes the madness?
"Just constant gratification is unhealthy for anybody,
y'know? This is why you've got people like Michael Jackson and Axl Rose,
Insane Rock Star A or B, because they're constantly being pampered. I've
tried to keep some level of consideration for everybody through this
whole thing. I don't like to have people do stuff for me. I don't like
to have runners go out and get me meals, I don't like to call down to
room service and ask them to bring me up some cigarettes - it's just not
normal. That's the kind of thing that will get to you and make a
difference in eight months of being in a popular band with a lot of
money. It's gross."
Dave's closest brush with a total gratification zone came when he
met Bono on U2's recent American tour.
"F---in' asshole! It was such a bummer 'cos when I was 13 I
thought 'War' was a great album! He reeks of rock-star-ness, he was not
a human being. He wanted us to open up for them on tour, and I said,
'No, that's not what we're into'. And he was saying, 'You owe it to the
audience, you've got to take that next step.' And I said 'I don't wanna
take that next step!' He was desperately trying to make a connection.
'Do you like the blues?' 'No'. 'Do you like gospel?' 'Er, no, not
really.' 'So what kind of music do you listen to?" Punk f---in'
rock, man!' And then of course he tells me about punk rock and he was
there and he was the meaning of punk rock. After meeting that guy it
made me wanna give up being in a rock'n' roll band."
Chris Novoselic reckons he's got his priorities sorted. After
this tour's finished, he's off to Croatia to see his family, who live in
Zadar, about 250 miles up the coast from Dubrovnik.
"I try to have humility about things, just be for real. 'Cos
all of this is fabricated. People, they build these institutions like
governments or rock bands or anything, and reality is distorted. Some
people are worried about eating and here we are off on this whole
rock'n'roll circus. I have to take it with a grain of salt."
Has it changed the way you feel about Dave and Kurt?
"No, it's pretty much the same as it always was, just pretty
laid-back. We spent some time away from each other just to do our own
things, but we're looking forward to getting back to how things were,
lock ourselves away and work. Our new record's just gotta sound
different I've been on this big rant lately of how transition is
natural, continental drift, the seasons, the weather's different every
day, people grow older and change… When I think of 'Nevermind' now I
think of interviews and being famous. Now I'm focusing on this new
record and not even considering anything that's happened, and maybe we
can come out absolved."
"I see this as such a rite of passage - you get signed to a
major, you get money, you go into the studio, a big 24-track hubbub,
either it sells or it doesn't. And ours sold, but that's all behind us
now. All the records we've sold have given us the power to do whatever
Is he worried about Kurt?
"You hear all the rumours. Just media bullshit. You gotta
have a good story."
But there's usually no smoke without fire.
"Yeah." Silence. "Yessirree." A sigh.
"And after the fire, the fire still burns… But there's freedom
of speech. What if you walked into a crowded theatre and yelled 'Fire!'
Is that freedom of speech?"
I should hope so. Sometimes there's an excess of freedom.
"Yeah there is, isn't there? People lose perspective on
things. Which is really easy to do in artificial environments. You just
accept it. Today I'm here in Madrid and that's just what's goin' on.
There's a light at the end of the tunnel. This is my reality, it's what
I have to do."
By the time I get to see Kurt, it's over an hour after the show's
finished. I'm watching Chris and Dave fool around at a disc presentation
ceremony, a routine they're well versed in by now, and talking kilt
tartans to Matt Cameron from Soundgarden, who were due to play here with
Guns N' Roses the following night but the gig's been cancelled. Anton
tells me I can have 20 minutes and then he's sending the other two on to
finish things off. He doesn't make it clear whether these are the only
terms to which Kurt would agree to do an interview.
It's pretty obvious that Kurt Cobain has been running on reserve
tanks for most of this Euro-jaunt. Never have I seen him so static
onstage, so apparently unmoved by the whole experience of playing
rock'n'roll. The contrast is made all I the more poignant by the
'Lithium' promo vid and its scenes of psyched-up mayhem from last year's
"Yeah, last year's shows were way better," he nods.
"I don't think we've had a long enough break. I'm still not
enjoying it as much as I should. According to our manager and most of
the people we work with, the break that we had was too long.
Everyone wants us to work and work all the time, and not stop. It was
only four months of relaxation and I really needed that. I've come to a
lot of conclusions about myself within the last four months. I've
learned to accept the fact of being a rock star and how big the band's
become. I can at least deal with it, I'm not as pissed off as I was.
It's still… I dunno. I'm such a picky person that everything has to
Does it feel like you created something that's got to be broken
"Well, it's a bit embarrassing to play in front of kids who
wear Skid Row T-shirts, y'know?" he chuckles. "It's really
hard to overcome that, to just shake it off and say, 'Oh well, they're
just dumb kids, maybe they'll throw away their Skid Row records and
listen to Mudhoney because of us. But that story's old. I'm tired of
talking about 'the underground'! "I've never claimed to be a Punk
rocker, I've just claimed to have liked
punk rock music. I'd like to be a rhythm guitar player in a band! No-one
realises how f---in' hard it is to scream at the top of your lungs and
concentrate on playing guitar solos. We're actually thinking of getting
Buzz from The Melvins in to play guitar with us live. Its still not
gonna relieve me of my vocal duties, though."
Oh, yes Kurt, but the band wouldn't be the same if you didn't
"No, I know that." He laughs. "Well maybe I could
start another band. I'm thinking of doing that, actually, with Mark Arm
and Eric from Hole. But then, I'm so lazy with this band I couldn't
imagine being in two bands at once. Jesus!"
It sounds like you'd like to escape from the limelight. Does it
get you down to read every week that you're a heroin addict?
"Yeah, it does get to me, it pisses me off. I had no idea
that being in a commercial rock band would be like this, because I've
never paid attention to other commercial rock bands. I've never read a
U2 interview so I don't know if there are rumours about them doing
insane things. I'm not really aware of any other rock band that have had
so many rumours written about them. Guns N' Roses went into it admitting
stuff, trying to create
something, same with Jane's Addiction, who totally flaunted it, totally
glamorised heroin use. I think that's ridiculous."
There then follows the weirdest episode of a pretty weird two
days, I've just asked Kurt whether the heroin rumours are true - to
which he's laughed, said "No!" and made me feel his arms for
any tell-tale scars or holes, though obviously shooting up isn't the
only way to take smack and to be honest I'm not sure I knew what I was
meant to be looking for, but still, it's an impressive gesture at the
very least - when Anton walks in with a woman I recognise as Susan
Silver, manager of Soundgarden. She waves at Kurt, says, "I just
wanna say goodnight," then sits down next to him. Anton tells me to
turn the tape machine off.
"Just turn it off!"
As well as being a sweet guy, Anton's a useful Thai boxer and
he's got these dogs, see… So off it goes. Susan talks intently to
Kurt, looking directly into his eyes, the gist of it being just call me
if there's anything you want, then she and Anton leave.
Erm, Kurt, about what you were saying…
"See! She thinks I'm on heroin!" he whispers excitedly.
"She does! Didn't you see it in her eyes? And I've heard it from a
whole bunch of people, she says stuff, she actually tells people I'm on
heroin all the time. That's Soundgarden's manager, it goes from the f---in'
highest level of people in
the music industry down to the street punk kids."
Make of all this what you will.
Perhaps I was naive enough to suppose that, when you've sold as many
records as Nirvana have, it would convey power, a means by which the
band could control their own destiny. And maybe it has but it also seems
to have raised the stakes unhelpfully, even dangerously, high.
Maybe I'm reading too muck into little things, maybe it's all as
petty as Dave says and maybe I'm just fearing the worst. Frankly, having
spent two days looking at how different it is for Nirvana right now - or
rather, how it was six weeks ago - I found it difficult not to.
No, look, Reading'll be great, just the boost they need. They can
still do it, you know. Put Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Chris Novoselic
on a stage or in a rehearsal space or in a studio and they can still
wreak magic, the three losers who took on the world and won. And once
the baby's born everyone's bound to calm down and take stock of things,
realise what's important in life. Because that's all it is, after all,
it's only life.
Dave: "Did you know if you take the 'N' and the 'D' and the
first 'E' out of 'Nevermind' it spells 'vermin'?"
© Keith Cameron, 1992
Cameron: Does that get to you, to read things, like, you know, you're dying of smack addiction or shit like that?
Cobain: Yeah, it makes you feel like the kid in school who gets picked on all the time. Or it makes you feel like the school slut. I feel like people want me to die because it'd be the classic rock 'n' roll story.
© Keith Cameron, 2015