LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE September 11, 1992 - Seattle, WA, US
- James Crotty
- Kurt Cobain
- Krist Novoselic
- Dave Grohl
|Monk||Go For The Grunge||Yes|
The year was 1986. A new voice was emerging as the seeds of decline amidst Reagan's Decade of Greed began to sprout and bear fruit. By the Crash of 1987 the world would be changed forever. From the rubble of discarded spreadsheets and junk bond junkies, a new weird order of supersonic youth would emerge, discarding the aggressive Pollyanna of unbridled yuppiedom, finding solace in a stance of casual offhanded irreverence.
While this unique twenty-something ethos was sprouting up everywhere across America, it seemed to crystallize most strongly in that final frontier of American pop culture, Seattle. It was a magic moment. For the best bands you ever heard were in Seattle. The wackiest minds you ever imagined were in Seattle. And the finest beer you ever drank was in Seattle.
Living, breathing beneath this creative cauldron was a young man in Inverness, a small logging town near the Olympic Mountain Range. His name was Kurt Cobain. Kurt saw no romance in his own real life Twin Peaks. Only bigoted, homophobic lumber brains, who couldn't see the forest for the trees. In an entirely unique way he challenged the incestuous and stuck small town world made palatable by the likes of David Lynch.
Kurt left the logging community of Inverness and journeyed to the burgeoning cultural hotbed along the Puget Sound. And, with his friend Chris Novoselic, learned to express through music the angst of young people caught in the vice of pious PC platitudes on the one hand and narrow-minded desecration on the other. Finding in a stance of sullen imperfection and casual annihilation a perfect twenty-something rejoinder to a pivotal cultural impasse. In true Monk style their barbed and potent reply to the ever-present samsara they saw all around was ironically entitled… Nirvana.
In a quiet room off of Eban Ritchie's Suite at the Hotel Sorrento, Kurt Cobain lovingly holds his baby, Frances Bean Cobain. He sits on a couch, sweat beading on his face. He looks fragile, sensitive and intense. He stares right at us when he talks. It's the Kurt Cobain stare that is checking out our authenticity.
Monk: Tell me about Aberdeen. That's where you grew up, right?
Kurt: Aberdeen, it's a coastal town about 100 miles away from Seattle. It's a really small place. A very small community with a lot of people who have very small minds. Basically if you're not prepared to join the logging industry, you're going to be beaten up or run out of town.
Monk: And that's what happened to you?
Kurt: Yea, I was run out of town. They chased me up to the castle of Aberdeen with torches. Just like the Frankenstein monster. And I got away in a hot air balloon. And I came here to Seattle.
Monk: Is this metaphor or literal reality?
Kurt: It's a wet dream.
Monk: Was there an incident that really pushed the button that got you and the town at loggerheads, as it were?
Kurt: Well, what started the witch hunt was I decided to take some acid one evening and spraypaint "queer" on the side of four by four trucks, the local rednecks' trucks. And so one of them saw me from his window and started chasing me and started screaming "there's the queer vandal!" I'd been doing it for awhile. But that night I decided to really go for it and do a lot, a lot of vandalism. So they caught me and chased me around.
Monk: The cops caught you or just some of the local toughs?
Kurt: The locals. The local toughs, right. (he laughs)
Monk: And did they know who your were?
Kurt: No. Just that crazy skinny kid who never went to school. Who was probably gay.
Monk: Well, are you?
Kurt: If I wasn't attracted to Courtney I'd be a bisexual.
Courtney (his wife): Faggot!! (Laughter)
Monk: So they ran you out of town.
Monk: Did you ever go back?
Kurt: Well, um, every time I've gone to Aberdeen lately I've felt a real big threat. Actually, Chris was beaten up at a Denny's one night. Some locals were giving him the eye and I don't think it was sexual. They started beating him up in the men's room saying "some local hero you are." Next thing he remembers he was dancing on a table.
Monk: So you got run out of town because you went up against the logging interests, the logging mentality, of your local town.
Kurt: I was the guy who screamed "save the spotted owl!" Kurt smiles.
Monk: You actually did say it one time somewhere?
Kurt: Yea I did, at school.
Monk: At school? And the loggers sons and daughters came after you with chainsaws?
Kurt: No, chisels. They weren't advanced.
Monk: Okay, so they ran you out, where'd you go first?
Kurt: I went to Olympia and became a hippie.
Monk: You didn't go to Evergreen.
Kurt: No, I didn't, but I hung out with a lot of friends from there…
Courtney: He couldn't afford it.
Kurt: I couldn't afford it. I was a janitor.
Monk: Where were you a janitor at?
Kurt: I was a janitor at Lemons Janitorial Service.
Monk: Wonderful, wonderful. Looking back at Aberdeen do you have a place that was the quintessential Aberdeen place for you?
Kurt: The bridge of Aberdeen going over to the south side of Aberdeen. I used to hang out with the bums and share Thunderbird wine with them underneath the bridge.
Monk: Would they recognize you if you went back today?
Kurt: Oh absolutely, if they're still alive. There's a little tent bum community there. They live in tents and just drink wine and roast marshmallows.
Monk: And hang out under the bridge.
Monk: Is there a Seattle scene or is this all a myth?
Kurt: Yea, but it's in Portland.
Monk: The Seattle scene's in Portland?
Kurt: Yea. (Laughter) It started with Greg Sage and the Wipers in 1977. It's a real dirty, grungy place.
Courtney: Seattle is one of America's cleanest cities.
Kurt: Right, there's nothing grungy about it at all. But Portland is extremely grungy. It's a real industrial, gray, dark town.
Monk: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Kurt: A janitor.
Monk: Achieve nirvana through janitorial services?
Kurt: The power of Lysol.
Monk: From a janitorial perspective, what is grunge?
Kurt: It's a fine mixture of cleaning solvents, not to be used in the toilet. It doesn't go well with porcelain. When I was a janitor I used to work with these guys Rocky and Bullwinkle. They'd clean the toilet bowls with their bare hands and then eat their lunch without washing their hands. They were very grungy.
Monk: From a Kurt Cobain musical perspective what is grunge?
Kurt: A fine mixture of hygiene paraphernalia - bleach, Lysol, bubble gum flavored toothpaste, isopropyl rubbing alcohol 90%, hand and body lotion, and conditioning shampoo.
Monk: What's your favorite food?
Kurt: My favorite food is water and rice.
Monk: Heard of this band called Nirvana?
Kurt: Yea, they're English, they're British. They were a hot group from the 60s and we recently had to give them about $200,000 for using their name. And we recently gave $100,000 to a local Christian band named Nirvana in Orange County. We had to go to court over it. Now we have to call ourselves Nirvana UK anytime we play in L.A.
Monk: How would you describe Dave Grohl?
Kurt: Dave is in really good shape although he smokes two packs of cigarettes a day.
Monk: Chris Novoselic?
Kurt: Chris is the horror of the stars. He has no shame whatsoever in carousing with the likes of Wynona Ryder and Johnny Deppe.
Monk: And Kurt Cobain?
Kurt: Fuck him, he complains too much.
Monk: Do you believe in reincarnation?
Kurt: If you're really a mean person you're going to come back as a fly and eat poop. You'll come back as a fly or Matt Lukin.
Monk: What would you title your autobiography?
Kurt: I Was Not Thinking, by Kurt Cobain.
Monk: Final messages for the youth of America?
Kurt: I'm bowing down gracefully and taking off my crown and I'm giving it over to Eddie Vetter of Pearl Jam. He's now the representative of the youth of America.
Monk: Is there a changing of the guard now?
Monk: What caused this, because you're a family man and you're embracing family values?
Kurt: Because he stole my look… And he uses it better than I.
Outside the Seattle Coliseum
Monk: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Chris: A Toys 'R Us kid. No, an Opinions 'R Us kid.
Monk: Why is that?
Chris: An Opinions 'R Us kid is somebody who is really opinionated, to where nobody really wants to know their opinion.
Monk: Does that summarize your generation? A lot of opinions, no action.
Chris: I don't even think there's even a lot of opinions, really.
Monk: Are you a Slacker?
Chris: No. I've always been motivated. Established dialogues. Voted.
Monk: Prefer Old or Young Elvis?
Chris: Old Elvis.
Monk: The Old Elvis! Why?
Chris: Because he's like a Ford Mustang. In the 60s the Ford Mustang was slim and trim and in the 70s it just got big and bloated… a gas guzzl'n hog, you know, but still a Mustang.
Monk: Chris, intermixed with a sense of futility and boredom there's a strong anti-apathy message in your songs. What's the antidote? How can you get people not to be apathetic?
Chris: Take the plate away from in front of their faces.
Monk: Too well fed in this country?
Chris: Totally. You get fat and lazy, you know. We all sit and do interviews and talk for 45 minutes about rock and roll and there's people who can't eat in the world.
Monk: What do you do on a typical day?
Chris: Try to wake up and make my day meaningful.
Monk: Do you exercise?
Chris: Yea. I do yoga… when I'm not hung over.
Monk: Is getting hungover, is getting a little bit drunk essential to playing loud droning grunge?
Chris: Well, it shouldn't be, but sometimes it sure seems like it.
Monk: Could you play it without anything in your system?
Chris: Oh yea. I've done that before. I went for three months. But a lot of times I have a few beers, relax. Kind of block everything out and focus. I don't know, beer helps me do it.
Monk: Are you writing music?
Chris: I write a little bit, but not for the band. Because I can't sing.
Monk: What do you write?
Chris: Guitar stuff for myself, kind of campfire guitar, pick'n. Got a Buck Owens American, a red, white and blue guitar just like on Hee Haw.
Monk: Do you believe in reincarnation?
Chris: Well, God, I just don't know what the hell I believe in. I'd like to believe in it. I believe there's something out there. But I don't think I'll know for sure this lifetime. Maybe next lifetime.
Monk: What's teen spirit to you?
Chris: It's something the men in corporations spray in rabbit's eyes.
Monk: I understand you're a vegetarian.
Monk: So you must be the most PC member of the band?
Chris: But I try not to have an attitude about it.
Monk: Favorite food?
Chris: Potato salad.
Monk: If you weren't doing Nirvana what would you be doing?
Chris: I'd be just hopping from job to job.
Monk: Nirvana saved your life?
Chris: Yea, it did. I had a steady job for awhile, but I was pretty much at the end of my rope. I was an apprentice painter.
Monk: What do you want to tell the twenty-something generation? Do you have a message you wanna get out?
Chris: Oh man, what do I say without sounding like overkill.
Monk: Here's your chance. What's the Chris message?
Chris: Ahhhhhh… (laughter).
Monk: That's a good one.
Chris: Yea, ahhhhhhh.
At his friend's house in West Seattle, watching videos.
Dave: I'm Nirvana's fifth drummer. But they've really only had one other serious drummer, Chad Channing. He left the band, and they were offered to do a tour with Sonic Youth. So they asked Dale Crover to act as a substitute for that one tour. Anyway, they were in San Francisco rehearsing, and came to see my band play, and thought I was really good. They told Dale and Buzz of The Melvins that if I was ever available they'd want me to play drums for them. Couple weeks later I called up Buzz just to say hi and tell him our band had fallen apart. He said, well you know, Nirvana needs a drummer. So I called them up. But they already had another drummer named Dan Peters from Mudhoney. And I said, oh, that's cool, I hope everything works out. If you need anything give me a call. And they called back that night and said, well, maybe you should fly up here and join the band. I didn't really have an audition or anything. I flew up here, we had one rehearsal, and we pretty much knew that was it. Two weeks later we toured England. It just snowballed from there. And we had the greatest eight months of rehearsing every fucking day. We would practice every day for like four hours. We wrote so many songs we've forgotten. We wrote a new one every practice. We were just so stupid and burned out or whatever we'd never remember them. So we got a boom box and recorded them onto cassette tapes and then we'd lose the tapes, so Nevermind is pretty much a collection of songs that we happened to remember.
Monk: Why did you guys stop practicing?
Dave: We started touring June of 1991. And didn't stop touring until December. So that whole year we did about six months of non-stop touring, where we'd have about a week off in between tours. And it just killed us. It burned us out big time. None of us was ever cut out to be big rock people… Now my big problem is people burn.
Monk: Too many people around the band?
Dave: Just too many fucking people in this world. I hate saying no to people.
Monk: Hard to keep your space. Because you're now in the public…
Dave: Especially in this rock arena situation, where you have people grabbing and worshipping you like you're some God. It's ridiculous!
People coming on stage and bowing down to Kurt.
Monk: I felt bad for Chris. What does Chris feel like or you feel like?
Dave: Fortunate! Look, my phone isn't ringing off the hook. And I didn't get completely slagged in a Vanity Fair article. I just try to keep away from all that shit. And even just walking onto a stage and hearing 10,000 people "ahyahayaha!!!" going nuts, it feels good for maybe the first couple seconds. After that you feel like you're under a microscope, and everyone's honing in on you. I just hate having anything expected of me at all.
Monk: It's more than you bargained for…
Dave: Well, no one bargained for it at all.
Monk: But I tell you something. You guys handle it pretty well. You're certainly not trying to be rock posers or rock stupidstars…
Dave: Well, the thing I like about playing live is… You see, people come to see Aerosmith to hear Dude Looks Like a Lady exactly as it does on the record. And, if it doesn't, they think something's wrong. But we're a sloppy fucking band. Chris and Kurt are very sloppy musicians. I just recently started appreciating the worth of being totally sloppy. I think this two week European tour we did we were sloppier than shit. We couldn't get it together. But it was pretty fun and pretty great, and we kind of rolled with it and laughed. And I don't say that like, hey, we just ripped off 5,000 people because we were totally sloppy. I think people are starting to realize that we're not out to be a Rush Fusion Rock Experience, total perfect tempo, on time, on the beat, no fuck-ups. Next time you come see us play watch Kurt because he usually tries to figure out the song right before we play it.
Monk: He did that on MTV.
Dave: Well, actually, that's a whole different thing. That's a big story. We were asked to play on the MTV Music Awards. We were supposed to be the first band on. They wanted us to play Smells Like Teen Spirit. So we come to the rehearsals and we have these two new songs. A song called Rape Me and a song that doesn't have a name yet. So we go up and we rehearse that. We had a 4 minute and 20 second slot. And all the stage managers and everyone said "Oh you're not gonna do Teen Spirit." "No, we're going to do these two new songs." "Well, do they fit in the four minute, 20 second slot?" "Yea." "Okay fine." Next day we get a call from MTV saying "Look, if you don't play Smells Like Teen Spirit you're not going to be on our awards ceremony." So we said, "fine, fuck you, keep your awards ceremony." So then they offered, "look, if you want to be on the show you can play Lithium later in the set." So, we thought, "okay, cool, we'll tell 'em we'll play Lithium, and we'll go up there and we'll do the two new songs and say 'MTV go to Hell' or whatever…"
Monk: That would have bee great!
Dave: It would have been great until we found out that if we were to do anything but Lithium a good friend of ours, who works at MTV, would have been fired.
Dave: Because that's the way MTV works. Mafia Television, maaan. Just so they had us exactly where they wanted us.
Monk: I think you guys should have just done it.
Dave: I think we should have just done it too. But then there was this pressure from our label saying "if you guys don't do what you're told to do you will have burned pretty much every bridge…" It was awful.
Monk: So when you got out there, what happened?
Dave: So we went out and started into that song Rape Me. Just to get some little palpitation going in Mr. Big Cigar.
Monk: You should have gone a little bit longer.
Dave: We should have fucking done the whole thing.
Monk: So this whole episode left a really bad taste in you?
Dave: For me personal, I fucking hate MTV. I hate it. I really hate it so much because it's, you know. "Video Killed the Radio Star." It's true. It's so true. Like last night we're smashing up equipment cause all these people see our Lithium video, which is pretty much a compilation of all these shows in the past where we have destroyed our equipment or jumped around and dove into drum sets or whatever. People expect us to destroy everything at the end of the show. Last night was like "give them what they want and destroy the equipment."
Monk: So I sense a real cynicism about this. You're not into supplying them with what they want.
Dave: As selfish as it may sound, I just want to do what I want to do.
Monk: What would you have done instead last night?
Dave: Told about 8,000 people to go home and played in front of 1000 people in a tiny place where you could at least sweat.
Monk: So, honestly, how long do you think this Nirvana thing is going to last?
Dave: I give it a couple more years.
Monk: You're not going to be the Beatles. You're not going to be around for 15 years?
Dave: Last thing in the world I want to do is be like Mick Jagger jumping around in yellow tights when I'm 45 years old.
Monk: Do you prefer the young or the old Elvis?
Dave: I hate Elvis Presley.
Monk: Do you have a rock dream team?
Dave: Wow. Well, I guess it would pretty much just be The Melvins.
Monk: The Melvins are the dream team! I like that.
Dave: To me there's no better drummer. And there's no cooler guitar player. This band seriously changed my understanding of music.
Monk: What is it about 'em?
Dave: From a drummer's standpoint Dale Crover turns all conventional drumming on its side. And plays against the beat. They're very slow, they're very heavy, and they're extremely tight. Pretty much the first band you've ever heard where there's sort of a stuttered pause and then BOOOOOM!! It's the biggest Boom of any band. It's an experience. You don't really go around humming Melvins songs.
Monk: Alright, grunge, define it.
Dave: Grunge is not flannel. Grunge is not long hair. Grunge is not Alice In Chains and whatever. I think Grunge is just a bunch of friends drinking a lot of Henry's and trying to play music when you really can't
Monk: Is Nirvana bigger than Christ?
Dave: Not yet. Not until we sell 100 million records.
Monk: How much do you guys make off a show like last night?
Dave: I know for a show like the Redding Festival, which is forty thousand people, the band made about $250,000, of which each of us comes home with about $30,000 for one performance.
Monk: Tell me one thing. How would you describe Kurt Cobain?
Dave: Kurt is... I don't know if I'd want to call him a genius. He's a great songwriter. He's a great guy. He's a quiet person. A lot of the times you can take his quietness as unnerving. Sometimes it seems as if he's really pissed off, but he's really not. He's sort of hard to understand. Kurt, I've never met anyone else like him. I suppose if you took enough acid you might come close to understanding Kurt Cobain. I'm not sure.
Monk: When you first met was it great living with him for eight months?
Dave: Oh yea, it was wonderful. When I first moved in there, Kurt and I didn't know each other. We'd sit in this apartment, no t.v., no radio, nothing, no noise, for hours on end, sitting there completely silent. That's just sort of the way it was.
Monk: You have an enormous amount of respect for him.
Dave: Oh yea. He has this way of writing songs, really simple, almost childlike songs that stick in your head. Kurt can write songs that are so simple that you will never get them out of your head.
Monk: And that's really an art.
Dave: Sure. A lot of bands think that they have to prove their musicianship by twiddling a million notes per second, but with Kurt it's a less is more thing.
Monk: What's you purpose in life? Give me the Dave Grohl mission statement?
Dave: I think I'm here to balance out everyone's insanity.
Monk: What do you have to say to your generation?
Dave: I don't know whether to tell kids to go to college. Don't know what good that would do. Just mind expansion. Get beyond the 9–5 grind. Throw away your materialistic needs, just save your fucking soul. And keep away from fucking MTV.
© Jim Crotty, 1993