LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE October 29 & November 1, 1992 - Buenos Aires, AR
- Gabriel Levy
- Krist Novoselic
- Dave Grohl
|Columbia Daily Spectator||Welcome To The Jungle||Yes|
Buenos Aires. The city of Tango and boring musicals. Not the city of Grunge. And yet - Dios mio! - during my defection to Argentina last year, this place assumed this surrogate identity for at least one weekend when Nirvana was “en la casa.”
Before I delve into my “media loca” tale, let me just quickly describe the type of parameters under which one operates in this city: Knaivery reigns. No further questions, your Honor: To live in Buenos Aires is… to weasel. In fact, it is well known, among the cabalistic intelligentsia of the southern hemisphere, that the initials “B.A.” actually stand for “Bullshit Artist.” Consequently, if you're somebody who truly relishes the art of masterminding ridiculous antics a la “Fletch,” then the world is your oyster down there. And how sweet the pearls that await inside!
It was the last weekend of October 1992. Election campaigns were winding up in the States and the international media has been overflowing with American politics. Had I not known better, I would have suspected that Bush and Clinton were running for president in Argentina: big smiley Gringo faces spilled into every local newspaper and television station. I had been living under these oppressive conditions in B.A. for about two months and I was simply starving for some apolitical (or, even better, anarchistic) icon of our culture - just anything truly kitschy and truly American (i.e. Clinton would have been an option had he not been so damn political) to tide me over during a Halloween weekend spent in the solitary confines of South America.
It was also around this time that I had figured out that having the fortuitous combination of 1) a predilection for rhetoric and 2) a juicy American passport could get you very far in B.A. Almost without exception, I had avoided paying cover charges to get into clubs. After some rather dubious explanation about coming all the way down to Argentina with the specific intention of seeing this particular discoteca, I had usually managed to get to into most places free of charge. In B.A. it was as easy as “apple pie.”
Right. Well, when I'd come to learn that Nirvana would soon be in town, suddenly the stakes got higher. After all, this would not be a matter of simply talking my way into a local dive. No, I knew that my ultimate challenge had been laid before me: finding a way to meet ye old gods o' grunge.
They were only going to be playing one show down here and, since it was scheduled for Friday night, I figured they had to be getting into their hotel sometime on Thursday afternoon. I asked to some local friends of mine where “estellas de rock” usually stay in B.A., and they gave the names of a couple of different places: the Plaza, Hyatt, Sheraton, etc. So, with a pen, pad, and loosely-sketched plan in hand, I walked to the Plaza and simply asked the clerk if Nirvana was home (a subtle approach, I realize). The clerk obliged immediately, checking his files (cultural disparity #1: Can you imagine a hotel doing this for you in the States?), and then politely told me, “No.” So, next, I hit up the Sheraton. But as I arrived this time, I had modified my strategy a bit: I told the clerk that I was a friend of “Kurt” (the vocalist/guitarist of the band) and I needed to know his room number in order to “give him something.” But this was an “ueber-clerk;” he was a bit more wiley, and told me firmly that, in fact, the band wasn't staying there. However, this guy was also an “ueber-liar”: besides the copious beads of sweat that will pouring from his brow, I could also not help but perceive the fact that behind him lay a vast array of poorly camouflaged drum equipment (arranged as an island of flower-holders), all of which was clad in labels reading “Seattle, WA.” I smiled and thanked him civilly, and then continue to snoop around a bit. Soon after, I spied several Argentine dudes in “Coca-Cola Presents” t-shirts standing around smoking and trying to appear calm. I accosted one of them, this time as a journalist that was “down here for the interview.” Without hesitation, he directed me to Room 318, where I found the temporary production office for the upcoming show. I presented myself there as a writer for the prestigious “NY Spectator,” and the receptionist told me to return to the Lobby at 5:30 p.m. I thanked her in a decidedly aloof manner (I was trying to play the part) and I descended to the Lobby only to find myself besieged by hundreds of insane, exotic-scented kids, all of whom were trying to steal a glimpse of their rock idols.
Having grabbed a bite, I returned to the lobby at 5:15 p.m. sharp, only to witness the arrival of several locals from BMG International (the distributors of the band’s label, DGC) and from Rock n' Pop (the dominant radio station). I asked them if they were also here for the interview, and they demanded - in broken English - who exactly I was. With the most contemptuous inflection, I said I was the one down from NYC for “this fucking interview, and nobody even speaks English around here.” Then, taken aback a bit, they wondered if I had spoken to “Nora,” because this was how do you say… a private… Of course I'd spoken to “Nora!” Now, where the hell was everybody because I had to fly back outta here in about 3 hours…
Without further delay I ascended to the luxury suite along with this small band of local producers. I got inside the room. Fill those lungs, heart racing so close, so godamn close now… Suddenly Nirvana's asshole manager bursts in, more wired on coffee (?) than espresso machine, and he apologizes “curtly,” reporting that he “can't locate anybody” and that we'll “just have to fucking wait around for a while.”
As I stand admiring the extremely mundane artwork on the walls, trying to look inconspicuous, one of the producers asks “Nora” who I am. “Nora” doesn't know who I am, shaking her head; how should “Nora” know who I am? I almost panic and lose it as everyone in the room turns to me and I try to hold up this charade with less than one month worth of Spanish lessons. In my despair, all I can muster up is: “No tengo zapatos viejos.” They then look at me quizzically and inform me, again, that this is a private interview - this is not a general press conference - and it would be necessary that I leave.
But Wait! Suddenly, one of the locals, who I'd met while waiting in the lobby and who speaks English extremely well, steps into the scene. He asks me where I'm from, how long I'm down here, about my “paper” back in NYC, etc. His name is Mario and he is one of the heads of BMG International in Argentina. Mario is friendly and eating up my defence - it must have been a different Nora whom I'd spoken with, he sympathizes, it is so confusing having so many Noras around. Mario tells Nora that I can stay for the interview. I then almost faint as I noticed who has just walked in.
Chris (bass) is seemingly comatose. He mumbles “ow-lah” and then melts into the couch. Reality check here. I am shitting toilets. Just as Dave (drums) enters the suite, Chris announces that Kurt is “lost in the hotel and won't make it.” Slight grumbles of discontent emanate from the producers, but when Chris yawns pointedly at them, they decide to make do and carry on with the interviews.
I get my chance to talk to the grunge-dudes. They are cool; they are dressed cool; they think it's cool that I'm from Cali; moreover, they think it's cool that I speak English (this last combination is not always a given). Reality check, take two. We laugh a lot and talk about vegetables. After about an hour, I thank them, get up, and prepare myself to leave. Mario is still cool dude; Mario talks to me about the American Dream. Mario has steak on his breath, but a card in his pocket for me: Call him tomorrow before the show, he says, and he'll get me into the follow-up interview on Saturday. Ciao I say, and I'm out with a smile, a story, and a very valuable card in my pocket.
I go to the show, and walk up to the press box to get special VIP passes. Despite this boon, Nirvana puts on a fairly tepid performance. Kurt seems convincingly “Nirvanacized” (languid, apathetic, lethargic, lackadaisical), but his two comrades are more successful at precipitating some mild “moshing” in the pit. For an encore, they pull a kind of “Tap-esque” “free blues/jazz” improv jam that drags on for some 20 minutes before Kurt - not uncharacteristically - demolishes his guitar on stage. Dig, baby, dig.
Top o' the mornin': It's Saturday and I'm up and movin' and groovin' on down to the Sheraton where I break through a swarm of belligerent fans to meet Mario once again for the interview. Mario gets cooler every day: he provides me with a “Nevermind Buenos Aires” t-shirt. This time, I'm supporting the full costume: camera pen & pad, prepared questions. In fact, the only thing I'm missing is a $5,000 pay cheque made out to me from Rolling Stone (Mario, however, doesn't offer to provide this). This time I ain't sweatin'. I'm raising my hand, I'm reminding myself that life is but a performance art piece and even if my cover gets blown, there are other masterpieces out there to swindle, there are other artists to dupe.
In fact, this time Kurt and his wife, Courtney Love (from Hole) have both managed to make it to the interview. Paparazzi galore, this time I feed my camera well. And, perhaps most importantly, I also serve as a translator for some of the other reporters’ interviews, attempting to explain such cryptic music jargon as “grungy” and “poppy.”
This last point, in fact, leads me to an invitation from Mario to work for him at the various upcoming shows: Guns N' Roses, B-52's, B.B. King, Keith Richards. Why don't I stop by the office on Monday, he says, and we'll…
Suddenly it had been a good day. I realised that only this kind of shit happens in South America: Out of nothing comes everything, out of nowhere comes everywhere. The sky just opens up before your eyes and you dream a lie and take a mighty bite of that tasty pie.
The following interview with Nirvana on Oct. 30th and Nov. 1, 1992, is a combination of my own questions with those of journalists from an Argentine art review La Maga used with permission from the publication.
Q: You didn't feel so great about the show last night?
Chris: Well, last night, I think for the most part, the 90 percent of the show we lacked any soul at all.
Q: Why was this? Was it related to the size of the venue?
Chris: No, because we've had good shows in front of 50,000 people and we've had bad shows in front of 50.000 people. We've also had good shows in front of 100 people. It's a really odd thing when three people come together, and it's just some kind of magic. I'm sorry that all the kids came and paid 18 pesos [$32], and we didn't do the best show, but that's the way it is - sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn't. But, I gained a lot of satisfaction from that last song.
Q: The end of the show came rather abruptly. Is the idea to piss people off?
Chris: There's an old Ricky Nelson song that says: “Before you please people, you've got to please yourself.” If you don't please yourself, it's going to be funny. For last night's show, we hadn't rehearsed very well, and we weren't very enthusiastic about it either. All of the songs we've played hundreds of times, and the only satisfaction that I got from that performance was the last song. That's when I really released, forgot about everything, and I got into the band, into jamming with Kurt and Dave. I think that was the only moment of the whole evening that we actually jelled as music, and that reminded me that's why I'm in this band: not to do interviews or sign autographs or be Mr Rock Star and High Profile, but to have an experience and gain satisfaction from it. I asked Kurt: “We should play ‘Teen Spirit’ and make everybody happy.” And Kurt said, “I don't think we should do what's expected of us, because it's not right.” And then, I made my point back, “But there are a lot of kids out there who are cool, blah blah blah…” But I'm glad that we didn't play ‘Teen Spirit’ because we would have just trotted through it, we would have just played it. The last song, however, I had so much satisfaction from it. I think people got something special with that last song.
Q: Did you feel like the audience was getting into the show?
Dave: Well, besides the language barrier, I think they were all the same. Maybe they didn't get the jokes, but they got into the music. Playing music is all the same.
Q: Why the fascination with destroying instruments on stage? Is there any meaning behind all of this?
Chris: It's just kind of exciting. I don't really ever smash my guitars unless I'm really drunk. I used to do shows when I don't even remember playing the shows. There's no meaning behind it whatsoever. It's “meaningless.”
Dave: If you get frustrated, it just feels good. If you break up with your girlfriend, you punch the wall. It's just our gimmick, our shtick.
Q: Guns N' Roses are also very popular in Argentina. What are your opinions about them?
Chris: I just like to say that I have no interest in their music whatsoever and never have. Axl Rose has a big mouth: nobody asked him what his opinion was and I wish he'd keep his opinions to himself. We had our opinions about Guns N' Roses: we just never really cared for them. But, we never lashed out against them and started putting them down publicly. Axl Rose started it all, not us. We don't like him or Duff at all, but Slash is cool.
Q: So, music isn’t the only difference between you and Axl?
Chris: Besides music? No, I think Axl comes from another planet. He's not in “my world.” He's an old style rock star: pompous, thinks he's royalty. And, we’re out to smash that. We come from the ethic of just a real band having an identity, just being true to ourselves.
Dave: I fucking hate it. It's shit, all of it: the whole heavy metal attitude, the macho shit. It's a circus! If you want to see people jumping around on stage, go to Ringling Bros. and check out the monkeys. Guns N' Roses needs a fucking horn section, and orchestra with back-up singers and explosions on stage. It's just stupid, it just leaves the music behind. Guns N' Roses couldn't play in a small club. They're boring, stale beer. They're about as exciting as Lawrence Welk.
Chris: Guns N' Roses is the Emerson Lake & Palmer of the early '80s.
Q: What are you then?
Chris: Oh, I don't know. Muendo, I guess…
Q: What are your thoughts on Buenos Aires?
Dave: The city's nice. Pretty cool, maybe a little boring. We only have three days here, we won't even get to see the city. I'll get home, and people will ask me, “How was B.A.?” And I'll say, “I don't know!” But, it seems pretty cool. I've only been out on a couple of blocks. Lots of leather and fur shops down here. I bought some cool little Coke bottle set. We also went to this weird disco place. And the weather's really hot down here.
Q: Elections in the US are in a couple of days. Who do you want to win, or who do want not to win?
Dave: I definitely want for Bush not remain in power. I'm voting for Clinton/Gore. I guess they scare some people. Clinton's done good and bad things, but they're better than what we’ve got now.
Chris: I care very much (about the elections) but I don't know if a lot is going to change. Clinton is a step in the right direction. I'm a leftist. George Bush is the head of the secret police.
Q: And the “Generation X” of the '90s that everyone's talking about? What do you want to see happen for these people?
Chris: What happens? Hopefully, and enlightenment and a discovery of personal freedom that improves yourself and goes back to not having an ideology or leader or spokesman for the generation. That's all bullshit, that's old, they’ve tried using that over and over again and it never worked. I want to see a revolution in consciousness: Every person is responsible for himself, every person is open-minded and respects other people who are fellow open-minded people. Then, you'll see that such issues as sexism and racism won't be issues anymore. In the old days, people were stupid. We were taught to believe that we had a government to depend on, and we had laws to do our thinking for us.
Q: The Seattle music scene has received a lot of attention recently, and it seems as though there exists a certain camaraderie among the various bands. But, have you felt that some of these bands have also been jealous of Nirvana's success?
Dave: I don't exactly think it's jealousy. I think they're just typical, hip underground cynics, just as we are. We're just as cynical as the rest.
Q: Which Seattle bands do you admire the most?
Dave: I like Mudhoney, Tad, Beat Happening. There's a weird cross between the Seattle rock scene and the punk-rock scene. Soundgarden and Alice In Chains too, I guess. They're more like grunge-rock.
Q: In terms of immediate plans, what's next?
Chris: We all die in a plane crash. But, we all survive and we're in comas for six months, and emerge as devout Hari Krishnas.
Q: There was a certain rugby team that once made a stop in the Andes…
Chris: Cannibals! Who'd go first of us three?
© Gabriel Levy, 1993