LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE March ??, 1993 - Seattle, WA, US
- Frank Andrick
- Krist Novoselic
Nirvana's 6' 7" bassist, Chris (née Krist) Novoselic, is the American-born son of Croatian immigrants, a place that few of his peers in Seattle had ever heard of until the recent, tragic civil war in the former Yugoslavia, of which Croatia was a part.
Because this is where his family came from, when the hostilities broke out Chris tried to get as much information on what was happening as he could. But looking into the situation stunned, shocked and repelled him. "It really blew my mind to find out what a low level human behavior can sink to in terms of all the atrocities, especially the rape issue," Chris reflected. "It's so insidious that it transcends ethnic hatred. It's a sick kind of sexist hatred. It's a situation where a patriarchal society has broken down, so the men suddenly had the opportunity to do whatever they wanted, with impunity. They did that by incorporating rape into their doctrine of ethnic cleansing. These atrocities are an unspoken part of that cleansing philosophy. I felt like I had to do something about it. At the very least send them some money and, if I'm lucky, try to raise some awareness about the situation."
Nirvana had always railed against the people they despised. In the liner notes for Nirvana's compilation album, Insecticide, Kurt Cobain wrote, in regard to homophobes, racists, sexists and the like: "Don't come to our fuckin' shows, don't buy our records. Just leave us the fuck alone! It disturbs us that plankton like you are part of our audience. Go away! We don't want your money."
In the following interview, done in 1993, Chris clearly shows these ideals were not just Kurt's, but his as well, as he talks about the reasons behind the benefit concert being staged by Nirvana for the victims of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Q: It's bizarre to me how easily some things become accepted, like the suspension of human rights and the belief in the minds of the aggressor/oppressor that such acts are permissible and justifiable. Whether the oppressor is Israel, Iraq, the United States, Serbia, or whoever, it almost always seems to go down so easily as to just become a way of life. But the taking away of life and human rights is never OK.
CHRIS: I don't understand that either. You know, you don't just live in a democracy. You have to participate in creating and maintaining one. It's a mindset that you grow accustomed to. For instance, many of the people in Russia have been living under the Stalinist mentality for years; the same is true for most of Eastern Europe. None of these, of course, were really socialists or communists in the true sense. They were just scammers and dictators hiding behind that ideology. And now the jig is up. In the former USSR and other countries, they were eventually thrown out. The same in Yugoslavia. The old scammers, the crooks, were finally caught with their pants down. But instead of a somewhat orderly transition like what happened in Russia, these guys just went berserk. They started stirring up ethnic animosity and it escalated into a major human disaster.
Q: One of my best friends, Sasha Penn, was born and lived much of his life in the former Yugoslavia. His initial take when the atrocity information became public was that his homeland had always been the province of petty kingdoms and tribes who all hated each other's guts and supported their hatred through racism, colonialism and socially sanctified murder and war. He saw the strong arm of the Communist regime as a power capable of quelling the fighting factions through fear and intimidation. With that fear removed, people reverted to their ancestral tribal hatreds and promptly began to kill and rape each other, just like in the old days. The iron fist of the Communist regime was the only force strong enough to hold these factions together without actual bloodshed. What's your take on this analysis?
CHRIS: Yeah, it left a power vacuum. During the existence of the state of Yugoslavia, look at the number of marriages between Croatian and Serbian people. There were a lot. Things were beginning to smooth over. This (ethnic cleansing] disaster would not have happened if these (political] manipulators had not used the issue of nationalism for their benefit. The Serbians claim that the Croatians are back to the (USTASHA Regime], that the Fascists are back, just because there had been an occupational government in the 1940s under the Nazis. But check this out: Every country that was under German occupation had a puppet government that committed atrocities, like the Vichy government in France. Every one of them! To look at it in that historical context is just absurd. To follow that logic we would have to go bomb Vienna and even Paris. Kurt Waldheim was Secretary General of the United Nations, Prime Minister of Austria—and he had been in the Nazi SS. He was an officer in the SS in the Balkans operations. I'm not sure what's going on in Russia as compared to the former Yugoslavia, but is seems to be a somewhat comparable situation in some respects. I get bad, unreliable information because a lot of the information I get about Russia is from and through the mainstream media. So, all that is really going on between Yeltsin and hard-liners is almost unintelligible, and I'm left with not enough information to know what is really going on.
Q: The feedback I get seems to go along the lines of, "So, we bought this democracy thing, gave it a try, and now, so what? Our lives aren't better. We have less food and money and now we see a new order who are just as greedy, if not more so." So, for many it's "meet the new boss, same as the old boss," and a feeling of being lied to one more time. It's also, of course, a case of too much, too fast.
CHRIS: Why did there have to be this "cold turkey" transition? Why couldn't there have been a gradual transition? Instead, it (Russia) tries to immediately turn into a total Western open market. The Germans, Americans and all these multinational corporations are moving in to scam up everybody's natural resources. Look at China. China has a 15% growth rate. There's more capitalism in China now. But since it is a gradual assimilation, it's going to be a lot smoother than the havoc that the Western world, the international money market and everybody threw Russia into. The package that Boris Yeltsin bought will make Russia completely dependent on Western money and ideology and technology. It's a shame that these manipulators and liars are taking advantage of millions of people in Russia.
Q: The Czech Republic is doing better, too, and that's because they've been lucky enough to have Vaclav Havel. In his take on market and ideological transitions, Havel stresses, "We have two enemies. The return of totalitarianism, which is of course a very scary spectre; the other integrating all the new ideas from the West. It's very easy to tell people that it's not a good thing to have tanks roll down your street and to live in an obvious state of fear and repression. It's another thing to look your children in the eye and try to tell them that they don't really need that new red wagon they just saw advertised on television. It's not really going to make you or your life better. Think about it in that context and you'll see you're buying into a consumer ideology just as insidious as the totalitarian one!" One is the tyranny of the idea, and one the tyranny of the object. It's really hard to defuse, integrate or sublimate those two poles into something that becomes good. We have to integrate those things into our hearts by going beyond them. That will be the hardest thing to do, both as individuals and as a society. We are so easily impressed and therefore so easily bought and sold without knowing it or seeing it. So I think, in a Nietschean sense, we have to go "beyond good and evil" or, in this case, beyond the repression and lies of a totalitarian/consumerist establishment.
CHRIS: Boy, now you're really talking some ideals. That's socialism—or should I say, some progressive form of socialism, or maybe just a progressive form of all political ideals as we know them. That would be the kind of socialism, or democracy for that matter, where things could really begin to happen. But who knows if we are even capable of that? I'm not sure that we are. Sometimes we act so low that I wonder if we're ever going to be able to live such a progressive existence. Ever! What do you think?
Q: Yeah, that's the big question. We have to keep coming back to this stuff that we do to each other on an individual or global scale because we haven't progressed beyond it. That's why we have to keep learning, speaking out and acting in an exemplary manner, without buying into the "I'm superior" riff, which infects most people who have one leg up on their fellows.
CHRIS: Yeah, that's it! I guess that's really it in a nutshell. We will produce what we are.
Q: Chris, is this important to you? To go to your grave knowing you've at least done something to make things better for the human condition?
CHRIS: Yeah. Yeah, I think it is. One of the worst feelings is helplessness or hopelessness. And I think that, yeah, I've got to do my part, whatever that is, no matter how small it is.
Q: What's your take on the way the current Clinton administration is handling things?
CHRIS: In Bosnia/Yugoslavia? I don't know what's going on behind the scenes, man. First off, I have just lost so much respect for the United Nations. In fact, this loss of respect has developed into disdain for the UN. The UN and US administrations are just waffling when there are obvious aggressors in this situation. I know for a fact that the UN was made aware of atrocities in November of 1991 and once again in January of 1992. They knew what was going on back then and did absolutely nothing. They're still negotiating and trying to work out their top secret, backroom deals. You know, they wanted to do some kind of peace conference and they wanted us to play some benefit to help the women and children in Bosnia-Herzegovina. When they asked I said, "NO! Go fucking fuck yourself! If you had been doing your job right, there wouldn't be a disaster in Bosnia-Herzegovina right now. There wouldn't be 150,000 people dead!"
Q: I know you want to establish a rape center. What steps are you taking to safeguard the money and how it's going to be spent, so you don't end up with a repeat of the Live Aid fiasco, where the food supplies and money only ended up in the hands of the scammers and manipulators?
CHRIS: The rape center is already in existence. There is already a group established, called the Bosnia-Herzegovina Women's Group. They've been operating out of Bosnia-Herzegovina for a few years now. I've made sure the money is going to go directly into their bank account. It's not going through any other hands whatsoever. I met them when I was in Bosnia last January, 1992. I was really inspired by what they were doing. They were doing it all on a volunteer basis. These women were working their 9-to-5 jobs and they were still treating people and going into the camps themselves. They were dealing with and trying to coordinate international humanitarian relief agencies. Providing ground support and distribution for them, directing their relief efforts, showing them, at great risk to themselves, where to go and where to take the needed supplies. So it's like, now, man, they can use that money to set up an office, get a fax machine that's their own and set up some computers, telephones and stuff.
Throughout the history of war, women have always been raped. Yet, somehow, rape has never been an issue. Like we were talking about before, rape has somehow been incorporated/integrated into the fabric of war. (Some say,] in war you kill, loot and rape and that's too bad, but that's war. That's bullshit! It just all goes back to that patriarchal thing. One of the biggest problems with rape trauma is that a lot of the women cannot be found. They keep quiet due to cultural pressure. The women are not used to speaking out, so the way they deal with it is through silence. Even if peace comes tomorrow, the pain and shame will last for generations.
Q: Let's talk about the band for a little bit now. Has this issue been something that has helped bring the band back together again? I don't want to get into details of the past, but… It seemed, for a while there, that Nirvana was close to breaking up, whether from drug problems, spousal anxiety, jealousy, apathy or whatever. But from that mess you somehow got yourselves together again. Are you closer now because of this issue we've been discussing?
CHRIS: Yeah. You know, it was weird, man, really weird. It was weird just going from this band that played these bars to being called Number One, MTV superstars. The transition was kinda rough. We all reacted and overreacted to it in our own ways. Imagine what it's like to be shopping in a supermarket and suddenly people come up to you and say, "Hey, man, you're in Nirvana. Can I have your autograph?" People constantly ask you things like, "What's it like, having so much money?" It seems like people are looking at you and pointing you out to others. It's so funny, in a way. Just a year before we were always kinda alienated from the mainstream. A little over a year ago, people were tying yellow ribbons to their car antenna—or around their trees and doorknobs—in support of the Desert Storm war. In support of George Bush and his interests, and in support of the troops, people had those yellow ribbons everywhere. It was scary. I was totally freaked out by it. It broke my heart to see it.
So, anyway, our album comes out and everybody bought it. All those people for whom I had no respect were buying our record. I kept going, "Why do they like us?" I couldn't understand. It became like a kind of crisis for me, for all of us. All of us at the time were going, "Oh, my God! What's going on?"
Q: The last time I saw Nirvana was at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, just before Nevermind really hit it big. I can't help remembering Kurt saying stuff like, "All I ever wanted was to be able to eat macaroni and cheese and be able to pay my rent. Now we're dealing with this. We don't know what's going on. This is hitting us big time and we're not ready for it."
CHRIS: Oh, yeah, there's all these business angles to deal with and all this other shit. Now, it's weird. I feel like I've grown up and matured since all this happened. All this pressure and weirdness had to be dealt with and stood up to. Yeah, it's true it's changed us, but I think it's true that in the end it's made us all better people.
Q: So you're better for it? How?
CHRIS: Ah, yeah, I do think I'm better for it. I appreciate the money I've made. I can't deny that. I'm very thankful that I've been so lucky. It's great. It takes some of the pressures off you. Of course, it creates some new ones and feeds some of the old. Man, it's true that those clichés are really there. It's just like winning the lottery. That's how I see it. I bought a house and a jukebox that I always wanted. You know, stuff like that.
Q: And now look at how you're using the power of the press, and look at the places your money is going, like the rape center. It's payback time in a good sense.
CHRIS: What happened is that Nevermind became a phenomenon in the music business. In the beginning, Geffen (Records] didn't promote the album at all. They don't know what happened. They had printed up 40,000 copies, which is what they thought we would sell in an initial pressing run. They sold out in the first two days. There was a week where no one could buy the record. It was sold out everywhere. At the same time, we were all over MTV. I think that really added to the hype about Nevermind and, consequently, Nirvana. Then, on the radio we had that hit song ("Smells Like Teen Spirit"] at a time where there was no other hard rock hit song, and hadn't been in a long time. It was different.
The people at Geffen told me that they basically just stood against the wall and watched copies of the record fly out the door. They had never seen anything like it. It was a phenomenon. I don't know what's going to happen next, man. I mean, our next record (In Utero) is pretty edgy. It's more along the lines of "Papercuts" or "Sifting" on our Bleach record. There's still a lot of melodic but noisy stuff. I think Kurt came up with some really good, well-crafted songs. I mean, it's not "Nevermind," that's for sure.
Q: To me, one of Nirvana's strengths is its ability to write songs that feature great melody, harmony and counterpoint all mixed up with such great noise. The miracle is the fact that you make it work through the forum of a 2- to 3-minute pop song. I'm looking forward to not so much as a return to the sound of Bleach, but an interpolation of the material found on Bleach and Nevermind, into something new from Nirvana. I've heard Kurt mention that he would not want to start his own label, à la the Sub Pop Records story, but he would like to be involved in supporting small, independent record labels or publishers, supporting a qualitative rather than quantitative approach to music and words. What would you like to do?
CHRIS: I don't really know. I see myself becoming very active politically. I want to do it behind the scenes. I don't want to do it like some rock'n'roll pundit. I've really become turned on again with the Bosnia-Herzegovina thing. I've always had an element of that in me, and now it's really starting to emerge. I want to step out of the public aspect of the whole thing because, in the end, no matter what your intentions it just gets turned into some kind of personality thing. Guys like Sting do it, even guys like Bono and Michael Stipe. I think that most of them realize that, too, that it's really a tricky situation to put yourself out there.
First off, I'm a bass player in a rock'n'roll band. That's what I do. To be active is second nature to me. I've also tried to stay aware as much as possible. Now, with this awareness, suddenly comes this access to media, which I'm exploiting like hell at the moment! I don't know if we're really going to make a big change. I mean, this is just one concert. One concert, basically, to raise awareness and some money for something that we feel needs to exist. It's these women who will be out on the lines helping, healing, doing it and living it every day of their lives.
Q: Chris, is there something you'd like to say as a last statement, something personal you'd like to close with?
CHRIS: I was brought up in the United States, where we live in a throw-away society. I was brought up with TV and cars and, within reason, could have most anything I wanted. My dad worked in a factory and my mom was a hairdresser. When I came of age it was easy for me to move out and live on my own. I could buy an old car for a couple of hundred dollars. I bought an old, junk TV set and an old stereo set-up. I mean, for me, I had all the amenities that a lot of people the world over are striving for. That's what I think a whole lot of the change in Eastern Europe is all about. People are tired of going without. Besides the basics of good shelter, protection, food, education, etc, they also want stuff. Just stuff to have because sometimes the stuff you have is made out to be really important. I just gotta say, it's not that important. You have the right to work, the right to freedom of thought and action—or so we like to think. The most important thing is who you are, how you do it and what you're going to be. It's a lot more important to be there for your friends and to educate yourself in whatever you need to make yourself more effective as an individual. Don't back down from what you know to be right for you.
I don't want to preach, I just want to say that if it's in your nature to do something to change the order of things, then do it. Maybe by being what we want to be we can make things better. If you can, make a difference, please do!
© Frank Andrick, 1993