- Steffan Chirazi
- Kurt Cobain
Forget all the bullshit! Forget the scandal! This is the real NIRVANA! Mellow! Happy! And capable of lounging Stateside arenas without baulking! In a Big K! exclusive, KURT COBAIN relaxes with STEFFAN CHIRAZI and fills him in on the joys of success, rock 'n' roll and fatherhood! Can this be for real?
Deep in the bowels of Atlanta's Omni Arena, the Nirvana backstage is behaving like your best friend's living room. Drummer Dave
Grohl, his fiancée and a couple of friends are chatting in the corner with a few beers, cheery bassist Krist Novoselic is bobbing around the room munching pitta bread and guitarist/vocalist Kurt Cobain's kicking back on a couch.
Kurt's wife Courtney is here, having just finished up the recording of Hole's Geffen debut LP as well as a short US tour, and their daughter, little Frances Bean is wandering the premises with a beaming smile for everyone. Soon Kurt will lovingly; patiently feed her some macaroni cheese dinner for a late snack, before cuddling her and talking quietly into her ear.
People wander casually in and out, a drink here, a bite there. REM's Michael Stipe has come down to say 'Hello'. The Breeders and come, also on the bill, are mingling with the various assembled folk. It's so casual, sociable and fun you're hard pressed to remember that it's taking place in a typical sterilised American arena.
This is Nirvana on tour 1993. Look for misery, anger or pain and you'll be sorely disappointed.
"I'm not gonna say a damn word about it being tough; I'm having the best time of my life!" laughs Cobain, aware that he's become known for more than his fair share of complaining.
Nirvana, and more so Cobain, have weathered the whirlwind of superstardom better than was at first expected. The only resultant side-effect has been some press blocking - partially due to what the band see as a continual effort on the part of many to focus on the gloomier topics.
Anyone coming out to talk to them on this 'In Utero' tour (and by all accounts there aren't many) would find it impossible to do such a thing. Because, quite simply, Nirvana are happily having a blast. By 2am, Cobain's happy, relaxed, slouched in a chair, mulling over questions carefully. There's not an ounce of weirdness or 'ordeal' to be sniffed anywhere.
So why are Nirvana having fun in arenas?
"We've been touring since the beginning of time, playing clubs over and over again, which gets a bit monotonous. You can't breathe, it's smoke-filled, beer-ridden and even though those are some of the best memories I have, it gets old after a while.
"When 'Nevermind' blew up, we knew we had the chance to go on this huge arena Rock stadium tour, but I just emotionally and physically couldn't have dealt with it at that time. But I've had a lot of time to sit at home and work it over in my mind.
"Now that we're playing on larger stages there's better circulation; we have an amazing PA system which allows me to hear everything. That's usually how I judge a good show: by the monitors."
Are you and the band fully over any arena-phobia you might have had not so long ago?
"It's simply a matter of getting used to something. If you don't like broccoli, force yourself to eat it if you wanna get vitamin C. Eventually you might enjoy it.
"We had no choice but to do it. We couldn't have gone on tour and played a bunch of clubs unless we wanted to not allow a lot of people who wanted to see us to see us.
"This is the first tour we've done on a bus and with the luxury of having a backstage - all the basics you're denied in clubs. We don't have to scrounge for money to buy a hamburger at McDonalds, and those are the kind of luxuries I used to scoff at. They were thing a person 'doesn't need' because I was so into the 'starving artist' frame of mind, but it all really does help out.
"It was realising that, and also what I said before about the monitors. I've always been really particular about being able to hear myself, because we're obviously a loud band and our music overpowers my vocals a lot of the time. But we got rich enough to be able to afford to run a big PA system."
How hard was it to deal with the reality that someone will always spread rumours about what you are or aren't doing?
"At first, I came to the conclusion that I may as well treat this like a job and f**king give up. I almost fell victim to the same frame of mind as someone who goes to the factory everyday and punches in their time-card. I felt that no matter what I did I couldn't please everybody, and I dunno why that's a part of my personality.
"But it's not nice to be criticised; no one wants to be a scapegoat or picked on. So I came to terms with it because I had no choice. I realised there's no reason in worrying about things so asinine."
What about your media image, the reports of drug abuse, specifically when the Los Angeles Social Services attempted to keep Frances Bean from you and Courtney. How did you manage to trust anyone again?
"I think that after our last tour, when Courtney and I went into seclusion and she got pregnant and I started doing drugs, that seclusion was a time that was needed.
"I know that sounds almost like an endorsement for drug use, but I honestly don't regret at least taking that time off. I regret taking drugs, but I really needed the rest and time to sort things out..."
'In Utero' seems to reflect a lot of that time's anger and frustration in it's sound.
"Hmmm... no. That's one of the biggest problems I have and it's probably the only kind of criticism that I'm still affected by. I tried as hard as I could to not leak my personal troubles that I've gone through over the last couple of years into this album, so as to avoid the criticism which would arise from something like that.
"Obviously there are a few lines in certain songs which allude to what I've been through, but that's my fault. A person can read an entire set of lyrics to one song and find the one line that might have something to do with my personal life and think the entire song is about that."
Is the anger of 'In Utero' the tying-off of that '91-'93 era, in a sense?
"Yeah, definitely. I had to get this teenage angst-ridden Rock out of my system, and I felt the best way to do that was to go to extremes and make the raunchiest record I could, without denying any of the Pop sensibilities that we have."
Was there a point during the writing of 'In Utero' where you tried to deny that Pop sensibility?
"Well, I feel we're through it for the most part, as a Pop band. In our earlier days we didn't have a lot of melody. If you listen to
'Incesticide', even 'Bleach', there's not much. Obviously there's songs like 'Scentless Apprentice' and 'Milk It' that are just balls-out, angry Punk Rock-type music..."
Not forgetting the ferocious 'tourette's'.
"Yeah, that kind of song didn't need to be written - if anything it hurt the album. I could scream my guts out at any time, fool myself and everybody else. I can work up enough energy to scream my guts our for any fast Punk Rock song, but it wasn't as good as 'Territorial Pissings'.
"At the time, I felt the majority of the album was a little to middle-of-the-road, straight 4/4 Rock songs and I wanted to have some faster songs. I guess I didn't have time to write anything better."
Does that mean you'd have liked more time for the band to make 'In Utero'?
"Well, I don't mean to complain about 'tourette's' so much, because the rest of the album devours it. I'm totally happy with this record. I know everybody who puts out a record always says, 'this is our best record', but I love this record; its ambience and feel.
"It introduced a whole new sound to the mainstream audience. That Steve Albini underground sound is pretty tired for people who are familiar with that stuff, but we had to do it. We wanted to record an album and have that sound, so it was pretty much the fulfilment of a childhood fantasy."
For a while it seemed as though you couldn't cope with some of your 'newer' fans. Have you come to terms with the fact that any band which sells 10 million albums will always attract a quota of 'asshole fans'?
"I was always comfortable with that; I'm not nearly as judgmental as I've probably acted or come off as in print. A lot of times when I do say stuff like that it's in a sarcastic tone, and that doesn't come across in print.
"The main concern I've had is what we had to deal with tonight (Cobain stopped the show to yell at a 'breast-groper' in the audience). I don't want jerks to 'come to the Rock show', cause problems and ruin it for people. One of the biggest reliefs I've had is that it doesn't happen very much at all."
What conclusions have you come to, after evaluating all that happened in the relatively short time between anonymity and superstardom?
"The biggest conclusion I came to, is that I can never say or do anything that will be perfect enough for everyone to understand. During the last year and a half, I've read so much crap that I've become numb! I can't possibly waste my time on being concerned with that sort of stuff."
Now you've done the book 'Come As You Are: The Story Of Nirvana' with Michael
Azerrad, with all your dirtiest, darkest laundry for everyone to see, are there any regrets at putting it all out there?
"The problem is that rock 'n' roll book sales aren't very popular. Most people don't buy Rock biographies. The mistake that was made, was that we didn't have some kind of document written up by a lawyer that would protect us from magazines using nothing but the drugs chapter.
"Most people are only going to remember what they read in a magazine. All the explanations for a lot of other questions,
rumours, myths aren't answered in those excerpts, and most people will never know them because they won't buy the book. They probably don't care about the other stuff anyhow."
Had there been a particularly 'trashy' Nirvana story that has just made you laugh?
"I've laughed at all of them. I've gotten pissed off and then I've laughed about it... people don't know that, but I do."
You must admit that for most of 1992 it seemed as though all you did was complain in your interviews?
"But the problem with that was that yes, I was complaining, that's true, but 99 per cent of the questions were about that subject. They realised I was vulnerable about that subject, took advantage of it and wrote every single f**king article about it.
"I've talked to journalists about all kinds positive of things - all kinds of things I enjoy and love about being in rock 'n' roll - and it's never printed. Even at the height of our explosion we were all trying to get those things across, talk about other bands we like and stuff.
"But we're at the mercy of the journalist, and the journalist is at the mercy of the editor - and they wanna sell the dirt. I've gone through all sorts of decisions. Obviously, your fist reaction is 'I'll never do an interview again', and then I decided 'Okay, I'll never talk about anything negative again'.
"I've always thought of rock 'n' roll as a joke. Probably the biggest downfall I have is that I've hardly ever read rock 'n' roll magazines and I never cared about what my favourite bands had to say; I didn't give a f**k, what they had to say on record or live.
"One of the many things about John Peel that I respect is that he hardly ever meets the bands he records, which is really cool. He doesn't want the image of the person or band he loves so much to be shattered, and that's really cool."
What has becoming a father done for you as a human being? has it influenced your songwriting?
"I haven't had the chance to see if it affects me musically - I haven't been writing songs recently. I haven't attempted to write a song for months. The biggest impact of having a child is personally. I've always been chronically depressed, or at least pessimistic, for a part of each day. Now I only have to see Frances for 10 minutes and my spirits are lifted so high I feel like a completely different person."
Did it kick into action your feelings of responsibility, knowing that she looks to you for the same support you looked to your parents? Did you ever feel daunted by such a task?
"Maybe at first, when we realised Courtney was pregnant, and again during the time we all had those months off, I got the time to sort out what I might do in the future, how I might react to problems that might arise whilst raising her.
"I've just decided that I'm not going to pressure her into any ways of alternative lifestyle or thinking - it may brush off on her by just being around us, but I'm never gonna cram PC or feminist thoughts down her throat at all.
"If she wants to wear the latest trends, then I'll get them for her. She'll eventually come around. All kids go through all kinds of confusing dilemmas about what they are, for such a long time during their youth.
"That over-bearing influence stuff is probably the only thing I resent about my parents. They tried to mould me; they were convinced I was gonna be a bum, because I wasn't interested in all the other normal things kids are into. And that was probably the most damaging thing that happened to me while I was growing up, so it wasn't hard for me to realise I wouldn't do that with Frances."
How much did all the stuff with the Social Services regarding custody of Frances make you realise that you would always be there and fighting for Frances, 150 per cent?
"I didn't need that lesson, because we were already prepared. Although I was doing drugs right up before she was born, I did try to stop a couple of times during that period, but I didn't get it out of my system - but I knew I had to keep on trying. Otherwise there might have been a chance that I would dabble in it when she was around. And I didn't wanna do that at all, that's a totally dangerous thing.
"Again, I don't regret anything - it's something I had to do, it was part of my whole rehabilitation. But the whole thing seriously almost ruined us, it was a really hard thing to go through."
Was it during this time that you developed your animal sense of protection, your readiness to use any means necessary in a situation of protection - ie, a gun?
"It helped, yeah. I'm not sure how to explain that. I think I have a sense of just protecting myself. I've always had a really violent part of my personality, that has shown quite a few times by getting into fights and stuff like that. But to protect something as precious or innocent as a baby, nothing would stop me. I wouldn't hesitate blowing somebody away who broke into my house to harm or hurt us."
These are the natural feelings any parent has, and do they help you to understand what you mean to your parents?
"Absolutely. The time I did realise that was when we had Frances. I was still pig-headed enough to unnecessarily blame my parents for a lot of thing they didn't deserve to be blamed for. Every teenager resents their parents for trying to mould them into something they're not, or not understanding their art or music.
"My mother was a fantastic, attentive and compassionate mother throughout my childhood, until I started becoming incorrigible and rebellious. She was from a completely different era, the pre-baby boomer era which was extremely oppressive.
"You'd go to the prom, find your high school love, have your child and devote your life to them. She was 18 or 20 when she had me and she did a really great job. I appreciate it everyday I think about it.
"All those unnecessary things I blame my mother and father for are gone, because I understand how instinctively protective you are with your kids."
What has been the nicest, happiest element about this current 'In Utero' tour?
It's really hard to describe just why this tour's been going so well. Every night we go out onstage and I realise that 98 per cent of those kids honestly like our band. They're not up there to see a circus act, and even if they did go to a show to see that, they realise that I'm not f**ked up after the second song and I'm having a good time.
"To be able to sell out an arena and know that 98 per cent of those kids are honestly good kids, nice people who are sincere, conscious of things, aware of things, it's a great feeling to know that."
Your optimism has never been higher?
"Well, things are great. And another thing that has added to it has been after every show I'm totally pleased to go out to the bus and talk to the kids out there. They're so cordial and nice about it. I feel there's so many more intelligent kids than there ever have been before.
"All we ever wanted to do was break down the rock 'n' roll myth, wanting to show that all Rock stars were just people. And it's such a nice peaceful moment with these kids after the show - they just wanna say 'Hi and thanks for playing your music'."
Can you feel your pessimism and paranoia dissipating as you get older?
"Absolutely. But I'll never lose all of my pessimism. I still have to be cautious, numb myself. I still have to be sure that our tour manager has a chat with the security before a show to make sure they don't strong-arm the kids, not to let any sleazy types back that look like they're on drugs."
Would you finally agree that with greater self-confidence comes a sense of stability and happiness?
"I have to give most of the reason for my new sense of confidence to the kids at the shows. To sell 10 million records had to make you wonder if there were really that many people who liked the band. The answer is no. It became a trendy thing, perhaps only two million really liked it."
So you believe that there are roughly eight million people who have 'Nevermind' just to have it?
"Well, maybe not that many. I don't know if I can cut it quite like that, but hey, anyway, I'm happy with a couple of million. How can I complain about that?! I was convinced in the beginning that there were only a few hundred we could relate to!..."
© Steffan Chirazi, 1993