To celebrate the long-awaited return of The Face, we have selected a stand-out story from each year of our extensive archive, from 1980 to 2004.
Remembered by writer Amy Raphael
“I’d seen Nirvana early on and I really, really wanted to interview them. But in order to get to Nirvana, I had to do Hole first. And who wouldn’t want to interview Courtney Love back then? So I did a Courtney Love cover story [February 1993], where I’d basically said the Courtney you’ve read about isn’t the person that I found. Kurt famously didn’t like doing interviews anyway, and it was a really weird atmosphere because there had been an unofficial [and ultimately unpublished] Nirvana biography by Victoria Clarke and Britt Collins, and an unflattering piece about Courtney by Lynn Hirschberg in Vanity Fair. But I remember when I very first met him with everyone else in the lobby of his hotel in New York, he plucked this lily out of a vase and said to me: ‘Why are you so sad? You saved my wife’s life.’ Because I’d written that cover story for The Face. So that was a major introduction. But even so, it still took a really long time to get access to interview him. I’d spoken to Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, but still no Kurt. In the end, when it happened I was so jetlagged out of my head that I was probably on a similar level to him – whatever he was taking at the time – and he said he’d just come over to my hotel room. I know that sounds deeply inappropriate today in the post-Weinstein world, but he was so unthreatening and non-alpha, and so clearly besotted with Courtney, that there was something that felt just so safe and even vulnerable about him. And he stayed for hours. Because of the piece I’d done with Courtney I knew that he trusted me and that I could ask those difficult questions. But he was one of those people you just knew was clearly not going to make it. He was a dad and a husband, and a really sweet guy, but at one point he said he believed that if you die you’re completely happy. What a weird way to think. He clearly thought it would be easier not to be alive, despite adoring Frances Bean and Courtney.”
Amy Raphael was Features Editor of The Face from 1991-93. She also worked at the NME, Esquire and Elle. She is now a freelance writer for The Guardian, The Observer and The Times, and is an author.
The Cobain family are having a nice day out. It’s late afternoon in a photo studio in downtown Manhattan. Daddy Cobain is careering from one end of the room to another, steering his 11-month-old daughter around in her pushchair, dressed in a suit that suggests he could be auditioning for the role of Tigger in Winnie The Pooh. He looks ridiculous. Frances Bean is gurgling uncontrollably, a big grin on her angelic face. Courtney Love-Cobain is lounging barefoot on a sofa. “Where are my babies?” she demands, her arms outstretched. Kurt changes direction, pretends to be out of control and stops the pushchair just short of the sofa. He leans over his wife and kisses her. Long and passionately.
This is no ordinary family. This is royalty. Grunge royalty. This is as intimate as most people will ever get with Kurt Cobain, Nirvana frontman, so-called king of grunge, the X Generation’s rock star. He excels at not letting anyone inside his head. He has opinions, sure, and he’s vocal about many of them, but when it comes to baring his soul, well, he’ll take you so far and then dump you. Listen to his lyrics which hint and tease but never quite come clean (“Have to have poison skin, give an inch take a smile / Never met a wise man, if so it’s a woman, gotta find a way to find a way” – Smells Like Teen Spirit). For someone so insular, Kurt Cobain has mesmerised thousands – millions – of (young) people.
It seems like a long time ago now since Nirvana first arrived. In autumn ’91 they released their second album and their first Geffen product, Nevermind. It was followed closely by Smells Like Teen Spirit. The single became an anthem for a pissed-off generation who’d known little else other than the oppressive, right-wing administrations of Reagan and Bush. It was on the radio in the US constantly; MTV rotated the video relentlessly. Nevermind hit the top of the American charts in January ’92. And then the rumours started. And they’ve never really stopped.
Kurt Cobain is dead. He’s hooked on heroin. He’s addicted to cough medicine. Kurt marries Courtney Love in Hawaii (true) and rumours abound that she wasn’t keen on inviting the other two members of Nirvana and their partners. The couple visit detox clinics. They announce they’re having a child (true) and the drug talk escalates; Kurt has a tummy ache and discovers stomach ulcers brought on by a bad diet and manic touring (could be). Courtney is rushed to hospital a month before the baby’s due with womb problems while on the road with Nirvana in Spain. The now oft-quoted Vanity Fair article on Courtney Love goes on the stands: the Nineties Sid and Nancy are scrutinised at length. Courtney is reported as talking frankly about taking heroin in the early months of pregnancy. Despite everything, Frances Bean is born in August: does she have one head or two? Is she featherlight or average weight?
While Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses continue a war of words (the former disgusted by Axl’s penchant for dodgy lyrics and comments) and trouble brews with Victoria Clarke and Britt Collins’ unofficial biography, talk of the follow-up to Nevermind starts. “It’ll be crap,” someone comments. “I want it to be crap,” someone quotes Kurt as responding. Opinions from all quarters on the state of the new album appear everywhere; the story of Geffen finding it “unreleasable” even makes it to American current affairs magazine Newsweek. In direct response to Jeff Giles’ report, the band take out a full-page ad in Billboard to tell their side of things.
More horror stories: Kurt buys some guns, tries to choke Courtney in their Seattle home and ends up in jail for a few hours
Oh, and in that two-year period, Nirvana, world famous rock band, released a few singles (Come As You Are, Lithium, In Bloom) and made a few classic, humorous videos. They also recorded In Utero, their third album. It should confound many critics. It may not (happily) be Nevermind Part II, it may not capture a moment as that album did, but it has the same sparks of genius. The rough and raw feeling from their first album, Bleach, is captured but tempered by melody. Kurt Cobain’s primal scream is as ungracious and rasping as ever but there are also some beautiful goose-pimple songs. And a handful of people-friendly singles.
As someone once observed, a celebrity is someone who works hard all their lives to become well-known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognised. The success of Teen Spirit and the media explosion of the grunge phenomenon, both in music and on the catwalk, brought instant fame to Nirvana, who were given the grunge crown. Teen Spirit transcended any one genre of music even though it was essentially a rock record; Jeremy Healy played it alongside house and garage records in London clubs, and now most people in their teens or twenties have an anecdote to tell about when they first heard it. “Maybe it’s the same as Kennedy being assassinated,” drummer Dave Grohl suggests drily at one point.
As the charismatic but elusive frontman, Cobain is usually the one wearing the shades. We are in New York for three days of press mayhem. Courtney is sitting in the hotel lobby with Frances Bean, who is passed around for everyone to hold. She is way more trusting of strangers than her parents are, smiling happily at anyone who picks her up. Courtney talks non-stop about anything and everything. Conversation gets round to the possible B-sides of Heart-Shaped Box, the first single from In Utero; one may be called Moist Vagina. Courtney dismisses any suggestion that it is about her and refers to it as a “D-side”. Kurt later explains it’s about the way bodies are compared, “as though it’s relevant to say one pair of breasts is nicer than any other”. Courtney jokes about how Kurt wants to arrange to meet some journalists at a crack house. He doesn’t like their magazine.
After some time, Kurt Cobain appears from nowhere. He wanders towards us slowly, wearing jeans, a T-shirt, a pink and white cardie, dark shades with white frames, his hair falling over his face. His red nail varnish is badly chipped. He looks like that rare thing: a natural rock star. He asks of no one in particular: “You been waiting for me?” and no one in particular responds. He’s not listening anyway; Frances Bean is the focus of his attention. Their hotel lobby is the meeting place for the three days of promotional duties, and Kurt is not merely often but always late for interviews and photo sessions. Subjecting people to his waiting game doesn’t seem to be an ego thing as much as a time thing: his body clock is tuned into the small hours. Catch him after midnight and he’s Mr Accessible.
As Cobain’s not up for any interviews yet, I talk to the Other Two. Drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Chris Novoselic are articulate and opinionated and have their own slant on things, but they’re not Kurt Cobain. “People like to get a lot of time with Kurt,” explains Grohl. “But when we first started doing interviews, he wouldn’t really say anything, even though people would try to direct questions at him. Nobody would get Chris’ bizarre sense of humour and I’d just occasionally interject with smartass comments. Interviewing us was a fucking nightmare.”
Grohl (the youngest at 24 to Cobain’s 26 and Novoselic’s 28) is almost the boy-next-door type, the regular nice guy. He is fanatically punctual when it comes to turning up for interviews, maybe not as much out of respect as wanting them out of the way. He’s simply into the music and having a blast. It’s not cool in New York, but he’s promoting a multi-layered look of two pairs of shorts over long johns. He doesn’t feel the heat, he claims, because he was brought up in Washington DC where it was “fucking hot as shit”. When we meet, in the sterile environment of the hotel’s conference room, he’s just finished talking to his photographer fiancée on the internal phone, and ends their murmurings with an unabashed “I love you”.
“How could three fucking losers from Nowheresville make a dent in rock ‘n’ roll... it doesn’t seem to fit”
Grohl, who joined the band in 1990, tries to keep a firm grip on the fame thing, but he’s still evidently puzzled by all the hysteria. He’s more excited about his mum coming to New York for their gig than he is about hearing a line of journalists telling him how great his record is. “What’s the big fucking deal? We’re just a band, it doesn’t seem like it should be any big deal. But to a lot of people, it is.” He pauses, doodles on the paper table mat and sighs. “I’m kinda proud of being the drummer in Nirvana, because we’ve done lots of good things, we’ve shaken things up a little bit. It took me a while to realise that. Everyone kept on telling us: ’You guys really ruffled the sheets of the music industry.’ I found it hard to believe ’cause, you know, how could three fucking losers from Nowheresville make a dent in rock ’n’ roll... it doesn’t seem to fit.”
Shades are an unnecessary accessory for the drummer boy; he doesn’t get hassled that much. Only when Teen Spirit had reached saturation point and people would come up to and say: “Hey man, if I hear that fucking song again, I’m gonna kill somebody.” He grins as he recounts the tale. “I’d just say: ‘Look, you know, I’m not the programmer of any radio station.’” The only occasion he’ll admit to losing his rag is around the time of the unofficial biography fuss. “It seemed like that book was a lot more important than making a new record. I ended up pretty angry because whose business is it what we do outside of the band? Who gives a shit?”
When we meet up again the next morning in the hotel lobby (Kurt’s still snoozing) Grohl is even more hyperactive than usual. He’s excited and nervous all at once about the prospect of their secret gig that evening at the 4,000-capacity Roseland. Coffee is ordered, but after waiting for 20 minutes Dave becomes impatient and goes walkabout, taking my tape machine with him and talking into it Agent Cooper style. He records a five-minute spiel in a croaky, stonehead DJ take-off. “Well, here we are at Jesus Lizard. An alternative spectacle, something not to be missed. The phenomenon of [stumbling]... Nirvana is revealed on stage. Yes, a band that has become the godfather of grunge as we know it. Grunge: ’92’s coined term. G-R-U-N-G-E. That Sound From Seattle, that crazy mix of Stooges meets Black Flag. Yes, that’s grunge and that’s tonight at Roseland with the Jesus Lizard, one of the most unprecedented freak-out bands…”
Daddy Cobain is no longer running around the studio making Frances Bean gurgle. He’s taken off the Tigger suit in favour of a dress and some bold black eyeliner and is being photographed on the roof. Frances Bean is also there in her pushchair, wrapped in a big white woolly jacket. She’s with her 21-year-old nanny, Cali, who looks as though he should be in the band rather than looking after the baby. Kurt’s been posing for various photographers all afternoon and the most animated he gets is when he stands on a piece of glass without his sneakers on.
Chris Novoselic comes up onto the roof with a freshly-made mixed fruit drink and sits down. He’s taken off the bear suit which made him look even more toweringly tall than usual and which made him so hot he spent much of the photo session lying horizontal in front of a fan. After some idle chat, he starts talking about the interview we’d done a few days earlier in the hotel conference room. Cobain might have angrily written in the sleeve notes of the Insecticide compilation: “If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different colour, or women, please do this one favour for us – leave us the fuck alone! Don’t come to any of our shows and don’t buy our records.” But Novoselic is the self-appointed politico of the band as much as he is an off-kilter wag. He’d tried to steer the conversation away from Croatia, where his parents were born and brought up before moving to California, or Clinton, who he still believes is the best of a bad bunch, but the topics came up time and again.
“Finally, back in ’87, Kurt and I got together and decided to start a real band”
As we sit watching the sunset, he says he’s worried he might come across as being “too heavy” in print. I remind him that as well as talking about his involvement in projects such as the Balkan Women’s Aid Fund, he also described the early days of Nirvana, then called Skid Row and influenced by Black Sabbath and Black Flag. And how he and Kurt, who both grew up in Aberdeen, a redneck backwater near-ish Seattle, were always in different bands. “One of The Melvins [still one of Nirvana’s favourite bands] would join for a while, but it was never serious. Finally, back in ’87, Kurt and I got together and decided to start a real band. So we found this drummer, scrounged equipment and rehearsed constantly. I used to take things so seriously, I’d get all pissed off if we had a bad rehearsal: God, it’s gotta be good, it’s gotta be rock, it’s gotta be fucking fun.”
“And we were lucky ’cause we had a van – we were the only band signed to Sub Pop at that time with a van. It was even mentioned in our press release. There was always something around the comer, a show in Olympia, in Seattle, an opening for the Butthole Surfers or Soundgarden. I can remember Soundgarden signing to a major for something like $175,000 and I was incredulous. What were they going to do with it all?” With the money Chris later earned from being in Nirvana, he bought a “modest house” in Seattle and a run-down 40-acre farm, three hours’ drive from the city. There are no phones out there and that’s just how he wants it.
At around the same time money began coming in, Chris started to have recurring dreams about being naked in public. “I guess the transition thing happened so fast.” Various interviews last year quoted him as saying he’d got into drink too heavily and had consequently given it up. “Not really, I’ve been pretty consistent with the drinking. I just made it through. I had to experience all kinds of feelings and stuff. Being famous, the band... but I came out of it a better person. Much stronger and more mature. I just worked things out, accepted things. I have a way of not dealing with things. I’ve got to work on that.” His wife helped him out, “just by being there to turn to, to be on your side – you need someone to crawl to”.
The only one crawling around on the studio roof is Frances Bean. Chris finishes his drink and, still concerned, asks once more: “If you’re sure I’m not too much of a hippy dippy...”
Nirvana arrive on stage. They open with Serve The Servants, the first song on In Utero. The opening words are very Kurt – “Teenage angst has paid off well / Now I’m bored and old.” The crowd, which is very male, very macho, get straight into mosh mania. Kurt later expresses his disgust at the high “meathead” quota, saying it’s not normally that gender imbalanced. The audience can’t seem to get enough of the succession of new material which opens the first part of the show. Familiar songs – Lithium, even Teen Spirit, which the band keep promising themselves they’ll never perform again – are greeted with increasing enthusiasm. At its best, this could be pure ’77 punk revisited. Big John, Kurt’s guitar roadie and former member of the fairly dismal British punk band the Exploited, joins in on guitar for a few numbers; this succeeds, but the cellist who comes on for the acoustic numbers at the end is lost somewhere in the system. The band, all seated, have been too ambitious with this idea; what could have been a curious side to Nirvana is too quiet to even hear.
After the gig, Kurt looks crap. His skin is blotchy and he looks as though all the energy’s been sapped out of him. When asked if he’s ready for the interview, he smiles weakly and says, “Yeah, sure.”
“I’m still totally narcissistic, I still hate the majority of the world. But not with as much venom as I used to. To hate that much is a matter of being naive. Maybe that negativity has to do with not being in love or being lonely or not having a child.” There’s a glimmer of a smile here. “Certain things just force you into being more positive and I’m really grateful for them. I got sick of myself, I was sick of myself for so many years. I was a punk rocker hating everybody. Sometimes, looking back on it, I couldn’t imagine what I was like to some people.”
It’s 1.30am. Kurt has had a shower and has come up to my hotel room, where MTV flickers silently in the comer. He lies on the bed, head propped up on two oversized pillows. He seems in a mellow mood. In two hours he moves only to visit the bathroom, to reach for another cigarette or to take a sip of Evian. He talks softly. He’s not keen on the backdrop of New York – “I hate this fucking city” – but says this is the first time he has had any fun talking to journalists. “I really, really enjoy doing every interview for this album ’cause I’ve things to talk about. I want to defend myself. All this bullshit which has been printed about us is reason enough for dialogue.” He laughs and draws hard on his cigarette. “I also have something to say about our album other than: ’Er... most of my lyrics are poems, you know.”’
“I had a shitty life ’til I was about 17”
Everything in Kurt (and Courtney’s) public and private life has been scrutinised under a magnifying glass. No escape. The heat of the spotlight may seem to have fucked Kurt up, but then he’ll tell you he was fucked up anyway. “I had a shitty life ’til I was about 17. I sat in my room for 90 per cent of the time. I’d go home after school, play my guitar and listen to music. The States seemed so big to me that I thought I’d never leave the region. At a younger age, everything seemed so simple and easy, I thought I could be President. By the age of nine, I pretty much gave up any idea of ever even surviving to the age of 21 because I felt so completely alienated. I probably alienated myself more than the other way round. I was always trying to find someone who liked art or music, but it was always sport.”
MTV’s only highlight begins its nightly slot. Beavis & Butthead is a colour cartoon which surpasses the dorky humour of Wayne’s World. It’s all about anti-social behaviour and bad manners, as exemplified by tasteless metalhead adolescents Beavis (in the Metallica T-shirt) and his bosom buddy Butthead (who favours AC/DC). Everything is “cool, dude”,’ they shop at Babes R Us, strum air guitars, talk over rock videos (including Nirvana’s) and massacre them. They’re super ugly and they don’t give a shit. The major cringe factor comes with their sick Muttley laughs. Kurt, who earlier dismissed MTV as “an advertisement station”, turns the volume up. “I have to admit, I like this. I think I’ve seen every episode.”
“I know so many people like that,” Kurt says, laughing at the cartoon’s inane humour. “I grew up with people like that. Literally. To the tee. I mean, carbon copies. I’ve sat on couches with people like that and smoked pot with them while they critiqued television shows for hours and hours.” If it was so unbearable, why subject yourself to it? “A lot of times, I put myself in those situations when I was buying marijuana. I had to be around people like that every once in a while while I was waiting for the marijuana to show. People like that are a majority in Aberdeen.”
Kurt felt as though he had something special to offer the world. Encouraged by his mother to paint – he spent his childhood travelling between his mum and dad’s after they got divorced – he decided to become a commercial artist, and won various awards before winning a scholarship to go to art school. “I knew I was better than anyone in my school but then I realised there were bigger schools, larger cities and people who were going to be a lot better than me. I lost interest. I quit school in the last month. I also didn’t want to go to college in Texas or New York, it was too frightening for me. And I realised I liked music a lot more.”
He dropped his abstract drawings, his “dreamland, stoner art” and soon after moved to nearby Olympia. The town had a few more things going for it than Aberdeen: a liberal college, a music scene centred around Calvin Johnson’s K Records label and regular punk gigs. “Living there taught me a lot. It was great, a really nice place to live. Then, after about four years, I had grown tired of it. I became just as depressed as I was in Aberdeen. I’d used up everything it had to offer.”
As he says earlier, Kurt Cobain’s wife and child keep him from teetering over the edge. But the self-destruct mechanism, the notorious heroin indulgences – how much has Kurt really changed in the year since Frances Bean was born? “It has completely changed my whole outlook on everything. I don’t know...” He drifts off. His eyes well up. “It’s nice to know that we can have the luxury of a nanny. It’s great that she’s never ignored. And she’s learning to have relationships with people.” I point out that she’s the antithesis of her parents, she’s so trusting. Kurt laughs. “When we were young, Courtney and I were both very trusting and naive. But we learned.” Would you have lost it somewhere along the way if you hadn’t had a child? “No, because I started to heal my negative attitude when we got married. Just finding a marriage partner, a soulmate, I never expected it to happen. I wasn’t nearly as self-destructive as has been sometimes reported. I was doing drugs for a while. But I knew that would get old as I’d done every other drug. Heroin was the last drug to tamper with.”
Kurt readily admits that he’s had problems with heroin; he even refers to himself as a junkie. “It’s a part of my life that I’m not too proud of. It’s been going on for years. Then I slowly decided not to self-destruct. I wasn’t familiar with what heroin does to people. I did it first in ’85/’86 in Aberdeen. I’d wanted to try it forever. I wanted to be a junkie for a few months after Nevermind and the tour. It was a really stupid idea. I didn’t understand how evil it is, how hard it is to get off it. It’s the most addictive thing I’ve ever tried. It’s an ongoing dilemma. I still have problems with it. This year I’ve fucked up a few times. But I’m not addicted anymore. I haven’t had any drug dealings for a long time. I couldn’t fool myself or anyone else that I won’t do it again; I’ll always be a junkie. I’ve had to excommunicate my drug-taking friends and focus on my family and my music.”
“I’m not in any way afraid of death”
Has experimenting with heroin made him feel more mortal? “That’s a weird question. I don’t know. I’ve never thought of that. I’m still not any more easily amused. I don’t know. There are certain privileges that I can use and I’m grateful for that.” Money or not, at the end of the day, do you still feel you can live forever? A long pause. Does he want a different question? “No. No, I like this question. But I don’t know the answer.” What about life after death? “Sure. I believe if you die you’re completely happy and your soul somehow lives on and there’s this positive energy. I’m not in any way afraid of death.” When did you start to think like that? “Oh, forever. For as long as I can remember.” He clears his throat. “I’m afraid of dying now, I don’t want to leave behind my wife and child, so I don’t do things that would jeopardise my life. I try and do as little things as I can to jeopardise it. I don’t want to die. I’ve been suicidal most of my life, I didn’t really care if I lived or died, and there were plenty of times when I wanted to die, but I never had the nerve to actually try it.” Why did you want to die? “Because everything was hopeless and I thought I knew everything when I was young.”
You can’t help feeling that no matter how rich or successful he is, no matter how much he loves and is loved by Courtney and Frances Bean, that Kurt Cobain will never find inner peace. Especially while he’s a rock star. He will always be leaning on the self-destruct button in a way that’s become almost masochistic. Like he’s been on the edge for so long that he’s addicted to hatred, misery and frustration. But then if he woke up happy and in control one day, he’d lose his touch of genius.
Kurt Cobain likes playing the flippant rock star. He calls Nevermind a fluke and doubts In Utero will sell as well unless Geffen gives it the same push. He claims that he never wanted to be famous in the first place. “I don’t give a fuck. So to put out music now is even easier ‘cause I’m not worried about it. I don’t think I was ever worried about reviews, except for in [indie rock ‘zine] Flipper. I’m so glad to put out this album now – it’s totally, exactly what we wanted to do. At least a handful of people will accept it and we’ll still be able to tour, even if we have to go back to clubs.”
Why so defensive? Being signed to a major label is at odds with his “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” punk ethic. He likes selling records and making money, but he won’t conform. And all the pre-release speculation about In Utero didn’t help. When their Geffen A&R heard the Steve Albini mixes, Kurt says, he thought it sounded terrible, he couldn’t listen to it, he didn’t like the songwriting. In short, he didn’t think there was much going for it. Kurt wanted to work with Albini because of his work with The Pixies and The Breeders but now has few good words for him. They remixed two songs with REM. producer Scott Litt and managed to “cure” the other tracks. The bad vibes may not have stopped the band from believing in the product, but they have been made to wonder if their importance in the music world will continue to be reflected by record sales.
Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman told Jeff Giles in the Newsweek article: “Nirvana ushered in a cultural revolution and made the Geffen company millions. If they want to make an album of hand claps, they have earned the right.” But Kurt, for all his defiance, admits that he’s beyond spiting everyone for making him famous. “I’m really glad we didn’t put out a purposefully bad record. I would’ve done it for sure a year ago, but now I’ve learned to ignore everything, all that celebrity thing.”
I tell Kurt that I was wandering around his hotel lobby for the past few days singing one of the tracks on In Utero before really realising what I was doing. Rape Me opens with the same chords as Teen Spirit and could be taken as a response to the immediate fame which the single brought. Kurt says it’s not. “I was so tired of talking about sexism in interviews. I realised that I’m not making a big enough impact. There are still macho meatheads in our audience. I dunno... if you want to say something, it has to be so direct and obvious that in a way it’s a mockery. That’s why I wrote an anti-rape song called Rape Me. It’s not poking fun at rape in any way, it’s poking fun at the way those issues have to be so obvious; to really succeed, you have to have simple facts on pieces of paper, you have to hand them out to each person who walks into your show.”
Although they performed the song on last year’s MTV Video Awards (it didn’t go down too well), Kurt says they’re not putting it out as a single. But even as an album track, who says people will see the mockery, especially if people are as stupid as he thinks they are? “It would’ve been harder if we put it out on Nevermind, but I think there have been enough articles for us to have got our message across... I can’t help feeling that everyone knows we’re anti-rape. I totally agree that it’s weird for you to be singing it. I have a problem with that too. You’re not the first to point it out... but it was out of desperation, that’s the only excuse I can come up with.”
He looks crushed, so we move on. He is mentally planning the video for Heart-Shaped Box. He wants William S Burroughs to do a cameo in it. They recently put out a record together, Kurt using the pseudonym (sort of) of “Kurtis Cobhaine”, but they didn’t meet up, or even speak on the phone. “I heard he really liked my lyrics, but I doubt he likes the music. It’s a real compliment, fuck yeah. It’s a total blessing. I don’t want him in our video just because of who he is. He’s also this really interesting-looking old man. I want to meet him too; I’d be nervous, but I’ve met other idols. I’ve met Iggy Pop. I’m supposed to be doing a record with him.” He stops short. “My God! Listen to me namedrop.”
The media have become so fixated with Kurt and Courtney – not only a Nineties Sid and Nancy, they observed, but a Lennon and Ono too – that the band now issue a statement to tell their side of things every couple of months. Last year Kurt did a cover story with The Advocate, America’s highest-profile gay magazine. In the Q&A he talked about hanging out with gay guys at high school, sometimes pretending to be gay himself to wind up the Beavis and Butthead types and how, had he not met Courtney, he would have continued a “bisexual lifestyle”. He got a great response from those who read the interview. But? “But the AP Wire reported it and twisted the words, saying I was a practising bisexual, that Courtney didn’t mind ’cause we have an open relationship. Everyone gets their news from AP Wire – even MTV, so we had to release a statement.”
“I have no respect for the English people”
More recently the English music press quoted from a new, authorised biography by Rolling Stone journalist Michael Azzerad: “I have no respect for the English people.” Kurt denies having been that general: “I meant I hated English journalists.” In this, he doubtlessly includes Victoria Clarke and Britt Collins, who wanted to call their unofficial biography after the Nirvana T-shirt which said: “Flower-sniffin’; kitty-pettin’; baby-kissin’ corporate rock whores”. The couple’s investigations into Nirvana got too detailed, too inquisitive, thought Kurt and Courtney, who finally lost their cool. Last October, Clarke played a message of her answering machine to publications from Select to The Independent. It was Kurt Cobain, saying he could have her “snuffed out” but would “try the legal way first”.
Since then, no one has been quite sure if the book’s actually coming out. “Their publishers are so afraid we’re gonna sue them that we received a copy of the book yesterday to proofread. We get to edit anything we want.” Kurt laughs at the absurdity of this, but his face is weary rather than gleeful. “I guess we’ve done a pretty good job of scaring them.” At the time of going to press, the book had no publishers. “It’s not been finally decided yet,” said Clarke and Collins’ agent. Will it definitely go ahead? “We hope so.” A proof of the book shows they’ve kept the working title, even though Nirvana insist it is their copyright.
The concluding word in the epilogue is dedicated to anyone considering a career as a rock biographer – “Don’t”. The biography is as you might expect it to be: a detailed look at Nirvana, their rise to success, their foibles, lots of quotes from interviews and a whole section on Courtney Love. The most bizarre part is the chapter entitled Load Up On And Kill Your Friends, which attempts to sidestep possible legal proceedings by taking the form of a “Pinteresque comedy in three acts, on the drama, the dilemma and absurdity of being a rock star.” A jumble of disparate quotes stitched together, it is both intentionally and unintentionally comical.
A few months ago everyone was talking about Kurt’s spell in jail. “Obviously Courtney and I have had lots of times to figure our story outright. We were playing loud music, the neighbours called the cops. The cops were totally friendly and treated me with a lot of respect – they didn’t even figure out who I was ‘til they took me to the police station. They said one of us had to go to jail, some new Seattle law about domestic violence.”
“Courtney and I started arguing about who was gonna go to jail. I have to admit I was rather drunk – I get drunk easily – and I don’t remember the whole chain of events. We got into a scuffle, Courtney was wearing a choker and I ripped it off because she threw juice in my face. She did that ’cause we were yelling at each other. It turned into a domestic fight in front of the cops. They asked out of the blue if there were any guns in the house. I said no, but Courtney thought she’d co-operate and said: ’Yeah, they’re upstairs in the closet put away safely, with no bullets in them.’ So they confiscated my three fuckin’ guns. The police report came out as us fighting over guns, me assaulting her with a gun and trying to choke her. The last thing I want to be thought of as is a wife choker. It’s just another perfect example of how cursed we are.”