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"STATION TO DEVASTATION: NIRVANA" by everett true
first featured in melody maker, november 1991
it ends with a knock on my door at eight in the morning.
Two obscenely aggressive security men storm into my hotel room, wanting to know if i'm hiding a phone anywhere. Seems one went missing the previous night after kurt from nirvana took an exception to a painting hanging in chris' room and threw it out the window. Shelves, tables, sheets, glasses, mirrors followed - and then, a quick trip to kurt's room for more of the same. The televisions stayed, however [have you ever tried lifting one of those fuckers?]. all of this culminated in a rather prompt departure from washington dc the next morning, before the journalist even manages to rise.
My clothes are covered in vomit, someone's using the back of my head as a pinball machine, there's a barbecue happening at the end of my bed and the rats in the back alley are so fat and complacent you can use them as footballs. Just another day on the road with nirvana.
Two days earlier, monty, nirvana's long-suffering tour manager, was picked up for questioning by police in pittsburgh at two in the morning [just after david letterman.] the show earlier that night had ended with some harsh words spoken between band and club and later someone attempted to set the place alight - piling up cushions, seat covers and carpets in the dressing room downstairs and dousing them in petrol - and The Man figured nirvana might know something about it.
"that was a classic case of coked-out pittsburgh mafioso promotion," kurt assures me later. "that club was the type of place that would have john cafferty and the beaver brown band. What's rock'n'roll to them?"
nirvana had nothing to do with it: not this time. Kurt had merely smashed some bottles in the toilet and thrown a couple of things around. But, fair do's, nirvana have certainly been responsible for their fair share of trouble in the past.
"when we were in europe," says kurt cobain nirvana's charismatic and perpetually tired singer, backstage at a club, "we nearly set the tour van alight." Around us, various members of the nirvana entourage, including drummer dave grohl and his cool mum, chow down on pizza.
"you see, no-one knows it, but those sonic youth kids, they're wild," he continues gleefully. "they were instigating violence and terrorism throughout the entire european festival tour. Their manager, also. He antagonizes people and leaves us to take the rap, beating us up, tearing our pants, conking chris over the head with a bottle, turning beetroot red when he's drunk. He's wild."
Kurt is one of those people for whom the "butter wouldn't melt in his mouth" catchphrase was invented. He looks angelic. Yet last time i saw him, backstage at reading, he had one arm in a sling after leaping backwards into dave's drum kit, and the previous time, his manager was sent a bill for god knows how much, after the band completely destroyed an LA apartment.
Yes, nirvana like to wreck stuff: chris usually finishes a set by throwing his bass 20 feet into the air [and occasionally catching it.] in pittsburgh, kurt rammed his guitar straight into the snare drum out of sheer frustration, in DC, he ran off the stage ten minutes before the end to take a breather it was so damn hot, before rushing back to destroy the drums. New york's Marquee was blessed with an encore that was just bass, drums and kurt screaming melodically from somewhere in the audience, he'd fucked up his guitars so bad - and it still sounded as if there were six guitars playing.
Nirvana have a $750 equipment allowance per week.
Nevermind is the best album i have ever heard. All i have to do is hear the opening strummed accoustic chords of "polly" or the all-out melodic, self-centred attack of "on a plain" and my mind flips. One note from kurt's twisted, tortured, magical scream on "stay away" and my heart beats at my chest and makes a try for the heavens. Works every time. Meanwhile, back in the real world...
"yeah, i lit the curtains in our tour van on fire while we were doing an interview," kurt says. "this was a few hours after some other destruction. This representative for MCA gave us a gift, a wastepaper basket full of candy and magazines, with a little note welcoming us to germany.
"the gift had been in our dressing room for two ours, while we'd been doing our set and eating dinner. During this time, kim gordon found it and wrote "fuck you" underneath the woman's signature on the note. So we saw this and thought, 'gee, that's kinda peculiar, but we can make good use of the sweets.' "
kurt is a complete candy freak. Does anyone else buy those little wax bottles you drink about 1cc of pop out of?
"so we met the rep, thanked her and chris proceeded to get drunker and drunker," he continues. "he shot off a fire extinguisher, ripped up the magazines and threw the candy all over the place and destroyed the whole room, as well as sonic youth's. classic rock and roll angst."
So the band went outside, the MCA woman came back, saw the note, assumed nirvana had written it and threw a fit, threatening to drop them from the label.
"by this time," kurt goes on, "we'd been doing interviews in the van for about an hour and i lit the curtains on fire, and we opened the door and this cloud of smoke went into her face. She thought we'd set the van on fire. The rumours were a bit exaggerated when they finally got back to MCA to the extent that we'd assaulted the woman, destroyed the club, and completely burnt out our van."
Rock'n'roll, eh kids? There ain't nothing like the real thing.
The left-handed singer/guitarist then tells me about another time in belgium where they swapped round all the nametags in the chic cafeteria tent, so the party of 12 ramones and friends ended up sitting at a table for four. And shane macgowen was left on his own.
"he was being spoon-fed gerbers baby food because he couldn't chew," comments chris maliciously. "so we gave him a plate of apples."
Time for a question. Do you provide an alternative to heavy metal?
"oh, we've been called an alternative band before," kurt sneers. "but we eat meat so i think we're disqualified: chili dogs, corn dogs, jimmy dean sausage breakfast."
"when i first joined the band," dave comments, "i was living on kurt's couch and there was a 24/7 convenience store right down the road, where you could get three corn dogs for 99 cents. I lived on them for a year."
"it kept him regular too," kurt adds. "i knew when to avoid the bathroom - 9 in the morning and 12 at night. He had to walk through my bedroom to get to the bathroom."
"that's right," chris agrees. "i actually took a shit in your backyard once, because i didn't want to stink up your whole house."
I ask kurt if he's developing a rock star complex. It seems like an appropriate question.
"we talked about that," he replies. "i can't remember what i said."
You were saying sometimes you can't work out what the matter is...
"what did i say? Can you remember?" he asks, sounding like courtney love momentarily.
"it's something to do with wanting to weed out certain elements of your audience.
"that's true," kurt confirms. "the people who scream "naked of creed" throughout the entire show, even after we've played it, and who talk really loud during "polly." Like last night, that exact type of people were the ones yelling "sellout" after we played because we didn't do an encore. But what could be more rock than that?"
we also had a conversation a few days earlier, in that weird street in philadelphia where every other building was a witchcraft store, where you said making music means little to you anymore.
"that's partly true," kurt replies. "that's because if we ever had any conscious goals, we've already gone past them. We now have guaranteed distribution, we've gone up to a pretty high level on the underground circuit and that's all we ever wanted."
"we're not proud of the fact that there are a bunch of guns'n'roses kids who are into our music. we don't feel comfortable progressing, playing larger venues."
we're talking your classic middle-class liberal guilt complex here, right?
"what?" asks dave, affronted.
"the only guilt that i have is that i'm bumming other people's fun," kurt explains. "i'm not pleasant to be around in those situations and i'm concerned that my band mates might be having a bad time."
Why are you doing this right now?
"because i'm under contract," the singer responds. "because i'm in fear of having to go to court if i were to leave the band."
What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?
"i'd be a street musician, definetly. That's my goal in life."
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