The Boys Are Back In Town
Alternative Press, October, 1993
PAGE: 4 | back
No less than "Teen Spirit" rewriting the Top-40 rule book, the pregnancy of Mrs. Cobain-Courtney Love-was also a defining moment in American cultural history. In the war of self-mythologizing words which is waged between Star and Star-spotters, the gloves have been taken off many times before, and both sides bear the financial scars. But Kurt 'n' Courtney aren't Roseanne and Oprah, and were neither equipped, expecting, nor, in truth, even worthy of the firestorm dumped at their doorstep, the moment news broke of the forthcoming birth.
The pictures of crippled crack babies which accompanied reports on the expectant mother; the bellowed revelations of the couple's drug use, and the living hell it could wreak on the unborn child; the suggestions that before she'd even had the kid, Love was an unfit mother-all this had nothing to do with rock 'n' roll, nothing to do with stardom, and nothing to do with concern for the baby. It was gutter journalism with the sewers overflowing.
But when Cobain contacted Geffen to see if some screws could be tightened, or some heavies sent 'round to kick tabloid butt, "I found that David didn't do things that way," he says. "We just had to weather the storm." Weather it, and watch while Nirvana's public profile slipped even deeper into the abyss.
Is it any wonder that one of the most affecting cuts on In Utero is called "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle." Not only is the song ostensibly a lament for the pre-war Hollywood actress who was forced into retirement by illhealth, but also an indictment of the selfappointed star machinery which brought on her sickness in the first place-and which is still going strong today. Kurt Cobain, too, might one day need to take his revenge...
Ten months out of the business have done little to rehabilitate Nirvana; if anything, the passing of time has strengthened the mettle of those who would lead the backlash. Grohl sniggers as he says it, but he knows it's horribly true. "We really are the band people love to hate."
Part of it is over-use; the crankier the band members got, the more public speeches they were forced to give. Part of it, too, is familiarity. Two years ago, Nevermind sounded the clarion call to arms, redefining the market's understanding of what is and isn't "commercial." But while others hopped the bandwagon all the way to the bank, Nirvana sulked and pouted, and stuck out Insecticide, a Frank Zappa-like Beat the Boots compilation of warm-ups and left-overs.
But most of all, it's fear; fear that, love them or loathe them, Nirvana are genuinely capable of living up to the promises which have been made in their name. They may not do it this week; they may not even do it this year-they are still developing, and though all three musicians insist that the only pressures brought to in Utero were those they applied themselves, there's no denying that the Nevermind hoopla has stunted their growth a little-or at least, given some of the latest song titles their maturity.
"Rape Me" might be amongst the best songs in their set, but unless they change its title soon, it ain't gonna get much radio play-a sorry fate for a serious subject, and one which Cobaln should have realized himself. "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," too, seems doomed to be hoisted on its own sneering petard and again, that's a shame.
But Cobain remains optimistic, confident that Nirvana can rise above both reputation and expectation. He talks excitedly of introducing a short acoustic set into the live show, "because people seem to miss the fact that not all our songs are shrieking punk-rock monsters."
He has stepped out of the band set up to record with William Burroughs ("The 'Priest' They Called Him" on Tim Kerr Records), and while Grohl-half-jokingly, half-resignedly-remarks that Nirvana is essentially the end of his life, that "I could be 43 and an English teacher, and I'd still be Nirvana's drummer." For Cobain, this is only the start.
It takes the boozy bellowing of a couple of flannel-wrapped headbangers to bring him back to earth, and he stares for a moment in horrified fascination. I wonder if he's thinking the same thing as me...
As we were driving to the restaurant, the radio reported a French medical survey which suggests that hemorrhoid sufferers are more dangerous drivers than drunks. A study of the motorists who caused major accidents revealed that While 32 percent had been drinking, 67 percent had hemorrhoids.
"What they don't say," Cobain observes, "is how many of the drunks had hemorrhoids, and what can be done to stop them driving. Imagine having to spend every day looking at assholes!"
Remembering Cobain's Incesticide liner notes, and the " wastes of sperm" who raped a girl while singing Nirvana's "Polly"; remembering, too, Novoselic's disgust when he realized "there are people buying our records who actually supported the Gulf War"; then looking across at the metalheads opposite, lost in their world of dudes-who-rock and chicks-who-ball, it suddenly dawns on me that that's exactly what Nirvana do. They spend every day looking at assholes. And maybe that's what makes them so crazy.
"I know you can't pick your audience," Cobain mutters. "But I'd rather not have one than be stuck with people whose very existence goes against everything I believe in."
Slightly paraphrased, the lyrics to his own "in Bloom" come to mind: "They're the ones who like all the pretty songs, and they like to sing along ... but they know not what it means..."
"They really don't, do they?
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