Love Will Tear Us Apart
New Musical Express, August 29 1992
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"You're probably right."
Chris and Steve Double are talking cameras, the bassman's current pet hobby, while Dave dispenses beers and chats to Anton, Nirvana's UK press guy. Courtney Love, meanwhile, is sounding off to anyone within earshot about Stefanie Sargent. For the record, Courtney's current reading material is 12 Days On The Road, the recently published account of the Sex Pistols' fatal American tour.
"People say she was a junkie but how do they know that? I mean, I don't think if you do it once or twice it means you're hooked, that's not a junkie. And if you have someone with you, too, that's good. She was alone, though, you know that? Still, it's sooo rock."
Spend two days in tour fatigues with this new, arena-compatible Nirvana production machine - "I don't know the names of most of the crew," admits Dave - and it dawns on you that the overriding issue here is not that Kurt Cobain is on heroin (or isn't , or was, or is and is trying to get off but that his wife is a Grade A pain in the arse.
She seems almost universally disliked. "The Wicked Witch Of The West," is one crew member's assessment, while someone else refers to Kurt being a nice guy BC - "before Courtney ". Any impression of calm and harmony is down to the fact that everyone close to the band has obviously passed the Krypton Factor-sponsored How To Tolerate Courtney test. Chris and Shelli simply ignore her. The irrepressible Dave alternates that approach with some impressive mimic routines. During the Valencia show, Courtney is sitting on the stage, near Grohl's kit. "Courtney!" he screams in mock petulance, "Get the f- off my stage! " It's just the sort of thing Courtney would say.
A recent addition to the Nirvana entourage is janet Billig, who looked after Hole's affairs in her previous employ at Caroline Records. Her role on this tour is like a cross between wet nurse and human sponge, indulging whims and soaking up all of Courtney's excess bullshit.
One of the reasons for her unpopularity could be because right now she - and only she - has the full confidence of Kurt Cobain, the man without whom Nirvana can't function. As demonstrated by their regal entrance prior to the Madrid show, Courtney is only too well aware of this. For much of that day, everything is put on hold - Nirvana's soundcheck, interviews, the NME picture -session, Teenage Fanclub's soundcheck, everything -because Kurt isn't around, still holed up with the missus back at the hotel. Anton repeatedly tries to speak to him but, on the one occasion when the phone gets picked up, Courtney yells "He's asleep! " and slams it down again. Eventually she lets Anton talk to Kurt, who seems unaware of all the fuss. After four hours of waiting, Steve gets a 15 minute photo-shoot. There is no Nirvana soundcheck.
The Fanclub's Gerry Love casts Nirvana's hassled tour manager Alex a sympathetic look.
"There is no way," he states firmly, "we're ever gonna let it end up like this."
WHETHER HEROIN is at the root of this unreliability I don't know for sure, nor am I about to proscribe the freedom - or is that stupidity - of anyone to take whatever substance they choose to take, be it alcohol, tobacco, heroin or carpet cleaner. But the fact is that Courtney's dealing the hand of an unborn baby as well as her own. The health of I little Frances Bean Cobain is the X factor that elevates all this second-hand scandal into something a whole lot scarier, something much more important. She doesn't have a choice.
The most recent scare story concerning Nirvana involves Courtney being admitted to hospital in Bilbao - Nirvana's final port of call before heading back to the US - having damaged her womb. She is advised to stay there for five days but insists on going back with the band. Then Kurt has to shell out a considerable amount of money, maybe $25,000, for the first class plane seats so that Courtney can fly home lying down and a specially appointed ambulance to pick her tip at LA airport.
OK, another story, another rumour, but who'd take the trouble to make this stuff up? This is serious shit, and it's no wonder some people are freaking out and saying Reading will be it. Game Over. The End.
And all because this cool band sells a supertanker load of records! That's the disconcertingly prosaic truth of the matter. In Spain, about the only times when things got put in this much perspective were when Nirvana were actually playing - Madrid was still below-par, frenzy-wise, but a thrilling experience purely because the audience was so enthused by it all - and when I finally interviewed Dave, Chris and Kurt. Away from the panic, the waiting, the torn-up schedules, hell, it seemed almost like old times, almost normal.
"Petty tour drama can be an ordeal," considers Dave. "People have tantrums, people's tempers flare- But I can block everything out. I'm not really an emotional person at all, just because I'd rather ignore emotion than confront it, so when it comes down to really heavy shit it kinda just breezes right by me. I don't really want to get involved in anyone else's problems and I don't want to be the cause of anyone else's, so I just lay low. I think maybe that's what'll keep me sane through this whole trip."
What causes the madness?
"Just constant gratification is unhealthy for anybody, y'know? This is why you've got people like Michael Jackson and AxI Rose, Insane Rock Star A or B, because they're constantly being pampered. I've tried to keep some level of consideration for everybody through this whole thing. I don't like to have people do stuff for me. I don't like to have runners go out and get me meals, I don't like to call down to room service and ask them to bring me up some cigarettes - it's just not normal. That's the kind of thing that will get to you and make a difference in eight months of being in a popular band with a lot of money. It's gross."
Dave's closest brush with a total gratification zone came when he met Bono on U2's recent American tour.
"F__in' asshole! It was such a bummer 'cos when I was 13 I thought 'War' was a great album! He reeks of rock-star-ness, he was not a human being. He wanted us to open up for them on tour, and I said, 'No, that's not what we're into'. And he was saying,'You owe it to the audience, you've got to take that next step.' And I said 'I don't wanna take that next step!' He was desperately trying to make a connection. 'Do you like the blues?' 'No'. 'Do you like gospel?' 'Er, no, not really.' 'So what kind of music do you listen to?" Punk f__in' rock, man!' And then of course he tells me about punk rock and he was there and he was the meaning of punk rock. After meeting that guy it made me wanna give up being in a rock'n' roll band."
Chris Novoselic reckons he's got his priorities sorted. After this tour's finished, he's off to Croatia to see his family, who live in Zadar, about 250 miles up the coast from Dubrovnik.
"I try to have humility about things, just be for real. 'Cos all of this is fabricated. People, they build these institutions like governments or rock bands or anything, and reality is distorted. Some people are worried about eating and here we are off on this whole rock'n'roll circus. I have to take it with a grain of salt."
Has it changed the way you feel about Dave and Kurt?
"No, it's pretty much the same as it always was, just pretty laid-back. We spent some time away from each other just to do our own things, but we're looking forward to getting back to how things were, lock ourselves away and work. Our new record's just gotta sound different I've been on this big rant lately of how transition is natural, continental drift, the seasons, the weather's different every day, people grow older and change.... When I think of 'Nevermind' now I think of interviews and being famous. Now I'm focusing on this new record and not even considering anything that's happened, and maybe we can come out absolved. "
"I see this as such a rite of passage - you get signed to a major, you get money, you go into the studio, a big 24-track hubbub, either it sells or it doesn't. And ours sold, but that's all behind us now. All the records we've sold have given us the power to do whatever we want."
Is he worried about Kurt?
"You hear all the rumours. just media bullshit. You gotta have a good story."
But there's usually no smoke without fire.
"Yeah." Silence. "Yessirree." A sigh. "And after the fire, the fire still burns. ... But there's freedom of speech. What if you walked into a crowded theatre and yelled 'Fire!' Is that freedom of speech?"
I should hope so. Sometimes there ' s an excess of freedom.
"Yeah there is, isn't there? People lose perspective on things. Which is really easy to do in artificial environments. You just accept it. Today I'm here in Madrid and that's just what's goin' on. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. This is my reality, it's what I have to do."
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