The Last Interview
Frontline: Nirvana has become a "Big Rock Story", but the music still seems to be the most important part of that story. Your music offers the simple, powerful rock n'roll thrill that so many other bands seem to have a hard time delivering. How proud are you of Nirvana's work?
From Frontline magazine,
reprinted in Teen Spirit: The Stories Behind Every Nirvana Song
Conducted by Chuck Chrisafulli, February 1994
Kurt Cobain: It's interesting, because while there's a certain selfish gratification in having any number of people buy your records and come to see you play, none of that holds a candle to simply hearing a song that I've written played by a band. I'm not talking about radio or MTV. I just really like playing these songs with a good drummer and a bass player. Next to my wife and daughter, there's nothing that brings me more pleasure.
I'm extremely proud of what we've accomplished together. Having said that, however, I don't know how long we can continue as Nirvana without a radical shift in direction. I have lots of ideas and musical ambitions that have nothing to do with this mass conception of "grunge" that has been force fed to the record-buying public for the past few years. Whether I will be able to do everything I want to do as part of Nirvana remains to be seen. To be fair, I also know that both Krist and Dave have musical ideas that may not work within the context of Nirvana. We're all tired of being labeled. You can't imagine how stifling it is.
You've made it clear that you're not particularly comfortable with being a "Rock Star", but one of the things that tracks like 'Heart-Shaped Box' and 'Pennyroyal Tea' on In Utero make clear is that you're certainly a gifted song writer. You may have a tough job sometimes, but has the writing process continued to be pleasurable and satisfying to you?
I think it becomes less pleasurable and satisfying when I think of it in terms of being part of my "job." Writing is the one part that is not a job, it's expression. Photo shoots, interviews... that's the real job part.
You're a very passionate performer. Do you find yourself re-experiencing the tenderness and the rage in your songs when you perform them?
That's tough because the real core of any tenderness or rage is tapped the very second that a song is written. In a sense, I'm only re-creating the purity of that particular emotion every time I play that particular song. While it gets easier to summon those emotions with experience, it's sort of dishonesty in that you can never recapture the emotion of a song completely each time you play it. Real "performing" implies a sort of acting that I've always tried to avoid.
It be a very odd feeling for Nirvana to be performing in sports arenas these days. How do you get along with the crowds you're attracting now?
Much better than I used to. When we first started to get successful, I was extremely judgmental of the people in the audience. I held each of them to a sort of punk-rock ethos. It upset me that we were attracting and entertaining the very people that a lot of my music was a reaction against. I've since become much better at accepting people for who they are. Regardless of who they were before they came to the show, I got a few hours to try to subvert the way they view the world. It's not that I'm trying to dictate, it's just that I am afforded a certain platform on which I can express my views. At the very least, I always get the last word.
There's a great deal of craft in your songs, but you also seem to enjoy the thrill of simply cranking up and electric guitar. Is playing guitar a pleasure for you, or do you battle with the instrument?
The battle is the pleasure. I'm the anti-guitar hero- I can barely play the thing myself. I'm the first to admit I'm no virtuoso. I can't play like Segovia. The flip side of that is that Segovia could probably never have played like me.
With Pat Smear playing guitar in the touring line-up, has your approach to the instrument changed much? Is it easier to enjoy playing live with an extra pair of guitar-hands helping you out?
Pat has worked out great from day one. In addition to being one of my closest friends, Pat has found a niche in our music that compliments what was already there, without forcing any major changes. While I don't see myself ever becoming Mick Jaggar, having Pat on stage has freed me to spend more time concentrating on my connection with the audience. I've become more of a showman- well, maybe that's going too far. Let's just say that having Pat to hold down the rhythm allows me to concentrate on the performance as a whole. I think it's improved our live show 100%.
On In Utero, and in concert, you play some of the most powerful "anti-solos" ever hacked out of a guitar. What comes to mind when it's time for the guitar to cut loose?
Less than you could ever imagine.
Krist and Dave do a great job of helping to bring your songs to life. How would you describe the role of each player, including yourself, in the Nirvana sound?
While I can do a lot by switching channels on my amp, it's Dave who really brings the physicality to the dynamics in our songs. Krist is a great at keeping everything going along at some kind of an even keel. I'm just the folk-singer in the middle.
Aside from interviews, what are the biggest drags for you these days?
Being apart from my family for months at a time. Having people feed me fine French meals when all I want is macaroni and cheese. Being seen as unapproachable when I used to just be called shy. Did I mention interviews?
Nevermind changed your life in a big way, but having Courtney and Frances Bean around must help you keep things in perspective. How much do you enjoy being a family man?
It's more important than anything else in the world. Playing music is what I do- my family is what I am. When everybody's forgotten about Nirvana and I'm on some revival tour opening for the Temptations and the Four Tops, Frances Bean will still be my daughter and Courtney will still be my wife. That means more than anything to me.