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Kurt and Courtney Sitting In A Tree
by Christina Kelly
from Sassy magazine, April 1992
It's 1:00 PM and I've been sitting in this East Village restaurant since noon, waiting for Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Hole's Courtney Love to arrive for our interview. On this particular rainy afternoon Nirvana has the number-one record in the country, the awesome Nevermind, which has sold, like, three million copies. The album was their first major label; their debut, Bleach, was released on Sub-Pop back in 1989 and sold only 50,000 back when they were just a northwest punk trio with an underground following. Their sudden, massive and shocking success has made the band sought after by media all over the world. And the anti-mainstream Kurt has blown off everyone from Rolling Stone to the New York Times. Also, at this time, all kinds of major labels are trying to woo Hole (the foxcore band whose drummer was included in our February piece on girl drummers) away from Caroline, which released their first record, Pretty On The Inside. I should be worried that they're not going to make it to this interview, but I've been told that Kurt and Courtney are both Sassy readers, and I just know they're going to show up.
As I'm assuring the waiter again that the rest of my party will be here any minute, Kurt and Courtney walk in the door. I wave, and they come over to my table, apologizing for being late. Courtney's in this cool black mini-dress, a fuzzy old sweater and brown vintage pumps. She keeps playing with her bleached hair, covering her face with it and making it stand up and stuff. Courtney says she's 24, but I think she could be older. She's not classically pretty, but wears her offbeat look well. Kurt, who probably really is 24, is very cute, with incredibly blue eyes which are set off nicely by his pink streaked hair. However, he is so skinny that I would like to force-feed him a solid meal. He's wearing disintegrating jeans and a cardigan over an ancient Flipper (the band, not the TV show) t-shirt. His black sneakers have holes in them. "He's got the number-one record," says Courtney, in her scratchy voice, "and he only has one pair of shoes."
I mention that I saw their engagement announced on MTV when Nirvana's video was number-one. Says Kurt, "It was embarrassing, but it was also kind of neat." Courtney says, "I thought it was kind of dorky." She's wearing an engagement ring, circa 1906, with a ruby or something in the middle. Kurt has one too, an ornate band. "Sorry about this zit," she says pointing to her cheek. "Zits are beauty marks," says Kurt.
Kurt has a very sweet way about him, almost shy. He'll sit there and not talk, but not in a hostile way- besides, it's hard for anyone, even me, to get a word in edgewise with the loquacious Miss Courtney. But he'll definitely answer any question. I ask how they met. "I say him play in Portland in 1988," says Courtney. "I'm from Eugene. I thought he was really passionate and cute, but I couldn't tell if he was smart, or had any integrity. And then I met him at a show about a year, or something, ago." "Butthole Surfers," says Kurt. "And L7," adds Courtney, "I really pursued him, not too aggressive, but aggressive enough that some girls would have been embarrassed by it. I'm direct. That can scare a lot of boys. Like, when I got Kurt's number when they were on tour, and I would call him. And I would do interviews with people who I knew who were going to do interview Nirvana, and I would tell them I had a crush on Kurt. Kurt was scared of me. He said he didn't have time to deal with me. But I knew it was inevitable." Kurt adds, "I would just like to say I liked Courtney a lot. I wasn't ignoring her. I didn't mean to play hard to get. I just didn't have the time, I had so many things on my mind." "He had to write a hit record," says Courtney.
The turning point for their relationship was last September. Courtney was meeting with a record company exec. "He said to me, 'What do you want? I can make you a big star,'" says Courtney, whose band is based in L.A. "And I said, 'I want to see Nirvana in Chicago.' So he got on the phone and spent, like, $1000 and bought me a ticket and I went. And that is when we got together."
Before you knew it, they were boyfriend and girlfriend. And now they're planning to get married as soon as possible (maybe by the time you read this), both wearing dresses. Kurt likes wearing dresses because they are comfortable and he says he looks best in baby-dolls with flowers on them. "In the last couple of months," says Kurt, "I've gotten engaged and my attitude has changed drastically, and I can't believe how much happier I am. At times I even forget that I'm in a band, I'm so blinded by love. I know that sounds embarrassing, but it's true. I could give up the band right now. It doesn't matter, but I'm under contract." What a wonderfully sweet thing to say. I can't believe it when Courtney tells me that a friend of hers called her up in Europe and told her not to go out with Kurt: "She told me, 'What you're doing is culturally important and you'll just get swallowed up by going out with Kurt.'"
Courtney continues: "We get attention for our relationship, but if we didn't have bands, no one would care. I mean, the reason we're doing interviews is girls have been trained to look up to rock star boys as these... objects. They grow up their whole lives with horses or rock stars on their walls. For me, I didn't want to marry a rock star, I wanted to be one. I had a feminist hippie mom, and she told me I could do whatever I wanted to do. But a lot of girls think that to go out with somebody who's cool or successful, they have to be pretty and submissive and quiet. They can't be loud and obnoxious like me, and they can't have their own thing."
Courtney clearly wants to be a huge rock star in her own right. She doesn't want to be perceived as glomming on Kurt's success. And she seems a little paranoid- probably with good reason- that people will think that she is.
Like, when I ask if they plan to tour together, Kurt is totally normal about it. "I know that when we were on tour, we wished we were playing all our shows together," he says. "I spend so much money on phone calls. The next time we go on tour, we're going to go together." But Courtney quickly interjects: "That has to do with my band being on a level where we should go on tour with his band. Otherwise, I wouldn't do it. I would rather die than go on tour with someone just because I go out with them.
"It's cool to go out with someone that you know you would go out with if you were a waitress and they worked at a gas station- you can really get paranoid in music because you never know why people like you." Courtney's boyfriends are usually in bands. Kurt doesn't always have musician girlfriends, although he did go out with Tobi Vail, the drummer in Bikini Kill. He even tells me that they want to record some songs they co-wrote when they were together. He and Courtney want to collaborate too.
Courtney has interesting things to say about girls in rock. "I kind of don't think it's enough at this point for girls to start a band, and be punk," she says. "There aren't many girls right now who write really good songs. I wanna write as good as Charles from the Pixies, or Kurt, or Neil Young. It seems like girls always concentrate on lyrics. I read in Sassy about how girls get discouraged from math, and I think that affects songwriting, because math is a big part of arranging songs in your head."
I ask Kurt how being in love will affect his songwriting. "My songs have always been frustrating themes, relationships that I've had," he says. "And now that I'm in love, I expect it to be really happy, or at least there won't be half as much anger as there was. I'm just so overwhelmed by the fact that I'm in love on this scale, I don't know how my music's going to change. But I'm looking forward to it. I love change. All the bands that I respect the most have changed with every album. I can't stand to hear the same format, where after three or four albums you know exactly what to expect. That's boring, and that's why bands lose their audience.
Courtney adds: "It's a lot harder to write about sunshine and make it interesting. I'll always have certain amounts of anger about social things, about my life. I think that a lot of the reason people like both our bands is because of the anger of involved. His band always had prettier songs too, but I was scared of pretty songs. Because my first band was all 12 string Rickenbacher, three girls, no drummer, I got accused of being wimpy, and I got a really big chip on my shoulder about it."
Courtney shifts conversational gears a lot and now she brings up the house they're going to buy in Seattle. "It's really beautiful," she says. "It's Victorian. And my favorite thing to think about while we're doing major label meetings and stuff is what color we're going to paint the walls. I want to have a baby really bad, but I want to be able to afford it myself. I want my own money. I couldn't imagine marrying someone with money and then living off of them." Kurt on the baby possibility: "I just want to situated and secure. I want to make sure we have a house, and make sure we have money saved up in the bank."
With Nirvana's material success, I doubt that will be a problem. Speaking of which, alternative rock fans have a way of slagging their favorite bands once they become famous. Are people just jealous? "I'd be really egotistical to admit that, but I can't help but feel that way once and a while," Kurt says. "The other day I was driving around L.A. listening to a college station. They were playing a lot of my favorite bands, like Flipper and The Melvins. So I started saying to myself, This is great. And then the DJ came on and went on this half-hour rant about how Nirvana is so obviously business oriented and just because we have colored hair doesn't mean we're alternative. And I felt really terrible. Because there is nothing in the world I like more than pure underground music. And to be shunned by this claim that just because you are playing the corporate game you are not honest! You use [the corporate ogre] to your advantage. You fight them by joining them."
It is now time for Kurt to go to MTV, where Nirvana will tape five videos that will be played in regular rotation. And Courtney has an appointment with Charisma Records. But first we go outside for some photos. They sit on the sidewalk and Courtney kisses Kurt, smearing lipstick on his face. It's looking very Sid and Nancy (Courtney, by the way, has a small part in the 1986 movie). Kurt asks Janet, Hole's publicist, to give him a copy of their album. "This is the man I'm going to marry," says Courtney, "and he still hasn't heard my entire album." Then a yuppie couple walk by and ask to photographed with Kurt. "Who were those people?" I ask. "Christina," says Courtney, "everyone has the Nirvana album. Everyone." I guess so, because the guy with the camera was wearing a bolo tie.
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