by Jonathan Poneman
from Spin, December 1992
Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love have weathered a media storm this year, fueled by rumors of the couple's prenatal indulgences. Longtime friend Jonathan Poneman finds them hopelessly addicted to their baby, Frances Bean Cobain, the nearly nine-pound daughter of punkdom's premier couple, is an exceptionally beautiful, robust baby.
Surprised? If tales of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love's drug-addled recklessness are taken at face value, the radiance of Baby Frances could be explained only by divine intervention. So while gossip merchants trawl for muck, allow me to impart the-pardon the expression-real dope. I've known Kurt and Courtney for years. I knew them thorough their respective bands, Nirvana and Hole, before they knew each other. Never have I seen them look healthier. As a curmudgeonly reporter, I detect excessive attention and doting on the child, with Kurt and Courtney willingly contributing to their kid's happiness. I'm sorry, that's not very punk.
Kurt and Courtney's entry into the fame sweepstakes has all the drama of a Lotto purchase at 7-Eleven. As record company moguls search for the next Nirvana, they have now become the standard-bearers of rock celebrity. They got their start in the closely knit underground, which acted as an extended family across America with floors to sleep on and sets in dives such as New York's Pyramid Club and Raji's in Los Angeles. Given the sheer enormity, not to mention ferocity, of their public emergence, it is easy to understand why Kurt and Courtney simultaneously feel grateful and violated by their fame, which became increasingly trying this fall when a Vanity Fair article quoted Love as admitting she did heroin. It's no surprise that Kurt and Courtney have chosen to move on and anchor themselves in calmer waters. And one look at Frances Bean is ample reminder that there's something to "family values" after all.
You're daughter's name is Frances Bean. Is the "Bean" from Carolyn Chute's novel, Bean of Egypt, Maine?
Kurt: Someone else asked me that the other day.
Courtney: So lets start saying 'yes,' because it'll be the intellectually correct answer.
Well, there is a white-trash mythology that surrounds both your bands to a certain degree. Beans of Egypt, Maine is like, the ultimate white-trash novel.
Kurt: Well, that's the reason we named her.
It's a great book.
Kurt: We're waiting for it to come out on video.
Courtney: We don't like them books.
Kurt: Them books is hard to read.
Inquiring minds want to know: Is Frances Bean healthy?
Courtney: Yes, she's very healthy. She's...
Kurt: She was a bit constipated this morning, so we gave her some prune juice in a bottle... We took advantage of the fact that she doesn't have taste buds right now.
Courtney: So we can give her prune juice and she doesn't know what it is.
For the record, who does she look like?
Courtney: She has Kurt's eyebrows and his angry scowl. She has half my eyes and half his eyes.
Kurt: She has Courtney's thick animal feet.
Courtney: She looks like Yoda and I'm pretty sure she's gonna have red hair.
When was she born?
Courtney: August 19, 1992.
Is it something you'll do again?
Kurt: She's already pregnant.
Courtney: I'm thinking three, Kurt's thinking two.
Kurt: I'm thinking financially.
Courtney: This is our fantasy. We were in the car the other day and we were just longing- this is so pretentious- to move to a small town in Oregon. Kurt was gonna work in a gas station and I was gonna dance in a topless bar until I didn't have any boobs left. And then we were going to get food stamps.
The simple life, huh?
Courtney: Yeah. This is just too complicated. You make all this money and people take it away and you don't have any money anyway. Everything Kurt does has such hysteria attached to it.
How do you designate responsibility in looking after Frances?
Courtney: We have a nanny named Jackie. She's been working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I always knew I would be a really good mother, but I also knew that I wanted a nanny, pretty much from Frances' infancy.
Kurt: I always wanted to be the professor. Nanny and the professor-
Courtney: Yeah, I get the joke. It's kind of like your Michael Jackson joke at the MTV Video Music Awards. Kurt sometimes tells bad jokes. Sometimes he tells them to 20 million people.
So you don't nudge Kurt in the middle of the night, "Go and change her diaper." But in your trailer-park fantasy that's what you'd be doing.
Courtney: My trailer-park fantasy would take a little more energy.
Kurt: We could just have an older relative, a grandmother-
Kurt: The egg lady.
Courtney: In the trailer-park fantasy, I don't have a band, but I'm a working mother.
It's interesting that you say that, because your career, at least the artistic part, was put on hold during your pregnancy.
Courtney: I've been writing a lot. We should have an album out in about six months and then a tour. I haven't had a band in six months or so. It's kind of like having your arm cut off.
There were a lot of sexual-warfare, terror, and isolation themes on your last album, Pretty On The Inside. Has pregnancy and motherhood affected your artistic perspective?
Courtney: What am I supposed to do, turn into fucking Mother Theresa all of a sudden? Am I supposed to write a country record because I had a baby? I've felt more sexual warfare, political, medical, and media terror in the last couple months than I've ever felt in my whole life.
That leads to my next question. What do you fear most for Frances growing up?
Courtney: That she'll be stigmatized by this media circus. Other than that, she's guaranteed a one-hundred percent perfect childhood. We know we could give her what we didn't get- loyalty and compassion, encouragement. We knew we could give her a real home and spoil her rotten.
It seems that the industry of Kurt, Courtney, Nirvana and Hole has taken a life of its own.
Courtney: A lot of that has to do with Kurt being so enigmatic. When we came back to Seattle, we saw what they [Seattle Times] wrote about him. They said, with one performance on MTV, Nirvana dispelled the drug rumor. It's all because of the way he looked. Kurt was glowing because he shaved and cut his hair. Things have changed. Really, they can't ever go back and be as cool as Sebadoh or the other indie bands.
But does that really matter?
Kurt: I don't necessarily want to go back and play clubs, but I would like to get rid of the homophobes, sexists and racists in our audience. I know they're out there and it really bothers me.
Courtney: The bad kids get to the front because they beat up the good kids. So the jocks are in front.
How did the childhood and teenage years affect your choice of career?
Courtney: I was moved around a lot. I have a really dysfunctional family. My mother is really detached. My real father is insane. The only good person in my family is my stepfather. He isn't in my life that much, though, and I was in institutions. I was in juvenile hall for four years, boarding school for three years. You know, I tried to be a stoner because they were bad.
When you say stoner, you mean in the high school context.
Courtney: Yeah, I felt really lonely. I was weird. But then I discovered Patti Smith.
Kurt: I had a really good childhood up until I as nine years old. Then a classic case of divorce really affected me and I moved back and forth between relatives all the time. And I just became extremely depressed and withdrawn.
Courtney: But he was a boy and so he would go and live under the bridge or he'd go live in a fort. I mean, he really did. Whereas, I was a girl so I could run away and do more glamorous things because people would help me.
Kurt: I always wanted to move to the big city. I always wanted to move to Seattle, find a chicken hawk, sell my ass, and be a punk rocker, but I was too afraid. So I just stayed in Aberdeen for too long, until I was 20 years old.
Forgive me for begin uneducated, but when you say "chicken hawk"-
Kurt: A chicken hawk is like, an older gay man.
Kurt: Who sells children. Like in Oliver Twist, you know.
I see, like Fagin.
Kurt: I always wanted to experience the street life because my teenage life in Aberdeen was so boring. But I was never really independent enough to do it. I applied for food stamps, lived under the bridge, and built a fort at the cedar mill. I eventually moved to Olympia. And until I met the Melvins, my life was really boring. All of a sudden, I found a totally different world. I started getting into music and finally seeing shows and doing the things I always wanted to do while I was in high school.
It seems like there are lots of people in the artistic community who had fucked-up or troubled childhoods. A lot of them grew up rejected or whatever.
Kurt: I was accepted by cool people because the cheerleaders thought I was cute. The jocks knew the jock-girls thought I was cute. I just chose not to hang around with them.
Here comes a barfy academic questions that you'll have to excuse me for: in songs like 'School' and 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' there's an identification with youth. Does being a father make you see your youth differently?
Kurt: Well, we bought an infant carrier that I can strap to my chest so I could attend keg parties.
Fair enough. In Washington state, there is an erotic music law that can potentially restrict whatever minors purchase over the counter. As parents, do you think the state should have a say in this? There is a real possibility that your child will not be able to walk to the record store and pick up records.
Courtney: Hey, in this society now, our child can't walk down to the record store by herself anyway. When we were little, we used to make forts and walk around the block and play up by the railroad tracks and pick berries. I wouldn't let my child have that kind of freedom.
Kurt: They can't even walk to school by themselves.
What kind of pets are you going to give Frances?
Courtney: A potbelly pig. Or we're gonna have a saltwater aquarium. Today we were trying to think of what we can do to generate income. We were thinking about hippie baked goods. We were thinking Grungeville.
Kurt: Kurt and Courtney's grunge cookies.
Courtney: Kurt and Courtney's Nirvana Bars. Chocolate-covered Holes.
Okay, I've got a few kind of dry family questions here. The nuclear family has basically been under assault for the past 30 years. Do you envision trying to maintain a nuclear family, given your circumstances?
Courtney: Yeah. I grew up in alternative families. I grew up in extended families. I grew up living with my therapist and my step-brother and my mother's ex-lover and on and on and I just think it sucks. This is just a personal preference. I think when you get married, it should be forever. Even though I did get married once before and it was annulled. I don't know. For myself, I just want to have kids by the same person and stay with the same person.
You sound like Phyllis Schlafly.
Courtney: I'm sorry. I almost came out Republican the way I was raised. I mean, I was raised by white trash that considered themselves hippies. But to me, a mom and a dad is a really important thing to have.
Do you concur?
Kurt: Yes, I'm really old-fashioned.
What happens if Frances ends up a total square?
Kurt: Then we'll send her to Olympia.