Nirvana revisited

A new Nirvana biography and excerpts from the Phoenix archives shed new light
By CARLY CARIOLI  |  March 30, 2007

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The title of Everett True’s new Nirvana: The Biography (DaCapo) is slightly deceptive: there have been countless biographies of Nirvana, at least two of them definitive, and True – the wildcat English journo who is about the closest thing to a Lester Bangs as grunge ever produced – would be the first to admit that trad biography isn’t his bag. Better to think of his 500-plus-page opus as an oral history, in which the strongest voice is often True’s own – after all, as he never tires of reminding us, He Was There. Lurking inside his version of the oft-told Nirvana tale is a story as wily as Please Kill Me.

One of the countless episodes related in True’s book coincides with a bit of Nirvana’s Phoenix lore, and this week we’re publishing an excerpt from the book alongside several related articles from our archives. “Mary Lou Lord has been almost written out of the Kurt Cobain story,” True writes, attributing that fact to an ongoing campaign by Courtney Love to discredit the relationship Kurt had with Lord back in 1991, just as Nevermind was breaking. Click here to read True’s account.

In the book, True also publishes a long and thoughtful reminiscence written recently by Mary Lou. Back in the spring of 1993, the Phoenix’s Brett Milano profiled Lord on the occasion of her Real , an album-length tape on the cassette label Deep Music . It wasn’t exactly a secret then that she’d been involved with Cobain – it was even mentioned in a record-company bio that was circulated at the time – but this was one of the first times she spoke openly about the relationship. Several months later, a Phoenix receptionist was surprised to get a phone call from an apparently intoxicated Courtney Love. Shortly thereafter, we received two cryptic faxes that appeared to have been scrawled in Courtney’s handwriting and were signed by Kurt. (A publicist for the pair confirmed their authenticity – and also mentioned that the publicist had begged them not to send the faxes.) Click here to read the faxes, which include a clue about who “Rape Me” was written for, as well as a haunting coda from Kurt that eerily foreshadowed his suicide.

The night Nevermind was released, in the fall of 1991, Nirvana played a WFNX-sponsored concert at Axis in Boston – no coincidence, since then-program director Kurt St. Thomas, a longtime Nirvana fan, had world-premiered “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on FNX earlier that summer. Over the course of the weekend during which Nirvana broke nationally – thanks to an appearance on Saturday Night Live and another live set on MTV – St. Thomas interviewed all three members of the band for a promotional CD that Geffen distributed to radio stations after Kurt decided he’d had enough bantering with cheesy mainstream-radio DJs. But most of the material went unpublished until the summer of 1994, when Cobain overdosed and reportedly fell into a coma in Rome. I was a lowly Phoenix intern at the time, and I remember the interview well, since it fell to me to transcribe the interviews with Kurt, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl for a long feature we published the next week, and which we’re republishing online for the first time this week.

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