When Mary Lou Lord met Kurt Cobain. An exclusive excerpt from Everett True’s new Nirvana: The Biography
Four days after the Beehive Records in-store [in September of 1991], Nirvana set out on another North American tour.
Melvins opened for them on the East Coast; New York’s heavily psychedelic Das Damen played the south; Chicago’s sartorially elegant Urge Overkill took the Midwest slot; and Sister Double Happiness opened on the West Coast. The tour had been booked long before the release of Nevermind, and the places were ridiculously tiny for the band’s new status, a riot of bruised limbs and disappointed fans.
“After Nevermind had broken,” states Craig Montgomery, “there was some talk of booking an arena tour but we couldn’t do it. We spent a lot of time overseas on that record but very little in the US.”
‘Teen Spirit’ debuted at number 27 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart on September 21: radio stations – who had initially refused to play it because they couldn’t make out the words – were deluged with kids wanting to hear it. “My wife bought Nevermind and I was like, ‘Holy fuck,’” exclaims Tom Hazelmyer. “Nirvana had taken all the balls and gristle of what the Cows and Melvins and The Jesus Lizard were doing and made it into what Tad called it – Beatles pop songs.”
Events began to snowball so rapidly it was impossible to keep track. The opening two nights of the tour Nirvana played in Canada, before heading down to Boston, Massachusetts on September 22, where they had dinner with Mark Kates, DGC’s head of alternative music. Almost inevitably, another food fight ensued: “They threw ribs at each other,” recalls DGC radio rep Ted Volk, who was present. “It was by far the best dinner I’ve been at in my life.”
After dinner, Nirvana decided to go see Melvins playing at The Rat. They arrived to discover their names weren’t on the list and Kurt got into an altercation with the doorman. “Out of nowhere,” Volk told Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna, “this blonde grabs the bouncer’s hand and says, ‘Don’t you know who this is? This is Jesus Christ and you gotta let him in this club right now.’ I turn to my girlfriend and say, ‘Now that’s fucked up.’”
The blonde was Mary Lou Lord, a local singer-songwriter who eked out a living busking in the subways. Kurt had asked what her favourite bands were, and she listed The Pastels, The Vaselines, Daniel Johnston and Teenage Fanclub. “Bullshit,” Kurt replied. “They’re my favourite bands in that exact order” – and he asked her to name songs by each artist to prove she wasn’t having him on.
The following day Kurt went round to Lord’s flat. A portrait of renowned gonzo Seventies rock journalist Lester Bangs was hanging on the wall. Bangs had long been the only acceptable face of rock journalism to musicians like Lord and Cobain – Kurt even wrote an imaginary letter to him in his journals – not that he couldn’t be boorish, narcissistic and derivative like everyone else. But during the Seventies Bangs championed good bands, and forged his own unique voice and, even more importantly, he was dead – so folk could get on with worshipping him without his tiresome presence being around to remind them how ridiculous it was. Kurt told Mary Lou he still really missed Tobi [Vail, his ex-girlfriend, of Bikini Kill], and that he’d recently become enamoured of an Easter religion called Jainism. Jainism venerated animals, and saw the universe as an endless succession of heavens and hells.
“Every day,” Kurt explained, “we pass through heaven and we pass through hell.”
The following day, the pair went down to local alternative radio station WFNX’s birthday party at the Axis in Boston – Nirvana were headlining with Smashing Pumpkins and local rock band Bullet Lavolta in support. Before the show, MTV News filmed Krist Novoselic playing a game of Twister with the support bands using Crisco oil for extra lubrication – Krist was stripped down to his boxer shorts, and he used an American flag hanging nearby to wipe some of the oil out of his butt-crack. A few locals took exception to Old Faithful being used in such a way, and Krist ended up with a bodyguard.
Kurt, meanwhile, ducked out of most of the band’s promotional tasks to spend time with Mary Lou.
Mary Lou Lord has been almost written out of the Kurt Cobain story. Courtney long ago invented a scurrilous story about how Kurt was once disturbed in the middle of receiving oral sex from a Boston girl in the back of a van – and how this was the only time they met. Yet I have a strong memory from around this time of meeting a besotted Kurt going on and on about this girl called Mary Lou Lord, how in love with her he was, and how he was going to move to Boston to be with her.
Fantasy perhaps, but he believed it at the time.
From the book Nirvana: The Biography by Everett True. Copyright © 2007. Published and reprinted by arrangement with Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group (
). All rights reserved.