State of Nirvana

A conversation with Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic
March 28, 2007 5:55:04 PM

This article originally appeared in the March 11, 1994 issue of the Boston Phoenix.

Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain’s near-lethal mixture of champagne and tranquilizers last week nearly put him in the dubious pantheon of rock-and-roll fatalities. Fortunately, Cobain emerged from a coma and is, reportedly, expected to recover fully. Fan reaction was immediate, especially at college and “alternative” radio stations, where Nirvana’s music had first been championed. WFNX program director Kurt St. Thomas reports that after airing the news from its AP wire, ’FNX was flooded with concerned, often fearful phone calls.

The reaction underlined the fact that from the beginning, Nirvana’s connection with their audience has had an emotional depth that goes beyond catchy hooks and noisy guitars. That connection has been personified in the sound of singer/songwriter Cobain’s voice — capable of frayed, melodic murmurs and bloodcurdling screams. Like the band’s music, Cobain’s voice is at once vulnerable and invincible, infinitely tender and pitilessly corrosive.

St. Thomas catches some of the band’s ineffable appeal when he recalls first seeing them, at Man Ray, in 1988. “I had been enjoying their Sub Pop album, Bleach, and then the Man Ray show blew me away. It was really loud, and in-your-face, and with all that guitar-smashing it was like punk rock again. For some reason, it was what I needed in my life at that time.”

From that moment on, St. Thomas has been a true fan, and he recalls meeting the band backstage for the first time at that Man Ray show: “Krist [then Chris] Novoselic, the bassist, was nice to me, and Kurt was arrogant and not friendly at all. Basically, the feeling seemed to be that I worked at a commercial radio station and therefore he didn’t want anything to do with me.”

That didn’t deter St. Thomas from playing Bleach obsessively. “I had the cassette, and it stayed in my car cassette deck forever. I couldn’t get it out. And then there was that long waiting period for the next album.”

The “next album” proved to be 1991’s Nevermind, the first “platinum punk” disc. WFNX world-premiered the album’s lead single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” in August. By the time the band played the station’s eighth-birthday-party concert at Axis, in September, it was the top-requested song. The album hit the stores the day of the ’FNX party. In January, the band played Saturday Night Live.

At the ’FNX gig, St. Thomas forged a relationship with the band (“ever since then, Kurt has always been very gracious to me”). By the time of the SNL show, he was “begging” the band’s record company, Geffen, to allow him to make a promotional interview CD with the band. Over the course of two days in January, in which the band taped performances for MTV as well as SNL, St. Thomas interviewed all three band members — Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic. It was eventually released to radio by DGC as Nevermind It’s an Interview.

What follows are never-before-published outtakes from those interviews. It comes from a time when the extent of Nirvana’s influence on rock and roll and the music industry was just beginning to be realized. Today, Cobain’s reflections on drinking, gun violence, and punk rock seem almost quaint, given the band’s ensuing superstardom and Cobain and wife Courtney Love’s play in the international press as the First Couple of Rock (second only to John and Yoko).

From the interview, one also senses a harmony among the three, rather than merely the voice of Kurt Cobain. St. Thomas points out, “When I looked at the transcript later, what amazed me was how consistent their answers were. I would ask each of them the same question, and they would all answer the same way. I couldn’t believe how much on the same wavelength they were.”

So, obviously, you guys are going to make some real money now. But it doesn’t seem like you’ve changed since the last time I saw you.
Kurt Cobain:
Yeah, we haven’t even changed our clothes.

Isn’t it expensive to keep smashing your guitars?
Normally only the neck will break, so I’m able to keep the body for a few more times. We just put necks on the bodies.

But you never smash any Fender Mustangs, do you?
Cobain: Yes I do. Not on purpose though. I’ve smashed three Mustangs. They’re my favorite guitars, I love them, and they’re kind of hard to find, especially in the left-handed version. The last one I broke was in Dallas, and I’m not even going to elaborate on what happened that night. It’s too embarrassing. Let’s just say alcohol and I don’t agree with each other. But I definitely regret breaking that guitar. I tried to baby it as long as I could, but it didn’t work.

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