In the concluding part of our exclusive interview, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love attempt to explain the truth behind their controversial relationship and how distorted and painful the media perception of their marriage has been. EVERETT TRUE lends a sympathetic ear.
THE STORY SO FAR…
Courtney Love is still livid about the profile of her that appeared last September in the American magazine, Vanity Fair. No f***ing wonder. It alleged that she’d taken drugs during her pregnancy, thus endangering the life of her unborn child. The implication was that she was dangerous and irresponsible, unfit to be a mother. Call her paranoid, but Courtney is convinced that the hostility of the profile had something to do with Madonna, who had wanted to sign her to her fledgling Maverick label and been unceremoniously rebuffed.
Kurt Cobain, meanwhile, is increasingly incensed with being cast as the “unwilling dupe” in their relationship, easily manipulated by the devious Courtney because he’s dumb and can’t see what she’s doing to his life and career.
As you join us, Courtney has just been wondering how her fall from grace — from having a record of the year in Village Voice to being the Nineties equivalent of Nancy Spungen —came about so fast.
Frances Bean Cobain went to bed half-an-hour ago.
“One thing that’s pleased me,” Courtney says, drawing on a cigarette, “that I’ve been really surprised by and learnt a lot from, is the psychic protection I’ve got from so many girls and women…”
She pauses. I’m not sure what point she’s trying to make.
“I mean, it’s really f***ing obvious, unless you’re stupid,” she goes on. “Like, I walk around and say, ‘Oh, he should have married a model, but he married me’, with a straight face.”
This is more familiar territory. This is, in fact, the line Courtney usually takes when she’s trying to wind up the people who think Kurt’s marriage to her was ill-advised. Her argument is something like, well, who should he have married then? A model? The point being… Kurt’s not like that.
“There were like 60 sarcastic things I told Vanity Fair,” she goes on, “that they quoted straight because they’re so stupid. Their whole attitude was like, let’s go and be condescending to these wacky punk rock kids and make allusions to how, in their world, success is bad. Aren’t they cute?'”
But Kurt, you never said success was bad, did you?
“What kind of success?” he sighs. “Success in general? Financial success? Popularity in a rock band? Most people think success is being extremely popular on a commercial level, selling a lot of records and making a whole bunch of money. Being in the public eye.
“I think of myself as a success because I still haven’t compromised my music,” he continues, “but that’s just speaking on an artistic level. Obviously, all the other parts that belong with success are driving me insane — God! I want to kill myself half the time.”
But people still don’t get it. Nirvana catch a lot of flak from people I know because (a) Kurt Cobain whines a lot, and (b) Nirvana slag off corporate rock bands, even though they’re one themselves.
“Oh, take it back from him, the ungrateful little brat!” mocks Courtney.
“What I really can’t stand about being successful is when people confront me and say, ‘Oh, you should just mellow out and enjoy it,” explains her husband, interrupting her. “I don’t know how many times I have to f***ing say this. I never wanted it in the first place.
“But I guess I do enjoy the money,” he relents. “It’s at least a sense of security. I know that my child’s going to grow up and be able to eat. That’s a really nice feeling, that’s fine, but you know…”
But Frances will only be treated nice to her face: people will kiss her butt and stab her in the back at the same time.
“Yeah, but she’ll know about it, because she’ll come from us and she’ll be cynical by kindergarten,” Courtney answers, looking fondly at the empty crib. “She’s already cynical.”
“I don’t mean to whine so much,” continues Kurt. “There are just so many things that I’m not capable of explaining in detail.”
“I am!” Courtney interjects.
“But people have no idea of what is going on,” her husband complains. “The sickening politics that are involved with being a successful, commercial rock band are real aggravating. No one has any idea.”
“It doesn’t matter though,” Courtney almost shouts. “The whole thing with you is that you’ve got your success, but I’ve been victimised by it and, at the same time, I still haven’t proved myself to myself.
“I remember last year Kat came up to Chicago and we went to this bar and they started playing Nevermind — this was just when it was starting to get really big. So we sat there and drank and drank, and got really mad. Because we realised no girl could have done that. I want to write a really good record and I haven’t done it yet.”
This is where I disagree with you, Courtney. Nevermind was a great record. But so was ‘Teenage Whore’. Nevermind was made by a bunch of blokes. Why should it have been made by a bunch of girls?
“No girl could have come from the underground and done that,” she argues. “It’s just the fact that somebody did it. It happened.”
But Hole were an astonishing band, particularly live. I can’t think of many artists who’ve come across so powerfully and fatally magnetic on stage as you. I mean it.
“Yeah, but Everett, not many people remember that,” whispers Courtney, touched.
But what I’m saying is that you’re judging yourself on your husband’s terms, and that’s ridiculous. You don’t write songs like Kurt writes songs — why should you? You’re completely different people. If the commercial market refuses to accept your music, then it’s a failing of the business, not with your music.
Another couple of things: your marriage and pregnancy means that your own career has been on hold this last year. You haven’t written many new songs, you haven’t had a record out, you haven’t played live. Which means that people who only know about you through Kurt have nothing to judge you on but your very public “bad girl” image.
The bottom line is, you have to get back out there and perform, if you want to regain the respect for your music you once had. No amount of hedging will alter that.
“The fact I judge myself on Kurt’s terms is part of me subscribing to the whole male rock ethic, too,” Courtney explains. “You know, Kim Gordon — like every woman I respected — told me this marriage was going to be a disaster for me. They told me that I’m more important than Kurt because I have this lyric thing going and I’m more culturally significant, and they all predicted exactly what was going to happen.
“I said ‘No, that’s not going to happen,'” she recalls, bitterly. “‘Everyone knows I have a band, everybody knows about my band, I can do this — my marriage is not going to be more important than my band.'”
She pauses, then explodes.
“But not only has my marriage become more important than my f***ing band, but our relationship has been violated,” she cries, “if we weren’t doing this interview together, no male rock journalist would dare ask Kurt if he loved his wife. ‘Do you love your wife? Do you guys f***? Who’s on top?’… I’m not saying you would, Everett.
“They wouldn’t ask him to explain his relationship with me, because he’s a man and men are men and they’re not responsible for any emotional decisions they make.”
She’s shaking with emotion now.
“Men are men!” she exclaims. “They do the work of men! They do men’s things! If they have bad taste in women… whatever! All of a sudden, Axl and Julian Cope and Madonna decide I’m bad taste in women and it’s the curse of my life and tough shit. What can I say?
“I never experienced sexism before,” she says, excitedly. “I really didn’t experience it in any major way in connection with my band until this year, and now I have. The attitude is that Kurt’s more important than me, because he sells more records. Well, f*** you! Suck my dick!”
There’s a brief silence. Courtney’s just taking a breather before going for the kill.
“You wouldn’t look good in leather,” Courtney says to Kurt, looking fondly at him. “Kurt and Julian Cope and Axl Rose and Danny Partridge riding around in a limousine, f***ing women that are idiotic and self-hating that want to f*** them to get some attention for themselves, instead of grabbing their guitars and going, ‘F*** you, I could do this better, with integrity and with more ethics than you, and with revolution and — f*** you!’ I created this rock thing in the first place for my own amusement and I’m going to take it back.
“I always have lofty ideals about it and yet I deserve it.” She’s resorting to sarcasm now, she’s so worked up. “I deserve to get raped by a crowd if I stagedive in a dress, I deserve to get raped if I go to a bar and I’m wearing a bikini. I deserve to get raped because I did all these things I said before — nipping a hot young rock star in the bud, having a baby, having been a stripper, having used drugs…
“And then to be perceived as a child abuser!” she exclaims, anguished, off on another exclamatory track. “Two of the last people on earth that would ever hurt a child or a harmless person. Ever. I’ve never picked on harmless people. I’ve always picked on people that I felt were corrupt or more corrupt than me.”
“Alright,” she adds, gently. “I’m done now.”
From far off comes the sound of a baby crying.
“I didn’t think on those terms, when I was doing my record,” Kurt says, stirring. “Although, at the end, I did allow the record to be produced cleaner and more commercial than I wanted it to be. I don’t know what the reasoning for that was, besides just being dead tired of hearing the same songs. We’d tried remixing it three times and we rang this professional mixologist to do it and, by that point, I was so tired of hearing the songs, I said, ‘Go ahead, do whatever you want.'”
“You say you didn’t think in those terms, cos you’re more punk than me?” Courtney asks him, affronted.
“No, I’m not saying I’m more punk than you,” snaps Kurt. “Actually, I’m wondering right now if I wasn’t subconsciously thinking that I did want success, because I did…”
“Is it such a sin to say that you wanted to be in Billboard?” she asks him. “That you knew you were going to be popular, or that you were going to be rock stars?”
“I knew we were going to be popular, but I didn’t know we were going to be this popular,” he says. I’m so tired of saying this. I’m so tired of saying, ‘Oh, we thought we were going to be as big as Sonic Youth’, and all that shit. It’s so f***ing boring at this point.”
“But isn’t there another part of you, that personality who wrote ‘Aero-Zeppelin’ that…?” starts Courtney.
“Right!” her husband exclaims. “There is! And maybe, because I allowed the record to be mixed commercially enough that any song could get on the radio, maybe I was thinking it would be kinda funny, really hilarious to see how far we could push it, how popular we could get.”
“Well, that was my excuse until this marriage thing happened,” Courtney shrugs, “that it would be really funny and kinda hilarious, and now I don’t think it’s either of those things. Yet the desire is still there. And I’m not the Yoko Ono of Nirvana — I’m the one who lost two band members, not Kurt.”
“You didn’t lose any band members over this,” Kurt shoots back, annoyed.
“Not over this,” Courtney replies. “But my band lost two band members. You can make what you want out of it, and say that you were running my life. Where’s the theory that you’re the one wearing the pants? That you’re running me into the ground? Nobody’s come up with that theory. You haven’t been victimised with the whole macho guy persona.”
“I’d rather be in your position than to be thought of as a f***ing idiot,” complains Kurt, “a puppet on a string, being manipulated 24 hours a day. You didn’t lose your band members over anything connected with this marriage, or by being associated with me at all…”
“I’m not saying I did…”
“I’ve lost more drummers than you have,” Kurt points out.
It’s interesting that Courtney should raise this point about the imbalance in your relationship. Someone remarked to me recently that they think Kurt Cobain is one of the biggest sexists in America.
Kurt becomes seriously upset.
“That’s not true,” Courtney says, leaping to his defence. “No. I’ve looked for it, but not at all.”
“A comment like that is just such a pathetic last attempt at having some kind of opinion…” starts a riled Kurt, before I cut him off.
No, hold on. I think what they’re referring to is your relationship — the way it’s so effectively castrated Courtney’s art (especially when Courtney was such a strong female role model before her marriage). The comment wasn’t meant to be a reflection on you, just on the way people perceive your marriage.
“Right,” says Kurt. “I don’t understand why that happens.”
“The whole thing of the media theorising on two people’s relationships,” says Courtney, “is my fault for allowing journalists into my home. I see now why people say, ‘I’m not going to talk about my famous husband.’ I understand now. We’ve become these two cartoon characters you can theorise about…”
She stops, and starts on a different tack.
“You can’t please everybody,” she says. “I don’t care if I get criticised. I don’t give a shit if I get a bad review. I don’t care if people say I’m a bitch or I’m obnoxious, cos I am those things. Or that thing of being a witch, or that Paul Lester guy saying I’m ugly and Debbie Gibson’s pretty… I f***ing think that shit’s funny. It’s this crazy lying. Do you understand?“
She’s starting to rail again now.
“It’s my life,” she says, almost spelling the words out.
“A social worker coming into my hospital, trying to take my baby away from me, tying to take my baby away from me. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers — all of Kurt’s money went to lawyers because of f***ing Madonna, because I turned down Maverick. Whatever. I know it sounds crazy…”
She pauses, takes another breath.
“The Vanity Fair article put quotes in my mouth, there were things I was supposed to have said about Madonna that I never said,” she continues. “They twisted things around.
“I didn’t do heroin during pregnancy. And even if I did, even if I shot coke every night and took acid every day, it’s my own motherf***ing business. If I’m immoral, I’m immoral, it’s not your goddamn business if I’m immoral or not.”
She pauses, trying to sort her words out.
“A photographer for Vanity Fair caught me smoking a cigarette. It was on my birthday. I smoked something like four cigarettes in six hours. I was smoking a cigarette in one of the pictures. And the line around the block for magazines that wants that picture is so big that this motherf***er has charged me $50,000 to get the pictures back. It’s blackmail, pure and simple blackmail. And if I don’t get them, they’ll keep after her (Frances Bean).”
In some states in America, these photographs would be enough to prove that Courtney is “unfit to mother”, thus givinq the State legal rights to remove the child into their custody.
“They filed a legal report on me based on Vanity Fair and nothing else, no other f***ing evidence, that I was an unfit mother,” she continues. “That I smoked during my pregnancy. F*** you, everybody smokes during their pregnancy — who gives a shit? And it’s because I married Kurt, because he’s hot, young and cute.
“And I certainly don’t buy people worrying about the baby,” she adds. “If you want to ask about my drug problem, go ask my big fat smart ten-pound daughter, she’ll answer any questions you have about it.”
“I just want to get back to the Kurt-complaining-about-his-success thing,” says Kurt, interrupting his wife’s flow of invective. “How many questions in every article are placed on my success? People are so obsessed with it, that’s all I ever get a chance to talk about. Ten different variations on the same question every interview.”
“‘You funny little boy!'” Courtney squeals, mocking his tormentors. ‘”You didn’t set out to be successful! What an angle! Cinderella!'”
“It’s a fine scam, it’s a fine image,” he says, sarcastically. “I’m getting really f***ing bored with it.”
“Why don’t we switch?” Courtney says, bringing the interview round full circle. “I’ll be demure and sullen and you’ll be loud and obnoxious.”
Then you’d be Axl Rose.
“No, then I’d be his codpiece,” she corrects me. “F*** me Kurt, f*** me Julian, f*** me Julian’s drum tech, make me feel my worth! It’s ridiculous. And, for $50,000, I have to buy this image of a really pregnant woman with a garland in her hair smoking a cigarette, this whole fertility image with a cigarette. As if I did it deliberately, as if I did it to provoke!”
She’s off again.
“Someone called up my manager after the Vanity Fair article, saying, ‘Does Courtney think she’s being that whole Seventies cool shock rock thing?’ — as if I had planted this whole drug, cigarette sensationalism!
“Ask Kurt,” she continues. “I didn’t want to talk to Vanity Fair, because I knew it was based on the Madonna thing and our marriage. They don’t even do rock people — I sell 60,000 records, what the f*** do they want with me? But I did it anyway, because I was so sick of industry women talking and saying terrible things about me.
“I thought, if I was in Vanity Fair, it would shut their f***ing mouths and they’d leave me in peace,” she laments. “But that was my mistake and I just shouldn’t have done it. I should have known more about the mainstream press and how they operate.
“Also, the whole thing where it made me seem to be so competitive with Kat (Bjelland: Babes In Toyland) is just like… I was totally provoked. I was mad with Kat about something, and I got provoked into gossiping about something off the record.”
According to Vanity Fair, Kat and Courtney were embroiled in a bitter argument over who first started wearing the “baby doll” kinderwhore dress both are famous for. Kat was quoted as saying, “Last night, I had a dream that I killed her (Courtney). I was really happy.”
“And then she provoked Kat into saying things about me, by telling her what I said,” Courtney continues. “If you notice, Kat hasn’t gone on record as saying anything shitty about me, and I certainly didn’t mean to go on record saying anything shitty about her. We’re not best friends anymore, but we don’t hate each other. It’s ridiculous that it’s been turned into something where you have to choose between one of us. We’re different. We write differently.
“But that’s why it’s so competitive,” she adds. “That’s why this whole foxcore/Riot Grrrl thing is so competitive. It’s like rap music. There’s a void, and there’s only room for one of you in the void.”
The tape switches off. Courtney decides that she’s said enough. Kurt nods in agreement. Time to view the new Nirvana video once more, and discuss whether to go out tonight (Therapy? are playing the Whiskey).
Courtney decides to accompany me — the first time she’s been out in LA since giving birth.
Kurt prefers to stay in, and mind the baby.
© Everett True, Melody Maker, 2 January 1993