For a concert spectacular to be broadcast worldwide on New Year’s Eve, MTV went to Seattle, where they’d but together a bill featuring Cypress Hill and The Breeders, whose ‘Cannonball’ is MM‘s Single of the Year. Co-headliners of the show were meant to be Nirvana and Pearl Jam, the twin god-heads of grunge, whose longstanding rivalry was going to end in a public reconciliation. That was the idea anyway. As Everett True, tired and emotional after an eventful encounter with Kurt Cobain and Kim Deal, reports, things just didn’t work out to plan.
KIM DEAL: “What are you going to do on New Year’s Eve, Kurt?”
“Get drunk off my ass, and play with pyrotechnics,” replies Nirvana’s singer. “We’re playing in San Francisco, and we’re going to have pyro-technicians come and shoot off some fireworks. Isn’t that cool?”
You’re gonna get drunk? You never get drunk before you play.
“Okay,” he admits. “Afterwards.”
How about you, Kim? What do you normally do on New Year’s Eve?
“Bang pots and pans,” she laughs, stoned. “Go out on the streets. Yeah!”
Kurt wants to know if I smoke pot. I shake my head.
“No?” he continues, amazed. “Have you never smoked pot?”
I feel a distinct sense of deja vu coming on. Maybe the tape recorder is stuck on a loop. Maybe my complete lack of sleep is finally getting to me.
Yeah, of course I have.
Kurt isn’t satisfied.
“You don’t have a pot-smoking period in your life?” he persists.
No. I squatted once, though. Do you know what squatting is?
“You lived somewhere where there’s no electricity?”
Something like that. A guy OD’d in the room next to mine.
“But you can’t OD on pot,” he laughs.
We both look at Kim, who’s sitting on the bed between us, lost, drifting in her own reverie.
No, you’re right. You can’t.
You just become… one more, sleepless in Seattle.
WHEN I arrive in town, one of the first things I do is to call Kurt Cobain at home, where he’s waiting for his wife to fly back from Atlanta where she’s been remixing the new Hole album with R.E.M. producer Scott Litt. What do you talk about with someone you haven’t seen for six weeks or so, and whose lifestyle is so different from your own?
We discuss the insecurity that emerges from the lack of sleep caused by jet lag and/or alcohol, how tired we feel we feel and how much we hate Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam. Such an all-American jock! Kurt, having just arrived back from another gruelling leg of the Nirvana In Utero US tour. Me, having flown for 13 hours straight, to try to arrange this Melody Maker Christmas cover story.
“Do you still want to try to do this thing with Kim?” the singer asks at one point, as I struggle vainly to keep my eyes open.
Sure, I do.
“Just tell me when, then. I need to go to sleep now,”
The feeling’s mutual.
The MTV New Year’s Eve spectacular, featuring Nirvana, Cypress Hill, Pearl Jam and The Breeders, is being pre-recorded live at Pier 48, a cavernous, freezing warehouse somewhere along Seattle’s lake-front. Kids have been queuing for up to eight hours in the pouring rain to be witness to what looks to be a legendary reconciliation between the city’s two supposed leading exponents of “grunge” – indeed, the two bands who have, between them, defined the genre.
On worldwide (MTV) terms, anyway.
The rift between Nirvana and Pearl Jam has been well-documented. Briefly, though, it started way back, in the days when Ament and Stone Gossard played in the ill-fated Temple Of The Dog and, before that, Green River. The friction between the bands was subsequently inflamed by their respective successes and the way they were quickly and inevitably bracketed together by the world press.
This, despite the bands’ clear differences (Pearl Jam have always dealt in classic FM American rock; Nirvana are something more extreme and mould-breaking altogether). Matters weren’t helped when Pearl Jam’s success was perceived to have resulted from Nirvana’s, or when sales of the new PJ album, Vs, far out-stripped those of In Utero.
Mr Cobain has been on record several times – not least in this very paper – talking about how much he despises Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam have tried to down-play any stories of a rift, perhaps conscious of a “credibility gap”, perhaps because life’s too short.
Rumours had recently surfaced of a reconciliation between Eddie and Kurt but, even so, for MTV – even with all its immense corporate muscle – to get these two bands together on the same bill is a hell of an achievement.
The only problem is: where the hell is Eddie Vedder?
Not at Pier 48, that’s for sure!
WHAT DO you really hate about life, Kim? Anything?
“Oh, came on!” Kurt scolds her.
Were you sad because Pearl Jam didn’t play today?
“A little bit,” replies Kim. “Yeah, I was.”
She takes a drag on her cigarette.
“It’s always a kind of bummer if someone doesn’t show,” she explains.
“I want to say something,” Kurt begins, facetiously. “I heard that Eddie Vedder escaped. He ran away. They can’t find him. Isn’t that a cool thing to say in an interview?”
We both laugh, meanly.
“No,” continues Kim, oblivious. “It’s just that I can’t believe they didn’t play – it’s so dumb. I don’t live in Seattle or anything but it’s stupid.”
“The kids should have rioted,” laughs Kurt. “They should have gone; ‘F*** this! Pearl Jam aren’t playing? We want our free tickets back!'”
“I don’t want to be misinterpreted, though,” continues The Breeders’ singer. “I don’t like them, and I’m glad they didn’t play. I just can’t believe they actually didn’t.”
You and several thousand other people, I suspect.
Eddie Vedder’s presence (or lack of it) hangs heavy over the proceedings. Rumours abound as to why he hasn’t shown.
Maybe it’s simply down to a rekindling of the old feud with Nirvana, although the presence of Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament onstage with Cypress Hill for a rockin’ version of ‘Real Thing’ from the film Judgement Night would seem to belie this.
Stone Gossard tells Maker photographer Steve Gullick that Eddie is “extremely ill” and his voice sounds “terrible” (so what’s new!?). But you can’t help recalling the recent well-publicised punch-up Mr Vedder had in New Orleans, add it to the fact that recently he’s been seen drinking more and more heavily (when PJ started, Eddie didn’t drink at all), put two and two together and start wandering whether this is evidence of something more serious.
At the same time, as Stone points out to Steve, every time Pearl Jam pull out of a show, the “Pearl Jam to split” stories are flashed across the world.
Everyone’s trying their hardest not to let Eddie’s non-appearance get them down, however. Doubtless, MTV’s people are furious, but the kids don’t seem too bothered. And why should they? They got in free and they’ve just witnessed one of Nirvana’s most astonishing shows ever. This was Nirvana playing close to the height of their enormous potential, and their version of David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ was just unforgettable.
Even the three members of Pearl Jam who’ve turned up are noticeably cheery, and none of the hardcore Seattle drinking fraternity ligging it up after the show in the Green Room seem too put out.
To one side are Matt and Steve from Mudhoney, plus their insane manager, Bob Whittaker – the man who once drove me down a sidewalk in his Cadillac after a particularly fine party. Then there are the Screaming Trees brothers talking to Kim Thayil of Soundgarden. Eric, Pearl Jam’s tour manager (and a man to whom I once sold an Elton John tour T-shirt) is lurking somewhere nearby.
Krist Novoselic is wandering around with his hand in a sling, having injured it quite badly during Nirvana’s’ apocalyptic encore. His brother’s somewhere, too – just as tall, and looking identical. And his sister, too.
Then there’s Kurt’s mate, Dylan from Earth; The Millionaire leading the Sub Pop entourage; Scott Litt; someone from R.E.M.; the Chili Peppers in drag and in Irish costume and generally behaving like dickheads.
Eric from Hole (who are all also in attendance) rushes around trying to find people in compromising situations. Kurt sings ‘Jeremy’ with an Eddie mask on for him. But he refuses to pose for Steve with it on.
None of which concerns your hard-working, non-sleeping reporter, however, who now faces a major organisational headache trying to bring Kurt and Kim together. Kurt has the distractions of a wife and baby he hasn’t seen together for far too long, while Kim is content to chill with Cypress Hill – another band notable for their love of the cool weed.
What I didn’t realise was that, despite the recent Breeders support shows on the Nirvana tour, and the musicians’ mutual admiration, Kurt and Kim barely know each other at all.
What did you think of Kurt when you first met him, Kim? (It was in New York, during the mixing of The Breeders Safari EP, just when Nevermind was finally starting to take off – and then some! Nirvana were playing a show mid-town, and, knowing how big a fan of The Breeders Kurt was, I took him down to the studio where I was interviewing them.)
“That’s right!” she laughs. “I didn’t know he was who he was anyway.”
“You didn’t know I was from my band?” Kurt asks, incredulously.
“I knew you were probably from Nirvana,” she explains. “And somebody else probably was, maybe. But maybe you weren’t. I didn’t know anybody really – just that you [she points at me] were bringing some people from Nirvana.”
What did you think of Kim, Kurt? You were kind of in awe of her at the time, right?
“Well, I loved Pod so much that I was really freaked out to meet you,” he reveals to Kim. “Then, when I got there, you were really condescending. But, at the same time, you were so generous. I was right at the point of really freaking out about being a rock star, and I thought everyone was making fun of me.”
“It was just ‘I’m recording’,” Kim explains. “‘It’s my stuff on tape. You guys are listening to my shit. You know what I’m thinking about. What the f*** are you doing here!?'”
“I understand,” sighs Kurt. “I also felt like I was totally imposing on you, like the rock star come to hear a taste of the new album, I was under the impression that you knew exactly who I was.”
Kim murmurs something about whether we can hear her clicking her gums like an old person – she’s very stoned and very tired. We’ve been waiting for about three hours for Kurt to came out of a marathon MTV interview, covering Nirvana’s whole history. Kurt’s just very tired. It’s been a f***ing long day.
Since you’ve gotten to know each other better, how have your perceptions of each other changed?
“But we don’t know each other,” Kurt exclaims. “This is a good way of meeting each other. Hi, Kim!”
“I hardly ever show up in time to see their set, cos I’m so fucking lazy,” he explains. “I’ve seen them only about six times on this tour. That makes me feel like a creep.”
“I’ve seen them every night,” Kim tells me. “Our bus leaves at midnight usually, so it’s perfect. It’s so great! Nirvana do the best dumb songs in the world! They’re dumb in a good way, like The Ramones.”
(Earlier, Kim had revealed her favourite Nirvana songs to be ‘About A Girl’, ‘Scentless Apprentice’ and ‘No Recess’, and that she likes to watch them with a joint to hand, hidden behind a pillar somewhere. Kurt returned the compliment by telling me how The Breeders keep getting better – they have to, “because they’re still learning to play their instruments. Which is great. We have to be absolutely phenomenal to even play a good show, because we all know our parts so well.”)
Do you see any similarities between your personalities?
“No,” replies Kurt. “Kim is way more upbeat and happy and friendly. I’m the pissy mean one. We’re the opposite.”
Sure. But you both have this kind of thing where you both know your stuff’s really good and that you don’t need to prove yourselves beyond that.
As Courtney pointed out to me.
“Yeah, that sounds cool, doesn’t it?” laughs Kim. “That’s exactly what we think. You’re right Courtney, goddamn it!”
“Don’t you have any questions about Christmas?” Kurt asks me, as he gets up and goes to gob out the window of the Four Seasons hotel where we’re (finally) conducting the interview.
Sure I do. Here comes one now.
Do you hate Christmas?
“No,” replies Kurt. “It holds good memories. I’ve always had really good Christmases with my family – I have a very large family. Everyone has always gotten together and had a great blow-out, at least until my grandfather died. He was usually the highlight of the ceremonies. He’d get really drunk, put on wacky hats and sing for everyone.”
Kim wants to know how many brothers and sisters Kurt has.
“I only have one real sister, and one half-sister,” he informs her. “The rest of them are on my mom’s side of the family. My mother had seven brothers and sisters and they all have children.”
Do you find Christmas at all depressing, Kim?
“Nope!” she responds, perkily. “Everett, c’mon you can talk to us. You find it depressing, don’t you?”
Yes, I do.
Kurt asks why.
Bad memories. But you don’t want to interview me.
“Yeah, we do,” he laughs. “That was the agreement, right? One question each!”
Okay – I hate Christmas because it exaggerates all the emotions that are around, and, if you’re lonely most of the time – as most people are – but can just about get by, then it just rubs it in. You don’t need it.
It’s no coincidence the suicide rate goes up over the festive season.
“That’s very true,” Kim agrees, soberly.
“It’s too bad that every lonely person can’t have a good deed done to them on that day, although it would probably be kind of patronising,” Kurt muses. “But there’s always someone who gets left out – someone who doesn’t get a free meal, or a present, or have someone say hello to them. Everyone’s so extra-conscious.”
Also, Christmas reinforces the traditional values that Western Civilisation was built upon. I don’t like those values. I find them hypocritical. I don’t see anything good in the family structure.
“I do,” Kurt disagrees, “if it’s a good family.”
“You don’t believe that Everett!” Kim laughs in disbelief.
Sure I do. Fine, if it’s a good family. But you wander out onto the street any day, and you can see for yourself that most families aren’t good families – mothers whacking their kids, they’re too tired to cope, fathers being men. Most of it is shit. Most of the people in the world shouldn’t be alive today. Stupid people shouldn’t breed.
A stunned silence follows.
“God!” exclaims Kurt, “didn’t I once say that to you?”
“I thought I had a bad outlook!” exclaims Kim. “Man, I feel just like Sally Field next to you! Jeez! Everett!”
Well, it just annoys me sometimes.
“I don’t see any reason why a person should pretend to like their family,” demurs Kurt. “You should not go and spend Christmas with your parents if you don’t like them.”
But that’s what it does to you. It forces you into certain situations.
“I know,” he replies, sombre now. “It does that to a lot of people.”
There’s a pregnant silence.
“Merry Christmas everyone!” Kurt suddenly roars!
“I have a really interesting question,” announces Ms Breeder.
“Kurt, do you smoke menthols?”
“Yes, I do,” he replies. “I smoke Benson & Hedge’s Deluxe Ultra-Light Menthols.”
“Oh my god! I can’t believe that you do that. That’s so funny!”
“But it tastes good,” he argues, “and it fools me into thinking that I’m smoking less. Or taking more vitamins, or something. And my breath smells good.”
“I have a question for you, Kim,” Kurt states. “Why’s your sister [Kelley Deal, guitarist, The Breeders] a Republican?”
This is only the second relatively serious question we’ve addressed. The first was about sexism, when we had a brief discussion, illuminated by a couple of very dubious examples from Kim on why she doesn’t think sexism exists. Kurt argued back half-heartedly, but was more interested in hearing her arguments. Unfortunately, all this was lost to the world when I forgot to switch my tape recorder on.
“She probably considers herself a realist before a Republican,” Kim muses. “She’s trying to be provocative, of course, but she is a Republican. Why is she?”
“That’s probably a bad question,” Kurt apologises.
Why does it bother you if Kelley’s a Republican?
“Because I don’t agree with Republican values or their philosophy. But Republicans can be nice people – and Kelley proves it.”
“They can live and grow and be productive in society like everybody else,” counters Kim.
“I agree with a lot of Republican ideals, like the family structure,” Kurt admits, “but there are a lot of things I don’t. I believe it’s important to at least attempt to have a family structure, to have a father and mother.”
Kim’s off on another line again.
“Isn’t it true that the only reason marriage came about was so that men with property could trace their blood-line to the correct male inheritor?” she wants to know.
“That’s still valid in the South, or it was awhile ago,” Kurt explains, “that women could not own property. Women had to get married if they inherited property in order to keep it.”
I thought marriage was a very handy way of keeping women as second-class citizens.
“I don’t think so,” counters Kim, softly. “Well, not like that.”
No? Well, I know you don’t believe in the concept, but there sure are a lot of sexist tax and benefit laws in the UK, at least, which favour the husband over the wife.
Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic drops by to say goodbye. By the time he disappears, the whole topic has been forgotten.
Kurt’s nodding off where he’s sprawled. Kim is increasingly becoming lost in her own private dreamworld.
Time to start wrapping this up.
Kim. Is there anything you really want to know about Kurt?
“Are you going to finish the rest of your meat?” she asks him, looking pointedly at his platter, sitting unfinished and cold on the side of the bed.
“Yeah!” he exclaims.
“What was that?” she wants to know. “A steak? Medium rare, medium medium, medium well? Well done. I see. Menthol cigarettes? Oh my god! Why do you smoke them? That’s one right now, isn’t it? That’s just so cool.”
“We’ve already been through this,” Kurt tells her, patiently. “I’ve smoked them for months.”
Do you have any favourite people in common? Name a few of your favourite people.
“Okay,” begins Kurt. “Let me think… I like Shabba Do (eh? – Ed), the break-dancer.”
“Katrina Weiss,” Kim states, firmly. “The Soviet Union ice-skater. That’s her name, right?”
Yeah, you said that to me already (wrong, actually – Ed).
You said she was your ideal woman, and we said that was because you didn’t want to grow hairy and old.
That you have a little girl fixation.
“Hey, hold on,” she stops me. “Aren’t we supposed to ask you the questions? Why do you feel so depressed around Christmas-time, Everett?”
Because it heightens the emotions – hey, I already answered that.
Kurt yawns. Closes eyes. Wakes up again.
“Hey brother,” he jokes. “Can’t you just remember the good times?”
Is there anything you really want to know about Kim?
“Yeah,” he replies, “but I don’t want to ask her in an interview.”
We switch the tape off..
Across the room, Courtney is discussing her album with her manager and a chap from Geffen. Over on this side, both Kim and Kurt are looking increasingly weary. I don’t believe I’ve felt so tired in years – this interview has only taken 10 hours to happen. It must be time to take our leave.
Okay. Finally. Could I have a Christmas message for our readers?
“I hate you!” laughs Kim.
What me, personally – or the kids?
“Whatever,” she replies, confused.
“She hates something!” gloats Kurt, softly.
“Did I ever say that I didn’t?” she asks, surprised. “Oh, really? Well, you [points at me] would be the correct answer, wouldn’t it?”
Okay. Kim. What would you give Kurt for Christmas?
“I don’t know.” She pauses. “Something home-made. Maybe a napkin – a crocheted napkin.”
How about you, Kurt?
“A certificate to a hair salon, so she can get a perm,” he jokes.
“I just want a good Christmas,” he continues. “A nice, quiet, casual Christmas with Frances and Courtney.”
“What do I want for Christmas?” Kim asks herself. “You know those reindeers that you can hang on shower-stalls and you have a radio while you’re taking a shower?
“That’s what I want for Christmas.”
© Everett True, Melody Maker, 25 December 1993