Last week, Nirvana, L7, The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy and The Breeders staged a massive benefit for Bosnia at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. Everett True saw the show, then wandered backstage for a weird and wired conversation with Kurt Cobain about life, the universe, dumb heavy metal, even dumber bouncers, and everything…
KURT: “SO this is where I’m supposed to describe how I feel after a major show, right? Okay, I remember this one time I went to see Sammy Hagar when I was in Seventh Grade. Everyone was passing around pot, and I got really high and I lit myself on fire. I had a Bic lighter in my sweatshirt pocket and I was watching Sammy, swinging upside-down from the rafters, mocking everyone else who was holding their lighters above their heads. I looked down, and petrol had spilt out everywhere and my shirt was on fire. It went well with the piss-stained pants.
“I got those before the show, when we drank a case of beer and got stuck in a traffic jam. There was nowhere to go, so I peed my pants in the back of the car. What else do I remember about the show? Wanting desperately to leave. Did you ever go to a big concert?”
Yeah, sometimes. Hold on. Let me think. It was the other night – hey, you were there, right? A benefit for Bosnian refugees. A real big event; 14,000 sun-kissed Californians, come to show their solidarity, or was it just to get their fucking MTV rocks off? Who cares, right? As long as the money benefits a worthy cause.
Chris Novoselic, who put the concert together, rendezvoused with the Tvesnjevka Women’s Group in Zagreb in January this year, contacted all the bands… well, his wife was on the door leafleting people as they came in, trying to make ’em stop and think a second, participate. Some hope! These kids were here cos MTV told ’em to be. Still, it’s far better to attempt than accept. Plus, MTV got Clinton in with their “Rock The Vote” campaign, however much you scorn them.
Anyway. So there I was, sitting up among the pigeons with Kim and Jo from The Breeders and some other guy, looking down upon you, so fragile, so vulnerable, one speck of humanity against a whole generation of curiosity-seekers, fans, the cynical, the bored and a whole buncha lame cheerleaders – no tattoos – in butt-hugging slacks.
You were singing that damn line from the achingly poignant ‘All Apologies’ about “All in all/Is all we are”. No, I didn’t have any popcorn. Tears were prickling behind my eye-lids like from before, when you sang ‘Frances Farmer’, that slow and melancholic one from Reading, dedicated to Courtney and Frances Bean, or anytime you’ve played the ironic ‘In Bloom’, and I fell to wondering…
Look, when I see U2 or Rush or Prince or Iggy Pop or whoever, I feel lost, traumatised by this singular, fascistic vision of rock. When I see Nirvana, I feel all those emotions, but bewildered, too – bewildered that this music should reach me and the untrained, simultaneously. When I see Hiphoprisy, I feel warm inside, glowing all over. When I hear The Breeders, I feel delirious.
And when I see L7? I wanna laugh with pleasure. It’s been proven that if you expose an eight-year-old to the most off-the-wall music, they’ll take it on board, place it next to their favourites, as long as they’ve heard it in the correct context. Sassy magazine, too, constantly proves this in their musical coverage for cool US teenage girls. It’s only later people start shutting down. Okay, I’m burbling.
So I saw Rush at Wembley once, and it was nothing like the Cow Palace. No leaflets about abortion rights, no cool supports, no crushing melodies, either. Just a whole buncha multi-coloured lights and…
Kurt: “Right. The only major arena rock concert I went to was Iron Maiden on the Fourth of July. People were shooting bottle rockets and throwing M-80s into the crowd all night, until they had to stop because the roof caught fire. It was entertaining, I suppose, but I felt alienated. You may as well throw in the bathroom thing now.”
What bathroom thing? Your show was so neat. Sorry if I’m sounding like I write for Hit It Or Quit It, or some cool US girlzine or something. But it was. Especially when you toppled into Dave’s drum-kit in slow motion at the crescendo to ‘Endless, Nameless’ for old-time’s sake, and he emerged, face all black and bruised. At least, that’s what we wanted to imagine from our vantage point, perched among the rafters.
The new songs shone: as blue and battered as anything from the devastating, forthcoming debut album by Madder Rose; as raw and trembling as any Daniel Johnston live tape (although, I guess, you’d have to add the adjective “assured” here); as mighty and pounding as any waves washing up on a beach where the shingle has backed up too high to ever be overwhelmed, but still the waves try, dammit, still they try.
Hey, you like my new metaphor? Yeah, lame, isn’t it? So ‘Penny Royal Tea’, the one I woke up singing two days later in San Francisco as the sun blistered and the sound of Melvins pounded into my skull, nearly shuddered to a halt several times, but, each time it shuddered, it emerged sounding more triumphant than ever. Whatever trials and pressures you and Chris and Dave have suffered, surely they were worth it for this?
Er, what was that about a bathroom?
Kurt: “Right. Listen. At Sammy Hagar’s, in the bathroom, there was a passed-out, drunken Seventh Grader lying in the piss trough. People relieved themselves on him throughout the concert, not even caring. There were these two girls cutting lines of coke on a small mirror when, all of a sudden, a drunken man fell behind their chairs and vomited all over the two girls’ laps, ruining their lines of coke. The two girls had their boyfriends beat up the drunken coke killer.
“Look, when you type this up, can you fix it so the words end in mid-letter at the end of each line. That looks far more punk rock.”
I doubt it, Kurt. I’m as much owned by a large corporation as you are. More, probably. It would be false. Anyway. So that was at Hagar’s, right? Most of the concerts I’ve seen over the past decade in London were simply a matter of scared wannabe punk rock indie boys wearing spectacles and clutching carrier bags, wishing there were some cute girls to eye up in the crowd. That’s why metal is so popular, I guess – those girls shake their tushes. Am I allowed to say that? Fuck it.
These kids would’ve been terrified at the Cow Palace, watching how well their precious Breeders communicated, perhaps a little shocked at the massive glaring differences between new Breeders material and the (unsurprisingly) mediocre Frank Black album. God, Kurt, I know folk like us have been saying this for years… but just who was the main creative force behind The Pixies?
Breeders songs shuffle and shatter, stumble and shudder just as much as the old Pixies (‘Surfer Rosa’, say) ever did, but now they have an added vulnerability, the sweetest, most caustic vocals. Charles lost something a long time back. Anyhow, how many fucking songs about serial killers and space rockets can one critic take? The trick where they drop all their instruments one by one, until there’s just Jo’s surfin’ bass flaunting, or Kelley’s harsh guitar squalling, is a mighty fine one. And, God, that new drummer can fucking hit those drums!
Did I tell you, Kurt, about how some kids came and badgered me while The Breeders were on? They asked me if they were L7, nodded appreciatively when I mentioned the name Pixies, invited me down the “pit” with them. I declined, of course, on grounds of age and alcohol. They tried to hit on me for tabs. I shook the young punks off and went to buy a commemorative tee-shirt. You wanna say something here?
Kurt: “Yeah. That reminds me. One night, we decided to hire two Manchester Mafia goons to fend off tee-shirt bootleggers. I got very drunk during Eugenius’ set, who, at the time, were called Captain America, I exited out the side door with drink in hand to urinate. The two goons didn’t recognise me as being their employer and decided to rough me up a bit for pissing. I threw a rock star fit, threw my half-empty glass of vodka in their faces, and darted back in through the exit door. They chased me round inside the hall among the dancing fans until I was rescued by my Scottish tour manager.
“Two shows later, the same two goons were hired as bouncers to keep the unruly slam-dancers at bay. For the first half of our set, I kept noticing splashes of beer in my face. I finally realised it wasn’t coming from the audience, it was coming from one of the goon bouncers. I threw off my guitar and jumped straight onto his chest and bounced off of him. He and the other goon began to beat me up, but I was soon rescued by my Scottish tour manager again.”
The last 10 shows I got completely fucked-up at were Nirvana shows. Once, I drank a bottle of vodka and ended up pushing the “star” out in front of 60,000 “fans” in a fucking wheelchair. All I remember was backstage, racing round with Kurt in the chair, chasing those crazy L7 girls, getting faster and faster and the security and organisers and managers and everyone going near crazy cos they figured I might push him off the stage and, bang!, there go a million lawsuits.
I wasn’t drunk at the Cow Palace, but L7 were still there, as proud and strident and manly as ever. Soon, they’re gonna be capable of an album as good as The Runaways’ Live In Japan. That’s not meant as an insult. I used to fucking love The Runaways – and how much cooler it would have all been if only they’d been in control. Joan Jeff still kicks fucking ass, and pretty much most of the US rock stars I know agree.
I didn’t take too much notice of L7 or Hiphoprisy, which was unfair, I know. I was too busy talking with Mrs Novoselic about the new surge of optimism in America, that doctor guy who just got murdered by the very scary and quite insane pro-“lifers”, the Rodney King sideshow, the confusion on tonight’s punters’ faces when they asked her just who are the good and who are the bad guys in Bosnia and she told them it isn’t as simple as that. Hmm. Reagan’s legacy is lasting, right?
But L7 proved their worth, amply. They rocked as good as any man, and got the meatheads mashing to cool, fucked-up songs. That’s a victory. You wanna add something, Kurt?
Kurt: “I was in Dallas, I had the flu. A doctor came to my hotel room and gave me unnamed antibiotic shots in the ass. Drunk again, and feeling the results of the antibiotics and heavy booze, I stumbled onstage and played four songs. In the middle of the fourth song, I took my guitar to the monitor board, smashing it to bits as the crowd cheered ‘bullshit, bullshit’.
“The bouncer, who was also the owner of the monitor board, didn’t appreciate what I’d done. For the next five songs, he paced back and forth, punching me in the ribs. I jumped into the crowd with my guitar. He pretended to save me from the vicious crowd, yet he grabbed my hair and punched me in the ribs a few times. I swung the butt-end of my guitar into his face. He bled, and proceeded to beat the shit out of me. Once again, I was saved by my Scottish tour manager.
“After the show, Chris and I got into a cab in front of the club, only to be greeted by the bloody bouncer and 10 of his heavy metal vomit friends with Iron Maiden and Sammy Hagar tee-shirts. The bloody bouncer smashed his hand through the side of the cab and choked me senseless. We couldn’t move because we were stuck in the traffic. After 20 minutes of cat and mouse, we fled away into the night.”
So what relevance does all this have to the Cow Palace, or to whether L7 kicked ass? Does it tell us if Hiphoprisy had a new guitarist and a whole cavalcade of new songs, which were slightly less focused, slightly more encompassing than before (I’m talking topic-wise here)? We haven’t even mentioned Hiphoprisy’s enthusiastic reception, their PC-checking of the ‘Stop Using Women’s Bodies As A Battleground’ scene, their still fiery renditions of ‘California’ and ‘Television’.
We were discussing the show, right? You think you’re a major league star, you think you can get away with telling us any bogus “boy” story, right?
Kurt: “Hey, you fucking asked me. I didn’t even see most of the show, okay? Fuck you.”
Okay. The hack fears he might be stepping into the realm of fiction. It’s time to bring this whole “concept” crashing down round its ears. Kurt, say something, and we’ll call a halt to this. Agreed?
Silence. The star is on the phone. His wife is at the table, reading up on books on cool feminist thought. I thought I’d give you names, but you’re too fucking lazy to listen. A log fire crackles. In the distance, a lake glistens under a dim night sky. God, don’t you just love having stars to envy?
The first time I saw Nirvana, I was so hyped up by the guys over at Sub Pop, I expected some fucking punk band who’d come along to change the fucking world. They didn’t suck exactly, but I’m sure glad they got rid of that extra guitarist.
© Everett True, Melody Maker, 24 April 1993