Marking the 10th anniversary of Nevermind, True relives a turbulent life in grunge and Gullick and Sweet share their photographs
EVERETT TRUE is famous for two things. He’s the last of the big personality journalists, his prose ringing out “I” and “me” more loudly and frequently than the “he” or “she” he happens to be writing about. He was also a friend and confidante of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.
It’s fitting, then, that he should make his publishing debut with a memoir of those years of insanity at the heart of the thing they called grunge. It was Everett who brought the label men scurrying to Seattle with their cheque books after writing excitably in Melody Maker about the city’s independent rock scene in 1989.
Everett, too, introduced Kurt to Courtney, appeared onstage with both Nirvana and Hole, joined their tours, dialled the Cobains’ home number at his pleasure, and was welcome in any of their houses, there to find the royal couple holding court on whatever controversy had recently exploded around them.
When Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994, Everett was summoned to their Seattle house by Courtney Love, an occasion that he recognises as “the rock journalist’s ultimate dream”.
Nirvana fans know all these things, but their hopes for juicy gossip or revelation from Everett’s book will be frustrated. This reads like a journal, but with more gaps than most: Everett was usually too drunk to remember a lot of what happened. And for drunk, read absolutely legless, falling over, throwing up and passing out.
He wasn’t taking many notes, either. Kurt made it a condition of his travels with Nirvana that he came along as a friend, not a journalist. Everett never betrayed that trust — although this sometimes conflicted directly with his professional duty — and it’s unlikely he ever will.
He talks about “the politics around Nirvana”, the rift between Kurt and Courtney on the one hand and Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl on the other, without going into any detail other than the suggestion that Kurt had been getting a little power-crazy, and he’s equally guarded in his descriptions of the period leading up to Kurt’s funeral.
He avoids the speculation surrounding the state of the Cobains’ marriage before Kurt’s death, and refuses to discuss the theory that Love was involved, as proposed in books and in the Kurt And Courtney film.
Controversy apart, there’s plenty of Kurtney, portrayed in a series of domestic scenarios, interviews, gig reviews and memories that spring vividly from the general fog of alcoholic confusion.
In the final and most fascinating chapters, Everett closely analyses the course of his relationship with his one-time best friend Courtney, assessing their “dysfunctional co-dependence” with a humbling honesty, and his experiences tell us more about the diva Love than she probably ever will. If Nirvana’s corporate success ultimately became disillusioning, Courtney’s pretty-on-the-outside movie stardom struck an even more disappointing blow.
Yet, Everett admits to a certain resentment that as Courtney’s fortunes rose, his fell correspondingly, leading to an almost complete estrangement. This is a humbler Everett True than his readers know, one who wonders about his relationship with Kurt: “Maybe the only reason we hung out together was because his glory reflected upon me and gave me that illusion of glamour I’d been searching for all my life.”
Writing as a fan, a feminist, an outsider and a sober fiance, Everett looks back over his glory years with the benefit of hindsight, seeking an explanation for actions he can barely recall, picking out the compromises and betrayals that fractured his perfect world, and rounding out the musical and personal philosophies that his frantic, frequently ridiculous despatches may once have obscured.
Still, the old, marauding egomaniac is never too far away to celebrate his drinking exploits with the likes of Kim and Kelley Deal and his fights with anyone who caught him at the wrong end of a bottle of whiskey. Critically as cantankerous and bloody-minded as ever, he trashes The Foo Fighters and Beck, and brings the action briefly back to England for a spirited defence of the Riot Grrrl movement.
None of the story is really about the bands. It’s about Everett True and how he lived through this. Living through this with him, quite often, were Steve Gullick and Stephen Sweet, the only two British photographers to enjoy special privileges with Nirvana. Many of their most revealing shots are included in a beautiful, glossy gallery to which Everett contributes the introduction. It follows Nirvana around the world, onstage and off, picking out the unconventional beauty of a hotel room, or the almost eerie constance of an audience.
Some of the sessions are immediately familiar, but they bear repetition for their personal insight to the band. The tender, funny scenes between Kurt and Frances Bean are particularly moving, and they draw attention to the absence of Courtney Love throughout the pages — be that by accident or, quite possibly, by design.
© Carol Clerk, Uncut, October 2001