The album has already gone gold, and is even outselling Guns N' Rosesdouble Use Your Illusion at some record stores. And the band's "SmellsLike Teen Spirit" video garnered the world-premiere slot on MTV's 120Minutes, practically unheard of for a band that had never had a video showbefore on MTV. Everyone seems to be reaching for Nirvana.
Guitarist-lyricist-possibly tormented guy Kurt Cobain,bassist-maniac-really towering guy Chris Novoselic, and drummer-Virginianative-seriously fun guy Dave Grohl are forging a mighty sound. Spawned inthe Pacific Northwest, Nirvana's music sounds like R.E.M. married to SonicYouth, while having an affair with the Germs. Hole's Courtney Lovedescribes it thus: "Nirvana is plowing a new playground for all of us toplay in."
Success has come so quickly for the band that it has a tenuous handle onthe realities of its rise to prominence. "I couldn't even tell you shitlike when Bleach was released. I couldn't even name the songs on thealbum," says Cobain. "Our record-company bio is nothing but a huge lie.They wrote it up, but it was really lame - they called me at seven in themorning. In the end they just turned it over to us to write. So we mademost of it up."
"You know what I think is great?" interjects Grohl. "The interviews inEnglish magazines, because they sort of tidy up the grammar. You're freeto tidy up any of our grammar. Just make us sound smart."
Nirvana was formed in 1987 by Aberdeen, Washington, native Kurt Cobain,who lived his formative years in a trailer park with his cocktail-waitressmom and didn't listen to music until later in life. He hooked up withNovoselic, and they worked their way toward 1989's Bleach, which was madein three days for $600 and crammed with nihilistic, punk-tinged melodicrock. The band toured, got a record deal with DGC, saw many bootlegreleases hit the streets, picked up drummer Grohl in 1990 from D.C.'spunk-hardcore band Scream, toured in Europe with Sonic Youth, put outNevermind, and will probably be touring for the rest of its born days.That is, until they all go into hiding to escape the glare of thespotlight.
Cobain has been mislabeled as a "spokesman for a disaffected generation."He's not interested in the job. His lyrics have a sheen of naivete thatjust barely contains his anger-but gems like "I feel stupid and contagious/ Here we are now, entertain us," from "Smells Like Teen Spirit," come offmore as glimpses into his private world than rallying cries to the masses.
I really have no desire to read the lyrics my favorite rock stars write,"says Cobain. "I don't pay attention. My favorite album this year was theBreeders' Pod [from 1990]. Actually, I lied-I do listen to Kim Deal'slyrics. But I don't really pay attention to what people write. Eveninterviews, I just take with a grain of salt. The only ones I've ever readthat I really liked were ones with the Pixies and Butthole Surfers-otherthan that I can't even think of any that I even finished."
When it comes to the band's own interviews, Cobain says, "We lead suchboring lives that we start to make up stuff." But, as with any band thatcomes out of nowhere, stories will get made up anyhow. Example: A rumoredcontract signing with DGC for $750,000-which would have made it thelargest indie signing in history-was, according to Cobain, "Journalismthrough hearsay. And then the numbers kept getting bigger so that a lot ofpeople believed that we were signing for a million dollars." In fact, theband says the deal was for $250,000 spread over two records.
"And now we're snubbed by people who think we're big rock stars," saysGrohl. "They think that when you get signed to a major label you get allthis cash to spend."
"I didn't understand how the music business worked when I was young," addsCobain. "I used to curse the Butthole Surgers for having fifteen-dollarticket prices. Now I obviously understand it more, but it's just that withall these people paying attention it feels a little like being in the zoo.Maybe this could be the disclaimer article: What we're gonna do now is letthe kids know that we haven't sold out."
"Like, from now on all our shows are gonna be free," says Grohl andlaughs.
"And we'll play with Fugazi for vegetable scraps," says Cobain, only halfjokingly. "We're never going to lose our punk ethic."
"We don't want to be just lackeys to the corporate ogre," laments Grohl.
They needn't worry. Although there are a wealth of colorful storiesconverning the band's offstage shenanigans, Nirvana is hardly the productof record company-inspired, corporate rock-controlled rebellion. In otherwords, the band's antics are not a ploy for headline-grabbingattention-it's just the way they are. For instance, when MTV staged apregig game of Twister in Boston between Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, andBullet Lavolta, Cobain greased up Novoselic's nearly nude body with Criscooil after which the bassist used an American flag hanging on the wall towipe himself off. "These jocks came up and were really bad-vibing me,"says Novoselic. "Like, 'Hey, you don't do that to our American flag.' So Iended up having some kind of bodyguard go with me to the club."
When Nirvana did a Tower Records in-store appearance this fall in NewYork, a plate of roast beef sandwiches was thoughtfully provided for theoccasion, which gave rise to this potential quote of the year: "I thoughtthese guys were an alternative band, but they're eating meat."
There's more. Cobain has thoroughly confused his record company by usingmultiple choice in the spelling of his name: Kurdt, Curt, and Kurt; Cobainor Kobain. Real and imagined stories run rampant of tour bus curtainsbeing lit on fire, drunken backstage debaucheries, Grohl giving out ChrisCornell's (actually Sub Pop's) phone number during on on-air interview,their road manager's being questioned in Pittsburgh because of a torchedcouch in the club, the band inviting hundreds of audience members onstageduring a St. Louis show to escape the violent bouncers, and on and on.
Never mind the stories-to see is to believe. Live, these guys kicksubstantial ass. Nirvana shows are rife with churning, smashing, moving,sweaty ecstasy onstage and off. To witness the end of some sets is tounderstand why they cannot do an encore-there's very little equipment leftintact. They are adamant about playing only all-ages shows, to the pointof adding an extra gig in Boston when they found out the show theyperformed at was not open to everyone. But they also pissed off aPhiladelphia crowd by not doing an encore, provoking chants of "sellout."With or without encores, at the end of the day Nirvana stills gives it toits audience full force. It helps that the band members have had ampletime on the road, because there the audience is your best friend-withoutthem you're totally on your own.
"Most of the time earlier on we'd stay at people's houses that we'd justmet," says Cobain. "But I remember one time in Texas on our first tour weslept at the edge of a lake where there were signs all over saying bewareof alligators. We all slept with baseball bats by our sides, or we triedto sleep. In the middle of the night we thought we saw one so we baggedout."
Cobain's got a tattoo on his arm, it's the K Records symbol, representingthe Olympia, Washington, indie label run by Beat Happening's CalvinJohnson. This summer Johnson helped stage the International PopUnderground Convention, where, unlike other so-called new musicconventions, they really did showcase only new talent, along with holdingbarbecues, parades and disco dances. It's very pure.
Cobain says, "It's the event of the year. I vowed months ago that nothingwas going to get in the w ay of me attending it-but unfortunately thisyear we missed it because we played the Reading Festival in England. ButI've had the tattoo since last summer. It was a home job. Dave taught me."
"You can do it with just a regular sewing needle, string and some Indiaink," instructs Grohl. "Wrap the thread around the needle, dip it in theink, and jab it in."
"But when I did it, the thread unraveled," says Cobain. "So I ended upjabbing in the needle and pouring ink all over my arm."
"Tips to keep yourself busy," adds Grohl.
Beyond home tattoos, Nirvana is waiting for the day when its recordcompany, DGC, home to a slew of rock up-and-comers, holds a picnic so theband members can hang with its fellow label mates-especially Nelson. SonicYouth got a head start in the Nelson stakes when the band visited theblond boys on tour last year, but this trio has a bolder tribute in mind.
"Nelson have a room they go into before each show where they turn off thelights and meditate with incense burning," Grohl says.
"So we're gonna have the Nelson room where we burn effigies of them beforewe go onstage," adds Cobain.
"Kinda like the Satan room," Grohl concludes.
Obviously signing with a major has not put a stop to Nirvana's fun.Instead, it has served the purpose of allowing more people to share thenoise. Their T-shirts sum it up: The latest version proudly sports theslogan: KITTY PETTIN, FLOWER SNIFFIN, BABY KISSIN CORPORATE ROCK WHORES.Recently a DGC employee, who was wearing a "crack-smokin'" version of theshirt at a cash machine in L.A., was asked by the long arm of the law toturn the shirt inside out because it was offending passers-by.
To some of the great unwashed, Nirvana's favorite bands remainobscurities: the Vaselines, a Scottish band whose tune "Molly's Lips"often starts off Nirvana's live sets, and the Japanese all-female pop trioShonen Knife, who will be touring with them in Europe. And of coursemolasses-metal kings The Melvins-whose drummer Dale Crover played onBleach's "Paper Cuts" and "Floyd the Barber" and did a brief stint on theroad with them in the pre-Grohl period-hold a special place in theirhearts.
"There is no band that changed my perspective of music like the Melvins,"says Grohl. "I'm not joking. I think they're the future of music."
"And the present and past," adds Cobain. "They should get recognized forthat."
As Nirvana begins to plot out its quest for world domination, a schemeinvolving a certain matal-titan is hatched.
"We'll rub elbows with Metallica. That way they'll wear our T-shirts andwe'l become an instant success," says the forward-looking Cobain.
Like they need any help.
On second thought, Cobain adds, "We've gotta get Kirk Hammett a MelvinsT-shirt."
"Yeah, because there's nothing heavier than the Melvins," says Grohl.