Interview with Kurt and Courtney
By Christina Kelly
Itís 1:00 PM and Iíve been sitting in this East Village restaurant since noon, waiting for Nirvanaís Kurt Cobain and Holeís Courtney Love to arrive for our interview. On this particular rainy afternoon Nirvana has the number-one record in the country, the awesome Nevermind, which has sold, like, three million copies. The album was their first for a major label; their debut, Bleach, was released on Sub Pop in 1989 and sold only 50,000 back when they were just a Northwest punk trio with an underground following. Their sudden, massive and shocking success has made the band sought after by media all over the world. And the anti-mainstream Kurt has blown off everyone from Rolling Stone to the New York Times. Also, at this time, all kinds of major labels are trying to woo Hole (the foxcore band whose drummer was included in our February piece on girl drummers) away from Caroline, which released their first record, Pretty on the Inside. I should be worried that theyíre not going to make it to this interview, but Iíve been told that Kurt and Courtney are both Sassy readers, and I just know theyíre going to show up.
As Iím assuring the waiter again that the rest of my party will be here any minute, Kurt and Courtney walk in the door. I wave, and they come over to my table, apologizing for being late. Courtneyís in this cool black midi-dress, a fuzzy old sweater and brown vintage pumps. She keeps playing with her bleached hair, covering her face with it and making it stand up and stuff. Courtney says sheís 24, but I think she could be older. Sheís not classically pretty, but she wears her offbeat looks well. Kurt, who probably really is 24, is very cute, with incredibly blue eyes, which are set off nicely by his pink-streaked hair. However, he is so skinny that I would like to force-feed him a solid meal. Heís wearing disintegrating jeans and a cardigan over an ancient Flipper (the band, not the TV show) T-shirt. His black sneakers have holes in them. "Heís got the number-one record," says Courtney, in her scratchy voice, "and he only has one pair of shoes."
I mention that I saw their engagement announced on MTV when Nirvanaís video was number one. Says Kurt, "It was embarrassing, but it was also kind of neat" Courtney says, "I thought it was kind of dorky." Sheís wearing an engagement ring, circa 1906, with a ruby or something in the middle. Kurt has one too, an ornate band. "Sorry about this zit." she says, pointing to her cheek. "Zits are beauty marks," says Kurt.
Kurt has a very sweet way about him, almost shy. Heíll sit there and not talk, but not in a hostile way - besides, itís hard for anyone, even me, to get a word in edgewise with the loquacious Miss Courtney. But heíll definitely answer any question. I ask how they met. "I saw him play in Portland in 1988," says Courtney. "Iím from Eugene. I thought he was really passionate and cute, but I couldnít tell if he was smart or had any integrity. And then I met him at a show about a year or something ago." "Butthole Surfers," says Kurt. "And L7," adds Courtney. "I really pursued him, not too aggressive, but aggressive enough that some girls would have been embarrassed by it. Iím direct. That can scare a lot of boys. Like, I got Kurtís number when they were on tour, and I would call him. And I would do interviews with people who I knew were going to interview Nirvana, and I would tell them I had a crush on Kurt. Kurt was scared of me. He said he didnít have time to deal with me. But I knew it was inevitable." Kurt adds: "I would just like to say that I liked Courtney a lot. I wasnít ignoring her. I didnít mean to play hard to get. I just didnít have the time. I had so many things on my mind." "He had to write a hit record," says Courtney.
The turning point for the relationship was last September. Courtney was meeting with a record company exec. ĎHe said to me, ĎWhat do you want? I can make you a big star,í" says Courtney, whose band is based in LA. "And I said, ĎI want to see Nirvana in Chicago.í So he got on the phone and spent, like, $1,000 and bought me a ticket and I went. And that is when we got together."
Before you knew it, they were boyfriend and girlfriend. And now theyíre planning to get married as soon as possible (maybe by the time you read this), both wearing dresses. Kurt likes wearing dresses because they are comfortable and says he looks best in baby dolls with flowers on them. "In the last couple of months," says Kurt, "Iíve gotten engaged and my attitude has changed drastically, and I canít believe how much happier I am and how even less career oriented I am. At times I even forget Iím in a band, Iím so blinded by love. I know that sounds embarrassing, but itís true. I could give the band up right now. It doesnít matter. But Iím under contract." What a wondrously sweet thing to say. I canít believe it when Courtney tells me that a friend of hers called her up in Europe and told her not to go out with Kurt: "She told me, ĎWhat youíre doing is culturally important and youíll just get swallowed up by going out with Kurt.í"
Courtney continues: "We get attention for our relationship, but if we didnít have bands, no one would care. I mean, the reason weíre doing this interview is girls have been trained to look up to rock star boys as these...objects. They grow up their whole lives with horses or rock stars on their walls. For me, I didnít want to marry a rock star, I wanted to be one. I had a feminist hippie mom, and she told me I could do whatever I wanted to do. But a lot of girls think that to go out with somebody whoís cool or successful, they have to be pretty and submissive and quiet. They canít be loud and obnoxious like me, and they canít have their own thing."
Courtney clearly wants to be a huge rock star in her own right. She doesnít want to be perceived as glomming on Kurtís success. And she seems a little paranoid ... probably with good reason ...that people will think that she is. Like, when I ask if they plan to tour together, Kurt is totally normal about it. "I know that when we were on tour we wished we were playing all our shows together," he says. "I spent so much money on phone calls. The next time we go on tour weíre going to go together." But Courtney quickly interjects: "That has to do with my band being on a level where we should go on tour with his band. Otherwise, I wouldnít do it. I would rather die than go on tour with someone just because I go out with them.
"Itís cool to go out with someone that you know you would go out with if you were a waitress and they worked at a gas station...you can get really paranoid in music because you never know why people like you." Courtneyís boyfriends are usually in bands. Kurt doesnít always have musician girlfriends, although he did go out with Tobi, the drummer in Bikini Kill. He even tells me that they want to record some songs they co-wrote when they were together. He and Courtney want to collaborate too.
Courtney has interesting things to say about girls in rock. "I kind of donít think itís enough at this point for girls to start a band and be punk," she says. "There arenít many girls right now who write really good songs. I wanna write as good as Charles from the Pixies, or Kurt, or Neil Young. It seems like girls always concentrate on lyrics. I read in Sassy about how girls get discouraged from math, and I think that affects songwriting, because math is a big part of arranging a song in your head."
I ask Kurt how being in love will affect his songwriting. "My songs have always been frustrating themes, relationships that Iíve had," he says. "And now that Iím in love, I expect it to be really happy, or at least there wonít be half as much anger as there was. Iím just so overwhelmed by the fact that Iím in love on this scale, I donít know how my musicís going to change. But Iím looking forward to it. I love change. All the bands I respect the most have changed with every album. I canít stand to hear the same format, where after three or four albums you know exactly what to expect. Thatís boring, and thatís why those bands lose their audience."
Courtney adds: "Itís a lot harder to write about sunshine and make it interesting. Iíll always have certain amounts of anger about social things, about my life. I think a lot of the reason that people like both our bands is because of the anger involved. His band always had prettier songs too, but I was scared of pretty songs. Because my first band was all 12-string Rickenbacker, three girls, no drummer, I got accused of being wimpy, and I got a really big chip on my shoulder about it."
Courtney shifts conversational gears a lot, and now she brings up the house theyíre going to buy in Seattle. "Itís really beautiful," she says. "Itís Victorian. And my favorite thing to think about while weíre doing major label meetings and stuff is basically what color weíre going to paint the walls. I want to have a baby really bad, but I want to be able to afford it myself. I want my own money. I couldnít imagine marrying someone with money and then living off them." Kurt on the baby possibility: "I just want to be situated and secure. I want to make sure we have a house, and make sure we have money saved up in the bank"
With Nirvanaís material success, I doubt that will be a problem. Speaking of which, alternative rock fans have a way of slagging their favorite bands once they get famous. Are people just jealous? "Iíd be really egotistical to admit that, but I canít help but feel that way every once in a while," Kurt says. "The other day I was driving around in LA listening to a college station. They were playing a lot of my favorite bands, like Flipper and the Melvins. I was saying to myself, This is great. And then the DJ came on and went on this half-hour rant about how Nirvana is so obviously business oriented and just because we have colored hair doesnít mean we are alternative. And I felt really terrible. Because there is nothing in the world I like more than pure underground music. And to be shunned by this claim that just because you are playing the corporate game you are not honest! You use the corporate ogre to your advantage. You fight them by joining them."
It is now time for Kurt to go to MTV, where Nirvana will tape five videos to be played in regular rotation. And Courtney has an appointment at Charisma Records. But first we go outside for some photos. They sit on the sidewalk and Courtney kisses Kurt, smearing lipstick on his face. Itís looking very Sid and Nancy (Courtney, by the way, had a small part in the 1986 movie). Kurt asks Janet, Holeís publicist, to get him a copy of their album. "This is the man Iím going to marry," says Courtney, "and he still hasnít heard my entire album." Then a yuppie couple walk by and ask to photograph Kurt. "Who were those people?" I ask. "Christina," says Courtney, everyone has the Nirvana album. Everyone." I guess so, because the guy with the camera was wearing a bolo tie.