Gillian G. Gaar interview

Introduction: Here is an interview I did with the popular journalist and author Gillian G. Gaar. The interview started in February 2000 but didn't conclude until late July 2000 as Gaar was swamped with work. In case you don't know who Gillian is, here is a short bio from the "Nirvana Companion" book by John Rocco; "Gillian G. Gaar has been writing about music, film, and popular culture for over 20 years and has written for Rolling Stone, Q, Pulse, Option, and Goldmine, among other publications. Her book, She's a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock, was published in 1992. She has also contributed to several books." - "Gaar worked at The Rocket, Seattle's music biweekly, where she was Senior Editor; her review of From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah in that publication won a Music Journalism Award in 1997 in the 'Regional Periodicals, Criticism or Review' category. She lives in Seattle." Courtesy John Rocco and Schirmer Books, 1998.

In the Nirvana community, Gaar is mostly known for her comprehensive article "Verse Chorus Verse: The Recording History of Nirvana", and for the fact that she is helping Krist Novoselic with the forthcoming boxed set. Due to legal reasons she cannot comment about this in detail. The interview is 2000 Gillian G. Gaar and The Internet Nirvana Fan Club. Below I am "NFC", using this font color and Gillian G. Gaar is "GGG", using this font.

NFC: Miss Gaar, could you start by telling us a little about your background, and about your current activities ?
GGG: I launched my writing career by contributing to Rocky Horror fanzines in the late '70s. I then wrote for one of Seattle's first alternative newspapers, Desperate Times, and have since written for many fine publications at home and abroad. I've published one book, "She's A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll," and have appeared in seven anthologies/encyclopedias; the book of most interest for this interview would be "The Nirvana Companion," which features the Nirvana story I wrote for the Feb. 14, 1997 issue of Goldmine, along with other fab Nirvana articles.

NFC: Was it your own idea to write this comprehensive Nirvana history/discography for Goldmine magazine ??
GGG: It was my idea. By that point, my other Nirvana-related articles I'd written for Goldmine included one feature (Dec. 10, 1993), Kurt's obituary, reviews of In Utero and the first Foo Fighters release, an interview with the director of the film "Hype!," reviews of the books "Come As You Are" and "Nirvana and the Sound of Seattle," and a report on Krist's anti-censorship work. I'm always looking for ways to write about Nirvana, and felt it was time for an updated feature on the band in Goldmine. Thankfully, the editor agreed.

NFC: Seeing the band, according to [Bleach producer, Jack] Endino, didn't like the song "Blandest" do you think its unlikely that it will ever see an official release ?
GGG: I couldn't say for sure.

NFC: Your article doesn't mention the session that was rumoured to have been done at Kurt's house in March of 1994, [supposedly] yielding songs such as "Dough, Ray and Me".
GGG: I've yet to have this "session" confirmed by a reliable source.

NFC: You wrote in your article that the song "Sappy" was re-titled to "Verse Chorus Verse" for the compilation "No Alternative". Are you positive that it was in fact re-titled? If so, what do you base this on ?
GGG: "Sappy" was called by that name at Jack Endino's 1/90 session w/the band, and Butch Vig's 4/90 session. From listening to the Vig session, and the No Alternative album, you can tell it's the same song, and on the latter album, it's identified as "Verse Chorus Verse" at least in Rolling Stone's write-up. The cassette dub of the In Utero sessions that circulated before the official release also used the VCV name for this song.

NFC: What is your general view on Nirvana bootlegs?
GGG: I have very mixed feelings. I enjoy hearing rare recordings by any artist I'm interested in. Then I ask myself how I would feel if someone collected rough drafts of stories I'd written, printed them up, and sold them. I don't think I'd be very pleased. Bootlegs are also notorious for not delivering what they promise; the quality can be poor, a "new" version of a song turns out to be a familiar version with a different title, show date/session info is often wrong. I also think they feed into the elitist side of fandom; "I'm a bigger fan than you because I have a certain item, and you don't." It's at that point that the emphasis becomes less on the music, and more on the number of artifacts you have. I find that sad. But bootlegs will always be a temptation.

NFC: Cobain was named the best artist of the 90's by a number of magazines. Would you agree with this perspective?
GGG: Yes, I would. Nirvana headed up the biggest musical/cultural movement since the British Invasion. The "Northwest explosion" of the early '90s wasn't just about music, it crossed over into virtually every area of popular culture. Nirvana didn't create the Northwest scene (musical or otherwise), but the power of their music clearly fueled the excitement for that scene. And Kurt's musical vision powered Nirvana. There is simply no other artist who made as much of an impact during the '90s as Kurt Cobain did. And I think that's true no matter what you think of Nirvana's music.

NFC: Do you know what Krist is up to at the moment, following the demise of his band Sweet 75 ?
GGG: Since this is a big election year, I'd imagine he'll be busy with JAMPAC and other political business; he's definitely doing more Spitfire Tours. I'm sure he'll keep performing in some capacity too; he sat in with Foo Fighters when they played Seattle 12/99, and during the WTO conference in Seattle he played a one-off show with the "No WTO Combo," which also included Jello Biafra, Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, and Gina Mainwal, the last drummer from Sweet 75. Maybe he'll do more shows with Sunshine Cake, or more film stuff...he always seems to have some project going on.

NFC: Rolling Stone Magazine reported that you are helping Krist compiling the forthcoming Nirvana boxed set. Can you confirm that you are indeed involved with the project ?
GGG: I can confirm it; but that's about all!

NFC: I presume you cannot disclose any details about the box, but can you confirm that it is still in its early stages and will thus most likely not be released this year (2000) ?
GGG: I can confirm it's in the early stages. [Note: This answer was given on February 28, 2000.]

NFC: What is your general view of the many Nirvana websites ?
GGG: I'm amazed at the amount of work some people put into their sites. Sometimes it gets a little scary; there was one where a guy noted every "oddity" in a song like a cough, a sneeze, etc. that made me think "Someone's got too much spare time on their hands!" And though I love having such ready access to a wide range of information, I take everything I see with a grain of salt; when I see the same mistakes being perpetuated, I'm leery of taking anything I find on a website at face value. Then again, that's what the online experience is, isn't it? And in this case I've been able to see so many rumors take root and fly and repeated as if they're fact, when they're not. It's lots of fun though! I especially like reading articles that are posted to sites, articles you'd have a hard time finding in their "hard copy" format. I even see my stuff on sites occasionally!

NFC: You mentioned that you spotted mistakes being repeated on Nirvana websites. Could you name some of the most obvious mistakes or false rumours that people on the net are spreading ?
GGG: A lot of dates for events are wrong. I remember it took ages before people began listing the correct date of the MTV Live & Loud taping, Dec 13, 1993. And I still see the incorrect site given for that venue, Pier 47. It's Pier 48. I know because I double-checked by going downtown and looking at the Pier itself! Another example, I've seen a May '88 date given for a New Music Seminar show in NYC. Even if there had been a show in NYC on that date (which there wasn't; the band hadn't toured that far east by '88), it certainly couldn't have been a New Music Seminar show, as NMS was held in July, as I know because I attended it from '86 to '92 (in '92 it was held in June). But how are people to know? Someone reads info from a source they think is reputable and it just gets repeated over and over. "I read it in such-and-such a newspaper/magazine/book, so it must be right!" But I think that's true about information in general. I just read an interview with Johnny Rotten where he says he'll be relating some Sex Pistols' story to a fan only to be told, "That didn't happen, because it's not in Jon Savage's book" ["England's Dreaming"]. "But I was there, I know it happened!" "But it's not in Savage's book." He finds that very frustrating (as would I). "It's really hard to believe everything you read." As a result, I question virtually everything I do read!

Note: In an e-mail, Gillian also noted that; "I was looking thru yr site...the 5/88 New Music Seminar show did not happen. NMS was always held in the summer. I attended every year from 1986 to 1992, and it was always in July (except for '92, 'cause the Demo Con was being held that month; so they moved NMS to June). Nor was there a 6/88 show at the Moore. The 1st time Nirvana played the Moore was the following year, 6/9/89. Hope that helps"

NFC: You wrote a book about women in Rock N' Roll; so who are your favorite female Rock N' Roll artists at the moment ?
GGG: Sleater-Kinney, Quasi, Le Tigre (Kathleen Hanna's new band). And I've been listening a lot to an old favorite of mine; Danielle Dax. She's still great.

NFC: Are you planning on writing more books in the future ?
GGG: I would love to!

NFC: Did you ever see Nirvana live, if so, what did you think ?
GGG: The 1st time was the August 26, 1989 show at Seattle's Center on Contemporary Art, an alternative art gallery. Sub Pop was hosting a weekend of shows at the venue. The funny thing is, I remember nothing about Nirvana. I do remember Catbutt, and Mudhoney, 'cause that was the first time I'd seen the latter band. Even stranger, I had just reviewed "Bleach" for the Rocket; the review appeared the month before.

The bands I saw most at that time were usually more off the wall and/or quirky than the local alt rock bands (though I did see them too, just not as much). I was seeing acts like Lisa Suckdog, Jayne County, the Fibonaccis, the Del Rubio Triplets, etc. If Nirvana had opened for John Sex, I would definitely have seen them!

I have wondered if I did see them again in the early days; since I don't remember anything about their Aug '89 appearance, could I have seen another show of theirs and not remembered it as well? I went to all the clubs they played in Seattle, especially the Vogue. Or could I have seen them at the Pyramid in July '89? I was in NY for the New Music Seminar. I would definitely have gone to the Pyramid at some point during that visit, as I liked that club (it reminded me of the Vogue). Who knows? But I do know I was at a lot of the same shows one or more members of the band (Village People, Sonic Youth, Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, PJ Harvey).

I tried getting tix for the Seattle Halloween '91 show from the promoter, but I couldn't get any. It was a big disappointment, as I really wanted to see the band, and it would've been something to do on Halloween as well.

Throughout '92, in Seattle, it was like being in college again, with everyone playing the same soundtrack in their apartments you heard Nevermind, Dirt, and Ten everywhere you went. Nirvana was supposed to play an August show at the Coliseum in Seattle (now the Key Arena), but that was postponed. The alt radio station, KNDD, still held a party on that date at the Seattle Center (where the Coliseum was), and I got a Nirvana poster an underwater shot of the three in the swimming pool. Whee. The next month, Sept. 11, they did play at the Coliseum. I had a reserved seat in the stands, which was fine by me, I don't like being packed down front. It was the first show Nirvana had done in Seattle since becoming mega-huge, and there was a real air of excitement. Everyone was thrilled; it was like the big homecoming game. I don't remember Fitz of Depression, I do remember not liking Helmet; all I cared about was seeing Nirvana. They didn't disappoint. They were obviously happy about being back, and it was a relaxed show; even the equipment smash-up at the end seemed like a game to them. I also remember seeing what looked like the entire floor jumping up and down the whole time I was very glad I wasn't down there.

Then I saw the Oct 4 1992 show at the Crocodile Cafe, the secret show where Nirvana opened for Mudhoney. I found out about the show as I was setting up an interview w/Courtney Love. She told me about it and swore me to secrecy, so I didn't tell a single soul. I interviewed her that day at the Four Seasons hotel downtown (the interview ran in the November '92 issue of the Rocket), went home to eat, then back downtown to the club. There was a line, so obviously not everyone had kept it a secret! I waited outside w/Patty Schemel (then Hole's drummer), until Courtney arrived, then we all went in. It seemed to be pretty packed already, but people I knew waiting in line did get in as well, so the show was open to the public, not just those "in the know," or on the guest list. The band room (the club has a separate dining area, back bar, and band room) was also packed, unsurprisingly, but what I remember the most is that most people didn't mosh too much. I stood a bit back from the stage, to avoid getting caught in any crush, but people were surprisingly laid back, I think because we were all just so awed this could happen, that this band we once knew, now incredibly famous, could actually be seen in a bar again (capacity only a few hundred!). The band was even more relaxed, almost casual. At one point Kurt asked if there were any requests, and Krist joked "Play 'Teen Spirit!'" Which they didn't. It was a like a badge of honor for us; we were too cool to need to hear 'Teen Spirit'!" I felt incredibly lucky to have seen that show, I think the last small scale show the band did.

The next show was August 6 '93 at the King Theater in Seattle. It was a benefit for the Mia Zapata investigative fund. Zapata was a singer in the Gits, who was murdered in July '93. Tad was supposed to be headlining. But the promoter called me on the day of the show and said he was angling to get Nirvana. I didn't think it would happen. But he did get 'em. Then it was announced over the radio, and I thought a huge crowd would show up. That didn't happen. The theater was a former movie house, with a main floor, and the rear of the theater slightly raised. My friends and I sat in the 1st row of this back section; we knew the kids would be standing up front and moshing during the show anyway, and this way we could sit and still see. It seemed to take the bands forever to get through their sets, and even after Tad we wondered if Nirvana would play; maybe they'd changed their minds or couldn't get it together or something. But yes! They played! It was great fun. During "Seasons in the Sun," Kurt was singing in a low drone, then when he got to the chorus he screamed it, and one of my friends and I looked at each other and broke out laughing. That's my clearest memory. And of course, there was no "Teen Spirit."

The next show was November 15 at Roseland. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the '93 and '94 shows. Not that they were bad by this time, Nirvana's competence was such that I don't think they could've played a bad gig but I feel the '90-'91 shows were the peak live period for the band. The excitement of those shows I feel is missing from many of the '93-'94 shows. This particular gig was fine, but not exceptional. Not helping the situation were all the industry weasels in attendance. I had a pass for the VIP area, which was a large box on one side of the theater, and it was crammed with people who obviously didn't care about the band, they were there 'cause it was the Hot Show To Be Seen At; they spent the entire time yakkety yakking w/each other, not watching the show. Afterwards, I learned I had a "second place" VIP pass, and had to wait for the "first place" pass people to leave the backstage area before the second place folks would be let in. Instead, I chose to escape with Lori Goldston (cellist on the '93 tour; I got a ticket from her through a mutual friend) and friends to a nearby bar, where I suspect we had a better time.

A few days later I was at the Unplugged taping on November 18; Lori G again helped with the ticket. I'd hoped since she was w/the band I might get early entry or something, but no, I had to wait in line w/everybody else. We finally got in. With all the flowers, candles, and amber light, the room had a very autumnal feeling, warm and glowing. There seemed to be no place to sit. Then I heard someone say they were media and I chimed in too; "I'm media!" We were led to this riser at the back. There were no seats left, but we were allowed to sit on the steps. Fine w/me; the elevation meant the view was unobstructed. People had been doubtful Nirvana could do an Unplugged, and I was uncertain why, I guess because they played loud, so how could they play quietly? I didn't have any such thoughts myself; they were obviously competent musicians, so why couldn't they do an Unplugged? I also wondered how long it would take, as I'd heard some of the tapings went on for quite a while, as the bands sometimes had to do songs a couple of times. Dave Grohl was wandering around the audience w/a bottle of Beck's beer, and the whole atmosphere was rather low key, even after the rest of the band came out. As you know, the show just went straight through, one take each, and bang, on to the next. There was a little more time between songs than at a regular show, but not much. I smiled at Kurt's self-deprecation when he introduced the first song, "About A Girl": "This is off our first record. Most people don't own it," like he expected us to be unfamiliar with the song. My favorite songs from the show were "The Man Who Sold The World," "Dumb," and, of course, "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." And then it was over. Wound down just as casually as it began.

Then came the Live N Loud taping December 13. It was held at Pier 48, which in the summertime is a terminal used by ferries going to British Columbia (Canada). This is one of my favorite shows. As you know, Pearl Jam didn't play a set, which meant that Nirvana could go on longer, and they certainly rose to the occasion. I was again in a VIP area, which was a riser set off to the side. This time I was at the front, so if there were any industry weasels yakking, I wouldn't have to hear them. The band was clearly enjoying themselves, which made the show great fun, 'cause the band was having a good time as well. At one point, between songs, a kid down front yelled "MTV sucks!" Kurt stopped and quite sensibly asked, "Then why are you here?" I thought he looked like a crazed Pied Piper at the end, urging the crowd to come on the stage after he'd smashed up the angel mannequins on stage. Security will love that, I thought. And I wished he could've managed to throw his guitar over the ceiling beams. A great, great show.

The next, and last show I saw was January 7 at the Arena (now the Mercer Arena), a smaller Seattle Center venue. Pearl Jam had played 3 shows there the previous month; it was a way to play a smaller venue, but still play to as many people as in a larger venue, just over the course of a few days. By this time, I knew the setlist very well, and there weren't really any surprises. I knew some folks went to both shows (Jan. 7 and 8), but I figured I'd seen Nirvana a lot over the past few months and didn't need to see the second Seattle date. Now I wish I had. I took a friend who was skeptical as to whether the band could still pull it off; I guess he thought fame might've reduced them to going through the motions. But afterwards he admitted he was very impressed. Oh yeah they actually played "Teen Spirit" this time!

NFC: Wow. Well, ok, how did you react when you learned that Kurt had killed himself? Did you see it coming ?
GGG: I didn't see it coming, exactly, but I had a sense of foreboding from the fall of '93 on. Remember the headline for Q magazine's 10/93 cover? "Heroin, paranoia, hatred, death...things are looking up for Nirvana." It was meant as an ironic observation of course, but how funny was it really? There was a lot of this kind of "gallows humor" going on around the time of In Utero's release.

I found out about Kurt's Rome overdose on March 4, on the way to the Rocket. I saw a newspaper headline. There was a sense of walking on eggshells at the office, until the hours passed and it was clear that disaster had been averted, for now at least. Still, I think anyone in Seattle who was interested in the band had a heightened sense of apprehension for the next few weeks. Was Kurt really okay? What was going to happen?

I was again at the Rocket on April 8. Around 9:30 am, it was announced on radio that the body of a "white male in his 20s" had been found at the Cobain house. Within minutes, other radio stations had picked up the story, and people were calling the Rocket. Even my mother called, and she sure didn't hear the story on rock radio; this revealed how quickly other local stations began broadcasting the story. My reaction was very similar to learning about John Lennon's death; I was in London, and saw the headline, and instantly began trying to work out how the story couldn't be true; maybe the paper went to press with the wrong story. So it was this time. A young "white male"? That could be anybody, couldn't it? It didn't have to be Kurt. But of course I knew it was, and that was confirmed about midday.

In the light of the Rome incident, Kurt's death wasn't that much of a shock; it's as if we went through a "dry run" the month before. Now we all felt helpless, and this seemed to be true of both people that knew and worked with Kurt or fans and journalists that had a more distinct relationship with him. A sense of "What do we do now?" At the Rocket, we didn't have a lot of time to think about it because we were going to press that day. I wrote an obit for the issue, and I went home to write it; I wasn't going to stay around in the office, that's for sure. It was too crazy, with the phone ringing off the hook, camera crews wanting to come in, etc. So I walked home, put on Bleach and wrote my piece. I took it back to the Rocket on disc (pre e-mail!). It was a bit rainy, and it sounds a little corny, but I actually thought "The city is weeping."

That night COCA had a gallery opening. Saturday was the annual Sub Pop party. Sunday was the vigil. Everywhere I went, everyone seemed to have the same stunned expression on their face. There had been some talk of canceling the Sub Pop party, but I'm very glad they didn't. It was very helpful going to these public gatherings, and being with people feeling the same sense of loss that you did. The vigil was strange because everybody still felt so sad. When Courtney's statement was played, even journalists began to cry. And afterwards, when everybody swarmed into the fountain, you couldn't even see the pavement, just a big blur of flannel. It all felt so unreal; you walked around, and spoke to people you knew, but there was a strange sense of detachment, as if you couldn't take in the reality of the situation.

NFC: Do you plan on writing more, comprehensive, Nirvana articles in a near future?
GGG: I would love to!

NFC: You mentioned that you went to the 8/6/93 show. Many people speculate that they played the song "I hate myself and want to die" (from the 'Beavis and Butthead' compilation). Do you remember if this is true? There is also a rumour about a cover of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter"
GGG: I wish I could help, but I honestly don't remember. I was just enjoying the show and didn't take notes. I came to my senses in time for the 12/13/93 show, I did write down every song, which is why my Goldmine article had that complete listing. I think the No Quarter note appeared in the Rocket's review? I'm pretty sure that's where it came from. I didn't write that, but I'd assume the reviewer did get that right (I'm not a Zep expert myself).

Gillian G. Gaar at the
Seattle vigil on April 10, 1994.






























































































Advertisement for 06/09/89 show


Advertisement for 06/09/89 show


Advertisement for 08/26/89 show


Picture from 07/18/89 show


Picture from 10/31/91 show


Ticket stub from 09/11/92 show


Picture from 10/04/92 show


Advertisement for 08/06/93 show


Ticket stub from 11/15/93 show























































Poster for 01/07 and 01/08 1994

All pictures courtesy of
Mike Ziegler and the Interactive
Nirvana Concert Chronology.