[There will be plenty about Kurt Cobain over the next few days. Here’s something from frequent contributor Gilles LeBlanc. – AC]
*FULL DISCLOSURE* Back in the early 1990s, the (much) younger and Doc Martens-wearing version of myself confesses he was completely caught up in all the
This isn’t the first instance someone has broached the controversial subject of Kurt Cobain’s life, albeit never to such a personal extent. Goldberg wasn’t just an administrator to Kurt’s creative affairs; he also became a trusted friend and fatherly figure to the frustrated, artistically talented Aberdeen native who found fleeting acceptance in punk rock, only to have that blow up out of any kind of control, with solace coming in the form of harder and harder narcotics, leaving those that cared for him most helpless on the sidelines. As tough a pill that may be for some to swallow, there’s the Kurt Cobain legend in a nutshell.
One aspect of Goldberg’s Serving the Servant that I loved when not shedding tears reminiscing about Cobain was how he gives an insider’s retrospective as why Nirvana – with their grimy-sounding murky drone on Bleach – was seemingly chosen over all other bands to lead the alternative rock charge. A big reason why we still talk about them so reverentially all this time later is because of how they successfully married angst-ridden underground sentiments with mainstream accessibility on 1991’s Nevermind. Sure, they owed a lot of their loud-quiet-loud dynamic to the Pixies, but I’ve honestly lost count of how many “next big thing”s have tried in vain to rebottle Nirvana’s lightning from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and other tracks off that now-classic album. On the one hand, Cobain’s dishevelled look and screw the world attitude were a perfect fit with disenchanted Gen-Xers, although he was also a pop music-appreciating careerist; a music nerd before it was cool to refer to yourself as one. The Nirvana legacy, no matter how short-lived, has never felt dated, and is arguably more relevant in 2019 than it’s ever been.
Nirvana achieved the lofty status of “biggest band in the world”, leaving the former Fecal Matter founder sick to his stomach (literally), addicted to heroin, and despising what he had become. What Cobain loathed most however was how testosterone-fuelled jocks like the ones who used to bully him would proclaim how Nirvana kicked ass and was always their favourite. It’s probably why Cobain specifically sought out producer Steve Albini to make In Utero as abrasive a record as possible…not to mention sincere via gender-bending lyrics in “Heart-Shaped Box” and especially “Rape Me”. Cobain’s enduring belief in women’s rights would be acknowledged at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony by way of multiple females fronting the revived entity. Goldberg told me in an email Q and A that he doesn’t feel right trying to imagine which artists Kurt would admire if he was still alive, except to say he is sure that they would have personal sincerity and a vision in their work. Also, any political figures would be opposed to misogyny and homophobia. So no, Cobain would not be a Donald Trump supporter.
Unfortunately, we don’t need a spoiler alert to know the Kurt Cobain story doesn’t end well. His chaotic existence carried onto the live stage, resulting in nervously memorable shows where anything could potentially happen. Just ask anyone who was lucky enough to have seen Nirvana in the brief period they were with us. I would know, I cherish my ticket stub from Toronto’s since-transformed Maple Leaf Gardens. The interaction between bandmembers could be funny as hell one night, destructive the next. They took a quantum leap forward when Dave Grohl was installed as the permanent drummer. Cobain had the smarts to get a major label deal, but Grohl’s beastly pounding was the secret weapon that drove Nirvana to unthinkable heights. As an admitted superfan, all I’ll say is the absence of direct quotes from him in Serving the Servant is noticeable, especially considering Krist Novoselic contributed liberally. Goldberg was quick to remind me his association with Nirvana ended when Kurt died, that he had no involvement at all with any of the posthumous products but does think the surviving members did an excellent job putting together things such as the With the Lights Out box set.
The circumstances surrounding those last few days still remain a mystery –
BONUS: Goldberg talks about the final (and failed) intervention with Kurt in March 1994.
BONUS BONUS: I’ll be conducting a live interview with Danny as part of a book signing event in Toronto on April 23. Details here.