Authors: Nick Soulsby
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The '90s were such a special time, full of warmth and good cheerâand Nirvana really helped that along by crying all the time, doing dope, and fucking ugly chicksÂ â¦ helping to bring flannel and heroin to the unwashed massesÂ â¦
Kurt Cobain's demise was not a media event, or a breaking news story. Among the community of musicians to whom he was a well-liked friend, it was a death in the family. While speaking of those times means celebrating achievement and fun, for many of the people who tell this story it also means remembrance of pain. Death should never feel like a nothing; to most of the comrades sharing their memories with us, it still doesn'tâand that's good. Nirvana was a bunch of normal guys sharing a musical life with thousands of other talented and dedicated individuals, and this is the story of the life they all shared.
Nirvana's tale is inseparable from that of the life and death of Kurt Cobain. His story, however, is not just the story of a normal man. It's about a guy who became part of the less than 1 percent of humanity who rise to the top of the creative professions; the one boy among Aberdeen, Washington's 18,000 residents to become a global legend. His death, at the peak of his fame, only increased his exceptionalism.
Rat at Rat R:
Why do and/or should we love Kurt Cobain and Nirvana? They will not be given the opportunity to disappoint us.
No future song entitled “Smells Like the Interior of a New Lexus.” No duets with a current octogenarian to broaden the audience demographic. No holiday specials or a department-store clothing line (pre-washed grunge apparel), sugary soda downloads, halftime wardrobe malfunctions, or attempts to build an alternative marketing strategy that actually works, only to turn around and appear on lamestream media shows that flash signs prompting you to clap or laugh. And Nirvana will never attempt to bring sexy back, buy a basketball team, or act as judge on a talent show.
This book came about while browsing the
Nirvana Live Guide
, a truly astounding website listing details of as many of Nirvana's performances as are known, and being fascinated by all the rarely mentioned bands. Many of them have vanished, leaving only names on old fliers but, by chance, live on through association with one of the world's most celebrated groups. Nirvana never felt it was above the many bands they befriended; they always felt they were part of the community who tell this tale rather than of the celebrity world they joined. This book is about the magic of everyday people doing something remarkable because they had the guts to ignore the naysayers and go for it. For the many people who were good enough to lend their time and energies, I hope you feel happy reading the result and it reminds you of your great times. It's been an honor to learn of your worldsâthank you.
For Nirvana fans, I hope it makes the fiction of the superstar feel closer to the reality of everyday life and gives you that sneaking feeling that you could be extraordinary too.
And Dad? Thanks for letting me sit by the bedside at the hospital with you and finish thisâand for so much more besides.
February to December 1987
in April 1987, a sweaty-palmed and fidgety trio of young men purporting to be a band named Skid Row (and decidedly not the more famous hair-metal band) lined up at the doors of the Community World Theater, Tacomaâa ramshackle punk venue in a small town in Washington. There was no reason to notice them; they were nothing special. Just two house parties into their life as a band, with their first performance only a month earlier, this show was the big test. Their scrawny, fragile, and shy front man, at twenty years of age, wasn't even old enough to drink.
Sandwiched on a four-band bill, Skid Row's performance passed without incident or laurels.
A combination of having to tear down after our set, deal with our gear, and all the beer we drankâforty-ouncers of Old English, if I'm not mistakenâI'm sorry to admit it but I don't remember being impressed by anyone that night. We were a little bit shy and defensive because even though the punk scene welcomed us, we were not one of them. Yellow Snow was appreciated for having its own sound. Something that would be considered “indie” these days.
They were older than we were, I was sixteen, seventeen, high schoolâthey seemed to be pushing past twenty. We were nervous because we were one of the young bands age-wiseÂ â¦ We might have bailed, so I don't remember if I saw them. But while we were playing our setâit was someone's birthday in the band. so we played the Beatles' birthday song and some guy yelled out, “The Beatles suck!” Really loud. And then Kurt Cobain said, “Shut the fuck up, man! The fucking Beatles rule!” Everybody laughed and that guy didn't heckle us again.
They were unique. Honestly, I wasn't sure what to make of them at firstânoisy, a bit chaotic, unpolished. They could've easily, at first blush, been one of those bands you see a couple of times then fades away, never to be seen again.
I lived right across the alley from Dale Crover's house; I was 'round there all the time, at Melvins practice every day. So, Krist Novoselic brought Kurt 'roundâfirst time we'd metâand the very next day they asked me if I wanted to play drums. They knew I was a drummer, they needed someone and I said, “Of course! Yes!” But I didn't have drums, so we drove up to a friend in Westport and he set us up with some drums, and that same night we were in Kurt's living room set up playing. That was late '86; we were a band for two or three months before we played our first show.
The soon-to-be Nirvana boys probably sorely underappreciated they had grown up just as a wave of musicians came through the remote Aberdeen, Washington, area. The community of musicians was small enough too that they all knew one another, even if the absence of outlets except parties and practices affected everyone.
That area cultivated a lot of talentÂ â¦ It was like there were layers of bands, so the band in front of us in school was Crystal Image, and part of that turned into Metal Churchâthose guys were a year or two ahead of me and it was full of camaraderie, to the point they'd let us come watch them practice or they'd swing by our padÂ â¦ Kurt used to come watch us too; he'd come watch just standing on our front porchâwe had a big window, it was a beauty salonâhe'd stand there and watch through the windowÂ â¦ Dale Crover and I used to jam all the timeâwe used to live less than a mile from each other, so I'd go down there and we'd play Iron MaidenÂ â¦ Krist and Rob Novoselic were in there tooâthey lived just up from me, so I went over to their house and we listened to, when Metallica first came out, [a] Cliff Burton bass solo and we were all like, “That's
?!”Â â¦ We saw those guys at schoolâKrist towered over everybody; you knew when he walked in the room it was Krist. Nice guy, pretty intelligent. But Kurt was super-quietÂ â¦ He was just one of those guys who would walk by and you just wouldn't notice him right off the bat. One day in school he passed up a note to the girl behind me; she passed it to me and it said, “Will you teach me to play guitar?” I told him, “Yeah, no problem.” But it never happened.
Since we were so young and there weren't any venues for young bands to play at, ours and other young bands mostly had small get-togethers at their practice roomsÂ â¦ As for the radio stations and newspapers, you had to be a big name or be playing at one of the top local clubs to even get any kind of mention; neither source did anything for the young bands on the Harbor. At the time we were growing up, there weren't any underage clubs or venues, so it was practice, practice, practice!â¦ My cousin is married to Mike Dillard [the Melvins' original drummer] and asked if I cared if they came byÂ â¦ so they stopped in for about an hour. They didn't look too impressed but sat there and bullshitted us and had a few questions about amps and PA stuff. Later, I asked my cousin what they thought, and she said they weren't too into it: “No Ramones, no Sex Pistols, no Police, no ClashÂ â¦ no thanks!”
Nirvana's first public performance in March 1987, in the small town of Raymond, had relied on their friend's willingness to make the connections for them.
I was at these rehearsals two or three times a week, so I was just listening over and over again to them doing their set. Probably after the fifth or sixth time this discussion starts upÂ â¦ I'm telling him, “Kurt, this doesn't sound that bad, you may not like it but it sounds OK,” and he's like, “Yeah, I dunnoâ¦” He was pretty insecure about the whole thing. One time we had this discussion and I said, “I could picture this on the radio,” and it was a real insult to him because our radio station locally had a bad reputation because they just played schlock rock. So I'm like, “No, that's not what I'm saying!” This is pre-'91, before anyone ever thought that there would be an alternative status-quo mainstreamâit was insulting to insinuate that could ever happen, and I'd just done that. “How dare you say something like that! I wouldn't want that!” That's where the thing comesâ“You don't believe me?” He replies, “No, no one would want to listen.” I say, “I'll prove it to youâ¦”