I hooked up with the band in New York City the day before Nirvana’s first appearance on Saturday Night Live, and the same day of a special in-studio performance for MTV. We conducted and completed two separate interviews with Novoselic and Grohl that evening after the MTV gig. Cobain, who was scheduled for the same session, introduced me to his mother and then blew me off, disappearing while I interviewed his bandmates. When we were through I returned to my hotel room and smoked cigarettes, patiently waiting to meet up with Cobain. Around 3 AM the phone rang and someone told me the interview would happen “tomorrow,” before Nirvana’s appearance on Saturday Night Live. Cobain was a never-ending conundrum. He had agreed to the interview with me, but he was intentionally going to make getting it done difficult.
They next day, the phone rang again. Things were running behind. “You are going to have to interview him around soundcheck for SNL.” I met Novoselic and Grohl with their families plus label and management people in the lobby of the Omni Parker Plaza hotel to be taken to NBC studios. Cobain and his new girlfriend, Courtney Love, stumbled out of the elevator into the lobby, laughing like a couple on their first date. Cobain had dyed his hair bright red and was wearing his trademark cardigan and ripped up jeans. Outside, a limousine pulled up to the front doors of the hotel. Cobain, Novoselic, and Grohl absolutely refused to get in it. They jumped instead into the regular passenger van that was right behind the limo. Once we were at the SNL studios, we had to endure hours of waiting around and watching rehearsals before Nirvana could jump on the stage for soundcheck. At this point I had pretty much given up on the interview. Cobain had barely uttered a word to me the whole time. Then, unexpectedly, he finally looked me in the eye and said, “I’m not going to blow you off.”
That night, Cobain smashed his guitar on nationwide television during the band’s performance of “Territorial Pissings”. Grohl destroyed his drum kit. And Novoselic, well, Novoselic did his thing too. It wasn’t the best Nirvana performance, but it was them in their truest essence—honest, anti-establishment, kick-ass punk rock with no pretenses or preparation.
30 minutes after SNL ended, I finally met up with him in his hotel room. In a surreal reflection of his newly acquired superstar life, Cobain’s room was completely destroyed and utterly disorganized. Cigarette butts were all over the carpet, clothes were strewn about all over the floor, and bathroom towels were everywhere. During our interview, he told me about how he and Grohl had lived together in Olympia, in a little cracker box room of an apartment, with dirty plates stacked in the sink from the moment they moved in until the moment they left, and with used corn dog sticks all over the floor. Now, just a year or so later, it was as though Cobain had packed up his trash from that apartment and shipped it right up to his hotel room. Being there made me nervous. Interviewing Cobain intensified that feeling. His stare pierced you. He had charisma, charm and power, and he was a great bullshit detector; he could make you feel so insignificant simply by staring at you and not saying a word. But Cobain could also make you feel like the coolest person in the world. We ordered room service, smoked a lot of cigarettes, even talked about Nirvana’s hit single that, on this night, was ripping up the charts and breaking all sorts of sales records throughout the world.
“This friend of mine and I were goofing around my house one night, and we were kinda drunk,” he said. “And we were writing graffiti all over the walls of my house, and she wrote ‘Cobain smells like teen spirit.’ And earlier on, we were kinda having this discussion of revolution, and teen revolution and stuff like that, and I took that as a compliment, I thought that she was saying that I was a person who could inspire. I just thought that was a nice little title. And it turns out she just meant that I smelled like the deodorant, I didn’t even know that deodorant existed, until after the song was written.”
We talked about Cobain’s hero, William Burroughs, and how he was looking forward to seeing the movie version of Naked Lunch, and his favorite movies like Rear Window and Paris, Texas. Cobain’s sense of humor was childish and intelligent, serious and engaging. When I asked him if there was anything he wanted to add to our interview, he said, “I guess I could say something really clichéd and punk rock to the kids.” Cobain laughed, and then, as he often did, he turned serious about the same thought he’d just joked about. “Start a band. Especially girls. They should start bands. There aren’t enough good girl musicians.”