SEATTLE, WASHINGTON OCTOBER
Please don’t forget to eat your vegetables or brush your teeth.
—From a letter Kurt’s mom wrote the Aberdeen Daily World.
The real substance of the courtship of Kurt and Courtney commenced during November 1991, when Nirvana began another tour of Europe, and Hole followed two weeks later, playing many of the same venues. The two lovers would talk on the phone every night, send faxes, or leave cryptic messages written on the dressing room walls. Their inside joke was that when he called her, he pretended to be funk-rocker Lenny Kravitz. When Courtney called, she claimed to be Kravitz’s once-wife, “Cosby Show” actress Lisa Bonet. This led to much confusion for hotel night managers, who might be instructed to immediately stick a certain fax under the door of a room that they knew very well did not contain Lenny Kravitz. “That’s when we started really falling in love—on the phone,” Kurt told Michael Azerrad. “We called each other almost every night and faxed each other every other day. I had, like, a $3,000 phone bill.”
Yet while this love affair by fax was evolving, Kurt had unfinished business to attend to, something he was always wretched at. After Nirvana finished their first U.K. show, in Bristol, he was astounded to find Mary Lou Lord backstage. She had flown over to surprise him, something she did with aplomb. She knew from that instant something was wrong: He was different, and it wasn’t just his level of fame, though this too was in marked contrast to even a month before. A month prior, in Boston, Kurt could walk around without being bothered; now he had someone tugging at his sleeve every minute. At one point, a record company rep grabbed Kurt to announce: “We’ve just sold 50,000 units this week.” For the United Kingdom, it was a remarkable statistic, but Kurt responded by looking perplexed: Was there something he was supposed to do about this?
The next day Lord inquired: “Have you met someone else?” “I’m just tired,” he lied. She chalked it up to his stomach, which he was complaining about famously, asserting it hurt worse than ever. That night, the phone in his room rang at three in the morning: It was Courtney, but Kurt never announced this. A DJ had told Courtney that Kurt’s “girlfriend” was Mary Lou Lord. “Kurt’s girlfriend?” Courtney had yelled back, close to tears. “I’m Kurt’s girlfriend.” The first words out of Courtney’s mouth on the phone were, “Who the fuck is Mary Lou Lord, and why are people saying she’s your girlfriend?” Courtney’s voice swirled around Lord’s name as if it were a particularly bad case of parasites. Kurt managed to deny having a relationship with Mary Lou without mentioning her name directly, since she was four feet away as he spoke. Love told Kurt, in no uncertain terms, that if she ever heard about a Mary Lou Lord again, they were history. The next morning, Kurt coldly asked Lord how she was getting to London—she discerned that in asking, he was as good as announcing they were kaput.
A day later Lord was watching a television program called “The Word,” where Nirvana were making a much-touted appearance. Prior to playing an abbreviated 90-second version of “Teen Spirit,” Kurt grabbed the microphone and, in a dry monotone that sounded like he was ordering lunch, uttered: “I just want everyone in this room to know that Courtney Love, of the pop group Hole, is the best fuck in the world.” His words, as he well knew, went out far beyond the room. A British television audience of millions gasped, though the loudest sounds had to come from Mary Lou Lord, who was beside herself.
Kurt was already the subject of considerable media coverage in the U.K., but this one declarative statement got him more attention than anything he uttered in his career—not since John Lennon had asserted the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ had a rock star so outraged the British public. Kurt’s intention wasn’t to increase his infamy—instead, he had simply chosen this television show to tell Lord it was over, and to pledge his love to Courtney. His review of Love’s sexual abilities accomplished something he most certainly didn’t intend—it moved him from the front page of the music weeklies to the front page of the daily tabloids. Combined with the phenomenal sales of Nevermind, what he said now became news. He both embraced this turn of events and cursed it, depending on whether it was working to his advantage.
Three weeks later, on November 28, the day Nevermind hit sales of one million in the U.S., the band appeared on another highly rated British television show, “Top of the Pops.” The producers had insisted Nirvana play “Teen Spirit,” and the program required performers to sing live vocals over a backing track—just a step up from lip-syncing. Kurt hatched a plan with Novoselic and Grohl to make a mockery of their performance. As the backing track played, Kurt sang the vocals in a slowed-down, almost Vegas-like lounge version; he was attempting, he later claimed, to sound like Morrissey.
The producers were furious, but Nirvana escaped their wrath by quickly departing for a gig in Sheffield. As they drove away, Kurt smiled for the first time that day. “He was highly amused,” observed Alex MacLeod. “There was no question that they were the biggest thing happening in music. And he took advantage of that. He knew he had the power.”
If audacity was Kurt’s occasional vice, it was in daily orbit around Courtney. In this came a small part of his adoration for her. She walked into most social settings with all the grace of a wolverine thrown into a henhouse, yet simultaneously she could be witty and funny. Even those in the Nirvana crew and organization who disliked her—and there were many in this category—found her entertaining.
Kurt was by nature a voyeur and loved nothing better than to create a ruckus, sit back, and watch it unfold. But when Courtney was in a room—particularly a room backstage at a venue—people simply could not take their eyes off her, least of all Kurt. Few were foolish enough to take Courtney on in a game of verbal one-upmanship, and those who did found she could sarcastically skewer even the quickest-witted opponent. Kurt had a major attachment to being a bad boy, and thus required a bad girl. Even though he knew at best Courtney would be but a dark hero, he loved her all the more for it. “He worked out some of his aggression through her,” explained Carolyn Rue, Hole’s drummer. “He got off on it, vicariously, because he didn’t have the courage to do it himself. He needed her to be his mouthpiece. He was passive-aggressive.” Love, for her part, was simply aggressive, a characteristic that earned her many cruel reviews in a punk rock world that, despite declarations of equality, was still male-dominated and had defined roles for how even liberated females were to act. When Courtney coupled with Kurt, the press accused her of hooking up to a rising star. And while that charge was essentially true, the gossip failed to note that Hole’s early reviews were as glowing as Nirvana’s. Kurt was more famous than she was in November 1991, and Courtney’s friends had warned her not to get involved with him because of the likelihood his career would overshadow hers. But being self-possessed, she didn’t consider that possible, and was offended when such suggestions were offered. Truth was, they were both ambitious, which was part of their attraction toward each other.
Though theirs was an unusual love story, at points it touched on traditional sentiment. Some of the faxes they sent were X-rated, but others were straight out of a dime-store romance: As writers, they were attempting to win the other’s heart. One fax of Courtney’s from early November read: “I want to be somewhere above you with all the candy in my hands. You smell like waffles and milk....I love and miss your body, and your twenty-minute kisses.”
Both parties in this union were also self-effacing to a degree that approximated stand-up comedy. Close intimates told tales of their debauched senses of humor, something the public rarely saw. That fall Courtney wrote a list of Kurt’s “most annoying traits,” and her insights were both wicked and flirty: “1. Plays cutesy with journalists and they all fall for it all the time. 2. Plays helpless cutesy punk hero for teenage fans who already think he is a God anyway, and don’t need anymore convincing. 3. Has the entire world convinced that he is humble and shy and modest when, in fact, he is a secret big-mouthed narcissist which is why I love him anyway but no one knows but me. 4. Is a Pisces, and the object of my intense desires and repulsions at once.” She ended another fax by promising to buy him flowers every day when she hit it rich. Many of her faxes contained lines that years later ended up in her best-known songs. “I am doll parts, bad skin, doll hearts, it stands for knife, for the rest of my life, peel my little heart off and soak it in your left hand and call me tonight,” she faxed on November 8. Other messages were simple and sweet: “Please comb your hair tonight, and remember I love you,” she wrote one night.
He sent her copies of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and faxes that were equally romantic, though owing to his essential strangeness, much of what he wrote was also just plain weird. He frequently obsessed on his favorite off-color topics: human waste, “butt-fucking,” birth, babies, and drugs. He reveled in the possibility that their indiscretions might make the tabloids. One fax he sent in mid-November spoke to a greater truth. It began with Courtney’s name inside a heart and read:
Oh, stinking, bloody cum. I’m hallucinating way too often. I need oxygen. Thank Satan, we’ve found a script-happy doctor who’s willing to call-in prescriptions whenever the handler can’t score on the street. I think I’m getting some kind of clammy mold, skin disease because I keep passing out in the wee hours of morning covered in little boy blood and wearing the same sweaty clothes that I had worn from the show the night before. Little Oliver, the Indian boy I bought last week, is becoming quite the professional nurse except the needles he uses are so big that it makes my arms swell up like golf balls. I mean, snooker balls. He’s also a lot better at sucking my cable now that I’ve bashed his teeth out. Guido is sending that receptionist at the hotel a fish tomorrow. I hope she’s a good swimmer. I love you. I miss you. P.S.: I’ve convinced Lenny Kravitz that the baby is his and he’s willing to pay for the abortion. Love me.
He signed the letter with a fish. Of course, he didn’t have an Indian boy love-slave, and there was no November pregnancy. The addiction he spoke of, though, was real and he had found a British physician to prescribe pharmaceutical morphine.
Courtney was infatuated enough that by the end of November, after not seeing Kurt for two weeks, she uncharacteristically cancelled a Hole gig and flew to Amsterdam. There, they bought heroin and spent the day nodding out and having lazy sex. Courtney didn’t do drugs just because she loved Kurt—she had her own demons worthy of running from—but she rarely did drugs when he wasn’t around. Around Kurt she dropped all boundaries as she was well aware that to be in an intimate relationship with him meant living in an opiate-soaked world of escapism. She chose Kurt and, in doing so, chose drugs.
After Amsterdam and a brief stop in London she rejoined the Hole tour, and Nirvana continued their U.K. dates. Not since the Sex Pistols had a band on the road gotten so much attention. Every show contained something newsworthy, or at least something that got them in the papers. In Edinburgh, they played an acoustic show to benefit a children’s hospital. In Newcastle, Kurt announced from the stage, “I am a homosexual, I am a drug user, and I fuck pot-bellied pigs,” another classic Cobainism, though only one of his three claims was true. By the time the tour hit London again, Kurt was incapacitated by stomach pain and decided to cancel six dates in Scandinavia. Considering the state of his health and the increasing state of his addiction, it was a wise call.
While Kurt was in Europe, his mother had written a letter to the Aberdeen Daily World. It represented the first mention of Kurt in his home-town paper since his Little League team won the Timber League championship the year his parents divorced. The letter ran under the headline LOCAL “TWANGER” MAKES GOOD, MOM REPORTS:
This letter is directed more or less to all of you parents out there who have kids bangin’ or twangin’ away on drums or guitars out in your garage or up in their rooms. Watch what you say, for you may have to eat every one of those concerned parental lecturing words. Like, “Get a life.” “Your music is good but chances of making it are slim to none.” “Further your education, then if you still want to play in a band you can, but if it doesn’t work out you’ll have something to fall back on.” Do those words sound familiar?
Well, I just received a phone call from my son, Kurt Cobain, who sings and plays guitar with the band “Nirvana.” They are presently touring Europe. Their first album with Geffen Record Co., just went “Platinum” (over one million sales). They are No. 4 on the Top 200 albums in Billboard. Well, I know the chances of making it are still slim-to-none for many, but two boys who never lost sight of their goals, Kurt and [Krist] Novoselic, have something to really smile about these days. The hours and hours and hours of practice have paid off.
Kurt, if you happen to read this, we are so proud of you and you are truly one of the nicest sons a mother could have. Please don’t forget to eat your vegetables or brush your teeth and now [that] you have your maid make your bed.
—Wendy O’Connor, Aberdeen
Kurt didn’t read the Aberdeen Daily World, rarely in his entire life did he eat vegetables, and his drug addiction was so bad by December 1991 that he usually taped a note to his hotel room door warning the maids not to enter—if they did, they frequently found him passed out. He also, strangely, did not brush his teeth, one of the reasons he had a gum infection during the Nevermind album cover sessions. “Kurt hated to brush his teeth,” said Carrie Montgomery. “Still, his teeth never looked gnarly and he never had bad breath.” Carrie recalled Kurt telling her eating apples worked as well as brushing.
On December 21, Kurt, Carrie, and a group of friends planned a trip to Portland to see the Pixies. Kurt had rented a Pontiac Grand Am for the long drive, worrying his Valiant wouldn’t handle the distance. He rarely drove the Valiant, putting only 3,000 miles on it the first year he owned it. Instead, he used it as a mobile hotel room, occasionally sleeping in the backseat and storing all his possessions in the trunk. His friends met up with him in Aberdeen, where Kurt had gone to get a meal of his mother’s pot roast.
The dynamic within the house on First Street had undergone a continental shift since Kurt’s last visit to Aberdeen: He was being treated, for the first time since early childhood, like the most important person in Wendy’s life. Even Kurt was struck by the hypocrisy of the situation, especially when he saw his stepfather, Pat O’Connor, kiss up to him: It was like a bad episode of “All in the Family,” where Meathead is given Archie’s beloved La-Z-Boy. When his friends arrived, they stayed long enough for Kurt to give his six-year-old half-sister Brianne some art supplies—he adored her—before they quickly departed.
The next day Courtney arrived in Seattle, and Carrie was recruited to act as a buffer when Courtney went to visit Kurt’s family. They first met at Maximilien’s, a fine French restaurant, in the Pike Place Market to strategize how to handle this important introduction. When Courtney got up to go to the bathroom, Kurt asked Carrie what she thought of his new love. “You guys are like a natural disaster,” she replied. Carrie was one of Kurt’s only female friends, so she had a rare perspective on their union. “I enjoyed being around them in the way it was interesting to watch a car crash,” she observed.
When Courtney returned, another diner inquired, “Are you guys Sid and Nancy?” Kurt and Carrie looked at each other, both knowing that Courtney was about to erupt. Love stood up and yelled: “My husband has the number-one record in the entire country, and he has more money than any of you people ever will have!” He was, of course, not her husband, and he also didn’t have a number-one record—it was at No. 6 that week—but her point was clear. The waiter came running, and the sarcastic patron ran for cover. Despite this outburst, and in part because of it, Carrie found Courtney bright and funny, and thought they made a sweet couple. The trip to Aberdeen went well, and Wendy liked Courtney and told Kurt she was good for him. “They were like clones, glued to each other,” Wendy later told writer Tim Appelo. “He was probably the only person who loved her totally and completely unconditionally.”
One week later, Kurt and the other members of Nirvana headed back out on the road, with Courtney in tow, for another tour. They were playing their biggest arenas to date—20,000-seat halls—but since the tour was booked before the album exploded, they had the middle slot on a three-band bill. Pearl Jam was opening—they were just beginning to become stars themselves—while the Red Hot Chili Peppers headlined.
Before the December 27 date at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, Kurt conducted an interview with BAM magazine’s Jerry McCully. McCully’s piece caused a sensation, if only because his description of Kurt was consistent with the rumors that had begun to circulate about drugs. McCully wrote that Kurt kept “nodding off occasionally in mid-sentence.” The article never mentioned heroin, but the writer’s description of Kurt’s “pinned pupils; sunken cheeks; and scabbed, sallow skin” was concerning. He described Kurt as looking “more like 40 than 24.”
When he wasn’t nodding off, Kurt was surprisingly lucid about his career. “I wanted to at least sell enough records to be able to eat macaroni and cheese, so I didn’t have to have a job,” he declared. He mentioned Aberdeen—he rarely did an interview without discussing the city, as if it were a lover he’d left behind—and pronounced, “ninety-nine percent of the people [there] had no idea what music was, or art.” He claimed the reason he didn’t become a logger was because “I was really a small kid.” While he didn’t manage to get his “punk rock is freedom” line in print, he did assert, “To mature, to me...is to wimp out....[I] hope I die before I turn into Pete Townshend.” He was making a play on Townshend’s “I hope I die before I get old” from “My Generation,” and perhaps in a nod to this, he opened the show with the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”
As shocking as Kurt’s appearance was, his announcement of future plans was the real surprise: “I’m getting married, and that’s a total revelation—emotionally, that is. I’ve never felt so secure in my life, and so happy. It’s like I have no inhibitions anymore. It’s like I’m drained of feeling really insecure. I guess getting married has a lot to do with security and keeping your mind straight. My future wife’s and my personalities are so volatile that I think if we were to get into a fight, we’d split just like that. Getting married is an extra bit of security.” He ended the interview with another forecast: “There are plenty of things I would like to do when I’m older. At least, just have a family, that would satisfy me.”
Kurt and Courtney had become engaged in December while lying in bed in a London hotel. Before speaking with McCully, Kurt hadn’t made a formal announcement, but everyone else in the band already knew. No date had been set, since betrothal or not, the business of Nirvana couldn’t be put on hold for anything.
Nirvana ended 1991 with a New Year’s Eve show at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. Pearl Jam opened the night with a bit of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and Eddie Vedder joked, “Remember we played it first.” This crack was an acknowledgment of something everyone in the building knew: As 1992 began, Nirvana was the biggest band in the world, and “Teen Spirit” was the biggest song. Keanu Reeves was at the concert and attempted to befriend Kurt, who rebuffed the efforts. Later that night at their hotel, Kurt and Courtney were so harassed by other guests they put a sign on their door: “No Famous People Please. We’re Fucking.”
By the time the group made it to Salem, Oregon, for the last date of the tour, Nevermind had been certified for sales of two million copies and was selling at an ever-accelerating pace. Every direction Kurt turned, someone was asking him for something—an endorsement deal, an interview, an autograph. Backstage, Kurt briefly caught the eye of Jeremy Wilson, the lead singer of the Dharma Bums, a Portland band Kurt admired. Wilson waved to Kurt, not wanting to interrupt him from a woman trying to convince him to appear in an ad for guitar strings. As Wilson walked away, Kurt screamed “Jeremy!” and fell into Wilson’s arms. Kurt didn’t say a word, he just rested in Wilson’s bear hug as Jeremy repeated, “It’s going to be okay.” Kurt wasn’t sobbing, but he didn’t seem far from it. “It wasn’t just a short hug,” recalled Wilson. “He was there for a full 30 seconds.” Finally a handler grabbed Kurt and dragged him to another meeting.
After a couple of days off in Seattle, Kurt’s spirits seemed to improve. On Monday, January 6, 1992, super-fan Rob Kader was riding his bike down Pine Street when he suddenly heard someone shout his name. It was Kurt, walking with Courtney. Kader congratulated Kurt on the success of the album and the news Nirvana was to be on “Saturday Night Live.” But as soon as Kader said the words, he knew he’d made a mistake—Kurt’s warm mood turned sour. Two years earlier, when Kader had congratulated Kurt on the fact that twenty people had come to a Community World Theater show—two more than their previous gig—Kurt greeted the news with a beaming smile. By the beginning of 1992, the last thing he wanted to hear was how popular he was.
That next week, Kurt’s fame was amped up considerably as the band flew to New York City to be the musical guests on “Saturday Night Live.” Kurt’s mood seemed upbeat in their Thursday rehearsal as they ran through some of their early songs. Still, everyone knew that on the show, they had to play “Teen Spirit,” no matter how much Kurt had grown tired of the hit.
He had paid for his mother and Carrie Montgomery to fly to New York with him. When the rest of the Nirvana crew met Wendy for the first time, he was again razzed. “Everybody was always saying, ‘Wow, Kurt, your mom is hot,’ ” recalled Carrie. It was the last thing Kurt wanted to hear; it was even more grating than being told how famous he was.
While Kurt rehearsed, Courtney, Carrie, and Wendy went clothes shopping. Later, Kurt went shopping for drugs, which were as easy to find in New York as a sale on dresses. In Alphabet City, Kurt was shocked to find lines of customers waiting for the man, just like in the Velvet Underground song. He was in love with the ritual of using now, and seductively drawn to the seamy netherworld it brought him into. The China white heroin in New York City (West Coast heroin was always black tar) made him feel sophisticated, and it was cheaper and more powerful. Kurt became gluttonous.
That Friday, when Wendy knocked on the door of her son’s room at noon, he answered in his underwear, looking like hell. Courtney was still under the covers. There were deli trays everywhere, and after just two days in the suite, the floor was covered with refuse. “Kurt, why don’t you get a maid in here?” Wendy asked. “He can’t,” Courtney replied. “They steal his underwear.”
The week marked a turning point in Kurt’s relationship with the band and crew. Up until then, everyone was aware that Kurt was messed up—and Courtney had usually been the scapegoat for Kurt’s increasingly sour attitude. But by New York, it was clear it was Kurt who was on a self-destructive course, and that he had all the hallmarks of an active addict. Though everyone knew Kurt was abusing drugs—they assumed heroin—no one knew what to do about it. It was hard enough to convince Kurt to do a soundcheck or comb his hair, much less get him to listen to advice regarding his private affairs. Kurt and Courtney moved to a different hotel from the rest of the entourage; they were only a few blocks away, but the action would serve as a metaphor for a growing divisiveness inside the band. “By that time,” Carrie recalled, “there had already been a separation within the Nirvana camp between the ‘good’ people, and the ‘bad’ people. Kurt, Courtney, and myself were the bad people. We had this feeling of not being welcomed, and it got more negative.”
Nirvana’s managers were also at a loss for what to do. “It was a very dark time,” said Danny Goldberg. “It was the first time I was aware of him having a drug problem.” At the same time Gold Mountain was working to get attention for the band’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” his managers were privately praying Kurt’s drug problem wouldn’t embarrass them or derail their growing financial success. “I was just hoping that things wouldn’t spin out of control publicly,” recalled Goldberg.
And then, as if things weren’t turbulent enough, the news came that in the next issue of Billboard magazine, Nevermind would hit the No. 1 spot, pushing out Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. Though Nevermind had been hovering near No. 6 all December, it had bounced to the top based on sales of 373,520 the week after Christmas. Many of those purchases came in an unusual manner, according to Tower Records’ Bob Zimmerman: “We saw an incredible number of kids returning the CDs their parents had given them for Christmas, and buying Nevermind in exchange, or using money they’d gotten as a present to buy the CD.” Nevermind may be the first record to ever hit No. 1 buoyed by exchanges.
That Friday Kurt and Courtney did an interview for the cover story of Sassy, a teen magazine. Kurt had turned down requests from the New York Times and Rolling Stone, yet he’d agreed to this piece because he felt the magazine was so silly. After the interview, they rushed off for a filming at MTV. But Kurt didn’t feel well and what was scheduled to be an hour show ended after 35 minutes. Kurt asked Amy Finnerty, “Can you get me out of here?” He wanted to visit the Museum of Modern Art.
His mood picked up considerably once he was inside the MOMA— it was the first time he’d ever visited a major museum. Finnerty had a hard time keeping up as Kurt dashed from wing to wing. He stopped when an African-American fan approached and asked for an autograph. “Hey man, I love your record,” the guy said. Kurt had been asked for his autograph a hundred times that day, but this was the only time he responded with a smile. Kurt told Finnerty, “No one black has ever said they liked my record before.”
After the museum, Kurt returned to NBC for yet another “Saturday Night Live” rehearsal. This time the show’s producers wanted the band to perform only the songs they were going to do on the broadcast, so Nirvana played “Teen Spirit” and “Territorial Pissings.” This second choice was not to the network’s liking and a debate ensued. Kurt had enough of working for the day and departed.
On Saturday afternoon, the day of the television show, the band had a photo session scheduled at Michael Lavine’s studio. Kurt arrived but was so high he kept falling asleep while standing up. He complained that he felt ill. “He was so messed up at that one,” Lavine recalled, “he couldn’t keep his eyes open.”
By early January Kurt was so seriously addicted to heroin that a normal dose no longer made him feel euphoric: Like all addicts, he needed an increasing daily supply simply to stop withdrawal symptoms. But New York heroin was powerful, and Kurt was using more than was prudent in an attempt to reach euphoria. He had decided to shoot up early that Saturday so he’d be functional by the time “Saturday Night Live” began. In his attempt to properly regulate his dose—an impossible task from one bag of heroin to the next—he had taken too much and was in a stupor by the afternoon. By the time the band drove to NBC, Kurt was outside the studio throwing up. He spent the hours before the show lying on a sofa, ignoring host Rob Morrow, and refusing to sign an autograph for the daughter of NBC’s president. His only joy came when he talked on the phone to “Weird Al” Yankovic and agreed to a parody of “Teen Spirit.” By showtime, he was sober again, and miserable.
Before their first number, there was a noticeable hush in the studio as Morrow introduced the band. Kurt looked awful—his complexion was pasty, a bad dye-job left his hair the color of raspberry jam, and he appeared moments away from barfing, which he was. But as happened many times during his life, with his back against the wall, he responded with an admirable performance. As Kurt launched into the first “Teen Spirit” guitar solo, “Saturday Night Live” bandleader G. E. Smith turned to Nirvana’s soundman Craig Montgomery and said, “Jesus, that guy can sure play.”
While it was not the best version of “Teen Spirit” Nirvana ever played, there was enough raw energy in the song to survive even a lackluster performance and still sound revolutionary. It worked on live television because the appearance of the band told half the story of the song: Krist bopped around with his beard and long hair, resembling a mad, elongated Jim Morrison; Grohl, shirtless, pounded the drums with the spirit of John Bonham; and Kurt looked possessed. Kurt may not have been at 100 percent, but anyone watching the broadcast knew he was pissed off about something. The kid who spent his youth playing with Super-8 movies knew how to sell himself to the camera, and in both his aloofness and intensity he was mesmerizing to watch.
When the band came back for the next number, it was all about catharsis. They played “Territorial Pissings,” against the producer’s wishes, and ended with the destruction of their instruments. Kurt began the assault by puncturing a speaker with his guitar; Grohl knocked his drum set off the riser; and Krist threw the drums in the air. It was certainly calculated, but the anger and frustration weren’t faked. In one final “fuck you” to America, as the program’s credits rolled, Kurt and Krist French-kissed (NBC would edit this ending out in all repeat broadcasts, fearing it was offensive). Kurt later claimed the kiss was his idea, done to piss off “the rednecks and homophobes” back in Aberdeen, but in truth he had refused to come out for the final good-bye until Krist pulled him onstage. “I walked right up to him,” Krist remembered, “and grabbed him and stuck my tongue in his mouth, kissing him. I just wanted to make him feel better. At the end of it all, I told him, ‘It’s going to be okay. It’s not so bad. Okay?’ ” Though Kurt Cobain had just won over the few youths in America who weren’t already in love with him, he didn’t feel like a conqueror. He felt, as he did most days, like crap.
Kurt skipped the SNL cast party and quickly left the studio. He was scheduled to do an interview, but as usual he was hours late. Amy Finnerty was sitting in Janet Billig’s apartment in the early hours of the morning when Kurt called, asking if he could borrow money. He had a No. 1 record, had just played “Saturday Night Live,” but said he had no money. They went to the cash machine, and Billig gave Kurt $40.
An hour later, when Kurt showed up at DJ Kurt St. Thomas’s room, he was in the mood to talk, and gave one of the longest interviews of his life. The purpose of the conversation was to create a promotional CD for radio stations. Kurt told the “guns in the river” story, tales of eating corn dogs while living with Dave, and accounts of Aberdeen as a city of hicks and rednecks. When Kurt left two hours later, DGC’s Mark Kates turned to St. Thomas and said, “Wow, I can’t believe how much you got from him. He never talks like that. But I don’t know if everything is true.”
Several hours later, as the sun was rising on Sunday morning, Courtney discovered Kurt had overdosed on heroin he’d done after the interview. Whether it was intentional can’t be known, but Kurt was an addict with a reputation for recklessness. She saved his life by reviving him, after which he seemed as good as ever. That afternoon, the couple did another photo shoot with Lavine for the cover of Sassy—one shot captured Kurt kissing Courtney on the cheek and the magazine used it for the cover. Less than eight hours earlier Kurt had been comatose.
In the interview with Sassy’s Christina Kelly, Kurt discussed their engagement: “My attitude has changed drastically, and I can’t believe how much happier I am and how even less career-oriented I am. At times, I even forget I’m in a band, I’m so blinded by love. I know that sounds embarrassing, but it’s true. I could give the band up right now. It doesn’t matter. But I’m under contract.” When Kelly asked if his relationship had changed his writing style, Kurt gushed even more: “I’m just so overwhelmed by the fact that I’m in love on this scale, I don’t know how my music’s going to change.”
But the most ironic comment came when Kelly asked if the couple would consider having a baby. Kurt answered: “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.” He didn’t know Courtney was already carrying their child.