Sleepless In Seattle
For a concert spectacular to be broadcast worldwide on New Year's Eve, MTV went to Seattle, where they'd but together a bill featuring Cypress Hill and The Breeders, whose 'Cannonball' is MM's Single of the Year. Co-headliners of the show were meant to be Nirvana and Pearl Jam, the twin god-heads of grunge, whose longstanding rivalry was going to end in a public reconciliation. That was the idea anyway. As Everett True, tired and emotional after an eventful encounter with Kurt Cobain and Kim Deal, reports, things just didn't work out to plan. Snap says Steve Gullick.
Melody Maker - December 25th, 1993. By Everett True.
Kim Deal: "What are you going to do on New Yearís Eve, Kurt?"
"Get drunk off my ass, and play with pyrotechnics," replies Nirvanaís singer. "Weíre playing in San Francisco, and weíre going to have pyro-technicians come and shoot off some fireworks. Isnít that cool?"
Youíre gonna get drunk? You never get drunk before you play.
"Okay," he admits. "Afterwards."
How about you, Kim? What do you normally do on New Yearís Eve?
"Bang pots and pans," she laughs, stoned. "Go out on the streets. Yeah!"
Kurt wants to know if I smoke pot. I shake my head.
"No?" he continues, amazed. "Have you never smoked pot?"
I feel a distinct sense of deja vu coming on. Maybe the tape recorder is stuck on a loop. Maybe my complete lack of sleep is finally getting to me.
Yeah, of course I have.
Kurt isnít satisfied.
"You donít have a pot-smoking period in your life?" he persists.
No. I squatted once, though. Do you know what squatting is?
"You lived somewhere where thereís no electricity?"
Something like that. A guy ODíd in the room next to mine.
"But you canít OD on pot," he laughs.
We both look at Kim, whoís sitting on the bed between us, lost, drifting in her own reverie.
No, youíre right. You canít.
You just become... one more, sleepless in Seattle.
When I arrive in town, one of the first things I do is to call Kurt Cobain at home, where he's waiting for his wife to fly back from Atlanta where sheís been remixing the new Hole album with R.E.M. producer Scott Litt. What do you talk about with someone you havenít seen for six weeks or so, and whose lifestyle is so different from your own?
We discuss the insecurity that emerges from the lack of sleep caused by jet lag and/or alcohol, how tired we feel we feel and how much we hate Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam. Such an all-American jock! Kurt, having just arrived back from another gruelling leg of the Nirvana "In Utero" US tour. Me, having flown for 13 hours straight, to try to arrange this Melody Maker Christmas cover story.
"Do you still want to try to do this thing with Kim?" the singer asks at one point, as I struggle vainly to keep my eyes open.
Sure, I do.
"Just tell me when, then. I need to go to sleep now,"
The feelingís mutual.
The MTV New Yearís Eve spectacular, featuring Nirvana, Cypress Hill, Pearl Jam and The Breeders, is being pre-recorded live at Pier 48, a cavernous, freezing warehouse somewhere along Seattleís lake-front. Kids have been queuing for up to eight hours in the pouring rain to be witness to what looks to be a legendary reconciliation between the cityís two supposed leading exponents of "grunge" ó indeed, the two bands who have, between them, defined the genre.
On worldwide (MTV) terms, anyway.
The rift between Nirvana and Pearl Jam has been well-documented. Briefly, though, it started way back, in the days when Ament and Stone Gossard played in the ill-fated Temple Of The Dog and, before that, Green River. The friction between the bands was subsequently inflamed by their respective successes and the way they were quickly and inevitably bracketed together by the world press.
This, despite the bandsí clear differences (Pearl Jam have always dealt in classic FM American rock; Nirvana are something more extreme and mould-breaking altogether). Matters werenít helped when Pearl Jamís success was perceived to have resulted from Nirvanaís, or when sales of the new PJ album, "Vs", far out-stripped those of "In Utero".
Mr Cobain has been on record several timesónot least in this very paperótalking about how much he despises Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam have tried to down-play any stories of a rift, perhaps conscious of a "credibility gap", perhaps because life's too short.
Rumours had recently surfaced of a reconciliation between Eddie and Kurt but, even so, for MTV ó even with all its immense corporate muscleóto get these two bands together on the same bill is a hell of an achievement.
The only problem is: where the hell is Eddie Vedder?
Not at Pier 48, thatís for sure!
What do you really hate about life, Kim? Anything?
"Oh, came on!" Kurt scolds her.
Were you sad because Pearl Jam didn't play today?
"A little bit," replies Kim. "Yeah, I was."
She takes a drag on her cigarette.
"Itís always a kind of bummer if someone doesnít show," she explains.
"I want to say something," Kurt begins, facetiously. "I heard that Eddie Vedder escaped. He ran away. They canít find him. Isnít that a cool thing to say in an interview?"
We both laugh, meanly.
"No," continues Kim, oblivious. "Itís just that I canít believe they didnít play ó itís so dumb. I donít live in Seattle or anything but itís stupid."
"The kids should have rioted," laughs Kurt. "They should have gone; 'F*** this! Pearl Jam aren't playing? We want our free tickets back!'"
"I donít want to be misinterpreted, though," continues The Breedersí singer. "I donít like them, and Iím glad they didnít play. I just canít believe they actually didnít."
You and several thousand other people, I suspect.
Eddie Vedderís presence (or lack of it) hangs heavy over the proceedings. Rumours abound as to why he hasnít shown.
Maybe itís simply down to a rekindling of the old feud with Nirvana, although the presence of Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament onstage with Cypress Hill for a rockiní version of "Real Thing" from the film "Judgement Night" would seem to belie this.
Stone Gossard tells Maker photographer Steve Gullick that Eddie is "extremely ill" and his voice sounds "terrible" (so whatís new!?). But you canít help recalling the recent well-publicised punch-up Mr Vedder had in New Orleans, add it to the fact that recently heís been, seen drinking more and more heavily (when PJ started, Eddie didnít drink at all), put two and two together and start wandering whether this is evidence of something more serious.
At the same time, as Stone points out to Steve, every time Pearl Jam pull out of a show, the "Pearl Jam to split" stories are flashed across the world.
Everyoneís trying their hardest not to let Eddieís non-appearance get them down, however. Doubtless, MTV's people are furious, but the kids donít seem too bothered. And why should they? They got in free and theyíve just witnessed one of Nirvanaís most astonishing shows ever. This was Nirvana playing close to the height of their enormous potential, and their version of David Bowieís "The Man Who Sold The World" was just unforgettable.
Even the three members of Pearl Jam whoíve turned up are noticeably cheery, and none of the hardcore Seattle drinking fraternity ligging it up after the show in the Green Room seem too put out.
To one side are Matt and Steve from Mudhoney, plus their insane manager, Bob Whittaker ó the man who once drove me down a sidewalk in his Cadillac after a particularly fine party. Then there are the Screaming Trees brothers talking to Kim Thayil of Soundgarden. Eric, Pearl Jamís tour manager (and a man to whom I once sold an Elton John tour T-shirt) is lurking somewhere nearby.
Krist Novoselic is wandering around with his hand in a sling, having injured it quite badly during Nirvanaísí apocalyptic encore. His brotherís somewhere, tooó just as tall, and looking identical. And his sister, too.
Then thereís Kurtís mate, Dylan from Earth; The Millionaire leading the Sub Pop entourage; Scott Litt; someone from R.E.M.; the Chili Peppers in drag and in Irish costume and generally behaving like dickheads.
Eric from Hole (who are all also in attendance) rushes around trying to find people in compromising situations. Kurt sings "Jeremy with an Eddie mask on for him. But he refuses to pose for Steve with it on.
None of which concerns your hard-working, non-sleeping reporter, however, who now faces a major organisational headache trying to bring Kurt and Kim together. Kurt has the distractions of a wife and baby he hasnít seen together for far too long, while Kim is content to chill with Cypress Hill óanother band notable for their love of the cool weed.
What I didnít realise was that, despite the recent Breeders support shows on the Nirvana tour, and the musiciansí mutual admiration, Kurt and Kim barely know each other at all.
What did you think of Kurt when you first met him, Kim? (It was in New York, during the mixing of The Breeders Safari EP, just when "Nevermind" was finally starting to take off ó and then some! Nirvana were playing a show mid-town, and, knowing how big a fan of The Breeders Kurt was, I took him down to the studio where I was interviewing them.)
"Thatís right!" she laughs. "I didnít know he was who he was anyway."
"You didnít know I was from my band?" Kurt asks, incredulously.
"I knew you were probably from Nirvana," she explains. "And somebody else probably was, maybe. But maybe you werenít. I didnít know anybody really ó just that you [she points at me] were bringing some people from Nirvana."
What did you think of Kim, Kurt? You were kind of in awe of her at the time, right?
"Well, I loved ĎPodí so much that I was really freaked out to meet you," he reveals to Kim. "Then, when I got there, you were really condescending. But, at the same time, you were so generous. I was right at the point of really freaking out about being a rock star, and I thought everyone was making fun of me."
"It was just ĎIím recordingí," Kim explains. "ĎIt's my stuff on tape. You guys are listening to my shit. You know what Iím thinking about. What the f*** are you doing here!?í"
"I understand," sighs Kurt. "I also felt like I was totally imposing on you, like the rock star come to hear a taste of the new album, I was under the impression that you knew exactly who I was."
Kim murmurs something about whether we can hear her clicking her gums like an old person ó sheís very stoned and very tired. Weíve been waiting for about three hours for Kurt to came out of a marathon MTV interview, covering Nirvanaís whole history. Kurtís just very tired. Itís been a f***ing long day.
Since youíve gotten to know each other better, how hove your perceptions of each other changed?
"But we donít know each other," Kurt exclaims. "This is a good way of meeting each other. Hi, Kim!"
"I hardly ever show up in time to see their set, cos Iím so fucking lazy," he explains. "Iíve seen them only about six times on this tour. That makes me feel like a creep."
"Iíve seen them every night," Kim tells me. "Our bus leaves at midnight usually, so itís perfect. Itís so great! Nirvana do the best dumb songs in the world! Theyíre dumb in a good way, like The Ramones."
(Earlier, Kim had revealed her favourite Nirvana songs to be "About A Girl", "Scentless Apprentice" and "No Recess", and that she likes to watch them with a joint to hand, hidden behind a pillar somewhere. Kurt returned the compliment by telling me how The Breeders keep getting betteró they have to, "because theyíre still learning to play their instruments. Which is great. We have to be absolutely phenomenal to even play a good show, because we all know our parts so well.")
Do you see any similarities between your personalities?
"No," replies Kurt. "Kim is way more upbeat and happy and friendly. I'm the pissy mean one. We're the opposite."
Sure. But you both have this kind of thing where you both know your stuffís really good and that you donít need to prove yourselves beyond that.
As Courtney pointed out to me.
"Yeah, that sounds cool, doesnít it?" laughs Kim. "Thatís exactly what we think. Youíre right Courtney, goddamn it!"
"Donít you have any questions about Christmas?" Kurt asks me, as he gets up and goes to gob out the window of the Four Seasons hotel where weíre (finally) conducting the interview.
Sure I do. Here comes one now.
Do you hate Christmas?
"No," replies Kurt. "It holds good memories. Iíve always had really good Christmases with my family óI have a very large family. Everyone has always gotten together and had a great blow-out, at least until my grandfather died. He was usually the highlight of the ceremonies. He'd get really drunk, put on wacky hats and sing for everyone."
Kim wants to know how many brothers and sisters Kurt has.
"I only have one real sister, and one half-sister," he informs her. "The rest of them are on my momís side of the family. My mother had seven brothers and sisters and they all have children."
Do you find Christmas at all depressing, Kim?
"Nope!" she responds, perkily. "Everett, címon you can talk to us. You find it depressing, donít you?"
Yes, I do.
Kurt asks why.
Bad memories. But you donít want to interview me.
"Yeah, we do," he laughs. "That was the agreement, right? One question each!"
Okay ó I hate Christmas because it exaggerates all the emotions that are around, and, if you're lonely most of the time ó as most people are ó but can just about get by, then it just rubs it in. You don't need it.
It's no coincidence the suicide rate goes up over the festive season.
"That's very true," Kim agrees, soberly.
"It's too bad that every lonely person can't have a good deed done to them on that day, although it would probably be kind of patronising," Kurt muses. "But there's always someone who gets left out ó someone who doesnít get a free meal, or a present, or have someone say hello to them. Everyoneís so extra-conscious."
Also, Christmas reinforces the traditional values that Western Civilisation was built upon. I donít like those values. I find them hypocritical. I donít see anything good in the family structure.
"I do," Kurt disagrees, "if itís a good family."
"You donít believe that Everett!" Kim laughs in disbelief.
Sure I do. Fine, if it's a good family. But you wander out onto the street any day, and you can see for yourself that most families arenít good familiesómothers whacking their kids theyíre too tired to cope, fathers being men. Most of it is shit. Most of the people in the world shouldnít be alive today. Stupid people shouldnít breed.
A stunned silence follows.
"God!" exclaims Kurt, "didnít I once say that to you?"
"I thought I had a bad outlook!" exclaims Kim. "Man, I feel just like Sally Field next to you! Jeez! Everett!"
Well, it just annoys me sometimes.
"I donít see any reason why a person should pretend to like their family," demurs Kurt. "You should not go and spend Christmas with your parents if you donít like them."
But thatís what it does to you. It forces you into certain situations.
"I know," he replies, sombre now. "It does that to a lot of people."
Thereís a pregnant silence.
"Merry Christmas everyone!" Kurt suddenly roars!
"I have a reallyí interesting question," announces Ms Breeder.
"Kurt, do you smoke menthols?"
"Yes, I do," he replies. "I smoke Benson & Hedgeís Deluxe Ultra-Light Menthols."
"Oh my god! I canít believe that you do that. Thatís so funny!"
"But it tastes good," he argues, "and it fools me into thinking that Iím smoking less. Or taking more vitamins, or something. And my breath smells good."
"I have a question for you, Kim," Kurt states. "Whyís your sister [Kelley Deal, guitarist, The Breeders] a Republican?"
This is only the second relatively serious question weíve addressed. The first was about sexism, when we had a brief discussion, illuminated by a couple of very dubious examples from Kim on why she doesnít think sexism exists. Kurt argued back half-heartedly, but was more interested in hearing her arguments. Unfortunately, all this was lost to the world when I forgot to switch my tape recorder on.
"She probably considers herself a realist before a Republican," Kim muses. "Sheís trying to be provocative, of course, but she is a Republican. Why is she?"
"Thatís probably a bad question," Kurt apologises.
Why does it bother you if Kelleyís a Republican?
"Because I donít agree with Republican values or their philosophy. But Republicans can be nice people ó and Kelley proves it."
"They can live and grow and be productive in society like everybody else," counters Kim.
"I agree with a lot of Republican ideals, like the family structure," Kurt admits, "but there are a lot of things I donít. I believe itís important to at least attempt to have a family structure, to have a father and mother."
Kimís off on another line again.
"Isnít it true that the only reason marriage came about was so that men with property could trace their blood-line to the correct male inheritor?" she wants to know.
"Thatís still valid in the South, or it was awhile ago," Kurt explains, "that women could not own property. Women had to get married if they inherited property in order to keep it."
I thought marriage was a very handy way of keeping women as second-class citizens.
"I donít think so," counters Kim, softly. "Well, not like that."
No? Well, I know you donít believe in the concept, but there sure are a lot of sexist tax and benefit laws in the UK, at least, which favour the husband over the wife.
Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic drops by to say goodbye. By the time he disappears, the whole topic has been forgotten.
Kurtís nodding off where heís sprawled. Kim is increasingly becoming lost in her own private dreamworld.
Time to start wrapping this up.
Kim. Is there anything you really want to know about Kurt?
"Are you going to finish the rest of your meat?" she asks him, looking pointedly at his platter, sitting unfinished and cold on the side of the bed.
"Yeah!" he exclaims.
"What was that?" she wants to know. "A steak? Medium rare, medium medium, medium well? Well done. I see. Menthol cigarettes? Oh my god! Why do you smoke them? Thatís one right now, isnít it? Thatís just so cool."
"Weíve already been through this," Kurt tells her, patiently. "Iíve smoked them for months."
Do you have any favourite people in common? Name a few of your favourite people.
"Okay," begins Kurt. "Let me think... I like Shabba Do (eh? ó Ed), the break-dancer."
"Katrina Weiss," Kim states, firmly. "The Soviet Union ice-skater. Thatís her name, right?"
Yeah, you said that to me already (wrong, actually ó Ed).
You said she was your ideal woman, and we said that was because you didnít want to grow hairy and old.
That you have a little girl fixation.
"Hey, hold on," she stops me. "Arenít we supposed to ask you the questions? Why do you feel so depressed around Christmas-time, Everett?"
Because it heightens the emotions ó hey, I already answered that.
Kurt yawns. Closes eyes. Wakes up again.
"Hey brother," he jokes. "Can't you just remember the good times?"
Is there anything you really want to know about Kim?
"Yeah," he replies, "but I donít want to ask her in an interview."
We switch the tape off..
Across the room, Courtney is discussing her album with her manager and a chap from Geffen. Over on this side, both Kim and Kurt ore looking increasingly weary. I donít believe Iíve felt so tired in years ó this interview has only taken 10 hours to happen. It must be time to take our leave.
Okay. Finally. Could I have a Christmas message for our readers?
"I hate you!" laughs Kim.
What me, personally ó or the kids?
"Whatever," she replies, confused.
"She hates something!" gloats Kurt, softly.
"Did I ever say that I didnít?" she asks, surprised. "Oh, really? Well, you [points at me] would be the correct answer, wouldnít it?"
Okay. Kim. What would you give Kurt for Christmas?
"I donít know." She pauses. "Something home-made. Maybe a napkin óa crocheted napkin."
How about you, Kurt?
"A certificate to a hair salon, so she can get a perm," he jokes.
"I just wont a good Christmas," he continues. "A nice, quiet, casual Christmas with Frances and Courtney."
"What do I want for Christmas?" Kim asks herself. "You know those reindeers that you can hang on shower-stalls and you have a radio while youíre taking a shower?
"Thatís what I want for Christmas."