Hit Parader - March 1994 - by Jim Spencer
Will success spoil Nirvana? That seems to be the question filling more and more minds within the rock community these days. Perhaps it's just the natural cynicism that seems to creep into the psyche of anyone who views a multi-platinum band that never had any desire of being a multi-platinum band. Let's face it, no one is about to confuse the sonic thrashing of these Washington-staters with the radio-ready sound of a Bon Jovi or Aerosmith. From their very inception Nirvana have lived in the precarious netherworld known as "on the edge." Reports of drug problems, record label problems and innerband problems have filled the wires since the group's major label debut, Nevermind, turned these unassuming rockers into international superstars. But now, with the release of their latest controversial effort, In Utero, guitarist/vocalist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl have become caught up in an even greater vortex of rumor and innuendo that has turned every day of their lives into a virtual media circus.
They do their best to avoid the spotlight, but with the new album out, the video for their debut single, Heart-Shaped Box, filling the MTV airwaves, and a new tour scheduled to kick off, Nirvana seem to be caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place. What's a band to do? They've already publicly admitted that they hate doing press interviews-which is done in sufficient numbers with sufficient "panache" probably would help in eliminating many of these supposed "misconceptions" that surround the band. They try and maintain as low a profile as possible only appearing at events like MTV's recent Video Music Awards after "sufficient arm twisting takes place," according to a well-placed source. There are no easy answers for Nirvana, yet in their heart of hearts these guys know they wouldn't have it any other way.
"You can't go out there and select who's going to buy your records," Cobain stated. "And you can't control what they write about you. Maybe we would if we could."
Yes, Nirvana might very well want to control the media as well as who has acces to their music. On more than one occasion Cobain has indicated that most of the people who bought Nevermind have no idea what their music is really about. And following a flood of drug-related tabloid headlines, and even the prestigious Newsweek magazine proclaiming that the band's label, Geffen Records, had rejected most of the material on In Utero (a claim which proved to be totally untrue), one can understand the band's dissatisfaction with the way the press has perceived and presented them. These really aren't the hard rockin' Guns N' Roses-style rebels that some critics try to create; these are thoughtful, shy, artistically-inclined musicians who have been somewhat reluctantly thrust into the spotlight. Yet they're not going to let their new-found fame chane their attitudes one bit.
"Journalists seem to want to see us fail this time around," Cobain said matter offactly. "I don't know why that is-and I don't think they really know what it is either. I don't think we've given them that much reason not to like us. But the fact that they don't particularly like us doesn't really bother me is the way they sometimes go after you."
Still, Nirvana are far from the savage innocents they might portray themselves as being. They know damn well thay by writing songs with eyebrow-raising titles like Rape Me, they're going to get more than their share of critical barbs hurled their way. So what if the song isn't really about what it appears to be? Sometimes it seems that, like small children, demanding to be noticed, Nirvana are bound and determined to maintain their outrageous, yet unquestionably socially relevant stance, no matter how much damage it may do to them in the long run.
"We've put up with a lot of crap," Cobain said. "But we know that we're being true to our own beliefs. If the media doesn't like that, I don't really care."
Despite all the talk of media-baiting, media hating and the like, the bottom line is that In Utero is a major step forward for Nirvana. While even it's strongest supporters will probably admit that Nevermind often seemed like a disjointed assimilation of ideas and musical styles, there is a flow and pattern to the new disc that its predecessor sorely lacked. While there may not be an immediately apparent hit along the lines of the historic Smells Like Teen Spirit, on such tracks as No Apologies and the aforementioned Heart-Shaped Box the band has expanded their sound and style while steadfastly maintaining the quirky quasi-metallic characteristics that first won them acclaim.
"Songs should fit together into a solid body of work," Cobain said. "That's what makes an album work. If the songs don't work together, then usually the album doesn't work either." So with In Utero out and making the expected big splash in the sales category, this "little band" from the outskirts of Seattle is facing their next career hurdle-what size halls to tackle on their next tour. The members of Nirvana have stated their hatred of the "sterile" atmosphere presented by most arenas, preferring to take their live shows to clubs and small theaters. But with public demand to see them at a near-fever pitch, will the group succumb to pressure and allow themselves to play bigger halls? It's a question even their closest confidants don't know how to answer.
"That's a question they're not looking forward to coming to grips with," one insider stated. "There are forces telling them that playing bigger places and letting more fans see them is the 'correct' thing to do. I don't know if they're buying it, though. I'm pretty sure if it were up to them, they'd just play the same kind of clubs they've always played. I think they enjoy that kind of audience interaction. That's when they put on their best shows. I just couldn't picture Nirvana on stage at the Forum in L.A. I think they'd feel out of place."
So, as it so often seems with Nirvana, there are still so many questions to be answered. While most bands dream of having smooth-running rock machines where all their decisions are made and all their problems handled, these guys seem to prefer living in a chaotic domain where there are always more questions to be asked and few answers to be given. Perhaps it's the band's way of keeping everyone-including themselves-on their toes. Or perhaps it's just their special way of dealing with success.
With Nirvana you just can never be sure.