The Observer Magazine had a bona fide classic cover story for 15 August 1993 (‘All screwed up: How Nirvana became anti-heroes for our time’). Jon Savage’s interview with Kurt Cobain (and the band) is raw, poignant and desperately sad given Cobain’s death less than a year later.
After we’d become famous in America… it just scared me…. I was frightened for a year and a half
They talked the day before the Roseland Ballroom gig, their first in New York for almost two years, to plug In Utero, the follow-up album to 1991’s phenomenally successful Nevermind, which, said Savage, along with its breakthrough single Smells Like Teen Spirit, had ‘come out of left field to create a cultural and aesthetic impact that goes far beyond statistics.
‘Nirvana have also been seen in sociological terms: as defining a new generation, the twentysomething “slackers” who have retreated from life; as telling unattractive home truths about a country losing its empire and hit by recession.’
Cobain talked about the damage done by his parents’ divorce, how he hadn’t fitted in at school and the vulnerability and sensitivity that meant he couldn’t cope with the spotlight. ‘After we’d become famous in America… it just scared me. I was frightened for a year and a half: I wanted to quit.’
Cobain also talked about his chronic stomach pain and scoliosis, explaining that was partly why he started taking heroin. He’d seen many doctors but nothing worked: ‘I’m always in pain, and that adds to the anger in our music. I’m grateful to it, in a way.’
The New York show was, in Savage’s account, ‘a bitter, dogged stand-off between the group’s insistence on doing what they want, and the audience’s expectations of what they should do’.
Savage added: ‘Their growing pains are intense and are conducted in public. In Utero is a dark record, finely poised between self-destruction and optimism, and the Roseland show makes it quite clear just how much they are struggling.’