"I never wanted to sing," Cobain insists now. "I just wanted to play rhythm guitar – hide in the back and just play. But during those high-school years when I was playing guitar in my bedroom, I at least had the intuition that I had to write my own songs."
For a long time, after Nirvana catapulted from junior Sub Pop-label signees to grunge supergods – they won the Best Band and Best Album trophies in our 1994 Critics' Poll – Cobain could not decide whether his talent was a blessing or a curse. He has finally come to realize it's a bit of both. He is bugged that people think of him more as an icon than a songwriter yet fears that In Utero marks the finish line of the Nirvana sound crystallized in "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Cobain remains deeply mistrustful of the music business but says he has done a complete U–turn on his attitude toward Nirvana's mass punk-wanna-be flock.
"I don't have as many judgments about them as I used to," Cobain says, almost apologetically. "I've come to terms about why they're there and why we're here. It doesn't bother me anymore to see this Neanderthal with a mustache, out of his mind, drunk, singing along to 'Sliver.' That blows my mind now.
"I've been relieved of so much pressure in the last year and a half," Cobain says with discernible relief in his voice. "I'm still kind of mesmerized by it." He ticks off the reasons for his content: "Pulling this record off. My family. My child. Meeting William Burroughs and doing a record with him."
"Just little things that no one would recognize or care about," he continues. "And it has a lot to do with this band. If it wasn't for this band, those things never would have happened. I'm really thankful, and every month I come to more optimistic conclusions."
"I just hope," Cobain adds, grinning, "I don't become so blissful I become boring. I think I'll always be neurotic enough to do something weird."
Along with everything else that went wrong onstage tonight, you left without playing "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Why?
That would have been the icing on the cake [smiles grimly]. That would have made everything twice as worse.
I don't even remember the guitar solo on "Teen Spirit." It would take me five minutes to sit in the catering room and learn the solo. But I'm not interested in that kind of stuff. I don't know if that's so lazy that I don't care anymore or what. I still like playing "Teen Spirit," but it's almost an embarrassment to play it.
In what way? Does the enormity of its success still bug you?
Yeah. Everyone has focused on that song so much. The reason it gets a big reaction is people have seen it on MTV a million times. It's been pounded into their brains. But I think there are so many other songs that I've written that are as good, if not better, than that song, like "Drain You." That's definitely as good as "Teen Spirit." I love the lyrics, and I never get tired of playing it. Maybe if it was as big as "Teen Spirit," I wouldn't like it as much.
But I can barely, especially on a bad night like tonight, get through "Teen Spirit." I literally want to throw my guitar down and walk away. I can't pretend to have a good time playing it.
But you must have had a good time writing it.
We'd been practicing for about three months. We were waiting to sign to DGC, and Dave [Grohl] and I were living in Olympia [Wash.], and Krist [Novoselic] was living in Tacoma [Wash.]. We were driving up to Tacoma every night for practice, trying to write songs. I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it [smiles]. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band – or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.
"Teen Spirit" was such a clichéd riff. It was so close to a Boston riff or "Louie, Louie." When I came up with the guitar part, Krist looked at me and said, "That is so ridiculous." I made the band play it for an hour and a half.
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