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Nirvana: Inside the Heart and Mind of Kurt Cobain

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Just last September Novoselic and Cobain were so poor, they had to pawn their amps; now Cobain gets twenty bucks out of the cash machine and finds there's another $100,000 in his account. When Novoselic told a friend he'd bought a five-bedroom house in Seattle, the friend pointed out that the payments would just be another headache. "What payments?'' Novoselic replied. He'd paid for the house in full.

"A lot of people ask me: 'When's he going to buy you a new car? When's he going to buy you a house?' '' says Cobain's mother. "I couldn't even accept it if he offered it. We could have helped him along if we would have realized that this was really going to be something. We thought he'd get over it. I wish we would have helped him out a little more. He owes us nothing.''

Nirvana, however, owes DGC another record, which the band will likely start recording late this fall or early winter. Says Jonathan Poneman, "Either Kurt is going to create something that is an ornate masterpiece, or he is going to create something angry and filled with the rage and confusion.'' Butch Vig thinks it might be a low-key acoustic album.

"I have a pretty good idea,'' says Cobain. "I think both of the extremes will be in the next album – it'll be more raw with some songs and more candy pop on some of the others. It won't be as one-dimensional.''

One-dimensional or not, there's a good chance Cobain's audience just doesn't get his message. The antimacho "Territorial Pissings'' was used as background music for a football show; "Smells Like Teen Spirit'' might suffer the same fate as "Rockin' in the Free World'' or "Born in the U.S.A.'' – listeners may not get the irony at all. Actually, Cobain called it in the chorus to Nevermind's "In Bloom'' – "He's the one who likes all the pretty songs/And he likes to sing along . . . /But he knows not what it means.'' Cleverly, the song is a natural-born sing-along, trapping listeners into the joke.

According to Nils Bernstein, most Nirvana fan letters are along the lines of  "Hey, dude, I saw your video and bought your tape! You guys kick ass!''

"Everybody says, 'You guys kick ass,' '' says Bernstein. About half ask for the lyrics to "Teen Spirit'' (the complete lyrics to Nevermind will be included with the next single, "Lithium''). Most letter writers are between ten and twenty-two, write on notebook paper, buy cassettes and watch MTV. "There's not very many sexual letters,'' says Bernstein, "which is a drag. The ones from prison are the best ones; also the ones from the military.'' And what do soldiers say? "They say, 'Hey, you guys kick some ass!' ''

Cobain accepts that much of his new audience is made up of the same types who hassled him in high school. "I can't have a lot of animosity toward them, because I understand that a lot of people's personalities aren't necessarily their choice – a lot of times, they're pushed into the way they live,'' he says. "Hopefully, they'll like our music and listen to something else that's in the same vein, that's a bit different from Van Halen. Hopefully, they'll be exposed to the underground by reading interviews with us. Knowing that we do come from a punk-rock world, maybe they'll look into that and change their ways a bit.''

But it's doubtful that most of them ever will. "Yeah, it seems hopeless,'' Cobain says with a sigh. "But it's fun to fight. It gives you something to do. It relieves boredom.'' He laughs.

This story is from the April 16th, 1992 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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