Nirvana Smashed His Hotel Room — And He Covered Kurt Cobain’s Death. Kurt Loder Looks Back
In the ever-evolving youth-culture carnival that was MTV in the late Eighties and Nineties, MTV News anchor Kurt Loder was the one constant, as well as the network’s only indicator that being a grown-up might actually be cool. With MTV News officially ending its 36-year run last week, Loder — also a longtime Rolling Stone writer — looks back on covering Kurt Cobain’s death, interviewing Prince, Madonna, and Axl Rose, and much more.
(The full conversation, including Loder’s thoughts on his Rolling Stone work, along with interviews with John Norris and Tabitha Soren, is featured on the new episode of Rolling Stone Music Now. Find the episode here at the podcast provider of your choice, go directly to Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or just press play above. )
Last week, there was this amazing outpouring for the heyday of MTV News, and for you, as the Walter Cronkite of my generation. Has it meant something to you?
I was very surprised. Everybody was very nice. I think a lot of those people are just remembering their own youth. Saying, “Wow, that was a great time… because I was 15 years old.”
You never stopped writing, and it feels like at your core, you think of yourself maybe more as a writer than a TV anchor.
I don’t think I could have had a career in television, because MTV was just such a special set of circumstances. I’m not really a TV person. I think I lack a certain effervescence. So yeah, I’m a writer. I feel like I’ve been writing for a hundred years.
One of the things that was appealing about you as a presence on air is that it never seemed like you were pandering in any way or putting on an effervescence that wasn’t there. Did you ever get notes suggesting “more energy”?
On television, somebody’s always saying “more energy.” So pretty soon you sound like a weatherman. But I wasn’t very good at that and I don’t like to be talked to like that if I’m watching somebody on television, like they’re my faux buddy or something. So I try to avoid that. It’s not hard if you just don’t do it.
When they offered this to you, you were not a fan of MTV particularly, and you never wanted to be on TV. Was there a little bit of a struggle internally before you signed on?
I was working at Rolling Stone and everybody that wrote about rock music, as it was called at the time, had a very down point of view about MTV. Like, “Why do you have to see pictures with it? We just listen to music. We’re in it for the music.” So I had to move over from that point of view. I remember when they started doing the Video Music Awards, people were angry that “video” came first. “Shouldn’t it be Music Video Awards?” Also, “Why isn’t it Rock TV instead of MTV?” That was a thing too. Imagine if it were “Rock TV,” how stupid that would be.
Were there moments early on when you realized, “Oh, I’m actually finding ways to do this on television that are just about as satisfying as doing it longform in print?”
Eventually, yeah, because it is live. You’re dealing with actual people, and sometimes they’re talented and funny. So to me, playing with people, it’s a lot of fun. At the time, it was a lot of fun. And there was so much money in the business back then. You could just fly off anywhere you wanted and do all this stuff. It was a great time. I’m not sure it’ll ever be back, but something else will.
What was your journalistic relationship with Madonna, who you spoke to many times over the years?
She was very smart and fast and at that particular time, she was doing just the most amazing records. If you go back and listen to the stuff she recorded in the Eighties and Nineties, it’s unbelievably great. Not everyone felt that way, but I thought she was terrific and she was funny to interact with. She was sassy sometimes, maybe nasty. She was a lot of fun to do stuff with. And she was always somewhere else in the world that you could fly off to and talk to her — in Spain or something. So we loved her. It’s great to talk to some of the people whose work that you really, genuinely like.
When you were interviewing Madonna at the VMAs in 1995, and Courtney Love kept interrupting and eventually jumped in on the interview, that’s become a legendary little moment. But was it actually irritating for you as a journalist?
It was a wonderful moment for television. If you were gonna have to write it up later, it would have been terrible… If somebody falls off the top of a building, it’s wonderful television. It was great. Is Courtney down there throwing stuff at us? Excellent. Throw some more, please. And she and Madonna were acquainted. I’m sure Madonna was a big fan. But there was somebody in my ear saying, “Get her up here. Get Courtney up here somehow.” And you can see Madonna and her handlers go, Jesus, no, don’t bring that woman up here.
You interviewed Axl Rose several times. Did you enjoy talking to him? Was he able to suppress his volatility for the length of a television interview?
He was. We did something out of his house in L.A. once and I think, like, the night before he had chased his girlfriend down the street with a backhoe or something.
Oh my God.
That was an interesting time in the metal world, too. Everybody would just wake up and start slugging Jim Beam and snorting coke off their girlfriend’s tummy. He was a part of that. I haven’t seen him in a long time, but he was fun. He was fun to do stuff with.
You got along really well with Nirvana. Famously, one time, you were drinking with them after an interview and they, I believe, destroyed your hotel room?
I wasn’t really drinking with them. Actually, one of them said, I think Pat Smear, “Let’s go up to my room and we’ll party there.” I thought, well, who’s gonna turn that down? And I think it was Krist Novoselic who started taking framed pictures off the wall and throwing them across the hall. It was great. I was thinking, “I hope this continues.” I had nothing to do with it. I was not throwing televisions out the window. But their minder, who was this Scottish guy, was so angry with them afterwards. He said, “You guys, you’re becoming the rock stars you hate.” It was like $18,000 worth of damage to this room. It was a lot of money. And I’m glad we didn’t have to pay for it. But that’s just one of those things I’m glad happened in a way that didn’t land me in jail or something. I wonder if that sort of thing happens anymore.
I know what it’s like to interview Prince, but I don’t know what it was like to interview Prince in the Eighties or Nineties, and also deal with capturing him on camera. I don’t know if that made it a different experience.
Everyone in showbiz is very touchy about being on camera. We were doing something with Madonna once, and it was all set up, the lights were set up, tech guys had spent hours setting up the shot. She came and looked at it and said no. Said redo it. “I’m the one that has to look at this for the rest of my life.” That’s how they feel about it. I’d feel that way too. Whatever you shoot today is gonna be around forever, especially on the internet. So I don’t think Prince was aware of that any more so than anyone else.
I was in awe of Prince, who was the most amazing guy. We were done doing something once at Paisley Park and at the end he said, “I’m gonna have a party.” His people sent a message by email to fans saying come to Paisley Park, and he calls the band up and drags them in. They played for a couple of hours. It was amazing. I think he was one of those people that would just play around the clock, if possible. I think he would record around the clock if possible. He just exuded music. What an amazing person. There aren’t many people like that.
One of the things that keeps coming up is your coverage of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, which felt like an on-air wake. Do you remember how that came together as this lengthy live event?
The first decision was to call me up and wake me up and tell me this awful news. I don’t think it was a huge surprise that Kurt Cobain ended his life. He had been trying to do that before. But anybody who had ever seen that band, they were just so rousing. They were so great. Our producer, Dave Sirulnick, said, “We’ve gotta stay with this. This person has meant a lot to people.” He could see already that people are very upset, that they’re gathering out in Seattle and we should cover it. And Dave came from CNN, so he knew how to do this. They did a great job on it for the next couple days.
When the alt-rock era ended and the Spice Girls and Hanson started to take over MTV, followed by Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, and N’ Sync, it doesn’t seem like that was your favorite moment.
There’s always been teen pop. I was too old to be into teen pop. But I did something with the Spice Girls once. We shot something somewhere and it was so stupid. It was wonderful. You always want more of that. Bring me stupid stuff. We’ll make good television out of it — good television not being closely related to good anything else. There’s no point in being in this business unless you can find some fun in it.
You covered Woodstock ‘99, as I did myself. Was it disillusioning for you in any way? It’s not like you didn’t already have a substantial amount of cynicism about the music business and perhaps society in general.
It was interesting to see this attitude toward the fans and the customers and the people who pay all the expenses so nakedly revealed. People were so badly treated at Woodstock ‘99. It was just awful. And the contempt for the audience was… They usually don’t bring it right out in front, but there it was.
Around the turn of the century, were you still enjoying your on-air role?
It was enjoyable. I was just getting too old to do it. I don’t like to see old people on television.
That’s ageist, Kurt. Come on.
I don’t! I just don’t like to see old people on television. So I pulled out of the Video Music Awards. It was silly to have me in there. But the job was still fun to do, ’cause there’s always someone talented and always someone making something interesting in music. There’s always material to work with. So I like that part of it. I just didn’t think I was the right person to be on camera dealing with it.
So you essentially put a ticking clock next to your own job there.
If they had wanted to kick me out, they would’ve done so. There’s not a lot of sentiment involved. I was very well treated by MTV. But nothing is forever. If you’re doing something, you need to realize that someday you won’t be doing it. And just prepare for that day. You don’t wanna keep doing the same thing forever. That’d be boring. The reason you love something will just evaporate if you keep doing it beyond the natural lifespan of it.
Do you miss it?
I don’t miss it because I’m not the same person I was then. So if we were doing it now, it wouldn’t be the same at all. So it’s just as well I’m not doing it.
You did recently shoot a fake MTV News segment for a Yellowjackets promo, where they used CGI to morph you back into Nineties Kurt. Was it strange to go in and fake being young Kurt?
I was probably faking that when I was young. No, it was fun. They said, we wanna do this thing set in 1997, we’re gonna deepfake you. I just thought, “This is the greatest thing. You made my day. I want to be deepfaked. Take me.” I read some stuff off the prompter, they took it away to a lab or something, came back several weeks later and there I was. It’s incredible technology. I don’t think Robert DeNiro needs to bother with it anymore, because it doesn’t do much for him. But it’s amazing what can be done, and I’m sure we’ll find many things with AI as we go forward that are both amazing and terrifying.
Diddy Accuses Spirits Company Diageo of Racial Discrimination in Lawsuit
- 'Illusion of Inclusion'