Kurt Cobain at 50

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Kurt Cobain would be 50 today, (February 20, 2017) if he had lived. The age I am today. What would I say if I bumped into him?

‘Alright mate? Remember me? Fancy a pint?’

‘Kinda…Do you have a bad back?’

‘Yeah my back’s fucked…You’re worse than me. It’s an age thing. It was the way you stooped all the time, bad posture. Didn’t you write about that? ‘Penny Royaltea? That’s what I was paid for the book I wrote.’

‘Yeah I remember you. Always in the dressing room writing shit, looking for every opportunity to get a plug, cool, I like it.’

‘Yes that was me, the gormless guy trying to write the diary. You kept annoying me? Remember? In the cold, dank, scuzzy dressing rooms across the UK? Nevermind Tour? Pretending to sleep to get out of interviews or speak to people?’

‘Fuck yeah…that Andy?’

‘What are you doing in Glasgow?’

‘I’m on my way to St Andrews’ to play golf with fucking Iggy Pop man.’

It’s late 1991. I’m in bed listening to a cassette. There’s a song that sounds like the Pixies, it’s different, melodic, dramatic, powerful, quiet.  Killer chorus. The next song is better, the next brilliant. This band were on Sub Pop and had signed to Geffen. You couldn’t get the album anywhere so I was listening to a copy of an album on a TDK tape with The Kinks scribbled across it in biro. I listened constantly until the batteries run out of the Walkman.

A few days later, I would meet the band who’d recorded the album, Nirvana, in London. I was the drummer in a band called Captain America and we were supporting them on the Nevermind Tour, in 1991.

I played a very small part in Kurt Cobain’s short and explosive life. I spent a brief amount of time with him. As moments go, the time I did spend with him proved intense, especially for him and Nirvana’s career. Action-packed, exciting and unforgettable. It’s scary to think we would’ve been the same age today.

What would he be doing if he were alive? ‘What-if’ accounts always intrigue me. Angry at Trump? I’d hope he’d be clean and creative. That he’d at least have five or six Nirvana albums out. There would be collaborations too. Projects with Michael Stipe or Neil Young or Thurston Moore. He may have started his own record label. You’d hope he’d be living in rural Connecticut, like Keith Richards, but he’d need the city. He loved Europe too, possibly the creativity of Berlin? The South of France? Living in seclusion and enjoying the beautiful light much loved by artists.

With Kurt it could also get cinematic. There’s a huge chance he’d become something of a reclusive figure, dropping out of the mainstream, spotted by the tabloids barely recognisable out walking his dogs. Hopefully, he’d avoid mental illness. I’m sure he’d be into writing. He was interested in the approach. Mine were still raw, detailed, what had happened that day, in essay form. His were sporadic, like shopping lists. BBC Session. Song title idea. Album title. Doodle. He wrote loads of letters too. His journals are all out there which he’d have hated, especially those random, incomplete thought processes.

I’ve deliberately tried to move on from being the guy who wrote the book about Nirvana. I’m fearful of being accused of cashing in. But today he has been on my mind all day. I don’t like obsessing over the dead. I carry the people who have passed on with me and sometimes I get the feeling they are never far from me but that’s about it. Every special anniversary, connected to the band I’m asked and refuse to chip in. Trust me, that was never why I wrote Nirvana A Tour Diary (I wrote about my experiences of being a drummer who wanted to be a comedy writer and found myself touring with one of the hottest bands on the planet at the time, at the precise moment they had a hit single).

I want to share a secret. I don’t even know the name of my book. Seriously, it was called In Bloom: Nirvana, Comedy & Me when I was working on it. Nice photo on the front, one Kurt made me take of him smiling as he burns a Scottish pound note. I wanted that on the cover. Then the book came out with this ludicrous title by then I was so sick of arguing, I moved on to the next project. Kurt knew I was doing the diary and the last night I saw him at Kilburn he made me get my camera. I knew what he was doing. So they never used that picture either because ‘he looked too happy’. They wanted tragic iconic Kurt- and chose a photo from another tour, so now the title and the cover made it look like an official Nirvana book. It was supposed to be a book about my experience with them.

There were two main driving forces behind the book. Firstly, to let people know that Kurt wasn’t some tragic put upon figure, anything but. Secondly, there’s a very high-profile famous ’benchmark’ Nirvana book that completely dismissed the UK tour’s importance and was erroneous with simple facts over information and TV shows and dates, so I felt an in-depth, less sanctimonious book around the UK dates was merited.

Personally, there were so many unforgettable memories. In Sheffield, watching the band’s faces as we watched Nirvana watch themselves on Top of the Pops. Trying to play drums along with Dave Grohl in front of a bouncing Kilburn National crowd while drunk. Then the acid-trip-dream-opiate effect of playing a gig in Newcastle after about six cans of Tennents Super Lager and thinking I was Orson Welles in Moby Dick.

My regrets? That more people didn’t get to see the band live. Three brilliant musicians at their peak, propelling this supersonic sound while unleashing this guttural, powerful raw emotion. I’ve yet to see or hear a performance which captured the same intensity as being in the room.

On that tour people were shit scared of Kurt. I only spoke to him because I wanted privacy to collect my thoughts and update my diary. He found this hilarious. I wanted to write while he ‘rested’ but in fact, he was faking it to get rid of everyone else and get out of doing any work. He was fond of our touring party as none of us gave a fuck about his reputation.

The past few years have thrown up many documentaries about Kurt. So much so that many involved in 1991 would think they don’t really know Kurt of 1994. Journalistically you should always go to the source, ask the obvious question. Buzz Osborne from The Melvins was one of Kurt’s heroes and close friends when they were young. When he’s asked ‘what was Kurt like?’ He tells you. He knew his nature and that mischievous side before fame came his way. Buzz claims that the truth about Kurt’s life has always been false and utter fabrication. When he got bored, the more famous he’d become, he would make things up. Buzz’s thoughts don’t fit in too readily with the lucrative Kurt the tragic iconic figure narrative so he’s seldom asked. To those interested, I also say follow Krist and Dave’s instinct with these films and documentaries. If they get behind a project then it’s fair to assume there will be depth and substance behind them. All the while, remember that Buzz said he liked to make up stuff. Golfing with Iggy, who would’ve thought it?

In one of his Letters From America, I remember Alistair Cooke paraphrasing someone on the death of Duke Ellington. He said ‘Duke Ellington died last week. I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.’ I still feel the same about Kurt.

Bands may come and bands may go but Nirvana will live forever.

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