Everett True on Nirvana
UK music journalist Everett True comes from the Nick Kent school of writing: live the life and hope to come out the other end with one hell of a story. And he has. In this case, the story of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. In this exclusive piece, he talks about his association with Seattle’s finest and his friendship with the perennially troublesome Courtney Love.
‘Forget what you think you know. Nirvana were a band from Olympia, Washington. I recently finished writing a book. It came out in the UK in the final few months of 2006. It’s called Nirvana: The True Story. Six hundred pages of conjecture, colourful anecdotes and dreary fact.
It took me over two years to write, most of which was spent playing mind-numbingly banal computer games (Minesweeper, Solitaire) and avoiding any thought whatsoever on the subject. I hated every step of the way: barring the part where I reprised my past life momentarily and lived in Seattle for two months under the pretence of ‘research’, sending my grocery bill to the book company and playing shows with surly cartoonists (Peter Bagge, Eric Reynolds). It felt like I was surrounded by ghosts, drunken and stoned, ghosts that still dog my every movement’.
The title is ironic. It’s a pun on my assumed name. I don’t believe in history as written by rock biographers. I don’t believe there is only one version; that perception doesn’t colour all; that if you listen to five people talking about the exact same event you won’t get five entirely differing, clashing versions; that Kurt Cobain was murdered. Damn. Let that one slip. There is no true story, only a True story, only one person’s take on cracked happenstance that is just as prejudiced, just as barbed as everyone else’s — even the biographers who weren’t there.
The past is a confusing babble of voices and faded snapshots that even now, especially now, have more to do with the present-day and the bubble I choose to exist in (Brighton, married, one kid, social recluse) than any seven-figure MTV executive’s bank account. Give vent to the confusion and you no longer are viewed as ‘authoritative’. Thank goodness for that. Who’d want authority on their side?
No, I don’t believe he was murdered. I don’t particularly go into this in my new Nirvana book — partly through lack of time, partly through lack of interest — but let’s view it this way. Examine any event that has happened in the past, however trivial, and discrepancies will appear. 9/11. John F Kennedy. The death of Princess Diana. The fact my cat had to be put down at the age of sixteen. Why I forgot to take my iPod to London this morning. All of these could be contested, violently and with real — and valid — opinion. That’s because (and how often would you like me to say this) history does not exist except in books. Suicide is particularly ripe for innuendo: after all, the only person who can tell you what really happened is — er — dead. Still. I have nothing against conspiracy theories, especially if they’re fun. That moment in the Nick Broomfield film Kurt And Courtney where Il Duce is talking about how Courtney offered him 20,000 bucks to knock off Kurt – genius! (In a weird twist of fate, Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain actually fronted a mid-Eighties Aberdeen tribute band to Il Duce’s former sex-fuck group, The Mentors)
Still. What do I know? I have only information and hazy recollection and paranoia on my side, and they rarely are decent bed companions. You believe what you believe and I’ll believe my version — isn’t that what history is all about? Here’s another ironic slant: for a decade, I refused point blank to speak to people wanting to speak to me about Kurt Cobain, sometimes quite rudely. ‘How’s the bloody money going?’ I pointedly enquired of one professional biographer. Who’d want to be Johnny Rotten for thirty years, continually retracing the same three months of your life for an ever-dwindling circle of admirers?
Olympia, Washington prime mover (and major early influence on Kurt Cobain’s career), Beat Happening front man and K Records founder Calvin Johnson refuses to speak to book writers (however sympathetic) about the past, because he perceives such an act to be the punctuation point at the end of his life sentence. That’s it. ‘Gone’, as my son Isaac says emphatically, spreading out his tiny hands to emphasise the point. So who am I to call out friends who do the same to me: play the asshole, and call another fifteen times or so until they break down and relent; or value the fact that for some, private thoughts remain private, not thrown at random into the great brawling pot of history.
The book I have written on Nirvana attempts to reflect some of this confliction and confusion — whether that makes it a good book or not is not for me to judge. I have only tried to present what I always try to present: the True version of events. But I can honestly say that, right now, I despise and loathe the book with a burning passion: what a fucking belated sell-out! (And it’s not like I’ll even get my 30 pieces of silver, at this late stage.) So what was he really like, the pack mew, as if they’re going to discover some information that will validate their very existence. After all, I touched the hem of the garment. (One documentary maker has discovered that over one hundred people claim to have spoken to, or seen, Kurt Cobain in the final week of his life: considerably more than he in all probability spoke to in the previous year, outside of touring. Odd, don’t you think — that he should have chosen to have become so sociable right before killing himself?)
So what was he really like? I never know how to answer that question. Why don’t they ask someone who actually knew him? And no … I’m not still in touch with Courtney.