Wednesday, 60 songs that explain the 90s returns for the final 30 episodes of what has become a 120-episode season. (Lessons have been learned on how to put numbers in the show’s title.) To kick off this stretch run, we’re doing an episode that you knew was coming at some point: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. And to discuss Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, we have this week’s guest, who is, uh, Courtney Love.
If this is your first check 60 songs, first: Welcome and enjoy the catalog, especially REM. Second, here’s how the show works: Rob does a long monologue about the song and band in question (along with stories from his teenage years and whatever else pops into his head), then he brings the guest in for an interview. . Typically, the monologue takes up the vast majority of the running time. But given that the guest is – again – Courtney Love, who is – again – talking about Nirvana, the monologue and conversation took a bit of a long time.
It’s worth it, though: The most important thing to point out is that Courtney sings alternate lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” including ones she wasn’t fully aware of until days before recording. She also shares great insights into Kurt’s approach to his art, as well as his own journey in the music industry. In fact, the whole conversation is a journey. We’re including a very short portion of the interview below – most are best heard in context, and we hope you’ll listen to the conversation (and Rob’s monologue, please don’t skip) in the episode here.
Finally, another big announcement: Rob is writing a book based on the series, titled Songs that explain the 90s. (See, Lessons Learned.) It’s out Nov. 7, 2023, on Twelve Books, but it’s available for preorder now.
You told me Kurt Cobain was one of the most ambitious people to ever walk the earth.
And the fact that he doesn’t want to be a rock star is bullshit. You said he had more ambition than 80s Madonna.
He was smart. He was wise. Jason Everman, I mean give me a break. “I want to look like Soundgarden, but I just don’t want to put up with a guy who can’t play.” He was still stinging, but he had to hide it more than me. And oh my, one of the ways I argued with the whole Bikini Kill Manifesto, it wasn’t really personalities, it was principles. There was one thing in the manifesto where it was like, “We won’t learn the instruments. Instruments are the tools of patriarchy. And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s bullshit.” I’m learning “Sweet Emotion” right now, what the fuck? And “Highway to Hell” is after “Paint It, Black”, what are you talking about?
Kurt and I didn’t have time that, say, (Billy) Corgan had to sit in our basements and learn things. So really, Kurt was getting by without being a shredder. He didn’t want to be. Kim Thayil was a grinder.
He was, yeah.
But I was doing whole rehearsals where Eric (Erlandson, founding guitarist of Hole) would change the tempo. I’m like, “No, no, no, Kim Thayil, no.” In fact, my band’s Sub Pop single of the month, there’s a half-decent song called “Turpentine” that starts with a good dirty grungy thing that Eric sped up and did a whole Kim Thayil thing. And then I forbade more tempo changes to Kim Thayil. I was like, “We’re done with this.”
I think Nevermind, Kurt went straight for it. Straight up, “Don’t hide my light under a bushel anymore, fuck that. We got clearance. All systems go. I’m going to live to my full potential. And yeah, it’s just getting really complex.
But then he would go on to say that at least the production he was embarrassed about. He said it sounded like a Motley Crew record, Nevermind did. And he said In utero was the closest he ever got to sound in his head.
We have all said many things. Lying to the press is one of life’s great sports.
I wanted to ask you, if you were open to it, I wanted to ask you live through it and “Doll Parts”. And my thought on that was that this record and this song was recorded, written in one universe and released in another universe, right?
Yeah. They were all written for an album called In utero. So just for info. LAW. And then the reason why it goes live through it is like, “I can’t fake this after what I’ve been accused of.” I’m like, “Fine. Live it, motherfuckers.
It’s a good title.
So one really big difference in our upbringing is that I’m very class neutral. My mother was very rich, but I also got food stamps, all that stuff. So if you have an Edinburgh brogue from Scotland in (UK) you are considered class neutral. No one knows what class you are in. I’m as class neutral as an Edinburgh brogue. I’ve literally been everything, haven’t I? And my mother was an extraordinarily wealthy heiress from San Francisco.
I jumped out of that original family. I was a ward of the state, all those things. But one thing we never had was gun culture, none. Like Eugene, New Zealand, San Francisco, even Marin County, I’ve never touched a gun. I didn’t know what a gun was. I would never, ever. Just the guns weren’t part of the chat. And then when Kurt and his best friend Dylan Carlson and Buzz (Osbourne), where they grew up, they were going to shoot guns.
I mean, you’d have to ask Charlie (Cross, Cobain’s biographer) because Kurt wouldn’t tell me it was any different than that. Charlie says, it’s a bit of a mythical lie, but I kinda like the mythical lie. So Kurt’s mom Wendy had a tank top boyfriend who wasn’t very nice to her and he had guns and Wendy threw them in the lake. And the myth says, I think Charlie deconstructs that, so you have to check with him. But he never told me otherwise.
Did he get Wendy’s guns back that he threw away and buy that guitar from my favorite picture of Kurt that I sent you? Maybe not, I don’t know. And I prefer to believe otherwise.
I’ve been lied to all this time and it’s fine, it’s fine.
By rock stars.
This transcript has been edited and condensed. Hear the full interview and episode, click here. Subscribe here and come back every Wednesday for new episodes. And to pre-order Rob’s new bookSongs that explain the 90svisit the Hachette Book Group website.