This is an interview with Charles R. Cross done in 1999. He was the editor of
the Seattle based "The Rocket" - 'The Northwest Music and Entertainment Magazine'.
He is also the co-author of the book about the recording of "Nevermind" in the 'Classic
Rock Album' series. This terrific book describes every detail of how Nirvana's "Nevermind"
came to life and also gives a lot more insight on the April 1990 Smart Studio Sessions.
Besides that, Mr. Cross has written for magazines such as Rolling Stone, Esquire,
Request and others. He's also written books on Bruce Springsteen and Led Zeppelin.
He is currently writing his next book which will be the ultimate biography of Kurt
Cobain. This interview was done in early May 1999, where The Rocket's issue #300
had just been published. I want to say very special thanks to Charles Cross for doing this interview.
Note: This interview was conducted before Charles published his Kurt Cobain biography.
The interview is copyright ©1999 The Internet Nirvana Fan Club and Charles R. Cross.
Below I am "NFC", using this
and Charles R. Cross is "Cross", using this
NFC: Mr. Cross, please tell us a little about your background
and how you got involved with 'The Rocket'.
Cross: I went to high school in eastern Washington, in Pullman,
which isn't all that different than Aberdeen in it's isolation, and at the time lack of culture. I
wrote for my high school paper, edited my college paper, The University of
Washington Daily, and wrote for numerous other fanzines and newspapers. The
Rocket began in 1979 as a supplement to the Seattle Sun, and I'd briefly been
the art director for the Seattle Sun and one of their writers. I started
writing for the Rocket, eventually took a job as an editor, and became the
editor in 1986 I think. Been there ever since.
NFC: When was the first time you listened to Nirvana and what
was your initial impression of their music ?
Cross: I loved "Love Buzz" and I adored
"About a Girl." Some of the early Nirvana shows weren't as musical as people
remember them as today: They were loud, distorted and devoid of a lot of the
melody they were about to add later on. I always had a preference for the pop
side of the band but thought Bleach was brilliant.
NFC: Guitar World magazine named "Nevermind" best album of the
Nineties ... do you think it is ? If so, why ?
Cross: Actually I think In Utero is a
better album for many reasons, though Nevermind--because of the impact it
had--is a more "important" album. "Best" is an interesting term: In The
Rocket's recent poll of our critics, the "Top 300 Northwest Albums of
All-Time," Nevermind also came in at number one. As a critic it's fun to
come up with lists like this because they create controversy: They really
have little impact though--my favorites switch around from day to day based
on what mood I'm in. All that said, I wouldn't argue with any list that
ranked Nevermind at the top in the nineties.
NFC: Do you think Nirvana made the right decision when they
chose Geffen/DGC as their record label ?
Cross: There will be a lot more on this issue in my book. Clearly Geffen had the
muscle to make NM [Nevermind] huge: I'm not sure it was the right decision for Kurt
ultimately as it seemed from the moment the band found success, he became
less comfortable with himself. Again, "Right" can be interpreted in many
ways. It was certainly right for DGC: They made a fortune off of the band and
did an excellent job of marketing the album. More in my next book on the
other labels Nirvana almost signed to, and an interview with the guy who
almost signed them a year earlier.
NFC: The next Nirvana album, the boxed set, do you know anything
Cross: I know a little bit but it's all
speculation at this point.
NFC: What exactly inspired you and Mr. Berkenstadt to write a book
about the "Nevermind" album ?
Cross: Schirmer Books came to me and asked me to write
a couple of books in their "The Most Important Album" series. I suggested
Bleach because I thought less was known about that: They came back and
suggested Nevermind. While researching the book I found out that another
writer, Jim Berkenstadt was working on a similar book. We decided to combine
NFC: Is "Smells Like Teen Spirit" the best song Kurt ever wrote,
in your opinion ?
Cross: Again, "Best" is the operative word. It's hard to argue
with the power of those chords: Before the song even begins, after the first
three notes, you are already drawn in. It's an amazing song by any standard.
Lyrically though it's probably not his best. I love "Polly," "Something in
the Way," and "Heart Shaped Box." Hell, I love them all.
NFC: What is your opinion of Grohl's band "Foo Fighters" and
Novoselic's "Sweet 75" ?
Cross: I've done features on both the Foo Fighters and Sweet 75 in the past few
years and seen them both numerous times. Both Dave and Krist are far more
talented than most of the general public are aware, and they added more to
Nirvana, I'd argue, than even the hardcore fans give them credit for. I'm
glad to see them both find great success, past-Nirvana, and I'm sure both
will continue to create memorable music for sometime. At least I hope so.
NFC: You mentioned that you thought "In Utero" was a good
album. With that in mind, do you think Steve Albini did a
good job producing/recording it ?
Cross: Too much attention has done to the
production of IU. It's a great album because these are great songs. I think
Albini did exactly what Kurt wanted him to do; ironically then Kurt disliked
NFC: Are you going to write additional books for the 'Classic
Rock Albums' series. If so, which album(s) would you like to
write about ?
Cross: Blonde on Blonde, Bleach, Tupelo Honey, Super Unknown, though
at present any of those ideas are way off--a couple of years away.
NFC: Besides Nirvana, which other artists do you enjoy listening to ?
Cross: Coltrane, Van, Bob, Bruce, Sam Phillips, Billy Bragg, Elvis, Beach Boys,
Afghan Whigs, Sleater-Kinney, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, and
the list goes on and on....
NFC: Lately, other 'Seattle bands' such as TAD and Soundgarden have
broken up ... do you find this development disturbing ? Will the
Seattle music scene "survive" ?
Cross: When the Rocket did our most recent Musicians
Directory listing, we found over 1,000 bands in the region. There are more
bands than ever and the scene appears to be healthy from that perspective.
It's true there are less platinum-selling bands, but maybe that's a good
NFC: During your time working for The Rocket, do you remember an
event causing more hype than Kurt's untimely death ?
NFC: Out of the articles and pieces you have written for The Rocket,
do you have a favorite ?
Cross: I wrote a 5,000 word piece on Dicks, our local
hamburger chain a few years ago. The irony is that I'm a semi-vegetarian and
I've never eaten a Dicks burger in my life. In the past two years pieces I've
liked that I've done include a profile of Mark Lanegan, a Foo Fighters story,
a piece in the most recent issue of The Rocket on local political issues that
are affecting the music industry.
NFC: Michael Azerrad already published a fairly detailed bio of
Kurt Cobain and Nirvana - why are you writing a new one ?
Cross: Azerrad's book is
one of the better "official" biographies to be done on a modern rock artist.
But the very nature of this piece being approved compromised his ability to
tell the entire story. And Kurt's death soon after publication--which isn't
even hinted at in CAYA--suggests that there is a far bigger story here. CAYA
is more a Nirvana book than a Kurt Cobain biography, which is what I hope to
finish here in the next year.
NFC: When was the first time you met Nirvana, and how many
interviews did The Rocket actually do with the guys ?
Cross: The Rocket did
interviews with them after every one of their records. We actually were the
first magazine ever to put Nirvana on a cover (and they were on the cover
four times so far). I saw them around many times, though I knew Kurt only
casually; Krist and Dave I knew far better, but that's what most people in
Seattle will tell you. My most vivid memory of Kurt is him throwing dip at
the record release party for Nevermind.
NFC: For how long did you and Jim actually work on the
"Nevermind" book ?
Cross: About two years actually.
NFC: There are tons of Nirvana websites on the net. What is
your general impression of the ones you have visited ?
Cross: Most have something to offer. It is frustrating when people don't keep them
up to date and when all the links fail to work. I think Nirvana is
well-represented on the web compared to other artists.
NFC: The Rocket just published issue # 300 and soon it will
be celebrating its 20 year anniversary. How are you going to
celebrate this amazing achievement ?
Cross: Yes the 20th Year Anniversary will be a
special issue. As for what will be in it, you'll have to wait until then. But
it's not far away.
NFC: Speaking of celebrations ... what are your plans, if any,
for New Years Eve 1999 ?
Cross: Don't know yet. Maybe I'll see the Hole/Sweet 75/Foo
Fighters/Germs Reunion/Methodists/Hell Trout show at the O.K. Hotel. Maybe
not. Just joking folks.
NFC: Somewhere you mentioned that Nirvana attempted to make
some music videos at Evergreen State College in March of 1990.
There is speculation that they also wanted to do some music
videos in early 1988. Do you know if that is true ?
Cross: I think every band in
America was convinced that videos were the key to breaking their bands in the
eighties. But I don't think the band had enough money to buy a video tape
NFC: According to your book, Kurt placed ads in The Rocket in
1987 and 1988 looking for a drummer. Did he or Nirvana ever
place additional ads in the magazine ? - Do you know if Kurt
was a frequent reader of The Rocket ?
Cross: They placed ads on, I think, five
different occasions looking for drummers. As yes, according to what some of
his intimates have told me, Kurt read the Rocket as closely as he read any
magazine, particularly in his early days.
NFC: Final question. I believe you mention in the book that
you saw Nirvana live on a few occasions. Were they a good
live act, in your opinion ? Thank you for doing this interview!
Cross: Again, another question where the actual words used vary in how you answer
it. I think, like Led Zeppelin for example, they could be a tremendous live
band; but also like Zeppelin, they could suck. So much seemed to depend on
their sound system. They got a lot better live, and by 93 they were awesome
most every night. The best live show I saw was the Bosnian Rape Victims
Benefit in San Francisco (or at least that's my favorite one today). They
were solid, inspired, and full of energy.
But one other way to answer that question, and to spark some debate, is to
state that I think they were nowhere near as good live as some people
remember them. During a lot of those early shows they had brilliant moments,
but the entire set didn't hold together. Yet by the end of their career, they
were so much better live than most people thought they were. In other words,
like many things with this band and Kurt Cobain, what the general public
imagines is not what was reality. Or so I'd argue.