NFC: Miss Gaar, could you start by telling us a little about your background,
and about your current activities ?
GGG: I launched my writing career by contributing to Rocky Horror fanzines
in the late '70s. I then wrote for one of Seattle's first alternative newspapers, Desperate Times,
and have since written for many fine publications at home and abroad. I've published one book, "She's
A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll," and have appeared in seven anthologies/encyclopedias;
the book of most interest for this interview would be "The Nirvana Companion," which features the
Nirvana story I wrote for the Feb. 14, 1997 issue of Goldmine, along with other fab Nirvana articles.
NFC: Was it your own idea to write this comprehensive Nirvana
history/discography for Goldmine magazine ??
GGG: It was my idea. By that point, my other Nirvana-related articles I'd
written for Goldmine included one feature (Dec. 10, 1993), Kurt's obituary, reviews of In Utero and
the first Foo Fighters release, an interview with the director of the film "Hype!," reviews of the books
"Come As You Are" and "Nirvana and the Sound of Seattle," and a report on Krist's anti-censorship
work. I'm always looking for ways to write about Nirvana, and felt it was time for an updated
feature on the band in Goldmine. Thankfully, the editor agreed.
NFC: Seeing the band, according to [Bleach producer, Jack] Endino, didn't like the
song "Blandest" do you think its unlikely that it will ever see an official release ?
GGG: I couldn't say for sure.
NFC: Your article doesn't mention the session that was rumoured to have
been done at Kurt's house in March of 1994, [supposedly] yielding songs such as "Dough, Ray and Me".
GGG: I've yet to have this "session" confirmed by a reliable source.
NFC: You wrote in your article that the song "Sappy" was re-titled to "Verse
Chorus Verse" for the compilation "No Alternative". Are you positive that it was in fact re-titled?
If so, what do you base this on ?
GGG: "Sappy" was called by that name at Jack Endino's 1/90 session w/the band,
and Butch Vig's 4/90 session. From listening to the Vig session, and the No Alternative album, you can
tell it's the same song, and on the latter album, it's identified as "Verse Chorus Verse" — at least in
Rolling Stone's write-up. The cassette dub of the In Utero sessions that circulated before the official
release also used the VCV name for this song.
NFC: What is your general view on Nirvana bootlegs?
GGG: I have very mixed feelings. I enjoy hearing rare recordings by any artist
I'm interested in. Then I ask myself how I would feel if someone collected rough drafts of stories I'd
written, printed them up, and sold them. I don't think I'd be very pleased. Bootlegs are also notorious
for not delivering what they promise; the quality can be poor, a "new" version of a song turns out to be
a familiar version with a different title, show date/session info is often wrong. I also think they feed
into the elitist side of fandom; "I'm a bigger fan than you because I have a certain item, and you don't."
It's at that point that the emphasis becomes less on the music, and more on the number of artifacts you
have. I find that sad. But bootlegs will always be a temptation.
NFC: Cobain was named the best artist of the 90's by a number of magazines.
Would you agree with this perspective?
GGG: Yes, I would. Nirvana headed up the biggest musical/cultural movement
since the British Invasion. The "Northwest explosion" of the early '90s wasn't just about music,
it crossed over into virtually every area of popular culture. Nirvana didn't create the Northwest
scene (musical or otherwise), but the power of their music clearly fueled the excitement for that
scene. And Kurt's musical vision powered Nirvana. There is simply no other artist who made as much
of an impact during the '90s as Kurt Cobain did. And I think that's true no matter what you think
of Nirvana's music.
NFC: Do you know what Krist is up to at the moment, following the demise of
his band Sweet 75 ?
GGG: Since this is a big election year, I'd imagine he'll be busy with JAMPAC
and other political business; he's definitely doing more Spitfire Tours. I'm sure he'll keep performing
in some capacity too; he sat in with Foo Fighters when they played Seattle 12/99, and during the WTO
conference in Seattle he played a one-off show with the "No WTO Combo," which also included Jello
Biafra, Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, and Gina Mainwal, the last drummer from Sweet 75. Maybe he'll do
more shows with Sunshine Cake, or more film stuff...he always seems to have some project going on.
NFC: Rolling Stone Magazine reported that you are helping Krist compiling
the forthcoming Nirvana boxed set. Can you confirm that you are indeed involved with the project ?
GGG: I can confirm it; but that's about all!
NFC: I presume you cannot disclose any details about the box, but can you
confirm that it is still in its early stages and will thus most likely not be released this year (2000) ?
GGG: I can confirm it's in the early stages. [Note:
This answer was given on February 28, 2000.]
NFC: What is your general view of the many Nirvana websites ?
GGG: I'm amazed at the amount of work some people put into their sites. Sometimes
it gets a little scary; there was one where a guy noted every "oddity" in a song like a cough, a sneeze,
etc. that made me think "Someone's got too much spare time on their hands!" And though I love having such
ready access to a wide range of information, I take everything I see with a grain of salt; when I see the
same mistakes being perpetuated, I'm leery of taking anything I find on a website at face value. Then again,
that's what the online experience is, isn't it? And in this case I've been able to see so many rumors take
root and fly and repeated as if they're fact, when they're not. It's lots of fun though! I especially like
reading articles that are posted to sites, articles you'd have a hard time finding in their "hard copy"
format. I even see my stuff on sites occasionally!
NFC: You mentioned that you spotted mistakes being repeated on Nirvana websites.
Could you name some of the most obvious mistakes or false rumours that people on the net are spreading ?
GGG: A lot of dates for events are wrong. I remember it took ages before people
began listing the correct date of the MTV Live & Loud taping, Dec 13, 1993. And I still see the incorrect
site given for that venue, Pier 47. It's Pier 48. I know because I double-checked by going downtown and
looking at the Pier itself! Another example, I've seen a May '88 date given for a New Music Seminar show
in NYC. Even if there had been a show in NYC on that date (which there wasn't; the band hadn't toured that
far east by '88), it certainly couldn't have been a New Music Seminar show, as NMS was held in July, as I
know because I attended it from '86 to '92 (in '92 it was held in June). But how are people to know? Someone
reads info from a source they think is reputable and it just gets repeated over and over. "I read it in
such-and-such a newspaper/magazine/book, so it must be right!" But I think that's true about information in
general. I just read an interview with Johnny Rotten where he says he'll be relating some Sex Pistols' story
to a fan only to be told, "That didn't happen, because it's not in Jon Savage's book" ["England's Dreaming"].
"But I was there, I know it happened!" "But it's not in Savage's book." He finds that very frustrating (as
would I). "It's really hard to believe everything you read." As a result, I question virtually everything
I do read!
Note: In an e-mail, Gillian also noted that;
"I was looking thru yr site...the 5/88 New
Music Seminar show did not happen. NMS was always held in the summer. I attended every year from 1986 to
1992, and it was always in July (except for '92, 'cause the Demo Con was being held that month; so they
moved NMS to June). Nor was there a 6/88 show at the Moore. The 1st time Nirvana played the Moore was the
following year, 6/9/89. Hope that helps"
NFC: You wrote a book about women in Rock N' Roll; so who are your favorite
female Rock N' Roll artists at the moment ?
GGG: Sleater-Kinney, Quasi, Le Tigre (Kathleen Hanna's new band). And I've been
listening a lot to an old favorite of mine; Danielle Dax. She's still great.
NFC: Are you planning on writing more books in the future ?
GGG: I would love to!
NFC: Did you ever see Nirvana live, if so, what did you think ?
GGG: The 1st time was the August 26, 1989 show at Seattle's Center on Contemporary
Art, an alternative art gallery. Sub Pop was hosting a weekend of shows at
the venue. The funny thing is, I remember nothing about Nirvana. I do
remember Catbutt, and Mudhoney, 'cause that was the first time I'd seen the
latter band. Even stranger, I had just reviewed "Bleach" for the Rocket; the
review appeared the month before.
The bands I saw most at that time were usually more off the wall and/or
quirky than the local alt rock bands (though I did see them too, just not as
much). I was seeing acts like Lisa Suckdog, Jayne County, the Fibonaccis, the
Del Rubio Triplets, etc. If Nirvana had opened for John Sex, I would
definitely have seen them!
I have wondered if I did see them again in the early days; since I don't
remember anything about their Aug '89 appearance, could I have seen another
show of theirs and not remembered it as well? I went to all the clubs they
played in Seattle, especially the Vogue. Or could I have seen them at the
Pyramid in July '89? I was in NY for the New Music Seminar. I would
definitely have gone to the Pyramid at some point during that visit, as I
liked that club (it reminded me of the Vogue). Who knows? But I do know I was
at a lot of the same shows one or more members of the band (Village People,
Sonic Youth, Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, PJ Harvey).
I tried getting tix for the Seattle Halloween '91 show from the promoter, but
I couldn't get any. It was a big disappointment, as I really wanted to see
the band, and it would've been something to do on Halloween as well.
Throughout '92, in Seattle, it was like being in college again, with everyone
playing the same soundtrack in their apartments — you heard Nevermind, Dirt,
and Ten everywhere you went. Nirvana was supposed to play an August show at the
Coliseum in Seattle (now the Key Arena), but that was postponed. The alt
radio station, KNDD, still held a party on that date at the Seattle Center
(where the Coliseum was), and I got a Nirvana poster — an underwater shot of
the three in the swimming pool. Whee. The next month, Sept. 11, they did
play at the Coliseum. I had a reserved seat in the stands, which was fine by
me, I don't like being packed down front. It was the first show Nirvana had
done in Seattle since becoming mega-huge, and there was a real air of
excitement. Everyone was thrilled; it was like the big homecoming game. I
don't remember Fitz of Depression, I do remember not liking Helmet; all I
cared about was seeing Nirvana. They didn't disappoint. They were obviously
happy about being back, and it was a relaxed show; even the equipment
smash-up at the end seemed like a game to them. I also remember seeing what
looked like the entire floor jumping up and down the whole time — I was very
glad I wasn't down there.
Then I saw the Oct 4 1992 show at the Crocodile Cafe, the secret show where
Nirvana opened for Mudhoney. I found out about the show as I was setting up
an interview w/Courtney Love. She told me about it and swore me to secrecy,
so I didn't tell a single soul. I interviewed her that day at the Four
Seasons hotel downtown (the interview ran in the November '92 issue of the
Rocket), went home to eat, then back downtown to the club. There was a line,
so obviously not everyone had kept it a secret! I waited outside w/Patty
Schemel (then Hole's drummer), until Courtney arrived, then we all went in.
It seemed to be pretty packed already, but people I knew waiting in line did
get in as well, so the show was open to the public, not just those "in the
know," or on the guest list. The band room (the club has a separate dining
area, back bar, and band room) was also packed, unsurprisingly, but what I
remember the most is that most people didn't mosh too much. I stood a bit
back from the stage, to avoid getting caught in any crush, but people were
surprisingly laid back, I think because we were all just so awed this could
happen, that this band we once knew, now incredibly famous, could actually be
seen in a bar again (capacity only a few hundred!). The band was even more
relaxed, almost casual. At one point Kurt asked if there were any requests,
and Krist joked "Play 'Teen Spirit!'" Which they didn't. It was a like a
badge of honor for us; we were too cool to need to hear 'Teen Spirit'!" I
felt incredibly lucky to have seen that show, I think the last small scale
show the band did.
The next show was August 6 '93 at the King Theater in Seattle. It was a
benefit for the Mia Zapata investigative fund. Zapata was a singer in the
Gits, who was murdered in July '93. Tad was supposed to be headlining. But
the promoter called me on the day of the show and said he was angling to get
Nirvana. I didn't think it would happen. But he did get 'em. Then it was
announced over the radio, and I thought a huge crowd would show up. That
didn't happen. The theater was a former movie house, with a main floor, and
the rear of the theater slightly raised. My friends and I sat in the 1st row
of this back section; we knew the kids would be standing up front and moshing
during the show anyway, and this way we could sit and still see. It seemed to
take the bands forever to get through their sets, and even after Tad we
wondered if Nirvana would play; maybe they'd changed their minds or couldn't
get it together or something. But yes! They played! It was great fun. During
"Seasons in the Sun," Kurt was singing in a low drone, then when he got to
the chorus he screamed it, and one of my friends and I looked at each other
and broke out laughing. That's my clearest memory. And of course, there was
no "Teen Spirit."
The next show was November 15 at Roseland. Personally, I'm not a big fan of
the '93 and '94 shows. Not that they were bad — by this time, Nirvana's
competence was such that I don't think they could've played a bad gig — but I
feel the '90-'91 shows were the peak live period for the band. The excitement
of those shows I feel is missing from many of the '93-'94 shows. This
particular gig was fine, but not exceptional. Not helping the situation were
all the industry weasels in attendance. I had a pass for the VIP area, which
was a large box on one side of the theater, and it was crammed with people
who obviously didn't care about the band, they were there 'cause it was the
Hot Show To Be Seen At; they spent the entire time yakkety yakking w/each
other, not watching the show. Afterwards, I learned I had a "second place"
VIP pass, and had to wait for the "first place" pass people to leave the
backstage area before the second place folks would be let in. Instead, I
chose to escape with Lori Goldston (cellist on the '93 tour; I got a ticket
from her through a mutual friend) and friends to a nearby bar, where I
suspect we had a better time.
A few days later I was at the Unplugged taping on November 18; Lori G again
helped with the ticket. I'd hoped since she was w/the band I might get early
entry or something, but no, I had to wait in line w/everybody else. We
finally got in. With all the flowers, candles, and amber light, the room had
a very autumnal feeling, warm and glowing. There seemed to be no place to
sit. Then I heard someone say they were media and I chimed in too; "I'm
media!" We were led to this riser at the back. There were no seats left, but
we were allowed to sit on the steps. Fine w/me; the elevation meant the view
was unobstructed. People had been doubtful Nirvana could do an Unplugged, and
I was uncertain why, I guess because they played loud, so how could they play
quietly? I didn't have any such thoughts myself; they were obviously
competent musicians, so why couldn't they do an Unplugged? I also wondered
how long it would take, as I'd heard some of the tapings went on for quite a
while, as the bands sometimes had to do songs a couple of times. Dave Grohl
was wandering around the audience w/a bottle of Beck's beer, and the whole
atmosphere was rather low key, even after the rest of the band came out. As
you know, the show just went straight through, one take each, and bang, on to
the next. There was a little more time between songs than at a regular show,
but not much. I smiled at Kurt's self-deprecation when he introduced the
first song, "About A Girl": "This is off our first record. Most people don't
own it," like he expected us to be unfamiliar with the song. My favorite
songs from the show were "The Man Who Sold The World," "Dumb," and, of
course, "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." And then it was over. Wound down
just as casually as it began.
Then came the Live N Loud taping December 13. It was held at Pier 48, which
in the summertime is a terminal used by ferries going to British Columbia
(Canada). This is one of my favorite shows. As you know, Pearl Jam didn't
play a set, which meant that Nirvana could go on longer, and they certainly
rose to the occasion. I was again in a VIP area, which was a riser set off to
the side. This time I was at the front, so if there were any industry weasels
yakking, I wouldn't have to hear them. The band was clearly enjoying
themselves, which made the show great fun, 'cause the band was having a good
time as well. At one point, between songs, a kid down front yelled "MTV
sucks!" Kurt stopped and quite sensibly asked, "Then why are you here?" I
thought he looked like a crazed Pied Piper at the end, urging the crowd to
come on the stage after he'd smashed up the angel mannequins on stage.
Security will love that, I thought. And I wished he could've managed to throw
his guitar over the ceiling beams. A great, great show.
The next, and last show I saw was January 7 at the Arena (now the Mercer
Arena), a smaller Seattle Center venue. Pearl Jam had played 3 shows there
the previous month; it was a way to play a smaller venue, but still play to
as many people as in a larger venue, just over the course of a few days. By
this time, I knew the setlist very well, and there weren't really any
surprises. I knew some folks went to both shows (Jan. 7 and 8), but I figured
I'd seen Nirvana a lot over the past few months and didn't need to see the
second Seattle date. Now I wish I had. I took a friend who was skeptical as
to whether the band could still pull it off; I guess he thought fame might've
reduced them to going through the motions. But afterwards he admitted he was
very impressed. Oh yeah — they actually played "Teen Spirit" this time!
NFC: Wow. Well, ok, how did you react when you learned that
Kurt had killed himself? Did you see it coming ?
GGG: I didn't see it coming, exactly, but I had a sense of foreboding
from the fall of '93 on. Remember the headline for Q magazine's 10/93 cover? "Heroin,
paranoia, hatred, death...things are looking up for Nirvana." It was meant as
an ironic observation of course, but how funny was it really? There was a lot
of this kind of "gallows humor" going on around the time of In Utero's
I found out about Kurt's Rome overdose on March 4, on the way to the Rocket.
I saw a newspaper headline. There was a sense of walking on eggshells at the
office, until the hours passed and it was clear that disaster had been
averted, for now at least. Still, I think anyone in Seattle who was
interested in the band had a heightened sense of apprehension for the next
few weeks. Was Kurt really okay? What was going to happen?
I was again at the Rocket on April 8. Around 9:30 am, it was announced on
radio that the body of a "white male in his 20s" had been found at the Cobain
house. Within minutes, other radio stations had picked up the story, and
people were calling the Rocket. Even my mother called, and she sure didn't
hear the story on rock radio; this revealed how quickly other local stations
began broadcasting the story. My reaction was very similar to learning about
John Lennon's death; I was in London, and saw the headline, and instantly
began trying to work out how the story couldn't be true; maybe the paper went
to press with the wrong story. So it was this time. A young "white male"?
That could be anybody, couldn't it? It didn't have to be Kurt. But of course
I knew it was, and that was confirmed about midday.
In the light of the Rome incident, Kurt's death wasn't that much of a shock;
it's as if we went through a "dry run" the month before. Now we all felt
helpless, and this seemed to be true of both people that knew and worked with
Kurt or fans and journalists that had a more distinct relationship with him. A
sense of "What do we do now?" At the Rocket, we didn't have a lot of time to
think about it because we were going to press that day. I wrote an obit for
the issue, and I went home to write it; I wasn't going to stay around in the
office, that's for sure. It was too crazy, with the phone ringing off the
hook, camera crews wanting to come in, etc. So I walked home, put on Bleach
and wrote my piece. I took it back to the Rocket on disc (pre e-mail!). It
was a bit rainy, and it sounds a little corny, but I actually thought "The
city is weeping."
That night COCA had a gallery opening. Saturday was the annual Sub Pop party.
Sunday was the vigil. Everywhere I went, everyone seemed to have the same
stunned expression on their face. There had been some talk of canceling the
Sub Pop party, but I'm very glad they didn't. It was very helpful going to
these public gatherings, and being with people feeling the same sense of loss
that you did. The vigil was strange because everybody still felt so sad. When
Courtney's statement was played, even journalists began to cry. And
afterwards, when everybody swarmed into the fountain, you couldn't even see
the pavement, just a big blur of flannel. It all felt so unreal; you walked
around, and spoke to people you knew, but there was a strange sense of
detachment, as if you couldn't take in the reality of the situation.
NFC: Do you plan on writing more, comprehensive, Nirvana
articles in a near future?
GGG: I would love to!
NFC: You mentioned that you went to the 8/6/93 show. Many
people speculate that they played the song "I hate myself and want to die" (from
the 'Beavis and Butthead' compilation). Do you remember if this is true? There is
also a rumour about a cover of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter"
GGG: I wish I could help, but I honestly don't remember. I was
just enjoying the show and didn't take notes. I came to my senses in time for the 12/13/93
show, I did write down every song, which is why my Goldmine article had that complete
listing. I think the No Quarter note appeared in the Rocket's review? I'm pretty sure
that's where it came from. I didn't write that, but I'd assume the reviewer did get that
right (I'm not a Zep expert myself).