Charles R. Cross interview

The Internet Nirvana Fan Club
Charles R. Cross Interview

Introduction: 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 font color and Charles R. Cross is "Cross", using this font.

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 about it?
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 our efforts.

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 it.

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 thing.

NFC: During your time working for The Rocket, do you remember an event causing more hype than Kurt's untimely death ?
Cross: No.

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 until 1990.

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.