In December 1993, Nirvana sat down with MTV News’ Kurt Loder in the frozen expanses of St. Paul, Minnesota — but only on the condition that he also sit down with one of the opening acts on their tour: all-girl Japanese punk act Shonen Knife.
It was, in retrospect, a very Nirvana thing for them to do: Kurt Cobain loved nothing more than lifting some of his favorite bands up into the spotlight. And while Loder would write about the entire back-and-forth that led to the interview in a 2004 feature for MTVNews.com called “Nirvana: Days of Thunder,” the story of what happened afterward is just as compelling — mostly because it involved $19,000 in property damages.
So in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s iconic Nevermind album, we sat down with Loder to get the full story of that interview — the last time he’d ever see Cobain before the frontman’s suicide in April 1994. And the tale of wanton destruction he told is not only one for the ages, but it reminds us that, no matter how much they’ve been mythologized in the 20 years since they first burst forth onto the mainstream, Nirvana were very much just a trio of young guys, coping with fame and, sometimes, behaving as young guys often do: very badly.Nirvana’s rise to fame, in their own words.
“Everyone was wondering, ‘How will Kurt be? Will he be weird?’ He wasn’t weird; he was just not hanging around. We had got the guys set up, we had done Shonen Knife first, and then Kurt came in last and sat down. We did the interview, and he was great,” Loder said. “He was funny, he knew to be funny, and he’s very dry. He was very bohemian. He was almost like a beatnik or something. He hearkened back to that age.
“And that was it. [After the interview], he had to go into his room and, whatever, and so I went upstairs with [drummer] Dave [Grohl] and [bassist] Krist [Novoselic], and they just got really, really drunk. Not that I was trying not to get drunk, but I didn’t get as drunk as they did,” he continued. “And at one point, Krist just took this picture off the wall and just broke it against the wall, and then they started destroying everything in this room. And it’s, like, 4 in the morning, and we hear that hotel security is coming up, so I said, ‘Well, it’s really time for me to leave.’ So I’m leaving, going to the elevator, they’re behind me, because they want to go down to my room; they don’t want to get in trouble either.”
So, of course, Loder let them in (how could he not?), but rather than cool their heels, Grohl and Novoselic only continued smashing things. After all, it was 4 a.m. and, yes, they were still very drunk.
“So we go down to my room, and they do the same thing. They’re just breaking chairs and tables, and I was not drunk. … The band’s minder said, ‘Well, you must’ve been doing it too,’ and I was like, ‘Actually, no,’ ” Loder laughed. “I was saying, ‘Please don’t destroy the television set in my room.’ It was hard, you know, to use a coat stand [to break a TV set] — you’d figure it would go right through it — but you had to continue doing it before it finally works. They were just out of their minds; it was fabulous in a way and yet wrong. … Don’t do that at home. And the bill the next day was, like, $19,000.”This wasn’t Nirvana’s only notorious interview: Riki Rachtman recalls the group’s cross-dressing appearance on “Headbangers Ball.”
For the record, Loder wasn’t sure who picked up the tab. But in a lot of ways, he found the whole hotel-trashing incident to be rather refreshing. Because, like much of Nirvana, it recalled a time when rock and roll bands lived for antics like that — a time that, coincidentally, also produced some of the finest rock acts to ever walk the earth.
“I thought they were great. … They had the thing all great bands had. It was three guys coming together, but when they play together, it’s like something bigger than all three of them. It was like this enormous energy center. It’s like the Who, although they resembled the Who in no other way, but it was that energy,” he said. “And I think they unified people at the time, brought people in that maybe had given up on that kind of music and said, ‘Oh, wait a minute, this is really, really good.’ They were just great musicians.”
Stick with MTV News all week as we reveal the Nevermind You Never Knew, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s definitive album with classic footage, new interviews and much more.