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Kurt Cobain (1992): Cobain to Fans: Just Say No

Nirvana's New Father Addresses Drug Use.

September 11, 1992|Robert Hilburn | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
(Larry Davis / Los Angeles…)

"I don't want my daughter to grow up and someday be hassled by kids at school . . . I don't want people telling her that her parents were junkies."

Kurt Cobain, the 25-year-old leader of the acclaimed and hugely successful rock group Nirvana, is sitting in the living room of his Hollywood Hills apartment, holding Frances, his and Courtney Love's 4-week-old baby.

It's Cobain's first formal interview in almost a year, and it takes time to open up.

A shy, sensitive man, he speaks easily about his daughter, but there's one thing he's uncomfortable talking about even though he knows he has to.

Nirvana is the hottest new band to come along in years, and several of the articles on the group have speculated about Cobain's alleged drug use.

He now admits that he's used drugs, including heroin, but never as much as has been rumored or reported in the rock press. He also says in a quiet, but forceful way, that he is now drug-free.

"There's nothing better than having a baby," says Cobain disarmingly. "I've always loved children. I used to work summers at the YMCA and be in charge of like 30 preschool kids.

"I knew that when I had a child, I'd be overwhelmed and it's true . . . I can't tell you how much my attitude has changed since we've got Frances. Holding my baby is the best drug in the world."

Yet Cobain, whose music speaks eloquently about the anger and alienation of youth, worries that the persistent rumors are threatening to turn him into a stereotype of a wasted rock 'n' roller. He also doesn't want to be a bad role model for the group's teen-age fans.

He knows some people won't believe him when he says drugs are no longer part of his life, but he still feels compelled to speak out.

"I would say I tried to set the record straight," he says, when asked how he'd respond to someone who questions his sincerity. "That's all I can do. We have a lot of young fans and I don't want to have anything to do with inciting drug use. People who promote drug use are (expletive). I chose to do drugs. I don't feel sorry for myself at all, but have nothing good to say about them. They are a total waste of time."

If you watched the recent MTV Video Awards and didn't know much about Nirvana and all the drug rumors, you would have been puzzled when Cobain looked into the camera after accepting a best new artist award and said, "It's really hard to believe everything you read."

But it was no mystery to the millions of fans who have either bought Nirvana's debut album, "Nevermind," or have fallen under the spell of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," the band's wry hit single. They thought they knew exactly what he was talking about: the heroin rumors.

While his wife--leader of the band Hole--watches a tape of the MTV Awards show in an adjoining room, Cobain, wearing a T-shirt and jeans, talks at length about what he only alluded to during the MTV telecast.

"I've been accused of being a junkie for years . . . back way before 'Nevermind,' " he says, his face tense as he wrestles with the subject. "I know that a lot of it has to do with the vibes that I put off . . . the things I'd be doing during tours . . . backstage when writers would come in to see us.

"I've had this terrible stomach problem for years and that has made touring difficult. People would see me sitting in the corner by myself looking sick and gloomy. The reason is that I was trying to fight against the stomach pain, trying to hold my food down. People looked me and assumed I was some kind of addict."

The continuing stomach problem--which he says doctors have been unable to diagnose--is aggravated by stress and bad eating habits on the road. This is a central reason Nirvana has done so little touring in recent months, he says.

On the issue of drugs, he says he "dabbled" with heroin for several years, defining "dabble" as maybe once or twice a year.

"It didn't bother me at first (when people started talking or writing about possible drug use) because I've always admired Keith Richards and all these other rock stars who were associated with heroin. There had been some type of glamour element to it."

The "dabbling," however, changed dramatically after the "Nevermind" album was released last fall.

Until that album, Nirvana was an underground group--one of many admired bands from the suddenly hot Seattle alternative-rock scene.

Formed in 1986, the trio--also now featuring bassist Chris Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl--combined punk independence and energy with a melodic pop sense that at times is reminiscent of the Beatles, which was the first rock group ever to catch Cobain's ear.

"Bleach," the band's 1990 debut album on tiny Sub Pop Records, sold less than 50,000 copies, but it touched a nerve in critics, fans and record companies around the country.

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