Nirvana’s Bad Days at the Office

Posted: September 22, 2014 in Nick's Philosophies on Nirvana

This individual puts up some intriguing stuff on YouTube, noted this one a while back and find it pretty revealing.

Core reality of my life; I’m British white middle class working an office job. My day doesn’t involve being on the receiving end of any form of discrimination, it doesn’t involve a macho environment full of people spoiling for a fight or running on drugs or adrenalin, I’m unlikely to be sexually assaulted (unlike, as the current government estimate states, anywhere between 60,000 and 90,000 women this year in the U.K. http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/jan/11/male-female-rape-statistics-graphic – as a sidebar, dang, kinda upsetting number huh? I know one friend who has been raped and two who have been attacked so it’s a fair guarantee even more of my loved ones will be…), I’m rarely exposed to aggression in any form – which means when I see violence in real-life I find it quite a punch in the gut – but frankly I’m delighted to lead such a lucky life, one where I’m totally unused to any such unpleasantness.

At first viewing perhaps it’s easy to say “oh, look, it’s Kurt Cobain being aggressive,” but I actually feel a far greater empathy as a result of viewing this. Let’s start with the obvious and with the end item; the notorious Dallas, Texas performance in 1991. Cobain smashes a piece of equipment with his guitar, a bouncer (I can’t remember if he owned it or if his friend did) takes offence, waits for Cobain to dive into the crowd then proceeds to grab him by the hair, takes the opportunity to get some punches in – Cobain twats him with the guitar and on they go, bit of a fight, gang of people step in, blood, stand-off, audience chanting… That’d put a spoiler on anyone’s day. This isn’t the only fight in Nirvana’s history – but physical violence is mercifully rare, as it should be in anyone’s life.

The video, however, is wonderfully edited to include events leading up to the incident. Cobain’s equipment is malfunctioning, people are fiddling with his pedals, eventually the guitar cuts out altogether but he tries to soldier on and keep singing, keep performing. This is the difference between being a performer and most other jobs; your entire job is compressed into one hour, two hours – if something goes wrong then that’s it, you’ve achieved nothing that day. Worse, not only do you fail, you can’t fix it quietly – you fail publically, in front of your audience, you can’t hide it or take it back. That kind of full exposure is rare in the majority of jobs. You drop something? Fine, most of the minor worries of the day-to-day can be fixed without anyone even noticing. Something goes wrong? Most of the time you have hours left to fix it and can go to bed without it excising your mind too hard. I have a boss – a couple times a year I have to own up, my bad, I screwed up. It never feels good. Cobain doesn’t have one boss, he has a crowd of people all there witnessing things he often can’t control. That must be an unusual feeling – stand up, give a presentation, see how embarrassed you feel when you drop something in front of them, or the PowerPoint slides don’t click on, or someone points out you’ve made an error…It feels personal.

The technical failures are present here and also in the clip from November 1993. OK, if my laptop switches itself off and I can’t complete my work, I’m furious. I leave the room, I cuss the machine – I’m frustrated, I’m annoyed. Cobain doesn’t have the virtue of being able to walk away – he’s stuck there on stage with a few thousand people observing, he feels responsible and, of course, he’s pretty well trapped in a cone of human focus and attention. It’s the same frustration present whenever one’s tools are defective, they’re letting you down at the critical moment, it ruins what one is trying to do. In the Dallas incident and the Bethlehem, PA case Cobain takes some brief anger out on the equipment – Gods, some days I do wish I could hurl the laptop down a stairwell…Know that feeling? Then these two clips will make more sense.

Add something more to that, however, Cobain complained of people walking over his effects peddles and equipment to get on stage. Heh! Again, sat at my desk it’s unlikely anyone is going to tread on my keyboard or kick my phone – but to not only suffer an equipment malfunction as a consequence but also for there to be someone obviously and thoughtlessly responsible…Again, the annoyance is understandable. In the Dallas’ clip, whatever the guys crouched at his feet – who seem to be trying to sort the peddles out – do, they accidentally cut the guitar altogether to a long howl of feedback. Unhelpful. Similarly, trying to do one’s job, trying to blast through the 90 minutes one has to get right that day only to have a whacking great spotlight blinding you altogether as in the opening clip? I’ve seen people throw fits because of the glare on their screen as they try to work, they can’t see what they’re doing…How’s about an industrial size searchlight’s worth of glare? Feel better? I can’t think of any job that would be improved by someone at the back of the room aiming a torch at your eyes. Again, rather than seeing it as Cobain being moody, it seems a pretty reasonable reaction to a rather major annoyance. Getting back to the time factor; do your whole job in a ninth of the time – sure, sounds good to keep things short but it’s more like compression, a ratcheted up intensity level that also deepens the impact of negatives.

The opening show on the clip, Brazil, is notorious for Cobain’s basically drug-addled performance. Again, I’ve seen people with migraines leave the office because of strong light, can’t imagine how ugly enduring a comedown on stage in front of 45,000 people must feel. Most of us have felt time crawl during a hungover day or the day we crawl in feeling like death warmed up because of sickness, or travel conditions fry us or soak us before we make the office and have to endure a full day of discomfort – watching this clip reminded me of that equivalence between anyone’s world, anyone’s day job, and that of a top-level musician. Even without the drug issue he’d be entitled to days where it’s a wonder he doesn’t puke on stage or lose a lung coughing. Top marks for attendance!

Personal pride has a lot to do with it too. Most human beings want to do a job well, they don’t want to fail. Cobain doesn’t want a crowd of people telling him he’s sh** – no one would become a performer if their only interest was in failing or being ignored, dismissed, criticised. Cobain took his work seriously, he wanted to do his best by crowds – at least through the majority of the band’s performances. The band at one point were getting sick of playing “Love Buzz” but he reminded them that, at the time, it was their best known song, it was what people wanted to hear and he thought they had to do it – he cared about satisfying the ‘judges’ stood in front of him for that hour or two. The band may have practised for hours in the run up to a tour, they were tired, run-down, exhausted, home-sick, hungry – they had to make it all count for something. For something to interfere with and prevent that from happening must have felt terrible.

The July 1989 show in New York was the end of the tour – they felt so awful by then they cancelled the rest of their dates and headed home. Jason Everman was unceremoniously kicked out the band – or simply never asked back, the kind of personal circumstance that, understandably, would affect anyone trying to do their best. Instead a drunk grabs the second mic, shouts “fucking shit!” and proceeds to interfere with the gear as the band alternate between trying to usher him off the stage and encouraging him in the right direction by nudging and shoving him – what else are they meant to do? Remarkably, they’re still playing even as he demolishes the song – it must be embarrassing trying to complete one’s job while a drunk sprawls around in the middle of it. It all spills over into minor violence and the song breaks down. No wonder. There’s a well-known bootleg of a show in Vienna in 1989 where the band are heckled by a drunk who shouts “play songs about fucking girls!” at them for the best part of five minutes – that’s an awfully long time for someone to shout at you. Enduring the intoxication of others is irksome even when it’s a friend (mea culpa – sorry friends! Your tolerance has been appreciated many a times!) but to endure the drunkenness of strangers is a really drain. When they move on to actively interfering and interrupting your performance, souring the experience of those you’re trying to impress and perform for…Rotten.

Just as I’m not subject to aggression or violence in my day-to-day, I’m not subjected to unwanted physical attention either. At the Leeds 1990 show on the clip Cobain is trying to play as a guy proceeds to hug him. Overreaction? It seems more like a violation of personal space at a really rotten moment to be honest. You’re trying to do your job, you’re trying to concentrate, you could screw up in front of a thousand people, some lumbering drunk grabs you – great. It clearly wasn’t meant maliciously, most things aren’t, but it doesn’t make Cobain’s reaction disproportionate or unreasonable – last thing needed when trying to sing, play guitar, keep up with your band is an outside factor getting involved. Plus if I was suddenly grabbed from behind I’d flinch at the very least. Unfortunately there’s a perspective that performers are public property – that, as entertainers, their bodies are there to be touched, groped, molested at the whim of the audience. It’s a curiosity actually, that buying a ticket for a performance, to some people, entitles them to view interference with the performer as acceptable – the enjoyment and entertainment of one or more members of the audience takes priority over anything the performer might feel, a very dehumanised and dehumanising response to having bought entry.

It isn’t just audience members and bouncers who might interfere; November 1991, the Paradiso…Cobain glares into the camera lens then eventually snaps and gets right up in the cameraman’s face, smothering him. There’s a sense of that children’s game, you know the one where you hover your finger just an inch off someone’s skin then say “I’m not touching you,” so you can annoy and still claim mock innocence? Kids are so cunning – always pure malice, they know when they’re doing wrong. The cameraman feels he’s entitled to get ‘his shot’ so intruding into Cobain’s performance, getting in the audience’s way, hovering the lens next to Cobain’s face – so long as he doesn’t actively hit him – it’s all fine. Of course it’s not, Cobain makes his “how would you like it?” point by standing over the cameraman, interfering with the guy’s camera, waving his guitar over them – again, it’s not violent but he’s crossed the line into physical contact because the intrusiveness of the camera has been sorely underrated. Again, imagine doing your job as someone hovers by you, staring, watching, observing your every move. Musicians already have to get used to an abnormal environment in which they will be watched with that intensity – so they create other lines and boundaries to their psychic space. As a contrast, Cobain seems nonplussed by the stage-divers charging past in Leeds – any contact is incidental, any proximity is accidental (though probably a bit irksome if too close and if uninvited) …Bar that one deliberate moment. Same with the cameraman – it’s the deliberateness of the observation, not its mere existence, that pushes over the boundary.

The second clip is simply Cobain clipping his mouth on the mic in 1991. Minor, but still, getting popped in the face by a piece of metal, catching it in the teeth – it’s not a pleasant experience being smacked in the mouth, teeth are sensitive! Things being thrown on stage, thrown at the band, that’s not uncommon. Trying to work and being spat at, just being rapped by bits of metal or plastic – it’s a niggling irritation and an occasional pain. Again, it’s a fair reason to get annoyed, to react poorly – it’s more a sign of the band’s chosen path that they’re clearly used to it, there are few cases of them stopping or asking people to desist. If someone chucked stuff at me just because I was stood in front of them I’d have a heck of a lot more to say. In a way it’s an indication of the band’s learned discipline as performers that this kind of incident barely pauses them if at all. That’s a major factor when viewing this video; the determination to keep playing, to continue singing, to not fall out of time…That’s a demonstration of serious practice and strong discipline – something underestimated when it comes to serious musicians. An unpractised, untrained human being would usually react or fail when subjected to such things – these guys? Nah. Strong.

That leads us to the final clip for discussion – penultimate one on the video. Cobain chucks down his guitar rushes to the front of the stage and points out the person he wants removing; the band taunt them on their way out. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence unfortunately, the band witnessing guys in the crowd using the tightness of the space to grope and molest girls. One of the favoured clichés of the tabloid newspaper is to describe some awful act – a mugging, assault, sexual assault, theft, whatever – and make sure to say how no one did anything, that people didn’t want to get involved. It’s a sad truth that caught in a moment, indecision and inactivity are understandable first reactions after which the chance to do anything has usually passed. It’s to Cobain’s credit, and the band’s, that they didn’t let it pass. There were some things they didn’t want to play witness to at their shows.

So…A long ramble…But what does a bad day at the office look like for Nirvana? It might mean verbally abusive drunks, physically aggressive drunks, physically aggressive staff, invasion of space, unwanted physical attention, others damaging your property, others interfering with your equipment, people sabotaging you as you try to get stuff done, people throwing things at you, people doing unpleasant things a few feet away in front of you, equipment malfunctioning or breaking down altogether stopping you in your tracks…Add that to the challenges of the physical environment; a sweaty club, a smoky room, a wind-swept outdoor venue, lights so strong they hurt, equipment too loud or so quiet you can’t hear it, a crowd yelling, staff wandering around, tight space so you can barely move or so wide you can barely communicate with your comrades as you work – imagine the niggling difficulties one has to overcome and get round if you’re changing workplace every single day…Then just add on the normal day-to-day stuff that affects most of us; clumsy moments, bad moods, not being at one’s best, walking into things, walking on things, being off rhythm, just failing like everyone always does at some point – of course, multiply that by the fact that a band performance means that each band member is subject to whatever failings their colleagues feel that day, not just their own. Nirvana played around 370 shows in their life span – in that space of time they must have grown one hard skin, far more than I have in thousands of days of working. That’s a lot of intense days at work for the Nirvana boys.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go stand at the window and rubberneck on the couple having the argument in the street outside.

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Comments
  1. Brian says:

    I felt stressed just watching that. I’ve never enjoyed being around strangers who are obnoxious drunks so to deal with that daily while trying to work must really be trying.

    I remember reading an interview with that bouncer from the Dallas show. I believe he said it was his friends board and that after the show he assaulted Cobain again, this time biting his nose. Could be true but could be all lies for all I know.

    • Brian says:

      I actually found that interview. Here it is if your interested.

      ~ Now I wanna hear your side of the story about the Kurt Cobain incident at Trees in 91.

      Nooo problem! I was doubling and doing security for Trees, plus I was working for Creyton from Peak Audio. And he just got this brand new monitor board… paid 45 hundred bucks for it… state of the art shit and he was so proud of it… so happy with it, ya know? And then Nirvana shows up, and I remember I had worked one of their shows at Club Clearview. And I didn’t realize that they were that big. This was when they were just starting to take off. And I remember the record “Bleach” was bad ass, ya know? And believe it or not, I liked Nirvana. I liked their music. But the guy was a fuckin’ jack-off… but he was off, and he’s dead… God rest his soul. Ya know, I hate to talk shit about a dead man.

      Yeah, I know. But of course you had no idea when this happened that he was gonna commit suicide later.

      No, I had no idea what was gonna happen later. Anyway, that night he smashed the monitor board and he beat it with his guitar. He just smashed it and broke the guy’s hand… his own monitor man. First he was complaining that the kids were all over the stage. So they wanted me to double as security to help keep the kids off the stage. I made a lot of money that night… Haha! And then he got mad at his monitor man and smashed the monitor board, and then he jumped out into the crowd. Well, he had smashed the monitor board and I couldn’t believe he did it. So, ya know, I’m standing there and Creyton comes up to me… the owner… and he’s like, “Turner, what fuck!?” I was like, “Man, don’t worry about it… these guys aint getting out of here without paying for it. Ya know, even if I have to personally whoop all of them… because I am pretty sure I could take ‘em all on… ya know?” But anyway the little bastard fuckin’ dove out into the crowd and was kicking his feet into the monitors. And I yanked him up by the hair of his head and tried to pick him up and throw him back on stage. And the kids were pulling his clothes off… they had a hold of his hair… everybody’s ripping on him. Right then the little fucker hit me on the head with a guitar. After he did that it knocked me out, so now I am going by the video footage. It knocked me out and I pulled back a handful of strings off his guitar. But he gets up and ya know, I see the blood on my head… so I fucking nailed his ass and kicked him. I think I kicked him in the head…to be honest I couldn’t tell if I had landed a good kick or not. But I waited in a parking lot afterwards for his ass when they were about to leave. Russell Turns is the monitor man down there… I think he’s the sound man now… I don’t know. He came up and said, “Turner, he’s going out back!” So I go running around the back and I hear… “Get in… get in cab… GET IN THE CAB!!” Ya know, they’re telling him to get in the cab and all these people just dog pile me man, and hold on to me. And I was watching the cab go and he was trying to get on Elm Street and I see the brake lights and the cab stop. So I go, “It’s cool… it’s cool, man…I’m alright… I’m alright… I’m dizzy.” Because I was bleeding profusely from the head. So uh… when they let go of me I went running across parked cars and I went over there and started kicking the cab and I kicked the taillights and headlight out of the cab. My plan… my objective… to take control of the situation… like our Nazi President George Bush does. And I was gonna kick the headlights out… and get the cab driver out… kick his ass… get the keys and then start workin’. Well, that didn’t work and I’m runnin’ around and there were a bunch of kids with us, too. I can’t remember this kid’s name, but he had real long hair… a Hispanic kid… a heavy metal kid… and he was right there, man. I wish I could remember his name. Man, I punched that cab’s window and it fell. I went right though it on top of them.

      You smashed the cab’s windshield with your hand and what was Kurt Cobain doing?

      Yeah, I went right through it… I mean I went in… all the way. He gave me a peace sign and that’s when I said… “Fuck it!” That mad me so fucking mad, I went through the window on him. I bit his nose, man… Haha…and I fuckin’ had his nose in my teeth and I’m telling him that I’m gonna walk through his dreams until he’s fucking dead… right. And everybody pulled me off of him and I got out of there unscathed. I thought I was gonna get sued by… I kept receiving letters from Geffen Records… this and that ya know and I’d throw them away. Then I talked to Jeff Liles… Jeff Liles, ya know the guy that worked with Rigor Mortis. He wrote this real sweet juicy letter to Geffen. And I kept thinking they were gonna sue me. Well, they sent me three grand to shut me up… and I wasn’t about suing this guy… I didn’t give a fuck… I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire.

      Didn’t the video end up on one of those tabloid talk shows like Inside Edition or Hard Copy or something?

      I have no idea… I know that asshole… well, the jerky that filmed it… I gave him a reenactment. I can’t remember his name… oh yeah… Brad Featherstone. I gave him a bitch-slap… fuckin’ when I saw him. He’d released it without telling me nothing … ya know? All I know is the next thing I know it’s being shown in Deep Ellum. It got released… all that kind of crap… because of that Brad Featherstone guy… I gave him a good slap. I wish I had some royalties off of it, I’ll tell ya that. I’d like to see… well somebody’s got footage of me pumping the window out… I’d like to see that… I don’t know who has it.

      It looks like you landed a couple of good punches in the video… and he went down.

      Yeah, I clocked him one good one…I didn’t throw it off the hip or off the shoulder…if you see it you can see… I was out…he knocked me out… I didn’t remember doing any of that. He clocked the shit out of me with that guitar, man. I had to go get staples in my head. I looked like Herman Munster with 13 staples in my head. It cut a vein on my forehead and it wouldn’t quit bleeding. So I remember when I came home and Biker Marc is like, “Man, did somebody shoot you?” I go, “No, man… some junkie Rock Star hit me on the head with a guitar.” So the next day they are waking me up going… “Dude, you’ve got to go to the hospital, man… you’re white…you look like you’re turning blue.” So they took me to look in the mirror and I had lost a lot of blood. So I go down there and Biker Marc is going, “Yeah, that’s right…it was Kurt Cobain from Nurvaana.” Hahahaha!

  2. Brutus The Barber says:

    Can well imagine he needed a few stitches. Krist shirt he hands him is quickly covered in blood. Bashing someone over the head with a guitar like that is well out of order. Could have caused real serious damage.

    Ive heard he chased them after the show and attacked their vehicle as well elswhere its in few of the books but the bit about biting Cobain’s nose is bullshit or never heard anyone else say that.

    Also you can see quite clearly from video it was the bouncer who pulled Kurt by the hair not anyone in the crowd. he mentions Kurt breaking the soundman’s hand well again sounds like bullshit. Kurt does start whacking the monitor board on numerous occasions throughout that show but never heard of any soundmans hand being broken.

    the (near) full show of that show is up on youtube.

    • nsoulsby says:

      Stick hyped up, adrenalised people in a non-ideal situation and watch ’em go I guess. On the one hand, yeah, if I was cross smashing my own stuff – maybe. Smashing someone else’s stuff – bound to lead to trouble. That it did kick off…Oh well…

      The nose biting thing is an odd thing to make up but you’re right – unconfirmed. It’d have been worth Kurt retelling I’m sure but he doesn’t which makes it feel tentative.

  3. nsoulsby says:

    You totally enhanced the story!! Thanks for tracking down that interview piece! 🙂

  4. jim says:

    What happenend after according to Cobain is that they came at the band but they were already in a taxi , the bouncer punched the window in but the cab sped off .

  5. old dallas guy not in dallas anymore says:

    Turner (the guy who hit him) is, no joke, one of the nicest human beings in the world.

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