Cobain on Cobain Video: Nirvana and the Media

The second interview piece filmed by Omnibus Press. Basically I wanted to yak on about Nirvana/Cobain’s relationship with the press – how it isn’t as one dimensional as is often portrayed, that’s there’s a clear evolution and progression in how the band relate to the media.

The first spell is simply one where, like any new band, they’re barely noticed – a few lines here and there, a quote or two. Likewise Cobain isn’t singled out – it’s almost always the band as a whole being interviewed because the underground isn’t as prone to ‘superstar syndrome’. During the next spell, the majority of media activity happens around touring, snatched time here and there – with the band complaining that there’s not enough of it, that Sub Pop aren’t doing enough to arrange interviews for them. Nirvana’s media activity continues in this off-on tour/off-tour cycle until into 1991 when Geffen are doing a tad more and Nirvana’s status as a major label act (and increasingly one of the top draws in the underground) garners them more attention.

The explosion in late 1991, as you might expect is where things get crazy. The band have to try to find a way to cope with it and they, very sensibly, begin to divide-and-conquer. They’re increasingly interviewing with different people all in the same venue, it’s the only way to accommodate the quantity of attention – and they really do try to accommodate everyone. They’re a courteous bunch and they do their best until it becomes simply too overwhelming.

The nature of the attention influences what occurs at this point. Previously, they’ve mainly been talking to people from fanzines or the music press who possess a fair idea what’s on in the underground – sometimes people who have their own bands (like Paul Kimball who was in Landsat Blister and Helltrout). After September 1991 there are magazines calling who would never have dirtied their hands with anyone Nirvana call their friends, who wouldn’t have bothered with Nirvana until ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ set things on fire. The band are increasingly less inclined to handle these requests except where they have to.

Cobain retreats. This is where the stereotype of the ‘difficult’ relationship with the media commences – and it becomes the dominant story simply because it occurs during the phase of peak attention. It overlooks the years where Nirvana (and Cobain) wanted more attention; it overlooks their attempts to speak to everyone – there’s just too much. Add on Cobain’s troubles plus the media’s natural urge to separate the front man from the rest of the band (the standard media ‘rock god’/’guitar hero’ stereotype plays best where its one person with everyone else in the background) and then recall that late 1991 is the heaviest spell of touring and performing Nirvana have ever embarked on – the exhaustion and desire for peace in 1992 makes a very human sense.

Novoselic shoulders a lot of the duties, the rest of the band speak up and shield Cobain from the attention. The band try to find some good in their situation so increasingly try to use their podium to share the spotlight with favourite bands and artists. A little further down the line they’ll start to talk up good causes too.

But the real game-changer is the attacks on Cobain’s new-found family in Autumn 1992. It brings him out of his media exile because he needs to use the media to launch his counter-offensive. This is when Azerrad is brought in to write the ‘official’ biography, this is where he starts talking to a few more journalists at major newspapers and lifestyle magazines.

1993 is much the same – interviews on tour in South America, In Utero promotion is very much a group affair, then 1994 is another drop into silence…



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