Kurt Cobain: Gun, head and Smithereens.

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Kurt Cobain: Gun, head and Smithereens.

As with most people of a "certain age" I can remember where I was when I heard John F Kennedy had been shot ( I was in bed), and when I was told another Kennedy had gone the way of the gun (in bed again, there's a pattern emerging). Of course I also remember John Lennon's murder (came in with the kids from soccer and it was on television) and, oddly enough given he didn't mean that much to me, Kurt Cobain.

My Cobain story is an odd one, and I remember two things very clearly. The second was the headline on a story in one the New York street-press papers which read, "Anyone who thinks they can treat stomach pains with heroin was bound to mistake their head for a flock of geese."


I was in New York doing a series of interviews with various people and seeing some shows.

If I remember correctly I interviewed first Garland Jefferys, the New York Hispanic-black rocker-cum-socio-political poet whose star had fallen considerably since albums like Ghost Writer in 77 and Escape Artist (81), and his big hit Cool Down Boy.

I was interviewing him on the back of his new album Don't Call me Buckwheat which was very good, but ultimately, Who cares?

Jefferys was of little interest to New Zealand audiences -- I don't even know if the album got released in Kiwiland.

The interview never got written up.

The following day I caught up with Cracker which was basically the band formed around Dave Lowery (formerly of Camper van Beethoven) and John Hickman. I kinda liked Cracker's early alt.country rock but their career was still in the realms of critical acclaim and everyone else going, Huh?

The odd thing was, when I met Lowery and Hickman over beers in a Midtown bar, that Hickman looked vaguely familiar. Over the course of our conversation we spoke about Camper Van Beethoven and then I asked Hickman what bands he'd been in.

He mumbled a bit and mentioned The Unforgiven.

That was it! He was one of the guys in long spaghetti-western leather coats walking menacingly through a dusty town on the album cover. The Unforgiven were a terrific band, they played spag-west rock (the only ones I know who ever did) and their sole album had tracks with titles like All Is Quiet On The Western Front, Hang Em High and so on. All this with big twanging rock guitars, heroic lyrics which told stories, and cannoning drums.

They were great, but always destined to be short-lived. They broke up after just the one self-titled album -- still not on CD I'm told -- and I asked Hickman what happened to the others guys.

"Went back teaching I guess," he sniffed.

It was a very funny interview but when I got back home Cracker were sort of in the Who cares? category also.

The interview never got written up.

And then I caught up with Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens. I think their current album was Blow Up but their previous album A Date With The Smithereens had a track called Sick of Seattle. And so we got talking about the Seattle scene and Cobain and such.

DiNizio was one of those smart, mouthy guys who had a great turn of phrase -- like Frank Zappa -- and when the conversation turned to Cobain he initially made some comments about not disliking the guy but hating the whole Seattle thing and how grunge had been marketed to death and what a bunch of bastards record companies are and so forth. Just the usual stuff.

But then his tone shifted and he really got stuck into Cobain in a pretty personal way. We enjoyed our chat, shook hands and walked out into the corridor of the Major Record Company some 15 floors above Broadway.

It was clear there was something wrong, people were walking around dazed and a girl came up and said, Did you guys hear, Kurt Cobain has shot himself.

We stood there stunned as well and then DiNizio turned to me and said, Maybe you better not put some of that stuff I said into the story now, huh?

In nodded. It was one of those trips.

The interview never got written up.


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