Just a little over 25 years ago, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain took his own life, on April 5, 1994. Exactly one week later, on April 12, Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, issued her sophomore album with her alt-rock band Hole. Cobain’s last words to Love before his death were, reportedly, “Whatever happens, you made a great album.” Says Nirvana’s manager, Danny Goldberg, “That was Live Through This. And it is a great album.”
Goldberg, who just released the new memoir Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain, looks back and marvels to Yahoo Entertainment, “It’s so baroque and crazy. So many of the things that happened over those years were so dramatic that if a screenwriter wrote them, you would say they were not believable. And that’s one of them. But that’s what happened.”
Live Through This was a critical smash upon its release amid the chaos and tragedy of Love’s personal life. It was named the No. 1 album of ’94 by Spin, the Village Voice, and Rolling Stone, with the latter declaring, “Love delivers punk not only as insinuating as Nirvana’s but as corrosive as the Sex Pistols’. More significantly, Live Through This may be the most potent blast of female insurgency ever committed to tape.” Musician even wrote, “Cobain’s much-discussed, little heard other half finally gets the chance to escape gossip-column purgatory and succeeds with flying colors. … Courtney Love’s foul, funny eloquence cuts through all the bulls*** with a mighty flourish.”
But despite all the accolades for Live Through This (and its follow-up, 1998’s Celebrity Skin, which earned four Grammy nominations), Love has been vilified for years by Nirvana fanatics and conspiracy theorists, who have accused her of everything from getting Cobain hooked on heroin, to being an opportunist riding on his coattails, to having him ghost-write Live Through This, to even conspiring to murder him. But in Serving the Servant, Goldberg, who also managed Hole for a while, paints Love in a surprisingly positive light. In his Yahoo interview, he calls her a “major creative force in her own right” and first and foremost emphasizes that she and Cobain truly adored each other.
“It was very, very clear to me, very early on, because Kurt just told me how much in love with her he was, and he was really upset when they were first together that there were some people around the band that didn’t honor that, and thought that it was some fly-by-night, rock ‘n’ roll fling,” Goldberg says. “I knew these were people that were in love, and that they were not conventional people, they were artists, and they came from damaged backgrounds, and they both developed drug problems, but they were in love. So that was the core thing about it, is that he loved her. No one made him love her. She didn’t control him. He was incredibly willful. You couldn’t get Kurt to do anything he didn’t want to do. He had no problem saying no to her, but he also learned certain things from her.”
Goldberg was there the night when Cobain and Love first hooked up, backstage after a Nirvana gig at the Metro club in Chicago; Love was actually in the Windy City to visit another ‘90s rock star, her then-boyfriend Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, but fate intervened and the rest was alt-rock history.
“When she got there, [Corgan] was with some other woman. She knew Nirvana was in town, and as she said, she and Kurt had been kind of flirting with each other from a distance over the last year or two, and I remember being in the dressing room after she said hi to me. And then, like five minutes later, she was in the back of the dressing room, sitting on Kurt’s lap. And Courtney is a few inches taller than Kurt, so it was a little bit of an unusual visual, but they both had this look on their face like the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary. They were each quite pleased with themselves for being in that position. And they were together from that night onward for the rest of Kurt’s life.”
As for that urban legend that Cobain wrote or co-wrote Live Through This, Goldberg is quick to insist that is “absolutely not true,” and even argues that Love was an influence on Cobain: “She was extraordinary lyricist in her own right; I think with a [Nirvana] song like ‘Pennyroyal Tea,’ you can feel some of Courtney’s influence in explaining certain things to him about what she had been through.”
Elaborating on that specific conspiracy theory, Goldberg says, “Obviously, musically, [Kurt] was a great inspiration to everybody that was around him, including Courtney and [Hole guitarist] Eric [Erlandson] and the other members of Hole. … He would sometimes rehearse with them, play bass. He recommended Scott Litt to mix Live Through This because he was so happy with what Scott had done on remixing the singles on In Utero. And they were married, and played their music for each other. …But it was a marriage of two artists, and people who didn’t get it I thought were foolish.”
Goldberg tells an amusing anecdote to prove his point. “Kurt was very covetous of good songs, and he was competitive in that way. There was a little club date that Courtney at some point did, an acoustic show at [Los Angeles’s] Café Largo … and she did ‘Pennyroyal Tea,’ before [Nirvana’s] In Utero came out, and it’s an incredible song. … She could sing the s*** out of it. The next day, Kurt called me and said, ‘Listen, Courtney is thinking of recording “Pennyroyal Tea,” and don’t encourage that! That’s a Nirvana song. I’m not giving her that song!’ He wanted to keep all the best songs that he wrote for Nirvana. So, Courtney wrote [the Live Through This track] ‘Doll Parts.’ If Kurt had written ‘Doll Parts,’ he wouldn’t have let Courtney record it. Believe me.”
And as for the speculation that Love could in any way be blamed for Cobain’s death, Goldberg believes that his love for his wife and their daughter, Frances Bean, actually extended his life — and he said so when he delivered a eulogy at the private Cobain memorial organized by Love. “A Rolling Stone writer was there, and that’s the one quote that made it into the press of what I said,” he recalls. “I wanted to just say how much [Kurt] loved [Courtney], and so, according to Rolling Stone, I said that if it weren’t for how much he loved her, he might’ve left us earlier.”
Looking back, Goldberg understands why Love was and continues to be so polarizing, but in the end, he knows she left her mark with Live Through This, which still holds up a quarter-century later. In 2008, the BBC said of the record, “In 1994 and the years that followed, tragedy and controversy seemed to overshadow everything Courtney Love touched. Thankfully, with every year that passes, it becomes easier to put the record’s emotional baggage to one side and appraise it on the strength of its songs.” And just last month, Live Through This placed No. 4 on Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Grunge Albums list — just three spots behind Nirvana’s Nevermind.
“They could do stupid things when they were stoned, and Courtney could do stupid things more loudly, because she’s more loud; Kurt was more quiet. I’m not claiming that she was perfect or a saint or anything like that,” Goldberg says. “But I like her. I think she’s a great artist. I think her legacy speaks for itself. I think there’s many, many hundreds of women who were aspiring to become artists because they saw that Courtney could rock in a way that very few women could. You can count of the fingers of your hands the women that have been able to compete at that level in rock ‘n’ roll.”
Watch Danny Goldberg’s full Yahoo Entertainment interview about Cobain’s life and career below.
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