Legendary Band Nirvana
In the Words of People Who Were There!
Interview with Author!
Nirvana is the greatest band of the ’90s, and, to me, the greatest rock band of all time. And I have just read the most important, in-depth book about Nirvana that has ever been put to print.
The book is called Nirvana: In the Words of People Who Were There, written by Carrie Borzillo. Whether you’re a fan of Nirvana, or a curious student of rock music history — or perhaps a Christian seeking a better understanding of a band that has forever changed our culture — then this book is essential for your library.
And Carrie’s the perfect person to write something like this. For one thing, she’s accomplished what a guy like me dreams about: she’s worked for legendary music and entertainment magazines like Rolling Stone, US Weekly, Teen People, Spin, Entertainment Weekly, and People Magazine. She’s been on television and radio, and she’s the author of four books.
Carrie is also the biggest Nirvana fan on earth. She’s earned the title hands down — no contest. She has documented every date of the band’s history: the who, what, when, where, why, and how, including interviews with probably every living soul on earth who knew the band. This book tells Nirvana’s entire story in chronological order: tour dates, recording sessions, behind-the-scenes glimpses of the music, after-show parties, the involvement of their management team, all the way to the final months in the life of front man Kurt Cobain.
And, speaking of Cobain, Carrie raised a valid point: if Kurt had received the help he needed, would we have the music we know and love today? His life was cut short and riddled with depression and drug abuse, but within his span of 27 years he created music that would change people’s lives — even mine. Without Nirvana, I would not be a drummer. I would never have sat in the bonus room of my parent’s house with a drum kit, a Nirvana CD, and calloused, bruised and bloody hands from hours of practice. (In other words, just because a band isn’t Christian or writing happy shiny songs doesn’t mean they can’t have a positive influence on your life.)
But shedding light on the inner workings of Nirvana is not all she’s been up to. Having such an up-close perspective of Cobain’s pain has given her a deep compassion for those who struggle with suicidal thoughts. To raise awareness about suicide prevention, Carrie, via her website, is offering a percentage of the money made from autographed copies of her book to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.
Carrie and I had an amazing conversation about her book, the band, faith and religion, and even mental health:
What made you decide to go through all the trouble to preserve the legacy of Nirvana?
Oh my gosh, it was so much trouble [laughs], and this never happens, but it was my first book and the publishers just came to me and asked me if I wanted to write it. That never happens that way. It was Carlton Books in the UK, and I don’t know if they still do, but they had this format called “I Witness,” and it would be a band. I know they did an “I Witness Jimi Hendrix” and several other ones that is a timeline/diary/oral history format. So they approached me because my former editor of Billboard magazine had recommended me. So they actually thought Nirvana would be great for this one because, for one thing, [the band’s] career was so short and so much happened, it would be interesting to capture it in a linear fashion and to see it all in a row and in order of what happened. I loved the format and I loved the idea. And actually I come from more of a music news background, you know, with Billboard, so this book was really heavy with reporting and research and tracking down people and getting them to do interviews. So it was totally awesome and exciting and frightening and invigorating all at once, and it was so much fun to do, and I also lost so much sleep over it; it was really difficult and rewarding all at the same time. I would do another one like this in a heartbeat.
Who was your favorite member of Nirvana?
It is so cliché, but Kurt, of course. The thing about Kurt was I just felt his pain and that deep struggle within him in everything he did. Whether it was just the way he sang or a certain guitar chord that he played and the way he performed and the way he spoke in interviews and the way he carried himself. But mostly it was the pain that you hear and the deep emotions in his voice. I am not kidding, I have goosebumps right now just talking about it. It is just such a visceral experience. There has never really been an artist at that time who was that raw, and it’s 20 years later, and I still feel that rawness, and I still feel the sadness. I really believe all of the things he says, and he is just opening up a vein and letting it bleed, as they say, and I still feel that intense feeling when I listen to the music to the point that it makes it kind of hard to listen to it and enjoy right now, even with what happened.
Did any of the members of the band proclaim any faith or practice any religion?
You know what, I would hate to speak on behalf of anyone’s religious beliefs either. I don’t think Dave or Kris have ever really spoke openly about it. Kurt, in his songs and interviews, has spoken about God, you know, in more of a conflicted way. But, overall, I don’t really think that was top of mind.
I think, however, faith works for so many people and can save so many people who are like Kurt and his situation, and I also think that a really good rehab could have done wonders, and therapy. He had, from a very young age, moved around from house to house, and it started out at an early school level for him, and you can’t blame parents, teachers or whatever. But if there was more of an awareness of mental health issues like depression and where depression can lead — in Kurt’s case it led to drug abuse and eventually death by suicide — but if we could have nipped that in the bud. Kurt was 7-years-old when this started. I mean, if [people] had been aware of his situation at that age, there is no telling what might have happened. I bet it would have been better. There are so many tools out there, whether it is faith, therapy, or whatever; but with him coming from such a small town and a real rural area — it’s not that progressive — even if someone had suggested that he go to therapy or [someone had said], “Hey, just turn to God,” he would have probably questioned that too. His wife Courtney Love couldn’t have saved him, and people think she contributed to the problem, of course, but even if she was being a good wife you can’t really fight if someone has battled that deep. He has to want to, and I don’t think Kurt did.
And one of the reasons I decided to reissue this book — I didn’t want to just capitalize on this amazing man’s tragic death — I wanted to do something to tie into why he died. So I am selling signed copies of the book through my website with a percentage of the sales going to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And some of my talking points that we have at the grade school level or even in kindergarten and first grade, just think about it, you have health class, you have gym class, you have science and math and English, we have something for our intellect and we have something for our bodies and we have stuff for our overall health, but we have nothing for mental health and that is a totally different thing. And if children at a young age were able to rectify feelings of depression or feeling lost then they could articulate it better to their parents and their teachers and at the same time the parents and teachers could educate a little bit more. I am not saying that everyone that is depressed is mentally ill; there is a difference when you talk about mental health and mental illness. But if we taught mental health and emotional health from a very early age and [early] mental stages in school, we would have much less suicide, murder, rape, and school shootings.
It all starts in those ages, and there are always signs with kids, whether you are committing suicide or becoming a junkie or shooting up, at school there are signs. These kids didn’t start out that way. Something happened, and it wasn’t really dealt with or treated properly. That is really important to me, and I think that if Kurt had had that kind of help, I don’t think we would have had Nirvana, but you never know. He probably would have had intense emotions about other things. Maybe he would have written great love songs. He talked about depression and everyone knew it, but I don’t think everyone reached out to help him the best they could, and he really didn’t want help. But there is no one to blame here, it was just overall a really bad situation.