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I Was The Junior Publicist On Nirvana’s “Nevermind”

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(Gorgeous PR ‘s Chrissy Shannon worked for Geffen Records in 1991 where she was Junior Publicist on Nirvana’s Nevermind. Chrissy wrote this remembrance of working on the album on the occasion of its 20th anniversary for her own blog –here– but has kindly allowed us to reprint it -IL)

20 years. I wasn’t sure I was going to say anything, but because people were posting photos and, “where were you when you heard?” remembrances, I felt like letting go a couple of things that have been fermenting in my head for the past two decades. Pulling into the Pavilions parking lot last night, I heard someone on NPR say that Kurt was becoming the, “Jim Morrison of this generation.” I assume he meant Millennials or whatever name the media is calling twenty somethings these days; people who were two years old or maybe even negative two when he actually died. I guess he meant the mythology and fetishism that develops when an artist suddenly is ripped from us in such an awful way.

Although with Kurt the mystery is of the brain and how pain, mental and physical, addiction and depression can lead to such hopelessness. No one’s reporting spotting a bearded Kurt in an exotic location paling around with Morrison. We know what happened but we’ll never truly know why and that’s what feeds the growing mystique for those who weren’t around to ahem, live though this.

Charles Cross has another Nirvana book out, “Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain” analyzing his legacy and I’m sure it’s great. Cross was the editor of Seattle’s “The Rocket” and knew him pretty well, as much as a journalist or someone who worked at the record company for that matter, could know Kurt I guess. When I have an income again I’ll buy it, but I’m behind on Nirvana books. I have never been able to bring myself to read his earlier book, “Heavier Than Heaven”. I did read Michael Azzarad’s “Come As You Are” which is an excellent book about the history and rise of the band while they were still here, before the darkness descended and changed everything: music, how we deal with addiction in artists, the relationship bands have to their fans, me. It changed me. Maybe 20 years is enough time to crack open a Nirvana book. Hell, I don’t know.

I do know that Kurt signed to Geffen because Sonic Youth told him that we didn’t interfere with bands creatively at the label, and so he wouldn’t be fucked with. I know that I jumped at the chance to work with this indie band cribbed from Sub Pop because I was bored working with the second and third generation, pop metal bands that my boss Lisa always ended up working. I know that the first time I put that advance cassette of “Nevermind” (yes kids, a cassette!) in my car stereo on the way home that day – when Grohl’s drums kick in, four bars into, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” that I cranked that sucker all the way up, and I know that my boyfriend did the exact same thing when I played it for him. Everyone did. I know Kurt told us that when he was at Sub Pop he’d only done a couple of interviews, so I went into overdrive trying to get this amazing band noticed and that was not hard because everyone freaked out when they heard it. Everyone, except for the hardcore metal guys who could not fathom how someone with an out of tune guitar and only five strings who didn’t play solos and looked like he just rolled out of bed could be popular, or any good.

I know that Kurt did not want everyone to like him and love his band. That’s what he couldn’t take. He wanted to manage whom his audience was. He was there for the misfits, the bullied, the freaks. He did not want the asshole future frat boys who beat him up in high school to buy his records, but they did and the whole thing suddenly felt very out of control. I know that’s when he started slipping away. On the video shoot for, “Come As You Are” he did not join in with the rest of us at the craft services table joking around, but holed up – pun intended, in his trailer with Courtney. When he finally emerged and sat down as far as possible from the actual food, I saw that his skin was virtually translucent and he looked as though he was physically disappearing. He reminded me of Brian Jones in those last photos with The Stones. I know I called my Mom that night crying because I was scared he was going to die.

I know the insane amount of attention and the burden of being called “the voice of a generation” and all that crap freaked him out and that it led to him being unable to understand why everyone wanted him, including publications he could not relate to or he deemed uncool, and that in this country those writers have the right and the freedom to write about him. I know that’s why Lisa and I got fired by him in an interview we didn’t set up with indie ‘zine “Flipside”. He told them that we were promoting him to “lame, hair metal” mags (or maybe he called us lame, metal publicists?) and that’s not what Nirvana was about. He couldn’t handle being that popular with just about everyone, it made it fake somehow to him. I know I was devastated that I wasn’t going to be working with them anymore, but I was tired too. Working for a “phenom” can wear you out, even at 24.

Looking back at MTV’s, “Nirvana Unplugged” I view it in retrospect as his public suicide note. The actual suicide note, Courtney being Courtney, shared with the world. The part where she extolled the gathered memorial crowd to yell, “asshole” to the heavens at Kurt for leaving us was an inspired touch. There is a point at the end of, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” where you see in his eyes a moment of absolute, searing pain. It’s as if for a moment you witness him glimpse the other side and it’s scary as fuck. I hope he found peace there finally. I know we all never really have.

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