Nirvana: The Final Scream
By the next night, also in Milan, Kurt’s dark mood became increasingly desperate. He met with Krist Novoselic and told him that he needed to quit the tour. “He gave me some bullshit absurd reason for why he wanted to blow it off,” Novoselic recalled. Though Kurt’s voice had been his main physical complaint in Europe, he now added the familiar complaint of stomach pains to his litany of medical conditions. Krist was having none of it; he reminded Kurt of the huge financial obligation the band would have if they called the tour off. Kurt agreed to continue with the tour, if only to make it through the next date which would take them to Slovenia, where Novoselic had relatives.
There were neither street drugs nor easily swayed physicians to be found in Slovenia, and while Novoselic and Grohl explored the country, Kurt stayed in his room for three days, bouncing off the walls. He was miserable, and he continued to talk of ending the tour. While in Slovenia, Novoselic was reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, describing a prisoner’s life in a Soviet prison camp. Kurt asked Krist about the plot of the book, and when he heard Solzhenitsyn’s description of the camp, he remarked, “God, and [Denisovich] wants to live! Why would you try to live?”
On March 1, 1994, Nirvana rolled into Germany, where they had three consecutive shows scheduled before a one-week break. The attitude among the crew and band was to tough it out for these shows and then enjoy the upcoming time off to vacation and regroup. While in Slovenia, Kurt had called a band meeting and again said he wanted to cancel the rest of the tour. He’d been informed that the band did not have cancellation insurance, so to pull the plug at this point would result in a huge financial penalty. “So, if somebody died, we’d still have to do the shows?” Kurt asked. He was informed that death was the only acceptable reason for a cancellation.
The March 1 Munich show was held in Terminal Einz, a WWII-era airplane hanger that was now being used as a concert venue. Not much remodeling had been done to the facility. It was cold and damp and had acoustics that were horrid for a band with boomy sound like Nirvana. Kurt hated the look of the place and cursed the fact that his career had progressed to the point where Nirvana were playing airplane hangers, though part of the reason for this was their huge fan base, which was too large and rowdy for most European operahouse venues.
At the soundcheck that afternoon, Kurt asked his tour manager for an advance on his per diem. After collecting his money, he said, “I’ll be back for the show.” Some in the crew were surprised to hear that he was leaving the facility considering that, moments earlier, he had been complaining of feeling so ill that he couldn’t stand up or play the concert. “I’m going to the train station,” he announced. Everyone in the crew and band knew that meant he was looking for Munich’s drug culture, not that he was seeking transportation.
He came back but only right before showtime. His mood had not improved but instead of tuning his instruments or preparing a set list, he began calling people. He called Courtney, and they argued. He called his lawyer, Rosemary Carroll, and in a completely uncharacteristic move, he called his 52-year-old cousin Art Cobain back in Grays Harbor, in Washington State. Art was surprised to hear from his famous cousin; they hadn’t talked in years. They made small talk, and Kurt complained about the circumstances of his life. “He was getting really fed up with his way of life,” Art later reported to People magazine. Art invited Kurt to a Cobain family reunion later that year. Kurt said he’d be glad to come.
Kurt had personally asked his childhood heroes the Melvins to open these European dates, and when their set was over, Kurt went to lead singer Buzz Osborne’s dressing room where he announced that he was ending the band, his marriage, his relationship with his managers and perhaps his whole concept of being in a band. “I should just be doing this solo,” he told Osborne. “In retrospect,” Osborne surmised, “he was talking about his entire life.”
Terminal Einz held 3,050, and the venue was filled to capacity for Nirvana’s first show in Germany in three and a half years. Few in the crowd would have noticed, but from the opening notes, Cobain looked half-dead, and his performance, which had been rote on much of the tour, was almost robotic. He began with a cover of the Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl,” but even this tune was redone so that it sounded slowed down and drone-like, as if Kurt had wanted to take any element of pop out of his sound. Co-guitarist Pat Smear later recalled that Kurt’s voice was indeed completely shot by Munich show. “Kurt and I were suffering from bronchitis, and his voice became noticeably more trashed with every song,” Smear told journalist Rasmus Holmen. “When we sang together, we sounded like cats fighting. His voice was sooooo gone, but instead of trying to conserve it, he seemed to delight in pushing it to the ‘I won’t be able to sing for days’ limit. After a while it was a bit much.” To Novoselic and Grohl, who had been on the road with Kurt for more years than Smear, it was obvious that if the band was going to self-destruct, it would be Kurt’s doing.
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