How Kurt Cobain Became a “Musical Genius”: Exclusive Interview
When it comes to the Grunge Revolution, Danny Goldberg has come to occupy a front row seat on the management team over the past three and a half years of Nirvana’s career. A long history in the entertainment business would prove beneficial.
Goldberg’s career began in the late 1960s as a journalist for Billboard magazine (for whom he covered the Woodstock festival), Rolling stone and other opportunities. By the 1970s he was starting to find his way into the music business, working with Led Zeppelin from 1973 to 1975 as a publicist and ultimately vice president of their Swan Song label.
He teamed up with Stevie Nicks to form Modern Records as a vehicle to release his first solo album, 1981’s Bella donna. Eventually, he started his own management company, Gold Mountain Entertainment, building a list of clients including Bonnie Raitt, the Allman Brothers Band, Sonic Youth and later, Nirvana.
Goldberg’s Book 2019 Serve the servant focused on his years of working with Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide at the age of 27 in 1994. the highest level of the rock and roll hierarchy. “
Cobain had “divisions” in his personality, Goldberg added. “He was depressed, a drug addict, and a creative genius. He could be bitterly sarcastic or desperate. But he also had a deeply romantic side and a confidence in the excellence of his craft.”
Goldberg has joined us for a deeper dive into his varied career, including his time in the Seattle musical and grunge landscape.
You were handling Nirvana in the middle of all this grunge stuff. Looking back, how do you think you saw grunge impacting classic and established rock bands?
There has been a generational change. I never liked the word “grunge” and I don’t think Kurt was a huge fan of it either. But certainly he was a product, psychologically, of the American 80s version of punk rock. Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Sonic Youth, that indie-rock punk strain, coincided a lot with his high school years. It inspired him that there was an authentic, unpolished, non-artificial way to rock ‘n’ roll.
Watch Nirvana perform “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
MTV had been around for a decade, and big rock bands were called “hair bands” by many critics in the late ’80s and early’ 90s because of their appearance in videos – and usually there was a fan. off camera blowing hair. A lot of the guys had obviously been spending time in the gym and showing off their pecs and stuff like that. It created a lot of energy for the rebellion against what people would call corporate rock and corporate rock media. Radio stations certainly had the biggest influence on a lot of what bands and labels did, as they were the primary curators of what the general public could hear.
So there was a pent-up appetite for a new wave of younger rock. It always happens. I would say that a generation in music is four years; this is the duration of high school. People don’t want to listen to the same stuff and have the same heroes. Not only [do they not] want the same heroes as their parents, they don’t even want the same heroes as their older siblings. They want their own thing. You know, there were artists who were breaking new ground. REM in their own way; Jane’s Addiction in their own way – but Kurt had this songwriting genius.
[He was an] incredible singer, but he also understood the symbolism and language of punk culture. He was able to merge them together in a way that changed the definition of what commercial rock ‘n’ roll was almost overnight when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came out as the first track. [from] no matter. I knew we were part of trying to achieve a generational change, and that there was this younger audience. There was a younger media. It was not a mass audience; These were the people who collected seven inch singles, read fanzines, and listened to college radio stations. But generally, what is avant-garde one year becomes mass culture a few years later.
You can kind of feel that something was going to break through. Fortunately, for those of us who worked for Nirvana, it was Nirvana who then blew up the doors. After that, very quickly, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Soul Asylum, Alice in Chains, Hole, a bunch of other bands speaking the same cultural language, became great rock bands.
Watch Nirvana perform “The Man Who Sold the World”
Were there any established bands that you saw musically draw inspiration from what was going on with grunge back then?
You know, everyone is influenced by everyone. I don’t think it was a situation where the Rolling Stones were going to make an album that was going to emulate what Nirvana was doing or something like that. I mean, artists have to [forge their own path]. At one point, an interviewer asked Kurt, “Do you think you’re going to influence other artists? He said, “Well, if we have an influence, I hope the influence is for people to have more sincerity.”
I think the influence was as much cultural as it was musical. You can’t sound like Kurt Cobain – he’s God created with that voice – and very few people can write songs like that. But in terms of cultural attitude, it was sort of refreshing and a throwback to the late 60s in terms of the idea that some artists would really see themselves as artists and not just artists, even if they wanted to. also have a successful career. But I think a lot of young artists have been influenced by him and by Nirvana. I don’t think the older artists changed what they were doing.
I would have loved to know more about him as a music fan, if he had stayed. What we were able to glean was so interesting. Obviously he does the David Bowie track and stuff on MTV unplugged. I thought it was cool that he was also a Smithereens fan. Like all of us, he was a fan of music. I think it would have been great to see him have a better chance to share more of this with the world.
Yeah, no shit! Well, there is no doubt about it. He loved the culture [aspects] and deeply identified with punk culture. But musically, he was a rebirth mastermind. Obviously he ended up doing a Leadbelly song on Disconnected as well as Bowie’s song. They all loved the Beatles, even though they were way too young to have existed when the Beatles were big and it wasn’t cool for the punk world. They just loved the art of it. He was a real musical genius, so we don’t know what he would have done. But I’m so glad he did what he did.