The second part of the extract from Nirvana: The True Story by Everett True, in which the author pushes Kurt Cobain on to the stage at the Reading Festival in a wheelchair.
The lights. That’s all I can remember. The lights. You can’t see a single face. The crowd is invisible, and all that you feel is this incredible euphoric roar that increases every step you make towards the microphone.
“He’ll be OK,” Krist Novoselic reassured the crowd, pointing out to the wings, where we slowly materialised: “With the help of his friends and his family, he’ll survive.” We started walking up to the right hand microphone and halfway across the stage Kurt reached up and grappled my neck. “Great,” I thought to myself in my drunken stupor. “Kurt wants to start a mock-fight like we used to have on stage with Nirvana.” I started to wrestle him back. “No, you asshole,” he whispered furiously. “You’re wheeling me to the wrong mic.”
It was a goof, a cocked pair of fingers at all the press reports of the singer being sick, unable to play with his band. Kurt climbed out of the wheelchair, unsteadily, dressed in hospital smock and wig, sang one line of a song… and collapsed. The crowd laughed and cheered, relieved. It was obvious the band were out to have a good time. And fuck, so they did – in fact, the show was so superior to any others they played during 1992, it was like another band altogether. It was like it was 1990 again, and the Olympia trio didn’t have a care in the world.
Twelve songs in, the band deliberately cocked up the intro to ‘Teen Spirit’, Dave Grohl bellowing out the words to Boston’s ‘More Than A Feeling’ over a false start. Kurt wrecked all the guitar breaks too, but it hardly mattered – the entire world had gone ballistic. With the exception of ‘Something In The Way’, Nevermind was played in its entirety: including a typically over-the-top encore of the traditional instrument-baiting ‘Territorial Pissings’ – Dave Grohl hurled a cymbal at a bass drum he’d carefully balanced on top of some speakers, seeing the entire stack collapse very pleasingly. Guitars got trashed, and the audience’s throats went raw singing along with ‘Negative Creep’, ‘Aneurysm’ et al. It was like Nirvana were mocking their own importance up there and reaffirming their own mortality – not rock Gods, but three ordinary dudes out to have a fucking blast. This was the last truly great show I saw them play as a trio. We might have had mud on our soles (and in our hair, and on our face and trousers and underwear) but fuck we were happy.
“Courtney’s had some bad things written about her in the press recently,” her doting hubby announced. “And now she thinks everybody hates her. I know this concert is being recorded, so I’d like to send a message to her. I’d like you all to say, ‘Courtney, we love you…’”
The audience shouted the fucking site down.
“I remember Kurt calling Courtney on the cell phone from onstage,” laughs Jennifer Finch. “I’d never seen a cell phone before. Yes, there were many people yelling, ‘We love you Courtney’, yet I was sitting there transfixed on this cell phone. She’d just given birth, right? That was when I got to take back the pound I’d given her.”
So I pushed Kurt Cobain on stage in a wheelchair for what turned out to be his final UK concert. Big deal. He’d have done the same for me.
After the furore from Reading had died down, Melody Maker ran a competition to, “Win the wig that Kurt Cobain wore at Reading”. (I ran on after the show’s end, and grabbed the wig as a keepsake. I thought that perhaps my sister might need it back. I wasn’t sure how much wigs cost.) No one wrote in. They didn’t believe it. So we trailed the competition even bigger the following week, writing something like, “Listen you dunderheads! This is for real! The first person to write in with the best reason why they couldn’t actually get to Reading to see Nirvana wins the wig, and we’ll print the winning entry.”
This time, we were deluged with entries. We printed the winning one: it was a pithy, witty, beautifully structured and reasoned piece of writing. We congratulated the winner, commiserated with them for missing Nirvana and informed them that they were by far and away the finest entry we received.
Trouble was, by this point I’d decided I wanted to keep the wig for myself.