In the Words of the People Who Were There (Interview with Author Carrie
Eariler this week (April 1), a true page-turner called Nirvana: In The Words of the People Who Were There, hit book stores. Originally released in 2000 under the title Eyewitness Nirvana: The Day by Day Chronicles, the reissue features a new cover and design to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the tragic death of Kurt Cobain.
Written by Carrie Borzillo, the reissued book is as near as possible to a day-to-day account of every significant moment in Nirvana's history. Borzillo takes you from the group's inception right through Kurt Cobain's early tragic death on April 5, 1994. The book features more than 50 first-hand accounts, memories and anecdotes of every important moment in Nirvana's career. One of the most compelling sections of the book is when Borzillo recounts her own experience covering the news of Cobain's death and the public vigil in Seattle in April 1994.
I recently chatted with Borzillo to get the behind-the-scenes aspects of bringing the book together, and her personal connection with Cobain and Nirvana.
Do you remember the first time you heard Nirvana?
Yes, vividly. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut in the '80s where cock-rock, hair bands, and commercial stadium rock bands, whatever you wanted to call it, ruled. I was into Guns N' Roses, LA Guns, and Judas Priest at the time. I was the opposite of whom Kurt wanted for his audience. But, when I first saw the video for Nirvana's “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” my jaw dropped. It took a minute to wrap my brain around it.
What was it about their music that resonated with you?
It was so different from anything else I've heard at that time and I instantly became obsessed. I converted quickly. And, no, I am not too cool to admit this!
With a book this detailed, I imagine it took quite a while to piece it all together.
It was about five months. It was the hardest, but most exciting, three months of my career. It was an absolutely daunting task to piece together their lives and career, but I worked 12-hour days to get it done. I was working so hard that there would be days that I didn't even shower. I worked in my pajamas; and I started having dreams that Kurt was speaking to me. It was crazy.
Were there any people you wanted to interview that you either couldn't track down or get to agree to be in the book?
Absolutely! I'm proud of the 50 people that I did get to interview for the book, but there is a long list of people that either respectfully declined or that I just could not find. The book was written only five years after Kurt's tragic ending, so some people felt it was disrespectful to talk about him in a book. I don't blame them. I understand. Other people feared the wrath of Courtney Love and were afraid to talk. Now that it's 20 years later, I would love to actually update the book with new interviews and I think I would have an easier time tracking down people I couldn't find before, especially now that everyone is on social media. And, likewise, some who said no then, I think would say yes now—especially to talk about the legacy of Kurt. Funny aside: Former drummer Dave Foster contacted me on my Nirvana Facebook page last week after I sent him a friend request and I wrote back: “Where were you in 1999 when I desperately tried to find you?!” The book was written so long ago that I had to send interview requests via fax for many people. I still have very polite “respectfully decline” faxes from engineer Scott Litt and Butch Vig.
From all the hours of tape you got during the interviews, what's your take on the perception people had of Kurt? Was he the kind of person that if you asked 10 people about their take on him, you'd get 10 completely different answers?
Actually, there were two opinions—1. That he really cared about being famous and successful and 2. That he hated the fame and felt guilty about the success. I believe both statements are correct because Kurt was a very complicated person on an emotional level and this is something that he struggled with a lot. One thing everyone seemed to agree on was that this was a tortured soul, a musical genius, and a very conflicted person.
For people in my age group, the day Kurt died is one of those moments where you remember exactly where you were and how you found out. What do you remember about that day?
Yes, I was there. I was 23 and an editor at Billboard magazine at the time in Los Angeles. Sub Pop flew me up to Seattle on April 8, 1994 to attend their 6th anniversary party. When I landed, I heard the news. My heart sunk and it hit me hard, but I had to quickly get into reporting mode and do my job of reporting what was the biggest story of the decade. I drove to his house, took photos, talked to local record stores, fans, went to the police station to get the reports, etc. I still have my reporter's notebook from that weekend. I also attended the public memorial service at Seattle Center's Flap Pavilion with the 5-7K fans there. I still have two of the white candles that were handed out in my Nirvana memorabilia box for this time. It was a bizarre scene—there were people crying, kids playing hacky sack, children dressed up for a funeral and more. I wrote about it for Billboard magazine and also for my book, but I plan to elaborate more about what it felt like to be there at the time and what it feels like 20 years later looking back on it. Check my social media for that “Where were you when you heard Kurt Cobain died?” blog. Check my Twitter @CarrieABorzillo and Facebook for that.
Your book has been repacked, translated and reissued many times since its original publication. To what do you attribute the public's fascination with Kurt all these years later?
Great music lasts forever. Tragedy lingers in our hearts and souls forever as well. Connecting with people on a very deep level like Kurt did through his lyrics will be a lifelong connection. He was the voice of a generation and a voice for everyone who felt uncool, weird, unpopular, different, etc. There will always be new generations of kids who feel this way and that is why there are always new fans year after year. His message, words, heart and soul were poured out into every song he sang and it's a message that does not have an expiration date. New fans are discovering him daily, and likewise, dissevering the book. Some collectors have told me that they like collecting the various different versions of this book. I love the new version, Nirvana: In The Words of the People Who Were There, because the cover is a little grittier, there are a few new photos (including one of the public memorial I attended with the white candles that I still have today), and the size is, well, kind of cute—it's 5.5 x 8 inches. My second favorite version of the book is Nirvana: The Day-to-Day Illustrated Journals because it has 200 plus photos weaved through the text in a coffee table book size.
It's been 20 years since Kurt passed. Do you think there's been any musicians since then that have that kind of mystique to their music and persona? Some say Jeff Buckley did.
No. We have not had an artist like Kurt Cobain. Simply put: no one compares.
What else are working on now and where can we read more of your writing?
I'm coming up with ideas for my next book, which will be my fourth book. I would like to do another oral history/timeline type of book like this one, but I would also like to write another celebrity memoir like I did for Tera Patrick's Sinner Takes All: A Memoir of Love and Porn. I've also filmed a few scenes for a reality show airing this Fall. I can't announce it right now, but it'll be out in September. Stay tuned!
I also wanted to get something more important across, I didn't do this reissue to just capitalize on the 20th anniversary of Kurt's death, I wanted to do something more important than putting a few more pennies in my pocket. So I am selling signed copies of my book at a premium price with a % of the sales benefitting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Right now, the books are available at my website.
I'm also doing a free book giveaway on Twitter (@CarrieABorzillo) right now through Saturday, April 5: RT & follow to ENTER to win a SIGNED # Nirvana book and donation to @afspnational in your name. Ends 4/5 9pm PT.
I will be offering it at other special prices and through various contests and giveaways through April as well.