Joyland

Vancouver |

16 Years Gone

by Neal Giannone

edited by Kevin Chong

March 15, 2010 At the whim of weather I feel like Seattle. Without heroin I can feel the hours. I can feel every molecule of space when I move through it at this pace. There’s something missing. Like a phantom limb. Phantom blood. Phantom junk. There’s something missing. There has to be something more than this. Day in, European tour. Day out, Asian tour. And though I’m clean, I feel sick. More than I’ve ever been. And my veins still shift like the roll of eyes… or dice. There’s a phantom limb but I don’t know where it attaches to my body. It’s somewhere here… or there. I’m not sure. I don’t know. I don’t know reveries too well. *** I’m gonna smoke. Do you mind if I smoke? No. Go ahead. I’m gonna smoke. [Kurt lights a cigarette]. Is the camera rolling? Good. Okay. After you guys broke up in ‘94 you haven’t released any new music until today. Music has changed. People forgot about you, or perhaps gave up on you. Do you regret any past decisions? To end the band, get out of the spotlight. I have no regrets. It is what it is. I couldn’t go on writing the same music simply because my label was making money. We were barely breathing as a band. It is one thing to exhale but when you don’t get back enough air sooner or later you’re gonna hyperventilate. Was it because you were a hero for a generation? [Kurt laughs]… I think heroes have a tendency to acquaint themselves with villains. And villains are nothing more than the kid who has a note to get out of gym class, or the one standing still on the dance floor. They’re always in the wrong line and everyone knows it but them… I don’t know I wasn’t having any fun. I hated myself. I felt like my old man in Aberdeen going to work at the mill everyday. Leaning into my guitar like a saw, punching out when I walked off stage. And what have you been doing for the past 16 years? Well, I kicked heroin. That’s good. [Kurt laughs and lights a new smoke from the end of the old one]. I just hung out with a few friends. With my daughter. I just attended her high school graduation. Bought flowers and took pictures and all that shit. I feel like a father. You know, making lunches, driving her to school. That’s probably what I would say I’ve been doing… … Being a dad, staying out of trouble? Ya. Well… when Bean was 13 I took her to Greece for the summer. And I don’t know if I just refused it or if at first was just oblivious but that summer her hormones erupted. Boys were looking at her and she was looking at boys. I wanted to throttle her! Yes. I see. Difficult for any dad. How did you handle that? Well, I didn’t throttle her. I begrudgingly called Courtney for advice and beat the shit out of this poor kid who was holding her hand at the water park. Oh. Lawsuit? No. Just slept with the kid’s mom. You’ve been in trouble a few times. What happened at the Mormon church? It was all a misunderstanding really, and it was a Seventh-Day Adventists church. Down on Green Lake. The morning of Jello Biafra’s wedding I lost my pants on the roof. Its not as weird as it sounds. It was too hot so I took them off and Chi Pig and Jello stuffed them down the air vent. At first I figured ‘oh well another pair of pants lost,’ but then I realized all my effects were in there. Including the keys to my car, which had the tuxes and rings in it. So I went down after them. And got stuck in the vent. The cops were nice about it. The Adventists pressed charges. I never got my pants back though. I think they sold them on eBay and renovated their church with the money. *** March 17, 2010 I can’t tell how old my hands are? How old my skin is? How heavy? I can’t tell how alone I am? How vacant I am? There is no echo. Not even reverb. There are kids touring with me who know all of this. Soon, Bean will know all of this. I don’t know if I ever knew this. Even at their age. We just landed in Paris. It’s still the same shithole it was the last time I was here. I thought it would be different. More colourful, more cultural, more awake. I dunno. Maybe I haven’t changed as much as I thought I have. People push past, move right through me. Or rather I move through them. *** And you got a divorce? Ya. Who knows where I’d be if I stayed with Courtney? She was parasitic. But in a good way. She just kept clawing and scraping into my being, but she would never have anything under her finger nails, you know? It was because I was so fucked up. There was nothing in me to spoil. So, she would just pull out the cancer looking for the good blood, you know? But all that changed when I got clean. Then she was just severing arteries. And it was Duff Mckagan who got you clean? Yeah. Of all people. I fuckin hate Guns n’ Roses! What happened there? Everything just finally caught me. I couldn’t handle the road anymore, so I took more drugs to keep down the pain. I longed to be back in Seattle with Bean. Having the room above the garage to myself to write in. Cook-up in. I felt safe there. Then I O.D’d in Rome and Courtney sent me to rehab in L.A. I didn’t really want to be there and after a few days I jumped the wall and took a cab to the airport… And on the flight home Duff was sitting next to me, who just recently got clean. And we just bullshitted and bonded over fuckin up. [Kurt takes a drink of water]. Anyway, when we landed I was going to score and he just suggested I stay at his place for a few days. Right. And I was so close to hop in a cab and go home. I was so sick. I just wanted to fix up in my room. But he wouldn’t let up. I think I went with him so he would shut up. [Both laugh]. And that was it? Yeah, I cleaned up and decided to divorce Courtney all during that time at Duff’s. You know, when you’re in love with something for so long, when its humming through you and purling about your veins… loosening the skin between your atmosphere and inosphere… pushing up against you, always making eye contact… you can’t send it a post card and say it’s over. You have to explain it. Forcefully. Face to face. Heroin or Courtney? Both. *** March 18, 2010 In Venice. Sound check. Having trouble with my phone. I’m not getting international calls or they’re not connecting properly. Dr. Cameron says I need to be patient and more positive. He is right, I haven’t been doing my breathing exercises. Feel anxious. Of course if my phone could connect he could reiterate that. Psycho-somatic decibels. Or sound waves. Play my guitar. The smell of cheap riser food. Overlit Marlboros. If I play it like this. If I play it in A♭m, I can see Dave behind his kit and Krist… slinking off stage with just the neck of his bass in hand. It’s hard to stay positive when you’ve lost so much. I did love Krist and Dave at one point. I don’t remember when. I loved a lot of people at one point. But I don’t remember them. My skin hurts like it did in ‘94. Nothing’s changed. I’m just growing to hate a different drummer. A different bassist. Probably more. Was it easier with Dave and Krist? Probably not. *** Do you still talk to people from your past? Do you still talk to Courtney? Only in court. [Laughs]. I remember before I got clean I was arguing with Courtney a lot. She just bought a Lexus and I told her to take it back. Why did you do that? Well it’s an expensive car! That’s not who we are or what we’re about. What are people gonna think when they see us around Seattle in a fuckin luxury sedan. I was trying to get my life straight and she’s trying to climb the social ladder. Uh-huh. And what about the rest of the band? No not really. I still talk to Krist. I mean… we hang out when I’m back in Seattle but he’s a big politician now. [Kurt laughs]. He’s the treasurer of Olympia, so he’s got a lot of treasuring to do, or treasure to find I guess. But… Krist and I are still friends. All three of us pretty much went our separate ways in ‘94. We have only just recently became reacquainted. There just wasn’t much left to say to each other. Oh, how did you become reacquainted? Funny story. I was on a relapse weekend with Elliott Smith at the end of ‘02 or ‘03 I can’t quite remember… but we were in the bathroom of the In And Out burger on Sunset shooting up in between clubs. And Elliott shot me up, I always shoot myself up, and Elliott shot me up and no sooner than he pulled the needle out I could feel the back of my throat flooding. I remember thinking ‘I got to get to a bathroom.’ And then there it was… the door to the bathroom. And so, thinking I was on the outside of the bathroom I opened the door and puked my fuckin guts out on some poor soul’s shoes. [Kurt’s laughing]. Anyway, that poor soul was Krist. Wow. That’s how you got reacquainted? [Kurt still laughing]. No… we met at a college orientation last Spring. His daughter Maria and Bean are both enrolled at Washington U. I did puke at an In and Out though. But I was with Lou Barlow and it was David Lee Roth’s shoes. Huh. Do you still talk to Dave? Dave’s just doing his thing. He’s a big rock star. There’s not much we have to say to each other anymore. He’s got his sound and I have mine. And what is that sound? What? Mine? Yeah. I don’t know? Brian Eno coughing. *** March 20, 2010 Fuck. I just picked up. I don’t know why? Old veins. Layne Staley’s place looked a lot like that junkie’s. The curtains drawn. The TV low. Spoons and needles lazy about the furniture like a craft-art collection by a blue haired evangelical grandmother. The smell of dirt. Not unclean, but soil… something that belongs on children’s boots. I think he even have the same video games as Layne? They were newer of course. In two days it will be eight years since he died. It will also be 16 years clean for me. I will get a cake. *** So, Kurt… tell me about this first single. What’s there to tell? Well… it’s untitled and there’s just a picture of an oesophagus on the cover? Hmm… I don’t know. I suppose I’m trying to send up a flag. Everybody today is disgusted and nauseated by what we have become. I mean we as a globe. Everyone’s so sick of it all. Music. Politics. Whatever. But no one wants to do anything about it. But we all still want everyone to know how revolted we are. We tell them. We actually tell them. There are a thousand fuckin flags flying from Seattle… to… Beijing. And then we wonder why no one comes to coddle us. And the kids don’t care. They can’t tell the difference between Obama and Bush. Or why we’re at war. They just know who their favourite celebrities vote for. But why does no one care? It’s not that no one cares, it’s that everyone is too busy hanging themselves from their own tourniquets that they don’t, you know… offer to strangle some one else for a change. [Kurt laughs and lights another cigarette]. Do you believe in politics? The power of change? No. It’s just another sex position. Do you believe in music? No. It’s just another sex position. [Laughs]. I mean, people are always telling me that I have sold out. That I have alienated them. That the rest of the nineties fell impotent after we broke up. But I wasn’t responsible for that. I wasn’t responsible for the Limp Bizkits and Avril Lavignes. Now everything is accessible and temporary. Everything is recycled. Everything is so fuckin diluted that punks have to raise their hands to kick something over. Even the counterculture doesn’t know that there’s a culture countering them. Musicians aren’t angry unless their record labels tell them to be. And when they get angry they go to therapy… … I mean… I don’t want to come off as condescending or disapproving. Despite all the shit going on right now there isn’t a better time for me to release this album. A lot has changed since ‘94. Heroin doesn’t belong here. It is the enemy of temporary. Like a broken wrist that was never set right, even in good weather it slips the joint. Today its meth and ecstasy and cocaine; an attention span that lasts until another shiny object pulls it away. I think right now my voice is louder than ever. I would be no different than today’s music critics if I pissed and moaned about Nickleback without offering an alternative. I might as well be writing bad suicide notes. When I was younger my voice, my screaming became a parody of everything I did. Of a whole generation. No one even dares to mention the word grunge. I mean all the hippies in the sixties eventually grew up and became yuppies with 3.5 kids, living in the suburbs. Right. And now you don’t mind having a Lexus. Fuck no. I have two. [Laughs]. * April 3, 2010 I am writing this from the bathroom in my hotel room in Rome. The Fairmont. I prefer to fix up in something more deserving but my old bones can’t handle the cramped bathrooms of a Super 8. I’m tied off, the curtain is drawn the unopened plastic bag is a small puddle in my hand. The unused needle at my feet. I have to meet Courtney in Budapest in two days. Pick up Bean, hang out with her before school starts in the fall. I can do this. It will be overcast. It’s not much. Not incendiary . Not much of anything. I have two days. *** So what are your plans for the future? My first tour in 16 years. I’m doing Europe first, then Asia, and then coming back for the North American leg. I’ve been a recluse for so long I feel like a new born. I have to learn everything all over again. I don’t even know if I can function clean. Why is that? Well… I’ve only kept people close to me around me for the past 16 years. Life becomes pretty comfortable… and safe. I’m very reluctant to explore beyond that. But I guess that’s part of it. Part of the future. I need to wade back in and open my eyes under water, so to speak. Relearn the strokes? [Interviewer laughs] No, no. That’s definitely it. I guess I’m somewhat of a moody xenophobe. And depending on which way my meter’s pointing depends on how far I throw my disgust on people. And if that doesn’t work out? I’ll probably just buy a gun. [Both laugh]. *** April 5, 2010 At the whim of weather I feel like Seattle. 16 years gone. When you’re in love with something for so long, when its humming through you and purling about your veins… loosening the skin between your atmosphere and inosphere… pushing up against you, always making eye contact… you can’t send it a post card and say it’s over. You have to explain it. Forcefully. Face to face.