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									The Ottawa Citizen
Arts
Thursday, August 30, 2001

Where there’s Love, there’s war

Nirvana bandmates battle widow over Cobain’s musical legacy

Mark Lepage

Kurt Cobain once described peace of mind as “something that happens to other people,”
and so it is entirely consistent for his musical legacy to be the subject of a war

The flashpoint is an unreleased song, that, after a series of renamings, has come to be
known as You Know You’re Right. Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl – hereinafter
referred to as “Nirvana” – recorded it before Cobain’s suicide in April 1994. The
surviving band members want to release it as part of a 45 song box set, but if Courtney
Love has her way (and so far she does) you won’t be hearing it through legitimate
channels any time soon. Love won the first round in what promises to be an increasingly
acrimonious dispute, securing a court injunction to prevent Nirvana from including the
song in the project.

Love claims the song is not necessary to the success of the box set, originally scheduled
for release Oct. 23. She must have missed a conferral with her own attorney, O. Yale
Lewis, who calls it “a spectacular piece of music, probably one of the most important
pieces of music to be released in years,” which would tend to back up Grohl and
Novoselic’s lawyer, Warren Rheaume: “The fight is over control of Nirvana.” This is
what makes the issue more interesting than a legal squabble.

When Cobain died, his surviving bandmates joined Love in a three-way partnership to
oversee the legacy; given the apparent longtime antipathy between Grohl and Love, those
must have been interesting sit-downs (carpet knives confiscated at the door, kids).
Certainly , the windfall yet to come would have been the key issue, and Love is entitled
to her share; she’s the widow Cobain, after all. But there is no sentimentality in assuming
the band members had another priority. This is, after all, more than their property; it’s
their music.

In an interview this week, I asked another surviving member of a legendary defunct punk
band for his opinion on the matter. Years after the Clash disbanded in bitterness and
counter-accusations, the band members came to their senses. "We grew up," Joe
Strummer said. They agreed to form a partnership in which each survivor had an equal
vote in all future decisions affecting the band’s catalogue. Good faith was the harbinger
of the change, and the necessary ingredient in all future decisions. When told what Love
had done, Strummer could only exhale and say, “That’s heavy.”
It’s also heavy-handed. Love’s tactics reportedly included the argument that Novoselic
and Grohl were barely more than sidemen to Cobain. Admittedly, she does have a
temper, and a history of hard-ball in her personal relationships. This is the woman who
sundered a friendship with Donatella Versace because the designer (who was responsible
for Love’s Hollywood makeover) had a problem filling out the rider Love demanded for
a trip to a Milan fashion show: a private jet, three assistants and a full-time nanny.

Power games among the rich. However, in the Nirvana dispute, Love has gone further,
questioning the very integrity of the group. Novoselic and Grohl survived at least seven
tours, three Cobain overdoses and finally his suicide in the journey from obscurity to
lawsuits that is rock stardom. In November, 1993, in the Verdun Auditorium, on the final
sad march, the buttressed a front man whose voice and guitar were raggedly intact, but
whose soul was pouring out of the black holes where his eyes had been. Perhaps he was
thinking of future lawsuits when he wrote these lines in You Know You’re Right: “I don’t
need to love again / I won’t sigh and mope again.” Love didn’t play a not in that show, or
any other Nirvana show, tour, rehearsal or recording session.

And worse, she’s not just a widow, or a litigant, she’s a peer. The ramifications for
Love’s own bandmates, past, present and future, are significant. I wonder how Melissa
Auf der Maur would feel about Love’s attitude towards her collaborators and facilitrators,
the sidemen and women who co-write her songs and outlast her tantrums. While the
Nirvana dispute trundles to it’s ineditable, paper-blizzard conclusion, the members of
Hole and her new project, Bastard, would be wise to take nots. And I’d make sure those
contracts were signed, if I were them. As for Nirvana fans, there are always MP3s.

The Montreal Gazzette

								
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