I really did interview Nirvana. It was 1991. Smells Like Teen Spirit had been the “Screamer of the Week” on WBRU in Providence. It was not unusual for bands to drop by the station on promotional tours and Kurt, Dave and Kris made an appearance during the “afternoon drive”. Nirvana hadn’t gone mainstream yet, so it was not a remarkable event at the time. Obviously, if it had been remarkable, my entertainment career would have probably lasted longer than four years.
I think the interview with Nirvana went ok. I remember them being friendly. I do have a cassette tape of the session. But what would I hear if I was to load it into “Ye olde boom boxe” and press play?
My biggest fear is not what I will hear on that tape, it’s the fear of what I won’t hear. Could it be a barely imperceptible silence lasting milliseconds, or a gap of Nixonian proportions?
It’s called dead air – those awkward moments of silence that are just about the worst possible hell that a live radio dj can endure. To this day, I still have nightmares about a song ending and not having anything cued up. Cold Sweats.
Dead air during an interview was always lurking around the corner. Get a group of nice guys like Miracle Legion or Soul Asylum and you can have a party, get the Goo Goo Dolls and you have crickets.
Logistics added to the risks. If you had an interview with a band, you were likely to play multiple songs during their visit. Unless you had two copies cued up in both CD players, you needed an assistant standing behind you to manually re-cue the CD to a different track. Otherwise, you’d have to re-cue it yourself. This involved turning your back on the guests immediately after you asked a question. Under the best circumstances, a voluminous answer would follow that provided one with the precious time to adjust the disc.
Occasionally, you’d fail to listen to the answer while completing this twisted-torso motion. (Multi-tasking was not perfected until the early 2000’s.) If your guests were less than loquacious, the response to your question might conclude just as you were fumbling for the buttons. Suddenly, like Wile E. Coyote spinning his legs in mid-air before plummeting below, you’d have – that momentary panic – dead air.
We were woefully under-prepared for most interviews. I had known virtually nil about Nirvana. Established bands were blessed with a description in our Google of the day – a dog-eared copy of The Trouser Press. To bone up for newer groups, you generally had to rely on a two paragraph bio that the record company sent over. I’m sure I asked Nirvana about Seattle and the album art and…
If the Nirvana interview had been one of the high points of my brief radio career, then it was desperately needed as redemption for the disaster that had been my interview with Blur earlier in the same year. This was a classic case of zero preparation. I think I asked the band if they hung out with The Stone Roses (because, shit, of course you would if you lived in England during the early 90s).
The microphones cut out during an acoustic session and I got a little angry when Damon Albarn dropped a cuss. I made a ham-fisted attempt to scold them but it was a miserable failure. I wish I could have that one back. They ended up becoming one of my favorite bands (along with everything everything else Albarn and Coxon have put on vinyl).
The one way I find solace in these historical ramblings is that I was just a kid back then. So were Blur and Nirvana. Damon Albarn and Dave Grohl are still kicking ass, so I guess there’s something to be said for having the Lama on your side if you’re looking for nirvana. Lama’s a big hitter. Gunga Galunga.