"I was just shut down. I remember trying to make myself cry and I couldn’t": Dave Grohl on the final days of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain

(Image credit: Paul Bergen/Redferns - Getty)

In 2009, Louder's Paul Brannigan conducted a four-hour career-spanning interview with Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl for a cover feature for MOJO magazine.

Here, for the first time, is the transcript of Grohl and Brannigan discussing the final days of Kurt Cobain, Grohl's former bandmate in Nirvana, starting with Grohl's horrified memories of Cobain's overdose in Rome on March 4, 1994.

Louder line break

Before the end of Nirvana, did you think it was coming to an end? Could you see another album?
"Honestly, no. 1994 was a bad year right out of the gate. I don’t remember exactly when we started that European tour, but we started in Spain and we had the Buzzcocks out with us and I was really excited. But the last time we’d toured Europe we were still Nirvana, from Seattle, now we were NIRVANA! Things had changed a lot. Kurt had struggled through a lot of stuff and we were trying to come to terms with being this enormous band, I guess.

"That whole year is blurry for me because of how lost I was the whole time. By the time we got to Germany I don’t think Kurt wanted to be there anymore. I remember on that tour, I think it was the first time I felt depression, can’t-get-out-of-fucking-bed depression. It was in Milan, and I so badly wanted to be home. I’d never felt that way. I don’t think I’d ever missed something where it just makes you collapse. I couldn’t get out of bed. And that was a pretty good indication that I wasn’t happy and didn’t want to be there. But I had made the commitment of doing it, and I didn’t want to let anyone down.

"But it wasn’t long after that until I think Kurt felt the same way. The last show we played was in Germany somewhere [Terminal Einz in Munich, on March 1, 1994] and Kurt wanted to go home, so I think he intentionally blew his voice out, so that any doctor in his right mind would look at his throat and go ‘It’s kinda inflamed’… So he intentionally blew his voice out so that we could all go home.

"I had to stay another day to make a video for the Backbeat soundtrack and then the next day I flew home, via Heathrow and San Francisco. So finally I get home, put the bags down, and collapse in bed. And I wake up at 5 in the morning to an emergency phone call. And it’s some guy, going, ‘Dave? Is this really Dave Grohl?’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, who is this?’ And he’s likes, ‘I’m John, I live in Boston and I’m a huge fucking fan, and I just wanted to say you guys are great.’ So I’m like, How did you get my phone number?’ And he said, ‘I just told the operator it was an emergency.’ So I’m like, Okay, that’s cool, just don’t phone back…’

"Five minutes later the phone rings again. And someone goes, ‘Dude, turn on CNN…’ And I see Kurt, in Rome, so… so… so that’s when I knew, (whispers) Oh no, it’s over…"

Kurt had overdosed more than once before then. Did you know about overdose after Saturday Night Live at the time?
"No, we knew about it when we got home. There was…a lot of those... that you just found out about later. In a weird way, it just became this, thing that nobody knew what to do about."

The elephant in the room...
"Yeah, if you’ve ever known someone who’s battled something like that... you just know that there’s nothing you can do. [Puts head in hands, and wipes away tears] Wow, sorry, I’m kinda emotional about that…"

So you had a few weeks off, and then the theory was you’d start touring again: in your mind was it really going to start properly again?
"Well, the fucked-up thing about that whole situation was… So, I see that, and I’m like, What the fuck? And so Krist [Novoselic] and I get on the phone and then someone says, ‘He’s okay, he’s just in a coma…he’s not dead.’ It was so chaotic and crazy. 

Nirvana, live onstage in 1993

(Image credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

A lot of fucked up shit went down that nobody knows about

"I mean, there’s certain people in your life that you just know, they’re not gonna make it. So, in the back of your mind, you emotionally prepare yourself for something like that to happen… not that it makes it easier, but so that when it does happen, your world won’t collapse completely. But it was so weird, and surreal, that 28 hours ago I was hanging out with these people and… But then someone called and said that he died, and I lost it. I just fucking lost it. This was just 20 minutes later. And then someone rings up again and goes, ‘Oh, no, he didn’t die.’ It was…bad.

"And then, he came home, and we talked on the phone. and I told him, Man, Kurt, fuck… I didn’t tell him that someone had told me that he’d died, but I told him that I was terrified and so worried. And he was really apologetic, like, ‘So sorry, I was partying and drinking and I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing’ . And I said, Listen, I don’t think you should die! And then, well, then, you know what happened .From there on out it wasn’t long until he died. It was a weird fucking thing."

When the next phone call came through, was there any sense that maybe this was another false alarm?
"When he actually died? I was totally non-emotional. I don’t even know if I was in shock, I was just shut-down. I remember trying to make myself cry and I couldn’t."

Had you been informed that he’d gone AWOL from the Exodus rehab centre?
"Um, it’s hard for me to even talk about. It was just so nuts, I don’t even know how to explain it. It was... the time leading up to that… I can’t talk a lot about it. I can’t talk about it too much because a lot of fucked up shit went down that nobody knows about. And Krist [Novoselic] and I have always kept quiet about a lot of what happened because it’s a personal issue.

"People know that there was an intervention. People know that he was sent to Los Angeles. People know that he split rehab, and that he disappeared and… I know just about as much as everybody else does. But then there’s some other things that happened, long before any of that stuff, that made it clear that maybe we weren’t going to be a band forever. And I think maybe at that point it was time for everybody to back away from it. I’d had enough before he’d disappeared, I think Krist and I had both had enough of it..."

The updated edition of Paul Brannigan's best-selling Dave Grohl biography This Is A Call: The Life And Times of Dave Grohl is available now.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.