Courtney Love says Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was as ambitious and hungry for success as Madonna

Kurt Cobain and Madonna
(Image credit: Kurt Cobain - Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc / Madonna - Mondadori via Getty Images)

Courtney Love says that Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was as ambitious and hungry for success as Madonna was in the 1980s.

Love made the comment about her late husband during an interview on the 60 Songs That Explain The '90s podcast, with The Ringer's Rob Harvilla, in a recent episode discussing Nirvana's breakthrough hit single Smells Like Teen Spirit.

After discussing some of Cobain's unused lyrics for the song, featured in early drafts of the song, and talking about the success it brought Nirvana, Harvilla brings up a previous conversation with Love, saying  "You told me... you said, Mr Cobain was one of the most wildly ambitious people to ever walk this earth, and that the whole thing about him not wanting to be a rock star is bullshit. You said he had more ambition than '80s Madonna..."

"I would put Kurt and 1980s Madonna [on a par]," says Love. "He was canny, he was savvy... "

As an example of Cobain's awareness of how the music industry works, Love then mentions guitarist Jason Everman, who briefly played with both Soundgarden and Nirvana, and implies that Everman was axed from Nirvana because he was showing up Cobain's rudimentary guitar skills at that point: "Gimme a break... I wanna look like Soundgarden, but I don't wanna play with a guy that can play."

"He was jabbing, always," says Love.

Love then says that the reason she had issues with riot grrrl bands such as Bikini Kill and Bratmobile wasn't about personalities, but "principles", pointing out that one of the cornerstones of the riot grrrl 'manifesto' was "We shall not learn instruments, instruments are the tools of the patriarchy."

"And I'm like, Yeah, that's bullshit, I'll fucking learn [Aerosmith's] Sweet Emotion, like right now. What the fuck?... What are you guys talking about?"

"Kurt got by without being a shredder," she adds.

"With Nevermind, Kurt just straight went for it, like, [I'm] not hiding my light under a bushel anymore, fuck that, we've been granted permission, all systems go, I'm going to live my full potential."

When Harvilla points out that, post-success, Cobain claimed to hate Butch Vig's production on Nevermind, saying that it sounded like a Motley Crue record, Love dismissively says, "We all said a lot of things."

"Lying to the press is one of the great sports in life," Love adds.

Listen to the full podcast episode below:

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.