NME: What was it that attracted you to one another?
MS: “Well, there’s a lot going on in this one because, if you’re looking for it, you can see through all the interviews and all the surface crap. I think what she has to offer just as a pop icon to the public at large is so significant. It’s so much more than… I mean, there’s no comparison to what you usually get being a musician or an actor. No comparison.”
related Courtney & Michael
Part 1 CL: “Michael is really diplomatic. He knows how to navigate his way round things that are insincere or in his way and I’ve learned that from him. Because, y’know, my mouth is less specific now. I think about things a little more. He only yelled at me about one thing one time, which was pretty bad. But I did get a touchi on him.”
NME: What was that all about?
CL: “I’m not saying. But I was mouthy and it wasn’t serving me or anybody else and I didn’t realise how much power my words had. I’m always gonna be a little mouthy because I think of new keys to reality every six days. Which is why I had the huge crush on Peter Buck in 1985, because I saw him talking in a bar and I’m like, ‘I wanna go out with him ‘cos we could just talk’. Didn’t work out.”
MS: “You guys are on the same level when it comes to intelligence, though. There’s a common ground there. She’s incredibly articulate, well-read and very well-educated. I’m the exact opposite. I’m inarticulate, not well-educated, but there is something that we share that’s rare. Really rare. And that is… well, one thing that we share is an incredible ambition and drive. And growing up in the ’80s, those were things we’d think of as bad words. The drive and the ambition is coming from somewhere else.”
CL: “It sounds really grandiose so I don’t even wanna say it publicly but sometimes if I didn’t feel like I was in some sort of service in some way, it would be like a lot of people from last night, it would be just pop and no way do I wanna do that.”
MS: “I’ve said this over and over again – I got it from Patti Smith: the proof is in the pudding. Everything has to serve the work. If the work is not there, if the work is nothing, if the work doesn’t mean anything, then everything we do, every gesture means nothing.”
CL: “And if you’re sad because some records sell more than other ones (Courtney pats Michael on the knee, presumably a reference to the disappointing sales of REM‘s recent album, ‘Up’) you know that you never compromised anything and that is a great, great feeling.”
Sign up for the newsletter
MS: “I do feel like the work that we’re doing is trans-genre. It cannot and will not be categorised because I feel like what we’re doing is ultimately that good. That sounds really pompous to say but I really believe that.”
CL: “Can I ask you, because I’ve had so much more fame than I have sales, I’m now entering this world where I have the sales to match and it’s really hard. I have to work for it. It’s not like you in the beginning and it’s not like Bob Dylan and it’s not like Eddie (Vedder) and it’s not like Kurt. I have to go in this day and this time and just be a whore a little more. That’s how I feel anyway, after last night.
“And I was wondering, I know you had a phase after ‘Reckoning’ where you got a lot bigger, and my friend Leanne – who, incidentally, also had number one on her list to work with Michael Stipe and she just did; she’s a recording engineer – she went to this show in Long Beach where you were really mad because the audience was not your friend any more, it wasn’t anybody you hang out with. And I just did a show in Danford, Connecticut where, for the first time in my life, they weren’t 15-year-old girls, they were eight! And nine! And ten! And 11! And it wasn’t that I didn’t like them but they were these tiny little girls with their dads at the back and I didn’t know how to embrace it. And I really want it. I wanna do it. But I wonder what your solution was or what you felt about the mainstream, the bracing cold water of it?”
MS: “It did really suck because in a way we were like the jukebox band, the soundtrack to Reagan and all those people who were nothing like us, nothing that I agree with, nothing that I look like, nothing that I want to see. And I became a little bit of a contrarian purposefully: ‘I’m gonna fuck with you! I’m gonna throw some shit at you that you really don’t want!'”
CL: “Right. I understand that. But how do you do that in a positive way where you’re embracing them and you’re not being elitist? That’s my point. Definitely the fuck-with-you element is there but my question for you is, what do you do? What do you think?”
MS: “I don’t understand the question.”
CL: “Alright. I know how to get clear and embrace the mainstream for a movie. I did that once and I did totally OK with it. There’s rules and regulations. You’re just selling the movie. It’s basic. But in music, it’s so much more complex and so much about what I have to say. I’m the director. It’s my thing with my band. So I feel a little more me and I get mad at them and I don’t wanna get mad at them. I don’t wanna dislike these people. I wanna embrace them and I wanna feel happy about achieving something that I really want. And I wanna be used for the purpose that I’m here for. Do you understand?”
MS: “I do. I don’t know if there’s an easy answer to that.”
CL: “Eddie Vedder must have asked you this and I know that it’s one of the reasons that Kurt came to you. I mean, we all look to you for this.”
MS: “I feel put on the spot because I don’t really have an answer.”
CL: “But you handled it with such grace. You’re like the saint of it and…”
MS: “…You see, I don’t think I did handle it that well. I was 24 and I took it way farther than I should have to prove that I am not your Dancing Happy Boy. But I still was, and I was fooling myself to think that I wasn’t. But I did throw some pretty wild shit out there.”
CL: “So do you make a pact or agreement between Dancing Happy Boy, which is part of who you are and they know that part of you and think it’s great, and like, Fucked-up Aggro Boy?”
MS: “That’s a tough question… I don’t know…”
CL: “I think it’s valuable to the people who read this particular publication because they have big complexes about what selling out is and I think there’s a whole myth about selling out that has affected our generation to such an extent that we are almost repressed by it.”
MS: “Well, I’ve got the tape in my head from ever since I was 23, which goes: ‘We work by process of negation. We know everything we don’t wanna do and what’s left are our options.’ And those paths, which were often the hardest paths, are the paths that we took. But that’s what put us where we are… And a lot of luck…”
Have NME.COM news updates e mailed directly to you.
To subscribe, just fill in your e-mail.