by Alexandra Pollard Contributor | Photos by Artwork

Tags: Babes In Toyland, Nirvana 

Babes In Toyland's shopping trip with Kurt Cobain

Lori Barbero: 'I don't tell that story very much because stuff's really sacred'

 

Babes In Toyland Lori Barbero interview on Kurt Cobain In Utero album Photo: Artwork

If you're a Nirvana fan, you're probably already familiar with the strangely beautiful, twisted aesthetic that's carried through the artwork for In Utero to the video for 'Heart Shaped Box' - plastic foetuses at various stages of development, mannequins with exposed muscles and carefully arranged internal organs, all starkly sprawled on a bed of flowers.

What you might not be familiar with though, is how this now iconic aesthetic came about - and the instrumental part Babes In Toyland's Lori Barbero, who was friends with Kurt Cobain before his suicide in 1994, played in it.

When we talk to Barbero ahead of the band's comeback show at Shepherds Bush Empire, she talks happily and eccentrically of her love of touring, her new-found passion for hypnotherapy and her relationship with feminism in music. Such is her energy and loquaciousness, in fact, that it's no surprise she fixes us with a look of puzzlement when we ask if she worried returning to touring after 20 years might be too physically draining.

Lori Barbero playing at Shepherd's Bush Empire - Photo: Thanira Rates

When we bring up an article we read about her trip to a shop called Barebones with Kurt Cobain though, her face falls slightly. "Where'd you read that?" she asks. Is it not true? We reply, starting to apologise for poor research, before she interrupts. "No it is true... but I don't tell that story very much. I mean, it's OK that we talk about it, but there's just a lot of things that I just have never talked about, because stuff's really sacred."

Just before we can offer to change the subject though, she's started telling the story. "When [Nirvana] recorded at Pachyderm, I took them to the Mall of America - it was Krist and Kurt and I - and I took them to a shop that I knew Kurt would love, with a bunch of anatomy stuff and foetal stuff. It was just a science store called Barebones - it had skeletons and foetuses and wombs and all kinds, it was all about science and bodies and babies and bones. It was really, really a great store; it was my favourite store out there, and I knew that Kurt would love it."

She continues, "So we went there and he dropped, I think it was over $4,000, and he wrote a cheque and then, he told me later on, they never cashed the cheque because it was his autograph! So he got all of that for free."

Watch the video for 'Heart Shaped Box' below

"I didn't even see that 'Heart Shaped Box' video until after he had died," she adds quietly. "I saw it in a shoe store in Europe, and I lost it. I was bawling, by myself, I was curled up. Then I saw that stuff that he bought and I was already... Yeah. It took me many years to be able to listen to them again. It still hurts a lot."

Next time you dig out your copy of In Utero then, picture Kurt Cobain pouring through shelves of plastic babies and internal organs like a toddler given free rein in a candy shop - and the store manager who forwent $5,000 when they noticed the name 'Kurt Cobain' on the cheque. 

Below: The bands inspired by Nirvana's In Utero


Alexandra Pollard

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