Former Radio Western host recalls rare 1991 interview with Kurt Cobain

Roberto LaRusso spoke with the Nirvana frontman as part of his afternoon drive show "Idle Banter" on CHRW.

Physics teacher and musician Roberto LoRusso interviewed Cobain live before a show in Toronto

Kurt Cobain spoke with Londoner Roberto LoRusso in 1991 before going onstage for a show at the Opera House in Toronto. (YouTube)

As far as college souvenirs go, it's pretty unique: an interview with much-mythologized Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, recorded on cassette and digitized for posterity.

In September 1991, then-21-year-old Roberto LoRusso managed to snag Cobain as a guest on his CHRW Radio Western show, "Idle Banter." And after being too sheepish to listen to the track for many years, LoRusso recently succumbed to his friends' prodding and posted it online with the self-deprecating title, "My Embarrassing Interview With Kurt Cobain."

"I still think it's terrible, but clearly in hindsight it wasn't as bad as I make it out to be," said LoRusso, now a physics teacher at Mother Theresa Catholic Secondary in London and part of the band Red Arms.

"I go back and listen to it, and it's kind of nice to look saying 'My trajectory turned out ok,' and the fact of the matter is that really did kick me off into my own personal endeavour into music."

As an undergraduate, LoRusso did a number of call-in interviews with local bands for his program "Idle Banter." LoRusso said he was thrilled, if anxious, to speak with Cobain live. (Submitted)

At the time, Nirvana had just made the jump to the major record label DGC Records, and were set to play a concert at the Opera House in Toronto. 

To LoRusso, a long-haired, persistent physics student accustomed to interviewing Canadian indie artists, Nirvana was a "big fish." LoRusso started calling the label to inquire about a phone interview, and after multiple tries, received a response from the label's A&R person: Cobain would do it. 

Even better: Cobain would do the interview, live and in-person before his show in Toronto.

"So I said, 'I guess I should go downtown and find some tickets for the show,' and there was that uncomfortable pause to which she responded, 'Clearly you haven't done interviews of this variety before,'" LoRusso said.

"To which I responded, 'No.' She said, 'We actually provide you with tickets." I was like, 'Wow that's amazing, sweet!' So that's how I got the interview."

The interview

In the pre-internet era, LoRusso said he was limited in his preparation to what he could glean from fan magazines, which didn't always get the facts right.

When Cobain mentioned his new label liking Nirvana's music, LoRusso agreed, adding that "three quarters of a million dollars is quite an investment." In response, Cobain pointed out that the band received far less.

"$175,000, 33% tax bracket, 15% to our lawyer, 10% to our manager, $70,000 to Sub Pop, left us with about $20,000 to buy equipment,' Cobain said. "I don't have a place to live at this moment."

LoRusso said Cobain had to correct him on a few things, "which was a bit embarrassing because you hope that the research was good, but it was woefully inadequate to say the least."

LoRusso (top right) with fellow CHRW alumni Richard Brouwer and Miriam Bhamjee. (Submitted)

Still, LoRusso remembers Cobain as kind, if a bit exhausted and melancholic.

In the tape, he obliges LoRusso by providing a station ID, saying "You're listening to 94.7 Radio Western, and this is Kurt from Nirvana." 

LoRusso said he used the station ID as long as he could get away with it.

"But that's only cool for your indie rock crowd for so long. Afterward people are like, 'Ok dude you're kind of milking it,'" he said.

'Just a regular guy'

 Just a few years later, LoRusso was driving from McGill University back to London after finishing teachers' college, when he heard another college radio station talking about Cobain. The signal was faint and scratchy, but eventually he made out what the host was saying: Cobain had died by suicide.

"I switched the dial, and every station seemingly had a memorial to Kurt Cobain, eulogizing the event and people emoting on air about it," LoRusso said. 

"So it was really quite a surreal experience to listen to that for seven hours straight."

Reflecting on his interview with Cobain, LoRusso said he remembers the grunge artist as a regular person, caught up in intense, unusual circumstances.

To LoRusso, the short encounter with Cobain also serves as a reminder of the often-hidden pain of mental illness.

LoRusso is now a teacher in London and plays with the band "Red Arms." (Submitted)

"Mental illness is independent of status or your popularity, it's pervasive at every level and often invisible, so it really just shines a light on that," he said.

"There are a lot of people that suffer quietly in that sort of quiet desperation and it's a reminder that you gotta check in with people."

"When I look back at that, I met somebody who was just anybody else, but extraordinary circumstances happened and his life unfolded in both brilliant and tragic ways and I feel a bit of melancholy when I think about that."