Feb. 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994
Kurt Cobain called himself “an extremely happy child” until the age of nine.
“Things just lay down before me,” the Gen-X godfather later recalled. “I didn’t have any problems. There were no obstacles.”
During this period, the boy believed he was an alien sent from another planet to study earthlings. His best friend was a fellow extraterrestrial by the name of “Boddah.” Amused by the fantasy at first, his parents set a place at the dinner table for Boddah. Finally, becoming concerned that their son wasn’t spending time with real children, they told him Boddah had gone MIA in Vietnam.
Then, in 1976, Don Cobain, an auto mechanic, and Wendy, a homemaker, were divorced.
“I HATE MOM. I HATE DAD,” Kurt graffitied his bedroom wall.
Wendy won legal custody of her son and tried her best as a single parent. “I was totaled out on him,” she said. “My every waking hour was for him.”
Though a small, meek boy who hated sports, he became prone to violence and backtalk. Without friends, he adopted stray and wounded animals. Wendy took him to a psychologist who prescribed him Ritalin for his hyperactivity and tantrums. Finally at her wits end with the unmanageable boy, she sent him off to live in the trailer park with his father.
As my bones grew they did hurt. They hurt really bad, Kurt sang in “Serve the Servants.” I tried hard to have a father. But instead I had a dad.
Don Cobain could be an impatient disciplinarian. He had once thrown his misbehaved son, age 6, across the room. He was especially severe with the boy in public. Once when Kurt spilled his water glass at a restaurant, Don seized him by the head, rapping him with his knuckles. “Fuck him for that!” Kurt later told his biographer, Michael Azerrad. “Accidents weren’t allowed… we had to be perfect all the time.”
Still, deeply attached to his father, he begged him not to get remarried. To pacify the sensitive boy, Don promised, but broke his word. “… After that,” recalled Kurt. “I was one of the last things of importance.” He had little further contact with his father for the rest of his brief life.
Early on, the future Punk icon decided he was fated to be either a great artist or a rock musician. In kindergarten, he drew perfect Donald Ducks, Plutos, and other Disney characters. By early teens, he was producing lifelike vaginas, fetuses, and devils. Later, after an arrest for public drunkenness, he spent his jail time drawing nudes which he sold to fellow prisoners for masturbation. A Renaissance man, Kurt was also a graffiti artist, decorating buildings and shop fronts with guerilla haiku such as GOD IS GAY! ABORT CHRIST! and NIXON KILLED HENDRIX!
In high school, Cobain’s precocious art abilities led him to filmmaking. One of his Super-8 shorts was called Kurt Commits Bloody Suicide. In it he pretended to cut his wrists with a crushed soda can.
“I have suicide genes,” he told schoolmates.
Kurt’s genetic instability rivaled that of Elvis. Two of his fraternal great uncles had fatally shot themselves. A third great-uncle died of a cerebral hemorrhage after toppling drunk down a staircase. His maternal great-grandfather stabbed himself in the stomach in front of his family, and later perished in a mental hospital.
“I’m going to be a superstar musician, kill myself, and go out in a flame of glory,” Kurt told a friend after deciding that his future was not in art after all, but rock and roll. Not classic rock, not metal rock, but the kind of rock that expressed his entire childhood – the manic energy, the isolation, the rejection, the hurt. The rage.
Shock-and-awe became the sturm and drang of Punk. In this Kurt was the maestro. He gobbed and pissed on fans; he smashed up guitars, tour buses and hotel suites; he paraded on stage in women’s lingerie and hospital gowns; and he did Manson-eyed photo-ops with revolvers in his mouth. With such stagecraft enlivening Grunge anthems such as “Smells like Teen Spirit,” he became the pied piper of the once voiceless X-generation.
Kurt Cobain dreamed of “going out in a flame of glory like Hendrix.” Instead of trying to his outgrow his painful childhood, he sought to embrace it. His only tattoo was a “K” inside a shield on his forearm. The K was for KAOS, his local Punk radio station which played the songs of the child-friendly K Records.
Explaining the significance of the tattoo, Kurt said, “It was just a nice reminder of innocence… To try to remind me to stay a child.”
He did so until age 27 when he joined his immortal predecessors in Club 27 – Hendrix, Janis, Morrison, and too many others. The young star was found lying with a shotgun, and next to his body, a suicide note addressed to Boddah.
“I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasms I once had as a child,” the note ended to his imaginary boyhood friend. “I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
Peace, love, empathy,
A STUDY IN DEMONOLOGY
“I might lie a lot, but never in my lyrics.”
I’m all I wanna be — a walking study in demonology.
Sixteen years ago, on March 4, Courtney Love tried to kill Kurt Cobain for the first time. So believes her own private detective, Tom Grant, as well as other scrupulous investigators.
The Nirvana frontman was in Rome at the time suffering from bronchitis, laryngitis, and exhaustion. On doctor’s orders, he had just cancelled the rest of his band’s 1994 European tour. His wife had been in London plugging her soon to be released Hole album, Live Through This. Mixing business with pleasure, Ms. Love had been sharing her suite with her former lover, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins.
When Courtney rendezvoused with the convalescing Kurt at Rome’s Excelsior Hotel, he presented her with a three-page letter. “It was mean to me… not really nice,” she later told her detective, Tom Grant. “It talked about getting a divorce.” It also mentioned cutting her out of his will and retiring from Nirvana.
Early the next morning, an ambulance sped from the Excelsior to Umberto Polyclinic hospital, bearing a fully made-up Ms. Love and a comatose Kurt. The star’s stomach was pumped and he awakened twenty hours later. His first words to his wife at his bedside, scrawled on a notepad due to the tubes down his throat, were: “FUCK YOU.” Then the star asked the nurse for a strawberry shake.
Dom Perignon and sixty hits of Rohypnol — the Date Rape drug — were found in Cobain’s system, usually a fatal dose. Before leaving for Rome, Ms. Love was interviewed by Select magazine in her London hotel room and had there a “a box of Rohypnol on her big mahogany table.” Popping some, she explained, “I got it from my doctor. It’s like Valium.”
Charles Cross, whom the widow later authorized to write her husband’s biography, wrote that Kurt had his own U.S. prescription for the medication and filled it before his Rome overdose. However, Courtney’s biographer, Susan Wilson, states that the prescription filled was hers.
Whose Rohypnol prescription, then, did Cobain consume? Did he swallow the sixty pills knowingly; or was the tasteless, fast-dissolving drug slipped into his champagne glass?
Cobain’s treating physician in Rome, Dr. Osvaldo Galletta, told Wallace and Halperin, authors of Love and Death: “We can usually tell a suicide attempt. This didn’t look like one to me.”
Geffen Records, too, issued a statement that the incident was “accidental.”
Cobain confirmed this, but refused to discuss the incident further. In fact, his memory was likely impaired since Rohypnol overdoses commonly cause prolonged confusion and amnesia. “Cobain doesn’t know what happened to him,” Dr. Galletta confirmed at the time. “He hasn’t gained complete control of his memory.”
But if Courtney had slipped Kurt the drug, why then had she called the ambulance? By her own admission to Rolling Stone magazine, she found her husband comatose on the hotel room floor at 3 or 4 a.m. She did not call the ambulance until 6:30, and never provided an explanation for the delay. Earlier that morning Geffen Records had received a phone message from “a female identifying herself as Courtney saying Kurt was dead.”
Ms. Love’s former husband, “Falling James Moreland” — the self-described “Eddie Fisher of punk rock”– might have warned his successor about such marital misadventures. Their marriage was annulled after Ms. Love set his bed on fire while he was sleeping.
She could get uncontrollably violent, “Falling James told Wallace and Halperin. “She’s dangerous. She definitely has an evil side.”
Her own father, Hank Harrison, agreed. “Pyromania was her name and fire was her game,” the former manager of the Grateful Dead wrote in Love Kills (2002).”She had no respect for my old 117 Victorian and threatened to burn it down twice.” Blaming him for abandoning her as a child, she had also threatened to kill her father, whom she called “Biodad.”
On the rebound from Biodad and Falling James, Courtney had turned her attention to the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” star. Soon, a smitten Kurt was calling her “the coolest girl in the world,” and his ultimate diva fix — “my heroin.” Courtney seemed like a soulmate, her childhood a mirror of his – the parental abandonment, the homelessness, the dope, the arrests.
Their friends compared the First Couple Of Grunge to the First Couple of Punk — the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious and his wife/manager, Nancy Spungen. “You guys are like a natural disaster,” they would say. “Are you Sid and Nancy?”
Kurt and Courtney took this as a compliment. Their predecessors had proved themselves to be the prototypical punk Romeo and Juliet, when the smacked-out Sid stabbed Nancy to death with a hunting knife before she had an opportunity to do the same to him.
The Cobains became an equally volatile pair. After their wedding on a cliffside in Waikiki in ‘92, Rolling Stone asked Kurt the secret of their romance. “It’s like Evian water and battery acid,” he replied. “Mix them and you get love.”
But, when the champagne was mixed with the Rohypnol, the star got chemistry he apparently hadn’t expected.
Until Rome, he had admired his wife’s take-no-prisoners attitude. In an Oregon reform school, she had stabbed a girl “because I didn’t like her looks.” Later, when thinning the competition for Kurt’s heart, she had informed his girlfriend, Mary Lou Lord, “I’m gonna cut your head off and shove it up your ass.” As for others, “I’ll destroy anyone in my way. I’ll kill every lousy lay – Coz I got my eye on a Future Date,” she wrote in an early love couplet. Later, she narrowed this down to “five people in the world that, if I ever run into, I will f–king kill.”
Presumably, Kurt was confidant he wasn’t on this list when tying the knot with Ms. Love. But, two years later when waking up in the Rome ICU after cocktail hour with the coolest girl in the world, might he have begun to wonder?
By this time Kurt had discovered their fatal irreconcilable difference: fame. He hated it; she loved it – the limos, the mansions, the millions. And now that he was filing for divorce and writing her out of his will, she had just two choices: she could become a poor, humiliated divorce with a terminal career; or she could become rich widow with a reborn career.
For “the girl with the most cake,” as Courtney called herself, this was really no choice at all. Besides, she’d made up her mind years ago. “I’m gonna marry myself a rock star and kill him,” she had written in a letter to Biodad.
“She didn’t want the divorce, so she had him killed,” wrote Harrison. “Face it, she’s a psychopath.”
When the Roman doctors derailed her first attempt, she retreated and regrouped. “If he thinks he can get away from me that easily, he can forget it,” Mrs. Cobain told Spin magazine after her husband regained consciousness. “I’ll follow him through hell.”
And Hell it was for the last month of Kurt’s life in a Rohypnol daze.
Two weeks after returning home to Seattle from the hospital, he barricaded himself in his bathroom, escaping a raging Courtney. They’d been arguing about the divorce and the will again. His wife called 911, crying that he had a gun which he might turn on himself. He emerged from the locked room without a gun, but the police confiscated his house weapons anyway.
Kurt soon secured another gun for “protection,” explained Dylan Carlson, the friend who bought it for him. He somehow felt unsafe in his own house. Hunted. Or was this paranoia another after-effect of the Rohypnol OD?
Just before Easter, his lifeless body was found in the storage room above his garage. The new gun beside him bore no discernable fingerprints. Handwriting experts later found that the “suicide” note he left was in part a forgery.
At the Sunday candlelight vigil for her husband, the widow Love read to his 7,000 mourners the part of the note about his not wanting to be a rock star anymore. “Shut up, bastard!” she cried. “Why didn’t you just enjoy it?” Then she concluded her videotaped message to the fans with one last grieving request:
“Just tell him he’s a fucker, okay? Just say, ‘Fucker, you’re a FUCKER. And that you love him.”
Years later, the wealthy widow who had once told her critics, “I might lie a lot, but never in my lyrics, wrote a popular tune called “Celebrity Skin.” I’m all wanna be, she sang, a walking study in demonology.
Kurt & Courtney @ LaChapelle Exhibition – Palazzo Reale, Milano Italy