Chapter 14: Burn American Flags - Olympia, Washington: May 1991–September 1991 Index

Chapter 20

HEART-SHAPED COFFIN

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

JANUARY 1993–AUGUST 1993

I am buried in a heart-shaped coffin for weeks.
—An early version of “Heart-Shaped Box.”

The line “I hate myself and I want to die” had been kicking around Kurt Cobain’s verbal and written repertoire for some time. Like many of his lyrics, or the quips he threw off in interviews, before it appeared publicly it had been auditioned dozens of times in his journal. The line first appeared in his writing around the middle of 1992 in a list of rhyming couplets, and though he didn’t come up with a rhyme to pair it with, like a scientist who had stumbled onto a breakthrough formula, he circled it. By mid-1992, he was fixated on the phrase, telling interviewers and friends it was to be the title of his next record. At best it was gallows humor.

What wasn’t a joke were the expressions of self-hate that continually cropped up in Kurt’s journals, including a poem that sounded similar to his childhood graffiti: “I hate you. I hate them. But I hate myself most of all.” In another Jack Kerouac–styled sentence from this period, he wrote of his stomach pain as if it were a curse: “I’ve violently vomited to the point of my stomach literally turning itself inside out to show you the fine hair-like nerves I’ve kept and raised as my children, garnishing and marinating each one, as if God had fucked me and planted these precious little eggs, and I parade around them in a peacock victory and maternal pride like a whore relieved from the duties of repeated rape and torture, promoted to a more dignified job of just plain old every day, good old, wholesome prostitution.” The remark “As if God had fucked me” came up often, and it was conjured without humor—it was Kurt’s own explanation for his physical and emotional struggles.

It was only after Krist convinced Kurt that Nirvana might be opening themselves up to lawsuits with the title “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” that Kurt considered anything else. He switched titles, first to “Verse, Chorus, Verse,” and then finally to “In Utero,” which was from a poem of Courtney’s.

Many of the songs Kurt had written in 1992 were affected by his marriage. “We feed off each other,” he wrote in “Milk It,” a line that summed up their creative and emotional union. As is common in the marriage of two artists, they began to think alike, share ideas, and use each other as editor. They also shared a journal: Kurt would write a single line, to which Courtney would add a couplet. He read her writings, and she read his, and each was influenced by the other’s musings. Courtney was a more traditional lyricist, crafting tighter and less murky lines, and her sensibility greatly shaped “Heart-Shaped Box” and “Pennyroyal Tea,” among others. She made Kurt a more careful writer, and it is not by accident that these stand as two of Nirvana’s most accomplished works: They were crafted with more intent than Kurt had spent on the entire Nevermind album.

But Courtney’s biggest role in Kurt’s new songs was as a character— just as Nevermind was mostly about Tobi, so In Utero would be shaped by Don, Courtney, and Frances. “Heart-Shaped Box,” of course, referenced Courtney’s initial gift of the silk-and-lace box, but the song’s line “forever in debt to your priceless advice” came from a note he sent her. “I am eternally grateful for your priceless opinions and advice,” he wrote, sounding more sincere in the writing than he did singing the line. The album was his gift to her—he was returning her a “Heart-Shaped Box,” though doing it in a musical form. It was not a Hallmark valentine though: “Heart-Shaped Box” evolved through several drafts, and Kurt had originally titled it “Heart-Shaped Coffin,” including the line “I am buried in a heart-shaped coffin for weeks.” Courtney advised him that was a bit dark. Yet theirs was a relationship where each urged the other to push boundaries, and the artistic risk of these new songs was a matter of pride to her as well as to him.

Prior to entering the studio, Kurt had a list of eighteen songs he was considering; twelve from the list would ultimately end up on the finished album, but with their titles shifted considerably. The song that eventually was called “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” started life as “Nine Month Media Blackout,” Kurt’s not-so-veiled response to the Vanity Fair piece. “All Apologies” was originally titled “La, La, La...La” while “Moist Vagina,” a B-side, began with a far longer and more descriptive name: “Moist vagina, and then she blew him like he’s never been blown, brains stuck all over the wall.”

The band flew to Minnesota on Valentine’s Day to begin the album. Seeking a sparse and raw sound, they had hired Steve Albini to produce—Kurt intended to move as far away as he could from Nevermind . Albini had been in the influential punk band Big Black, and back in 1987 Kurt had traveled to a Seattle steam plant to witness Big Black’s last performance. As a teenager, Kurt had idolized Albini, though as an adult it was at best a working relationship. Albini got along well with the rest of the band, but later described Courtney as a “psycho hose-beast.” She countered that the only way he would think her attractive would be “if I was from the East Coast, played the cello, had big tits and small hoop earrings, wore black turtlenecks, had all matching luggage, and never said a word.”

Gold Mountain had picked Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, thinking the rural climes would minimize distractions. They did: By the sixth day of the session—February 20, Kurt’s 26th birth-day—the band had finished all basic tracks. When they weren’t working, they made crank phone calls to Eddie Vedder and traveled to Minneapolis, an hour away. There Kurt searched the Mall of America for plastic anatomical models of The Visible Man, his latest collecting obsession. When the record was finished, only twelve days after they began, the band celebrated by setting their pants on fire. “We were listening to the final mixes,” explained Pat Whalen, a friend who stopped by. “Everyone poured solvent on their pants, lit them, and then passed the flame from one pant leg to another, and from one person to the next.” They were wearing their pants when they did this; to avoid burns they had to douse each other with beer the instant the flames shot up their legs.

The finished album had been recorded in half the time of Nevermind . “Things were on the upswing,” Krist recalled. “We left all the personal stuff outside the door. And it was a triumph—it’s my favorite Nirvana record.” Novoselic’s viewpoint was shared by many critics, and by Kurt, who thought it his strongest effort. At first, Kurt saw “Pennyroyal Tea” as the first single: It combined a Beatles-like riff with the slow/fast pacing Nirvana perfected. The title referred to an herbal abortion remedy. Though Courtney’s lyrics had shaped the tune, it ended with a nonfictional description of Kurt’s stomach: “I’m on warm milk and laxatives, cherry-flavored antacids.”

In Utero also had a number of up-tempo rockers, but even these had lyrical depth. “Very Ape” and “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” had the kind of crunchy riffs played during a three-second break in a basketball game, yet featured lyrics convoluted enough to inspire term papers and Internet debates. “Milk It” was a punk rock burner the band had pulled off in one take, yet Kurt spent days fine-tuning the lyrics. “Her milk is my shit / My shit is her milk,” was his twisted way of connecting himself to his wife. The song also hinted at his rehab (“your scent is still here in my place of recovery”), plus he reprised a line that he’d been kicking around in various songs since high school: “Look, on the bright side is suicide.” In his unused liner notes for “Dumb” he described his descent to drug addiction: “All that pot. All that supposedly, unaddictive, harmless, safe reefer that damaged my nerves, and ruined my memory, and made me feel like wanting to blow up the prom. It just wasn’t ever strong enough, so I climbed the ladder to the poppy.”

But no song on the album ranked with “Heart-Shaped Box.” “I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black,” Kurt sang in what has to be the most convoluted route any songwriter undertook in pop history to say “I love you.” With the line, “Throw down your umbilical noose, so I can climb right back,” Kurt ended his most transcendent song with a plea that could be to Courtney, to his mother, from his daughter, from himself, or perhaps most likely, to his God. His own explanation in his unpublished liner notes fell completely apart (he crossed most of it out) but touched on The Wizard of Oz , “I Claudius,” Leonardo da Vinci, male seahorses (who carry their young), racism in the Old West, and Camille Paglia. Like all great art, “Heart-Shaped Box” escaped any easy categorization and offered many interpretations to the listener, as apparently it did to its author.

What “Heart-Shaped Box” meant to Kurt is best surmised by the treatment he wrote for the song’s video. Kurt envisioned it starring William S. Burroughs, and he wrote Burroughs begging him to appear in the video. “I realize that stories in the press regarding my drug use may make you think that this request comes from a desire to parallel our lives,” he wrote. “Let me assure you, this is not the case.” But exactly what Kurt hoped to achieve by casting the writer was never clear: In his attempt to convince Burroughs to participate, he had offered to obscure the writer’s face, so that no one other than Kurt would know of his cameo. Burroughs declined the invitation.

Both the In Utero album and “Heart-Shaped Box” video were obsessed with images of birth, death, sexuality, disease, and addiction. There were several versions of the video made, and a battle over who originated the ideas eventually caused Kurt to split with video director Kevin Kerslake, who promptly sued Kurt and Nirvana; Anton Corbijn completed the final cut, which included shots of Kurt’s growing collection of dolls. The released video centered around a junkie-looking elderly Jesus dressed as the Pope, wearing a Santa hat while being crucified in a field of poppies. A fetus hangs from a tree, and reappears crammed inside an IV bottle being fed into Jesus, who has moved to a hospital room. Krist, Dave, and Kurt are shown in a hospital room waiting for Jesus to recover. A giant heart with a crossword puzzle inside it appears, as does the Aryan girl, whose white KKK hat turns to black. And throughout these images, Kurt’s face continues to charge the camera. It is an absolutely striking video, and all the more remarkable because Kurt privately told his friends that many of these images were from his dreams.

The first week of March, Kurt and Courtney moved into a $2,000-a-month house at 11301 Lakeside Avenue NE in Seattle. It was a modern three-story home, just up from Lake Washington, with views of Mount Rainier and the Cascade Mountains. It was also gigantic, and at over 6,000 square feet of living space, it was bigger than all of Kurt’s previous homes combined. Yet the Cobains quickly filled the house—an entire room became Kurt’s painting space, there were quarters for guests and nannies, and Kurt’s MTV awards decorated the second-floor bathroom. In the two-car garage, next to Kurt’s Valiant, they now had a gray 1986 Volvo 240DL, which Kurt proudly told his friends was the safest family car ever made.

Soon after the move, Kurt and Courtney’s ongoing case with the Department of Children’s Services finally came to an end. Though the Cobains had initially followed the court’s decrees, they still feared Frances would be taken from them. Moving to Seattle was a strategic chess-move in the battle—Courtney knew Interstate Compact law would prevent the Los Angeles judge from having control over them in Seattle. An L.A. social worker named Mary Brown flew to Seattle in early March to observe Frances in her new home. When she recommended the county drop the case, her decision was eventually accepted. “Kurt was ecstatic,” lawyer Neal Hersh recalled. On March 25, just a week after Frances’s seven-month birthday, Frances was legally returned to her parents’ unsupervised care. Their daughter’s return came with a price: They had spent over $240,000 on legal fees.

Frances had remained with her parents throughout the entire investigation, though Jamie or Jackie had been on-site to satisfy the court. Jackie had been a life-saver as a nanny, but by early 1993 she was exhausted. She had only been given a handful of days off during her tenure, though in the new home she had managed to institute stricter parameters on her duty: She insisted that when Frances woke during the night her parents care for her until 7 a.m. But Farry now had to handle many record company calls that Kurt wanted to avoid: “People would call and say, ‘Can you have Kurt call me back?’ And I’d say, ‘I’ll tell him,’ but I knew he wasn’t going to call them back. He just didn’t want to deal with what was being forced upon him in his life. He just wanted to hang out with Courtney and not deal with the world.” Farry announced she was leaving in April.

Jackie interviewed numerous professional nannies as potential replacements, but it was clear that most couldn’t fit with the drama of the Cobain home. “They’d ask, ‘When is feeding time?’ ” Farry said. “I’d have to tell them that things didn’t work exactly like that around their house.” Eventually Courtney decided to hire Michael “Cali” DeWitt, a twenty-year-old former Hole roadie, as the new nanny. Despite his youth, Cali was an excellent caretaker for Frances, who bonded with him immediately. The Cobains additionally employed Ingrid Bernstein, the mother of their friend Nils Bernstein, on a part-time basis.

April 1993 was a busy month for both Hole and Nirvana. Hole released “Beautiful Son,” a song Courtney wrote about Kurt, and used a childhood picture on the sleeve. Nirvana, meanwhile, traveled to San Francisco’s Cow Palace to play a benefit for Bosnian rape victims, an issue of concern to Novoselic, due to his ethnic heritage. It was Nirvana’s first show in the U.S. in six months, and they used it to showcase their upcoming album, playing eight of the twelve songs on In Utero , many for the first time in concert. Kurt decided to switch from his usual position, stage left, to stage right—it was as if he was attempting to re-craft the band’s show. It worked, and hardcore fans cited this as one of the band’s best live performances.

Though In Utero had been recorded, it was still waiting for release, and a dispute in April over its production overshadowed everything else the band did that spring. The band had solicited Albini because they wanted a rawer sound, but they found his final mixes too stark. News of this got back to the producer, who in April told the Chicago Tribune ’s Greg Kot, “Geffen and Nirvana’s management hate the record....I have no faith it will be released.” Kurt responded with his own press release: “There has been no pressure from our record label to change the tracks.” But the controversy continued, and Kurt had DGC take out a full-page ad in Billboard denying allegations the label had rejected the album. Despite the denials, most at the label did think the production too raw, and in May, Scott Litt was hired to make “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies” more radio friendly. Once again, when challenged by a problem that might affect the success of his record, Kurt acquiesced to the path of least resistance and greatest sales.

That didn’t stop him from quietly steaming. Though he continued to tell reporters he was in support of the Litt remixes and thought Albini did a great job—two contradictory statements—in his journal he outlined plans to release the album exactly as he wanted. He would first release the Albini version as I Hate Myself and Want to Die , but only on vinyl, cassette, and eight-track tape. His next phase of operations would come one month later. “After many lame reviews and reports on curmudgeonly, uncompromising vinyl, cassette, eight-track-only release, we release the remixed version under the title Verse, Chorus, Verse. ” For this, Kurt wanted a sticker reading, “Radio-Friendly, Unit-Shifting, Compromise Version.” DGC, not surprisingly, declined to follow Kurt’s plans. The remixed version of In Utero was slated for release in September.

On the first Sunday of May, at 9 p.m., King County’s 911 emergency services center received a report from the Cobain house of a drug overdose. When police and an aid car arrived, they discovered Kurt on the living-room sofa babbling about “Hamlet.” He was suffering, the officers observed, from “symptoms associated with an overdose of a narcotic.... Victim Cobain was conscious and able to answer questions, but was obviously impaired.”

Just a few minutes prior to the arrival of police, Kurt had been blue and appeared, once again, to be dead. Courtney told officers Kurt had been at a friend’s house where he had “injected himself with $30 to $40 worth of heroin.” Kurt had driven home, and when Courtney confronted him about being loaded, he locked himself in an upstairs bedroom. Courtney had threatened to call the police or his family, and when he didn’t respond, she followed through on the second threat. She reached Wendy on the first ring, and Kurt’s mother and sister immediately got in their car and “bombed our asses up there,” as Kim remembered.

In the two and a half hours it took Kim and Wendy to speed from Aberdeen to Seattle, Kurt’s condition deteriorated. By the time Wendy and Kim arrived, Kurt was vomiting and in shock. He did not want 911 called, he told them in his slurred voice, because he would “rather die” than see it in the paper that he overdosed or got arrested. Courtney threw cold water on Kurt, walked him around the house, gave him Valium, and finally injected him with Narcan, a drug used to counteract heroin, but none of these efforts fully revived him (a supply of Narcan, itself illegally obtained, was always kept in the home for this purpose). Wendy tried to rub Kurt’s back—her way of comforting her son—but the heroin made his muscles tighter than a plaster mannequin. “It was horrid,” remembered Kim. “We finally had to call paramedics because he was starting to turn blue.” When police arrived, they found, “his condition gradually deteriorated to the point that he was shaking, became flushed, delirious, and talked incoherently.”

Once Kurt was in the aid car, the crisis seemed averted. Kim followed the ambulance to Harborview Hospital, where events took a farcical turn. “There he was hilarious,” she recalled. “He was laying out in the hallway of this packed hospital, getting IV fluids, and the stuff to reverse the drugs. He’s laying there, and he starts talking about Shakespeare. Then he’d nod out and wake up five minutes later, and continue his conversation with me.”

Part of the reason Kim had been sent to chase the ambulance was because Courtney wanted to throw away the rest of Kurt’s heroin but couldn’t locate it. When Kurt came back to consciousness, Kim asked him where he put it. “It’s in the pocket of the bathrobe hanging on the stairway,” Kurt admitted, right before he passed out again. Kim ran to the phone and called the house, though by then Courtney had already discovered it. When Kim returned to Kurt’s side, he had woken again and insisted she not divulge the location of the drugs.

After about three hours of Narcan, Kurt was ready to go home. “When he was able to leave the hospital, I couldn’t light his cigarette fast enough,” Kim said. There was a huge sadness for her in witnessing what at times had seemed like an almost comic brush with death: Overdosing had become ordinary to Kurt, part of the game, and there was a normalcy to this madness. Indeed, as the police report noted, Courtney told the officers the larger, sadder truth about this one episode: “This type of incident had happened before to Victim Cobain.”

“Heroine” was now part of Kurt’s daily existence, and sometimes, particularly when he had no band business and Courtney and Frances were gone, the central part. By the summer of 1993, he was using almost every day, and when not using he was in withdrawal and complaining vociferously. It was a period of more functional dependency than in the past, but his usage still surpassed most addicts’. Even Dylan, an addict himself, found Kurt’s dosage level dangerous. “He definitely used a lot of dope,” Dylan recalled. “I wanted to get high and still be able to do something, but he always wanted to do so much he couldn’t do anything. He always wanted to do more than he needed to do.” Kurt’s interest was in escape, and the quicker and the more incapacitating, the better. As a result, there were many overdoses and near-death situations, as many as a dozen during 1993 alone.

The increase in Kurt’s habit ran counter to an effort Courtney was making to sober up. In late spring, she hired a psychic to help her kick drugs. Kurt balked at paying the bills from the psychic and laughed at her advice that the couple both needed to rid themselves of “all toxins.” Courtney took it seriously, however; she attempted to stop smoking, began drinking fresh-squeezed juice every day, and attended Narcotics Anonymous. Kurt taunted his wife at first, but then encouraged her to attend N.A. meetings, if only so he had more free time to get loaded.

The first of June, Courtney staged an intervention in the Lakeside house. In attendance were Krist, friend Nils Bernstein, Gold Mountain’s Janet Billig, Wendy, and Kurt’s stepfather, Pat O’Connor. At first, Kurt refused to leave his room and even look at the group. When he finally left his room, he and Courtney began screaming at each other. In a fit of rage, Kurt grabbed a red Sanford Magic Marker and scrawled “None of you will ever know my true intent” on the hallway wall. “It was obvious there was no getting through to him,” Bernstein remembered. The assembled group went through a litany of reasons Kurt should stop doing drugs, one of the most repeated being the needs of his daughter. His mother told him his health was at risk. Krist pleaded with Kurt, talking of how he had limited his own drinking. When Pat O’Connor shared stories of his struggles with alcohol, Kurt was silent and stared at his sneakers. “You could see in Kurt’s face that he was thinking, ‘Nothing in your life relates to anything in my life,’ ” Bernstein recalled. “I thought to myself, ‘this is so not working.’ ” When Kurt returned to his bedroom in a huff, those assembled began to argue among themselves about who was to blame for Kurt’s addiction. For those closest to him, it was easier to blame each other than to put responsibility at his feet.

Kurt began to increasingly isolate himself that summer; friends jokingly called him Rapunzel because he so rarely came down from his room. His mother was one of the few people he’d listen to, and Courtney increasingly made use of Wendy as mediator. Kurt still desperately needed mothering, and he regressed to an almost fetal state as he retreated from the world. Wendy could soothe him by stroking his hair and telling him everything was going to be fine. “There were times when he would be nodded out upstairs, and nobody, neither Courtney or anyone else, could go near him,” observed Bernstein. “But his mom would wander in, and he didn’t shut her out. I think it was chemical depression.” Depression ran in Wendy’s family, and though several of Kurt’s friends suggested he be treated, he chose to ignore their pleas and to self-medicate with drugs. Truth be told, it was hard for anyone to get him to do anything: If the world of Nirvana could be considered a small nation unto itself, Kurt was king. Few dared challenge the king’s mental health for fear of being banished from the kingdom.

On June 4, after another horrible day of drama, Courtney called the police on Kurt. When officers arrived, she told them they had “an argument over guns in the household,” she had thrown a glass of juice in his face, and he had shoved her. “At which time,” the police report states, “Cobain pushed Love to the floor and began choking her, leaving a scratch.” Seattle law required police to arrest at least one party in any domestic dispute—Kurt and Courtney began to argue over who would be the one arrested, since both wanted this distinction. Kurt insisted he go to jail—for someone passive-aggressive, this was a mother lode of an opportunity to both emotionally retreat and play the martyr. He won. He was transported to the North Precinct and booked into the King County Jail. Police also seized a large collection of ammunition and guns from the home, including two .38 pistols and a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle.

But the real story of what happened that day illustrated the increasing strain within their marriage. Like two characters in a Raymond Carver short story, their fights increasingly included digs at each other’s weak points, and on this day Kurt was flaunting his drug use in front of Courtney and her psychic. “He had to find, of course, the one drug that would drive me insane,” Love recalled. “He decided he was going to try crack. He made this big insane production out of how he was going to acquire and try ten dollars’ worth of ‘rock.’ ”

To bait his wife, Kurt acted like “he was pulling down the drug deal of the century” with repeated phone calls to a dealer. Visions of him free-basing crack cocaine in their house enraged Courtney, and instead of throwing a glass at him, as the police report states, she actually threw a juicer. It wasn’t much of a fight—physical battles between the two ended in draws, just like their first wrestling match on the floor of the Portland club. But Courtney called the police anyway, figuring that having him go to jail was better than having him burn down their house free-basing. “I’m sure Kurt got his crack eventually, somehow, somewhere, but I never did find out about it,” she said. He spent only three hours in jail, and was released that night on $950 bail. Charges were later dropped.

They patched things up after the arrest, and as happened repeatedly in their relationship, the trauma brought them closer. On their bedroom wall she wrote the graffiti, “You better love me, you fucker,” inside a heart. A month after the fight, Kurt described their relationship to Gavin Edwards of Details as “a whirling dervish of emotion, all these extremes of fighting and loving each other at once. If I’m mad at her, I’ll yell at her, and that’s healthy.” Both were masters at pushing and testing limits—it was all Kurt did in childhood—and whenever he made Courtney angry, he knew he had to woo her back, usually with love letters. One such note began: “Courtney, when I say, ‘I love you,’ I am not ashamed, nor will anyone ever, ever come close to intimidating, persuading, etc., me into thinking otherwise. I wear you on my sleeve. I spread you out wide open with the wing span of a peacock, yet all too often with the attention span of a bullet to the head.” The prose was self-deprecating, describing himself “as dense as cement,” but also reminding her of his marriage commitment: “I parade around you proudly like the ring on my finger which also holds no mineral.”

Two weeks after the domestic violence arrest, Neal Karlen arrived at the Cobain house to interview Courtney for the New York Times . When he knocked, Kurt answered, holding Frances, and announced his wife was “at her N.A. meeting.” He invited Karlen in, and they sat and watched television. “It was this huge house,” recalled Karlen, “but there were cigarette butts put out on plates, and this ugly, shitty furniture. In the living room was this huge, eighteen-foot television. It was as if someone had gone to the store and said, ‘I want the biggest television in the catalog.’ ”

On TV was the latest episode of “Beavis and Butt-Head,” MTV’s popular show. “I know Beavis and Butt-Head,” Kurt told Karlen. “I grew up with people like that; I recognize them.” In a grand bit of serendipity, the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on the program. “All right!” Kurt exclaimed. “Let’s see what they think about us.” When the two cartoon characters gave Nirvana the thumbs up, Kurt seemed genuinely flattered. “They like us!”

As if on cue, Courtney arrived home. She kissed Kurt, bounced Frances on her knee, and with only a mild hint of sarcasm announced, “Ah, the perfect family—just like a Norman Rockwell picture.” Even Karlen was struck with a domestic image. “I kept thinking of them as Fred and Ethel Mertz,” he recalled. “He was more like Fred, with his hands in his pockets, while Ethel was running the household.” Karlen also had caught Kurt on a day his eyes were clear. “I’d seen enough junkies to know he was straight.”

As it was, Love didn’t want to talk to the New York Times , but she did wish to voice her opinions for a book Karlen was writing on the band Babes in Toyland. Their interview went on for hours, and Kurt frequently chimed in when Courtney would prod him. “He was not as passive as people said,” Karlen observed. Courtney used Kurt as she would a resident punk historian—when she made a point, and needed a date or a name, she would query Kurt, and he would inevitably know the answer. “It was like watching a quiz show where they would go to the professor to verify facts,” Karlen noted.

Kurt had one quandary of his own: He was pondering whether to buy a guitar that once belonged to Leadbelly. It was for sale for $55,000, but he couldn’t decide whether buying it was a “punk move” or an “anti-punk move.” The only tension Karlen noticed between the couple was when Courtney stumbled upon a Mary Lou Lord album in Kurt’s record collection. This set Love off telling a story of how she’d chased Lord down the street in Los Angeles, threatening to beat her up. Kurt was silent, and it was the only time Karlen thought Kurt acted like “the long-suffering husband.”

Courtney’s discourse on the history of punk rock went on for hours after Kurt went to bed. Karlen eventually spent the night in a spare bedroom. The morning brought the only evidence this wasn’t the typical household: When Kurt went to prepare the morning meal, there was no food. After looking for several minutes, Kurt put some sugar cookies on a plate and announced it was breakfast.

On July 1 Hole played their first show in several months, at the Off-Ramp in Seattle. Courtney had retooled her band, and they were preparing to tour England and make a record. Kurt came to the show, but he was a mess. “He was so wasted he could barely stand up,” recalled the club’s Michelle Underwood. “We had to help him move around. It seemed like he was very nervous for her.” His nerves were exacerbated by the fact that the day of the show, the Seattle Times published a story on his arrest the previous month in the domestic violence incident. Courtney joked onstage: “We’re donating all the money you paid to get in tonight to Domestic Violence Wife Beaters Fund. Not! ” Later she came back to the topic: “Domestic violence is not something that’s ever happened to me. I just like to stick up for my husband. It’s not a true story. They never fucking are. Why is it that every time we have a fucking beer, it’s on the fucking news?” Despite the drama, her performance was riveting, and it was the first time she’d won over a Seattle audience.

Hole’s set ended at fifteen minutes past one, but that wasn’t the end of the evening for the Cobains. Brian Willis of NME came backstage and asked if Courtney might want to be interviewed. She invited him to their house but she spent most of the interview promoting Kurt’s record. Love even played In Utero for Willis, the first time a journalist had heard the album. He was overwhelmed, writing, “If Freud could hear it, he’d wet his pants in anticipation.” He called it “an album pregnant with irony and insight. In Utero is Kurt’s revenge.”

Willis’s listening experience was interrupted when Kurt came into the room to report: “We were just on the news, on MTV. They were talking about the story in the Seattle Times and how Hole have just started their world tour in Seattle at the Off-Ramp.” With that, Kurt made a snack of English muffins and hot chocolate, and sat at the counter watching the sun rise. When Willis wrote the late-night events up for the NME , he ended his piece with a bit of analysis: “For someone who’s been through so much shit in the past two years, whose name’s being dragged through acrimony once again, who’s about to release a record the whole rock world’s desperate to hear and be faced with astonishing attention and pressure, Kurt Cobain’s a remarkably contented man.”

Chapter 21

A REASON TO SMILE

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

AUGUST 1993–NOVEMBER 1993

God damn, Jesus fucking Christ Almighty, love me, me, me, we could go on a trial basis, please I don’t care if it’s the out-of-the-in-crowd, I just need a crowd, a gang, a reason to smile.
—From a journal entry.

Like every other American family with a young child, Kurt and Courtney purchased a video camera. While Kurt could construct a guitar out of a block of wood and spare wires, he never figured out how to install the battery, so the camera was used only when they were near an outlet. A single videotape charted the period from their first Christmas together in December 1992, through to images of Frances as a toddler in March 1994.

A few of the scenes on the tape were of Nirvana shows, or were footage of the band offstage, hanging out. One short fragment captured Kurt, Courtney, Dave, Krist, and Frances sitting in Pachyderm Studios listening to the first play-back of “All Apologies,” collectively appearing battle-weary after a week in the studio. But most of the tape documented the development of Frances Bean and her interaction with their friends: It showed her crawling around Mark Lanegan and talking while Mark Arm sang her a lullaby. Some of the tape was humorous, as when Kurt lifted up the baby’s butt and made fart noises, or the footage of him serenading her with an a cappella version of “Seasons in the Sun.” Frances was a beatific child, as photogenic as her parents, with her father’s mesmerizing eyes and her mother’s high cheekbones. Kurt adored her, and the video documents a sentimental side of him the public rarely saw—the look he gave both Frances and Courtney during these tender moments was one of unadulterated love. Though this was the most famous family in rock ’n’ roll, much of the footage could have been from any household with a Toys “R” Us charge account.

But one segment on the tape stands out above all others and shows how extraordinarily different this family was. Shot by Courtney in the bathroom of their house in Carnation, the scene begins with Kurt giving Frances a bath; he’s wearing a burgundy smoking jacket and looking like a handsome country squire. As he lifts Frances like a plane over the tub, she involuntarily snorts because she’s having so much fun. Kurt wears the kind of ear-to-ear smile that was never captured by a still picture—the closest any photographer came was the photo of Kurt, Wendy, Don, and Kim from the Aberdeen days. In the video, Kurt looks to be exactly what he is: a caring, doting father, enthralled by his beautiful daughter, and wanting nothing more in life than to pretend she is an airplane, soaring over the bath and dive-bombing the yellow rubber ducks. He talks to her in a voice like Donald Duck—just like his sister Kim did when he was growing up—and she giggles and cackles, full of the kind of glee that only an eight-month-old can exude.

Then the camera turns toward the sink, and in the blink of an eye, the scene changes. To the right of the basin, mounted eight inches up the wall, rests a toothbrush holder—the same kind of white, porcelain toothbrush holder in 90 percent of all homes in America. Yet what makes this particular fixture so remarkable is that it isn’t storing toothbrushes: It’s holding a syringe. It is such an astonishing and unexpected object to see in a bathroom, most viewers wouldn’t notice it. But it’s there, hanging solemnly, needle-tip pointed down, a sad and tragic reminder that no matter how ordinary this family looks on the outside, there are ghosts that follow even the tender moments.

By July 1993 Kurt’s addiction had become so routine, it was a part of life in the Cobain house, and things worked around it. The metaphor frequently used to describe the role of alcoholism within a family—that of a 10,000-pound elephant in the middle of the living room—seemed so obvious that few bothered to utter it. That Kurt was going to be messed up for at least part of the day had become the status quo; as accepted as the rain in Seattle. Even the birth of his child and court-ordered treatment had only served to temporarily distract him. Though he’d been on methadone and buprenorphine for weeks at a time, he hadn’t been free of opiates long enough to completely detox for almost a year.

In the crazed logic that overtakes families caught up in addiction, it almost seemed better when Kurt was on drugs: In contrast, he was impossible when he was suffering the physical pain of withdrawal. Only a few actually voiced this theory—that the system orbiting around Kurt was more stable when he was using drugs rather than abstaining—but Kurt professed it himself. In his journal he argued that if he was going to feel like a junkie in withdrawal, he might as well be one in practice. And he had friends that agreed with him: “The whole ‘getting him to stop using drugs’ [theory] was absurd and ultimately damaging to Kurt,” argued Dylan Carlson. “Drugs are a problem when they are impacting your ability to, say, have a house or maintain a job. Until they become a problem of that nature, you just leave the person alone and then they’ll hit the emotional bottom on their own—you can’t drive them to that bottom....He didn’t have any reason to not do drugs.”

By the summer of 1993, addiction was a lens through which everything in Kurt’s life was distorted. Yet though he was outwardly happier on drugs, in the crazy contradiction that is addiction, he was inwardly filled with remorse. His journals were marked by laments on his inability to stay sober. He felt judged by everyone around him, and he was correct in this perception: Every time his bandmates, family, managers, or crew encountered him, they did a quick survey to determine whether he was high or not. He experienced this ten-second once-over dozens of times during each day, and was furious when it was assumed he was stoned when he was not. He felt he was a functional addict—he could use drugs and play—so he hated the constant scrutiny and found himself spending more and more time with his junkie friends, where he felt less inspected.

Yet by 1993 even the drugs weren’t working as well as they once had. Kurt found the reality of drug addiction a far cry from the glamour he had once imagined reading the works of William S. Burroughs, and even within the insular subculture of addicts, he felt he was an outsider. One journal entry from this period found him desperately pleading for friendship, and ultimately for salvation:

Friends who I can talk to and hang out and have fun with, just like I’ve always dreamed, we could talk about books and politics and vandalize at night, want to? Huh? Hey, I can’t stop pulling my hair out! Please! God damn, Jesus fucking Christ Almighty, love me, me, me, we could go on a trial basis, please I don’t care if it’s the out-of-the-in-crowd, I just need a crowd, a gang, a reason to smile. I won’t smother you, ah shit, shit, please, isn’t there somebody out there? Somebody, anybody, God help, help me please. I want to be accepted. I have to be accepted. I’ll wear any kind of clothes you want! I’m so tired of crying and dreaming, I’m soo soo alone. Isn’t there anyone out there? Please help me. HELP ME!

That summer Kurt’s drug rehabilitation physician, 60-year-old Robert Fremont, was found dead in his Beverly Hills office, slumped over his desk. His cause of death was ruled a heart attack, though Fremont’s son Marc asserted it was suicide by overdose, and that his father had been again addicted to drugs. At the time of his death, Fremont was being investigated by the Medical Board of California, charged with gross negligence and unprofessional conduct for overprescribing buprenorphine to his patients. Fremont certainly made plenty of buprenorphine available to his most famous client—he would dispense it to Kurt by the carton.

On July 17, 1993, Nevermind finally fell off the Billboard charts after being on for just under two years. That week the band traveled to New York to do press and play a surprise appearance as part of the New Music Seminar. The night before the show, Kurt sat down and conducted an interview with Jon Savage, author of “England’s Dreaming.” Perhaps because Kurt admired Savage’s book, he was particularly forthcoming about his family, describing his parents’ divorce as something that made him feel “ashamed” and yearning for what he had lost: “I desperately wanted to have the classic, you know, typical family. Mother, father. I wanted that security.” And when Savage asked if Kurt could understand how great alienation might lead to violence, he replied in the affirmative: “Yeah, I can definitely see how a person’s mental state could deteriorate to the point where they would do that. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve fantasized about it, but I’m sure I would opt to kill myself first.” Virtually every interview Kurt did in 1993 had some reference to suicide.

When Kurt was asked the inevitable question about heroin, he told the inevitable lie: He talked in the past tense, said he did heroin “for about a year, off and on,” and claimed he only did it because of his stomach problems. When Savage followed up on the stomach pains, Kurt declared they were gone: “I think it’s a psychosomatic thing.” Savage found Kurt particularly jovial this night. “I haven’t felt this optimistic since right before my parents’ divorce,” he explained.

Twelve hours later, Kurt was lying on the floor of his hotel bathroom, having overdosed again. “His lips were blue and his eyes were completely rolled back in his head,” recalled publicist Anton Brookes, one of the people who rushed to Kurt. “He was lifeless. There was a syringe still stuck in his arm.” Brookes was shocked when he saw Courtney and the nanny Cali spring into action like experienced medical aides—they were so methodical he was left with the impression they did this regularly. While Courtney checked Kurt’s vital signs, Cali held Kurt up and punched him violently in the solar plexus. “He hit him once, and he didn’t get much reaction, so he hit him again. Then, Kurt started to come around.” This, plus cold water to the face, got Kurt breathing. When hotel security arrived, drawn by the noise, Brookes had to bribe them to not call the police. Brookes, Courtney, and Cali dragged the still-groggy Kurt outside. “We started walking him,” Brookes remembered, “but at first his legs weren’t moving.” When Kurt finally could speak, he insisted he did not want to go to the hospital.

After food and coffee, Kurt seemed fully revived, though still very high. He returned to the hotel, where he was scheduled to get a massage in his room. As Kurt was getting his rubdown, Brookes grabbed packets of heroin off the floor and flushed them down the toilet. Ironically, less than three hours after he was comatose in the bathroom, Kurt was back doing interviews, denying he used drugs. At soundcheck that evening, he was still way too high—perhaps due to a bag not found by his handlers. “He pretty much died right before that show,” recalled sound-man Craig Montgomery. When David Yow, of the opening band the Jesus Lizard, went to chat with Kurt before showtime, “Kurt couldn’t talk. He could just mumble. I said, ‘How are you?’ and he said, ‘buzzcolloddbed.’ ” In a pattern that was becoming all too familiar, despite Kurt’s earlier impairment, he seemed fine onstage, and the show itself was a marvel. The band had added Lori Goldston on cello, and it was the first time they featured an acoustic interlude in their set.

Nirvana returned to Seattle the next week and played a benefit on August 6 to raise funds to investigate the murder of local singer Mia Zapata. That week, Kurt, Courtney, Krist, and Dave spent a rare night out together taking in Aerosmith at the Coliseum. Backstage, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler took Kurt aside and told him about his experience with 12-Step recovery groups. “He wasn’t preaching,” Krist remembered, “just talking about similar experiences he’d been through. He tried to give him encouragement.” For once, Kurt appeared to listen, though he said little in response.

That same week, also at the Seattle Center, Kurt did an interview with the New York Times , conducted at the top of the Space Needle. Kurt picked this location because he’d never been to Seattle’s most famous landmark. He was now insisting a representative from DGC’s publicity department tape every interview—he thought this would cut down on misquotes. The talk with Jon Pareles, as with all of Kurt’s 1993 interviews, sounded like a therapy session, as Kurt discussed his parents, wife, and the significance of his lyrics. He exposed enough of himself that Pareles wisely noted the contradictions: “Cobain ricochets between opposites. He is wary and unguarded, sincere and sarcastic, thin-skinned and insensitive, aware of his popularity and trying to ignore it.”

The first week of September Kurt and Courtney returned to Los Angeles for a two-week stay, their first extended visit since moving. They attended the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards, and Nirvana won Best Alternative Video for “In Bloom.” The band wasn’t playing this night, and there were few of the histrionics of the previous year’s awards. Much had changed in the music business during the last year, and Nirvana had been missing in action for most of it. Though In Utero was highly anticipated, they were no longer the biggest rock band in the world, at least commercially: Pearl Jam now held that honor.

That week, Kurt and Courtney appeared at a benefit for “Rock Against Rape” at Hollywood’s Club Lingerie. Courtney was on the bill as a solo act, but after performing “Doll Parts” and “Miss World,” she called out for “her husband Yoko” and Kurt came onstage. Together they did duets of “Pennyroyal Tea” and the Leadbelly tune “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” It was the only occasion they would ever play together in public.

In Utero was finally released on September 14 in the U.K. and September 21 in the U.S., where it entered the charts at No. 1, selling 180,000 copies in the first week alone. It reached those sales figures without being carried by Wal-Mart or Kmart: Both chains had objected to the song title “Rape Me” and the back-cover collage of Kurt’s fetus dolls. When his manager phoned with this news, Kurt agreed to revisions that would get the album into the stores. “When I was a kid, I could only go to Wal-Mart,” Kurt explained to Danny Goldberg. “I want the kids to be able to get this record. I’ll do what they want.” Goldberg was surprised, but he knew to accept Kurt’s word: “No one would dream of saying no to him at that point. No one made him do anything.”

Yet Kurt did clash with his managers over concert dates. He began 1993 asserting he wasn’t planning on touring. While not unheard of, this decision certainly would have diminished the new record’s chances of hitting the top of the charts. On this issue, Kurt faced a juggernaut of opposition: Everyone who worked with him—from his managers to his crew to his bandmates—made most of their money from touring, and they urged him to reconsider. But when he discussed the matter with his lawyer, Rosemary Carroll, he seemed adamant. “He said he didn’t want to go,” she remembered. “And frankly, he was pressured to go.”

Most of the pressure was from management, but some came from his own fear of scarcity. Though he was wealthier than he had ever imagined possible, a tour would make him richer still. A memo Danny Goldberg sent Kurt in February 1993 outlined details of his projected income for the next eighteen months. “Thus far, Nirvana has been paid a little over $1.5 million,” the memo states on the subject of songwriting income. “I believe there is another $3 million in the pipeline to be paid out over the next couple of years.” Goldberg estimated that Kurt’s income after taxes in 1993 would include $1,400,000 from songwriting royalties, $200,000 for expected sales of two million of the new record, and if Nirvana toured, an additional $600,000 from merchandising and concert revenue. Even these figures, Goldberg wrote, were conservative: “I personally believe that [your] income for the next eighteen months will be double this amount or more, but for rational family planning I think it’s safe to assume $2 million, which presumably gives you the breathing room to furnish your house very nicely and know that you will have a substantial nest egg.” Despite his earlier protests, Kurt agreed to tour.

On September 25 Nirvana was back in New York to appear again on “Saturday Night Live.” They played “Heart-Shaped Box” and “Rape Me,” and though the performance was rocky, it was free of the tension of their first visit. In addition to cello player Goldston, they had added former Germs guitarist Georg Ruthenberg, known by his stage name of Pat Smear. Smear was eight years older than Kurt, and he’d already been through a long junkie drama with Darby Crash, his band-mate in the Germs. He gave the impression there was little that could unnerve him; his wry sense of humor lightened the band, and his solid playing helped Kurt fret less onstage.

The week before the In Utero tour began, Kurt flew to Atlanta for a visit with Courtney, who was recording Hole’s album. When he came by the studio, producers Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie played him the songs from her record that were done. Kurt seemed proud of Courtney’s effort and praised her lyrical skills.

Later that day, Courtney asked Kurt to sing background vocals on a few unfinished numbers. He protested at first, but relented. It was apparent to Slade and Kolderie that Kurt was not familiar with much of the material. “She said things like, ‘Come on, sing on this one,’ ” recalled Kolderie. “He kept saying, ‘Well let me hear it. How can I sing on it if I haven’t heard it?’ She’d say, ‘Just sing off the top of your head.’ ” The results were less than impressive, and Kurt’s vocals were used on only one song in the final mix. But Kurt warmed up considerably when the official session ended and a jam ensued. He sat down at the drums, Eric Erlandson and Courtney picked up guitars, and Slade grabbed a bass. “It was a blast,” recalled Slade.

Kurt returned to Seattle, only to leave a week later for Phoenix to rehearse for Nirvana’s upcoming tour. On a connecting flight to L.A., the band Truly were on the same plane, and Kurt had a warm reunion with his old friends Robert Roth and Mark Pickerel. Pickerel ended up in the seat next to Kurt and Krist—Grohl was in the front of the cabin—and Pickerel felt embarrassed for carrying a copy of Details with Nirvana on the cover. Kurt grabbed it and devoured the article. “He became agitated as he read,” Pickerel recalled. Kurt was unhappy with Grohl’s quotes. “He went on and on about it,” Pickerel said. A few minutes into his rant, Kurt announced that for his next album, “I want to bring in other people just to create a different kind of record.” He would revisit this subject repeatedly that fall, threatening to fire his bandmates.

The In Utero tour began in Phoenix at a 15,000-seat venue where Billy Ray Cyrus had performed the night before. It was the largest-scale tour Nirvana undertook, and included an elaborate set. When MTV asked Kurt why the band was now playing big arenas, Kurt was pragmatic, citing the increased production costs of the show: “If we were to just play clubs, we’d be totally in the hole. We’re not nearly as rich as everyone thinks we are.” When USA Today ran a negative review of the debut (“Creative anarchy deteriorated into bad performance art,” wrote Edna Gunderson), Smear defused a Kurt fit by remarking, “That’s fucked—they totally got us. That’s the funniest thing I’ve read in my life.” Even Kurt had to laugh.

Courtney begged Kurt not to read his reviews, yet he obsessively sought them out, even searching for out-of-town newspapers. He had become increasingly paranoid about the media and now demanded to inspect a writer’s previous clippings before agreeing to an interview. Yet in Davenport, Iowa, Kurt ended up in a car coming home from a gig with publicist Jim Merlis and a Rolling Stone writer. Kurt was unaware a journalist was in his midst as he directed Merlis to a Taco Bell– like joint. The fast food restaurant was swarming with kids from the concert, all wide-eyed when they saw Kurt Cobain standing in line to order a burrito. “Taco day was my favorite day at school,” he told everyone within earshot. The story, of course, ended up in the press.

During this first week of the tour, Alex MacLeod drove Kurt to Lawrence, Kansas, to meet William S. Burroughs. The previous year Kurt had produced a single with Burroughs titled “The Priest They Called Him,” on T/K Records, but they’d accomplished the recording by sending tapes back and forth. “Meeting William was a real big deal for him,” MacLeod remembered. “It was something that he never thought would happen.” They chatted for several hours, but Burroughs later claimed the subject of drugs didn’t come up. As Kurt drove away, Burroughs remarked to his assistant, “There’s something wrong with that boy; he frowns for no good reason.”

In Chicago, three days later, the band ended a show without playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and there were boos. Kurt sat down that night with Rolling Stone ’s David Fricke and began, “I’m glad you could make it for the shittiest show on the tour.” Kurt’s interview with Fricke was so full of references to his emotional turmoil, it could have just as easily appeared in Psychology Today . He talked about his depression, his family, his fame, and his stomach problems. “After a person experiences chronic pain for five years,” he told Fricke, “by the time that fifth year ends, you’re literally insane....Iwasas schizophrenic as a wet cat that’s been beaten.” He reported his stomach much healed now, and admitted to having eaten an entire Chicago pizza the night before. Kurt announced that during the worst of his stomach problems, “I wanted to kill myself every day. I came very close many times.” When he discussed his hopes for his daughter, Kurt argued: “I don’t think Courtney and I are that fucked up. We have lacked love all our lives, and we need it so much that if there’s any goal that we have, it’s to give Frances as much love as we can, as much support as we can.”

After Chicago the shows improved, and so did Kurt’s spirits. “We were on the upswing,” recalled Novoselic. Everyone enjoyed playing the In Utero material, and they’d added “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” and a gospel number called “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.” During parts of the tour fourteen-month-old Frances traveled with her father, and Kurt appeared happier when she was around. At the end of October the Meat Puppets opened seven shows, uniting Kurt with his idols Curt and Cris Kirkwood.

For some time Nirvana had been in negotiations with MTV about playing the network’s “Unplugged” program. It was while touring with the Meat Puppets that Kurt finally acceded to the idea, inviting the Kirkwoods to join the show, thinking their supplementary presence in the band would help. The idea of playing a stripped-down show made Kurt nervous, and he worried more in advance about this particular performance than any since the band’s debut at the Raymond kegger. “Kurt was really, really nervous,” remembered Novoselic. Others were more direct: “He was terrified,” observed production manager Jeff Mason.

They arrived in New York the second week of November and began rehearsals at a New Jersey soundstage. But as with every interaction the band ever had with MTV, more time went to negotiations than rehearsal. The Kirkwoods found they spent most days sitting around waiting; additionally, they were warned by Nirvana’s management to refrain from marijuana around Kurt. They found this particularly grating, since Kurt was consistently late for rehearsal and obviously was high. “He would show up looking like the apparition of Jacob Marley,” Curt Kirkwood observed, “all bound up in flannel, in a cutting-up-a-deer hat. He looked like a little, old farmer. He thought this disguise would make him fit in with the locals in New York.”

Though Kurt had agreed to do the show, he didn’t want his “Unplugged” to look like the others in the series; MTV had the opposite agenda, and the debates became contentious. The day before the taping Kurt announced he wasn’t playing. But MTV was used to this ploy. “He did it just to get us worked up,” said Amy Finnerty. “He enjoyed that power.”

On the afternoon of the show, Kurt arrived, despite threats otherwise, but he was nervous and in withdrawal. “There was no joking, no smiles, no fun coming from him,” allowed Jeff Mason. “Therefore, everyone was more than a little concerned about the performance.” Curt Kirkwood was worried because they hadn’t rehearsed an entire set: “We played the songs through a few times, but never a rehearsal set. There was never any concerted practice.” Finnerty was troubled because Kurt was lying on a sofa complaining about how poorly he felt. When he said he wanted Kentucky Fried Chicken, she immediately sent someone to locate some.

But he really desired more than just KFC. A member of Nirvana’s crew told Finnerty Kurt was throwing up, and asked if she could “get something” to help him out. “They told me,” Finnerty recalled, “that ‘he’s not going to make it on the show if we don’t help him out.’ And I was like, ‘I’ve never done heroin, and I don’t know where to find it.’ ” It was suggested that Valium would help Kurt through his withdrawal, and Finnerty asked another MTV employee to purchase a supply from a corrupt pharmacist. When Finnerty handed them to Alex MacLeod, he reported back, “These are too strong—he needs a Valium 5 milligram.” Eventually a separate messenger showed up with a delivery Kurt himself had arranged.

Kurt finally sat down and did a brief soundcheck and blocking rehearsal. He was tentative about the acoustic format and filled with dread. His greatest fear was that he’d panic during the show and ruin the taping. “Can you make sure,” he asked Finnerty, “that all the people who love me are sitting in the front?” Finnerty shuffled the audience so that Janet Billig and some of Kurt’s other associates were in the front row. But even that wasn’t enough to calm him; he stopped the soundcheck once again and told Finnerty, “I’m scared.” He asked if the crowd was going to clap even if he didn’t play well. “Of course, we’re going to clap for you,” Finnerty said. He insisted she sit so he could see her. He also asked a production person to locate some fretboard lubricant; he’d never used it previously, but said he’d watched his Aunt Mari apply it on her acoustic when he was kid.

Backstage, waiting for the show to begin, Kurt still seemed disturbed. To lighten his mood, Curt Kirkwood brought up what had been a running joke between them: Kirkwood would scrape gum off the bottoms of tables in restaurants and re-chew it. “Man, you are fucking weird,” Kurt declared. As they prepared to walk toward the stage, Kirkwood pulled a wad of gum out of his mouth and offered Kurt half— this gag drew Kurt’s first smile of the day.

As the cameras started rolling, that smile was long gone. Kurt had the expression of an undertaker, an appropriate look as the stage was set for a macabre black mass. Kurt had suggested Stargazer lilies, black candles, and a crystal chandelier. When “Unplugged” producer Alex Coletti asked, “You mean like a funeral?” Kurt said that was exactly what he meant. He had selected a set of fourteen songs that included six covers; five of the six cover songs mentioned death.

Though dour in expression, and with eyes that were slightly red, Kurt looked handsome nonetheless. He wore his Mister Rogers sweater, and though his hair hadn’t been washed for a week, he appeared boyish. He began with “About a Girl,” which was performed in a markedly different arrangement, stripping its volume to emphasize the basic melody and lyrics. It wasn’t exactly “Unplugged,” since Nirvana used amps and drums, albeit with pads and brushes. A more accurate title was suggested by Jeff Mason: “They should have called it ‘Nirvana toned-down.’ ”

But Kurt’s emotional performance was toned-up. Next was “Come as You Are” and then a haunting rendition of “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” with Novoselic on accordion. Only after this third song did Kurt speak to the audience. “I guarantee I will screw this song up,” he announced before a cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World.” He did not screw up, and he felt relieved enough during the next break that he joked that if he messed up, “Well, these people are going to have to wait.” You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief from the crowd. For the first time in the night he seemed present, though still addressing the audience in the third person.

Kurt’s tension had manifested itself in the crowd: They were reserved, unnatural, and waiting for a cue from him to fully relax. It never came, but the tautness in the room—like that found during a championship game—served to make the show more memorable. When it came time to do “Pennyroyal Tea,” Kurt asked the rest of the band, “Am I doing this by myself or what?” The band had never managed to finish a rehearsal of this song. “Do it yourself,” Grohl suggested. And Kurt did, though halfway into the song he seemed to stall. He breathed a very short breath, and as he exhaled, he let his voice crack on the line “warm milk and laxatives,” and it was in that decision—to let his voice break—where he found the strength to forge ahead. The effect was remarkable: It was like watching a great opera singer battling illness complete an aria by letting emotion sell a song, rather than the accuracy of the notes. At several turns it seemed as if the weight of an angel’s wing could cause him to fold, yet the songs aided him: These words and riffs were so much a part of him he could sing them half dead and they’d still be potent. It was Kurt’s single greatest moment onstage, and like all the high-water marks of his career, it came at a time when he seemed destined to fail.

After “Pennyroyal Tea” the rest of the songs hardly mattered, but he grew more confident after each one. He even smiled at one point, after a request from the audience for “Rape Me,” joking, “Ah, I don’t think MTV would let us play that.” After ten songs, he brought the Kirkwoods on, introduced them as “the Brothers Meat,” and performed three of their numbers with their backing. The Kirkwoods were venerable misfits, but their strangeness fit perfectly into the Cobain aesthetic.

For the final encore, Kurt chose Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” Before playing the song, he told the story of how he’d considered buying Leadbelly’s guitar, though in this rendition the price was inflated to $500,000, ten times what he’d said three months before. Though Kurt was prone to exaggeration in telling any story, his offering of the song was understated, subdued, ethereal. He sang the tune with his eyes shut, and when his voice cracked, he turned the wail into a primal scream this time that seemed to go on for days. It was riveting.

As he left the stage, there was yet another argument with MTV’s producers—they wanted an encore. Kurt knew he couldn’t top what he’d already done. “When you saw the sigh on his face before the last note,” Finnerty observed, “it was almost as if it was the last breath of life in him.” Backstage, the rest of the band was exhilarated by the performance, though Kurt still seemed unsure. Krist told him, “You did a great job up there man,” and Janet Billig was so moved she wept. “I told him it was his bar mitzvah, a career-defining moment, becoming the man of his career,” Billig recalled. Kurt liked this metaphor, yet when she complimented his guitar playing, this seemed a step too far: He lambasted her, announcing that he was “a shitty guitar player” and that she was never to commend him again.

Kurt left with Finnerty, avoiding an after-show party. Yet even after a transcendent performance, his confidence seemed no higher. He complained, “No one liked it.” When Finnerty told him it had been incredible and that everyone loved it, Kurt protested that the audience usually jumped up and down at his shows. “They just sat there silently,” he grumbled. Finnerty had heard just about enough: “Kurt, they think you are Jesus Christ,” she announced. “Most of these people have never had the opportunity to see you that close. They were totally taken with you.” At this he softened, and said he wanted to phone Courtney. As they entered an elevator in his hotel, he nudged Finnerty and bragged, “I was really fucking good tonight, wasn’t I?” It was the only time she ever heard him admit to his own skill.

Yet an event that occurred two days before the “Unplugged” taping was more indicative of the internal Kurt than anything on MTV. On the afternoon of November 17, the band prepared to leave their New York hotel to head to an “Unplugged” rehearsal. As Kurt walked through the lobby, he was approached by three male fans holding CDs, asking for autographs. He ignored their pleas, walking to a waiting van with his hands over his face in the manner used by countless felons to avoid being photographed leaving a courthouse. The trio seemed surprised he was so ungracious, though as cellist Lori Goldston recalled, “There was something about them that didn’t seem completely displeased. Even though they hadn’t gotten an autograph, they’d had a connection with Kurt, which was what they really wanted.” Even a “fuck you” from their enigmatic hero was reason for celebration.

As the van filled with the rest of the group, a crew member was slightly delayed, so they waited. It was apparent that if the van were to idle there for days, these fans would remain for the duration, simply to stare at Kurt, who would not return their gaze. While they were waiting, Krist remarked to Kurt, “Hey, that guy called you an asshole.” Novoselic most likely said this in jest—no one present remembers hearing anything disparaging. The missing crew member finally jumped into the van, and the driver began to pull away.

But at the moment the vehicle lurched into drive, Kurt yelled, “Stop!” with the same forcefulness a man might yell “Fire!” at the first sight of flames. The driver hit the brakes, and Kurt rolled down the passenger-side window. The fans on the sidewalk were stunned he was acknowledging their presence, and thinking, perhaps, that he was finally going to offer them a precious autograph. But rather than reach out the window, Kurt stretched his long, thin body out of it, not unlike Leonardo DiCaprio on the Titanic . Once fully extended, he arched his back and launched a huge wad of phlegm from the deep recesses of his lungs. It languished in the air, in what seemed like slow motion, before landing squarely on the forehead of a man who was holding in his hand a copy of the eight million–selling Nevermind .

Chapter 22

COBAIN’S DISEASE

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

NOVEMBER 1993–MARCH 1994

And the title of our double album is “Cobain’s Disease.” A rock opera about vomiting gastric juice.
—From a journal entry.

The day of “Unplugged,” Kurt had a secret that colored his mood: His stomach problems were back, and he was vomiting bile and blood. He had returned to doctor-roulette, seeing multiple specialists on both coasts, or wherever the tour stopped. While he received many different opinions on his ailments—a few thought it irritable bowel syndrome but the diagnosis was uncertain, and he had tested negatively for Crohn’s disease—none of the treatments gave him relief. He still swore heroin helped, but whether he was off heroin long enough to know if it was the problem or the cure was debatable.

The morning of “Unplugged” Kurt spent an hour filling out a physician’s questionnaire on his eating habits. In it he told the story of a lifetime of near starvation, both spiritual and physical. He wrote his favorite flavor was “raspberry-chocolate,” and his least favorite was “broccoli/spinach/mushroom.” When asked what dish his mother made he liked the best, he replied “roast, potatoes, carrots, pizza.” To the question, “What did you feed the family dog under the table?” he answered, “Stepmother food.” He described his top take-out choices as Taco Bell and thin-crust pepperoni pizza. The only cuisine he professed to hating was Indian food. When the questionnaire inquired about his general health, he failed to mention his drug addiction and simply wrote “stomachaches.” As for exercise, the single physical activity he reported was “performance.” And to, “Do you enjoy the great outdoors?” he wrote a two-word answer: “Oh, please!”

He recorded the progression of his gastrointestinal problems in his journal, spending pages on minute details like describing an endoscopy (a procedure whereby a tiny video camera is inserted through the throat into the intestines, something he’d had done three times). He was both tormented by his stomach and, in some small way, entertained by it. “Please Lord,” he pleaded in one entry, “fuck hit records, just let me have my very own unexplainable rare stomach disease named after me. And the title of our double album is ‘Cobain’s Disease.’ A rock opera about vomiting gastric juices, being a borderline anorexic, Auschwitz-grunge boy, with an accompanying Endoscope home video!”

Though “Unplugged” had been an emotional high, ten days later in Atlanta, he hit a physical low, lying on the dressing-room floor clutching his belly. The tour caterers had disregarded his request for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese—instead, they concocted a dish of pasta shells, cheese, and jalapeño peppers. Courtney carried the plate of pasta in to manager John Silva and demanded, “What the fuck are jalapeños and jack cheese doing in this macaroni?” As she held the plate aloft like a waitress, she displayed Kurt’s rider where in bold type it stated “only Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.” To emphasize her point, she tossed the food in the trash. “She didn’t care what Silva thought of her, she just wanted to make sure Kurt got food he could eat,” Jim Barber, who was in the room, recalled. “She said to John, ‘Why don’t you just let Kurt be who he is?’ ” To further illustrate her point, Courtney forced Silva to examine Kurt’s vomit, which contained blood. After Love left the room, Silva turned to Barber, and said, “See what I have to deal with?”

The relationship between Kurt and his managers had deteriorated to the point where the Nirvana organization resembled a dysfunctional family—in truth, it bore a similarity to Kurt’s own family, with his bandmates playing the role of step-siblings, while his managers were parents. “Kurt hated John,” recalled one former Gold Mountain employee, perhaps because Silva reminded Kurt a bit of his father. By late 1993 Kurt’s distrust of Gold Mountain was so strong, he routinely employed Dylan Carlson to look over his financial statements because he felt he was being cheated, and Kurt had most of his interactions with Michael Meisel, Silva’s assistant. For his part, Silva openly described his most famous client as “a junkie,” which was accurate, yet, to those who overheard it, it seemed disloyal. It was also true that Silva—like everyone in Kurt’s life, Courtney included—simply didn’t know what to do about Kurt’s addiction. Was tough love better than acceptance? Was it better to shame him or enable him?

Kurt’s other manager, Danny Goldberg, had worked as the press agent for Led Zeppelin during the height of that band’s debauchery; consequently, tasks like locating drug rehab doctors usually fell to him. Kurt grew to treat Danny as a father figure, even while he thought Danny’s company—Gold Mountain—was screwing him. Their personal relationship was complicated by their professional one: Goldberg’s wife, Rosemary Carroll, was attorney for both Kurt and Courtney. It was an incestuous situation that raised eyebrows. “I don’t think it was in his overall best interest, and I say that without comment to [Carroll’s] abilities as an attorney,” observed Alan Mintz, Cobain’s prior lawyer.

Yet there was no denying Kurt trusted both Rosemary and Danny. Not long after Frances was born, he wrote a draft “last will and testimony” (it was never signed), stating that if Courtney were to perish, he wished for Danny and Rosemary to be his daughter’s guardians. After them, he gave the duty to his sister Kim, and following her, he designated a list of subsequent guardians: Janet Billig; Eric Erlandson of Hole; Jackie Farry, their previous nanny; and Nikki McClure, Kurt’s old neighbor, whom he hadn’t talked to in more than a year. Ninth in succession—only to be given responsibility for Frances if Courtney, Rosemary, Danny, Kim, Janet, Eric, Jackie, and Nikki were deceased themselves—was Wendy O’Connor, Kurt’s mother. Kurt wrote that under absolutely no circumstances—even if every single other relative in his family was dead—was Frances to be turned over to his father or anyone in Courtney’s family.

The U.S. leg of the In Utero tour lumbered on for another month after “Unplugged,” hitting St. Paul, Minnesota, on December 10. Nirvana had another MTV filming at the end of the week, and Kurt decided to make peace with the network: He invited Finnerty and Kurt Loder to interview him. At the taping, the band got drunk and dog-piled each other until they knocked over the camera. “It never aired,” Finnerty recalled, “because everyone, including Kurt Loder, was so fucked up on red wine it was unusable.” Loder and Novoselic then destroyed a hotel room by smashing the television and dragging pieces of the furniture out into the lobby. The hotel later unsuccessfully sued to collect what they alleged was $11,799 in damages.

Three days later the band taped MTV’s “Live and Loud” in Seattle. The network filmed Nirvana’s set before a small crowd, using props to make it appear it was New Year’s Eve, when the program would air. After the performance Kurt invited photographer Alice Wheeler back to the Four Seasons Hotel to chat. He ordered steak from room service, explaining “MTV’s paying.” He urged Wheeler to come visit him at a new home he and Courtney were purchasing, but he couldn’t recall the address. He told her, like he now told most friends, to contact him through Gold Mountain. Giving out the number of his management had the inadvertent result of further isolating Kurt: Many old friends told of calling Gold Mountain but never hearing back, and eventually losing touch.

A week later, when the tour came to Denver, Kurt reunited with John Robinson from the Fluid. When Robinson revealed the Fluid had broken up, Kurt wanted to know every detail; he left the impression he was looking for tips. Robinson mentioned he had begun writing songs on piano and wanted to make a lush album using strings and horns. “Wow!” Kurt replied. “That’s exactly what I want to do!” He declared he’d been discussing a similar idea with Mark Lanegan, and invited Robinson to collaborate with the two of them after the lengthy tour was over. He’d also been talking about working with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe.

The tour finally took a break at Christmas, and Kurt and Courtney flew to Arizona to spend four days at the exclusive Canyon Ranch Spa, outside of Tucson. For a Christmas present, she gave him a video copy of Ken Burns’s series “The Civil War,” which fascinated Kurt. While at the spa, Kurt attempted his own self-policed detox and each day visited Dr. Daniel Baker, the facility’s resident counselor. The therapist offered one insight that stayed with Kurt well after the long weekend: He warned Kurt his addiction had progressed to the point where he had to get sober, or it would mean his death. Many others had given the same advice, but on this particular day Kurt appeared to listen.

The difference between sobriety and intoxication was never more clearly illustrated than on December 30, when Nirvana played a show at the Great Western Forum near Los Angeles. Filmmaker Dave Markey was videotaping that night and observed a display of inebriation so extreme, he turned his camera off in pity. And it wasn’t Kurt who was a mess—it was Eddie Van Halen. The famed guitar player was backstage on his knees drunk, begging Krist to let him jam. Kurt arrived only to see his one-time hero collapsing toward him with his lips puckered, like a toasted Dean Martin in a bad Rat-Pack skit. “No, you can’t play with us,” Kurt flatly announced. “We don’t have any extra guitars.”

Van Halen didn’t grasp this obvious lie and pointed to Pat Smear, shouting, “Well, then let me play the Mexican’s guitar. What is he, is he Mexican? Is he black?” Kurt couldn’t believe his ears. “Eddie went into this racist, homophobic banter, typical redneck,” observed Dave Markey. “It was surreal.” Kurt was furious, but finally came up with a worthy verbal response: “Actually, you can jam,” he promised. “You can go onstage after our encore. Just go up there and solo by yourself!” Kurt stormed off.

As 1993 ended Kurt wrote several reflections on the significance of the passing year. He composed a letter to the Advocate thanking them for running his interview and listing his accomplishments: “It was a fruitful year. Nirvana finished another album (of which we are quite proud, although we took shit from people who claimed—before its release—that we were gonna commit ‘commercial suicide’). My daughter, Frances, a cherubic joy, taught me to be more tolerant of all humanity.”

He also composed an unsent letter to Tobi Vail. Tobi was still hoping to complete their oft-talked-about recording project, and this convinced Kurt—still hurting from her original snub—that she was only interested in him to further her career. He wrote her a bitter letter: “Make them pay while you’re still beautiful, while they watch you break, and they make you burn.” Referring to In Utero , he declared: “Every song on this record is not about you. No, I am not your boyfriend. No, I don’t write songs about you, except for ‘Lounge Act,’ which I do not play, except when my wife is not around.” Behind Kurt’s wrath was the terrible wound he still felt from her rejection. These weren’t his only stinging words for Tobi: In another unsent screed he blasted her, Calvin, and Olympia:

I made about five million dollars last year and I’m not giving a red cent to that elitist, little fuck Calvin Johnson. No way! I’ve collaborated with one of my idols, William Burroughs and I couldn’t feel cooler. I moved away to L.A. for a year and came back to find that three of my best friends have become full blown heroine addicts. I’ve learned to hate riot grrrl, a movement in which I was a witness to its very initial inception because I fucked the girl who put out the first grrrl-style fanzine and now she is exploiting the fact that she fucked me. Not in a huge way, but enough to feel exploited. But that’s okay because I chose to let corporate white men exploit me a few years ago and I love it. It feels good. And I’m not gonna donate a single fucking dollar to the fucking needy indie fascist regime. They can starve. Let them eat vinyl. Every crumb for himself. I’ll be able to sell my untalented, very ungenius ass for years based on my cult status.

In early January, Kurt and Courtney moved to their new house at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard East in ritzy Denny-Blaine, one of Seattle’s oldest and most exclusive neighborhoods. Their home was just up the hill from the lake in an area of luxurious waterfront estates and stately turn-of-the-century mansions. The house across the street had a “no parking” sign in French, while their next-door neighbor was Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks. Though Peter Buck of R.E.M. owned a house a block away, he and the Cobains were the exceptions in the neighborhood, which was occupied by old money scions, society matrons, and the sorts of people who have public buildings named after them.

Their home had been built in 1902 by Elbert Blaine—who the neighborhood was named for—and he saved the finest and largest piece of land for himself: It was nearly three quarters of an acre and lushly landscaped with rhododendrons, Japanese maples, dogwoods, hemlock, and magnolia trees. It was a stunning property, though it had the odd feature of being directly next to a small city park, which made it less private than many of the district’s homes.

The house itself was a 7,800-square-foot, three-story, five-fireplace, five-bedroom monolith. With gables and gray shake shingles, it looked better suited to the coast of Maine, where it might have served as a vacation compound for a former president. As with most large, old houses, it was drafty, though the kitchen was certainly cozy—it had been extensively remodeled and featured a Traulson stainless-steel refrigerator, a Thermador oven, and oak flooring. The main floor contained a living room, dining room, kitchen, and a library that became a bedroom for the nanny Cali. The second floor had a bedroom for Frances, two guest bedrooms, and a master suite, with its own private bathroom, that accorded views of the lake. The top floor consisted of a large, unheated attic, while the basement had another bedroom and several cavernous, dimly lit storage rooms. The Cobains paid $1,130,000 for the home; their mortgage with Chase Manhattan was $1,000,000, with monthly payments of $7,000 and taxes of $10,000 a year. To the rear of the house was a separate structure, which held a greenhouse and garage. Kurt’s Valiant—which once had served as his only home—soon found a place in the garage.

Each family member found a small corner of the house to call their own: The north yard became Frances’s playground, complete with a jungle-gym; Courtney’s collection of teacups went on display in the kitchen, while her assortment of lingerie filled an entire closet in the bedroom; and the basement became the depository for all of Kurt’s gold record awards—they weren’t exhibited, just stacked. In an alcove on the main floor, a fully dressed mannequin stood, like some strange corpse-like sentinel. Kurt didn’t like large spaces, and his favorite part of the house was the closet off the master bedroom, where he would play guitar.

Soon Kurt found other places to hide away. He had a month break before the In Utero tour was to head to Europe, and he appeared to make a conscious decision to spend as much of that respite as possible taking drugs with Dylan. Their relationship went deeper than their mutual addictions: Kurt truly loved Dylan, and was closer to him than any friend in his life other than Jesse Reed. Dylan was also one of the few of Kurt’s friends who was welcome in the Lake Washington house—Courtney couldn’t very well ban him, since when she occasionally fell off the wagon, Dylan was her main drug connection. There were almost-comic scenes when Dylan served as a runner for both husband and wife: Kurt would call looking for drugs, while on call-waiting Courtney would be seeking intoxicants of her own, and each requested he not tell the other spouse.

By 1994 their nanny Cali was also heavily into cocaine. They kept him on the payroll since he was essentially family at this point, but turned most supervision of Frances over to other caregivers and talked to Jackie Farry about her coming back. Cali still did most of the shop-ping—buying Totino’s mini frozen pizzas for Kurt and Marie Callender pies for Courtney—since on the rare occasions the Cobains went to the store by themselves, they struggled with this task. Larry Reid had the occasion to be behind Kurt and Courtney in Rogers Thriftway Grocery that January: “They were throwing this stuff in their basket, but there was no rhyme or reason to what they were buying. It was weird shit, like relish, ketchup, and stuff like that. It was as if you went blind and went to the store and just threw stuff in your basket.”

When Courtney attempted to stop drug dealers from coming over, Kurt employed friends to stash deliveries in the bushes. Kurt’s use of drugs had expanded over the course of his addiction: If he couldn’t find heroin, he’d inject cocaine or methamphetamine, or use prescription narcotics, like Percodan, bought on the street. If all other sources were dry, he’d take massive amounts of benzodiazepines, in the form of Valium or other tranquilizers; these cut down on his heroin withdrawal symptoms. Any attempt to stop drugs from coming into 171 Lake Washington Boulevard had as much success as a plumber trying to shore up a pipe that was being riddled with bullet holes: As soon as one leak was fixed, another sprang forth.

And in the midst of these daily traumas, Nirvana continued on, planning the next tour and scheduling rehearsals, though Kurt infrequently showed. The band had been offered the headlining slot on the 1994 Lollapalooza Festival. Everyone in Kurt’s life, from his managers to the rest of the band, thought Nirvana should embrace the opportunity, but Kurt balked at more touring. His reticence infuriated Courtney, who felt he should do the tour to shore up their financial future. Most discussions over this or other opportunities led to screaming and shouting matches between them.

Wendy called Kurt during the last week in January to announce her own ten-year shouting match with Pat O’Connor was finally over— they had divorced. Kurt, while sorry to hear of her grief, felt glee hearing his one-time challenger for his mother’s attention had finally been ousted. But he also heard news that saddened him: His beloved grandmother Iris had been suffering heart problems, and was going into the hospital in Seattle for tests and treatment.

Leland called Kurt once Iris was in the hospital in Seattle. Kurt bought $100 worth of orchids and apprehensively ventured into Swedish Hospital. It was hard for him to see Iris so frail; she had been one of the only stable forces throughout his childhood, and the idea of her death scared him worse than his own. He sat with her for hours. While he was there the bedside phone rang; it was his father. Hearing Don’s voice, Kurt motioned he was going outside. But Iris, even in her frail state, grabbed his arm and handed him the phone. No matter how much he wanted to avoid his father, he couldn’t turn down the request of a dying woman.

Kurt and Don chatted for the first time since their dreadful encounter at the Seattle concert. Most of the conversation was about Iris—the doctors predicted she would pull through her current illness but she had irreversible heart disease. Yet something in their short exchange seemed to break down a barrier—perhaps it was that Kurt heard some of the same fear in Don’s voice that he felt. Before Kurt hung up, he gave his father his home phone number and asked his dad to call. “We’ll have to get together soon,” Kurt said as he put the phone down, and looked at his grandmother, who was smiling. “I know a lot of that stuff is from my mother,” Kurt told Iris and Leland. “I now know a lot of it was bullshit.”

By January 1994 Leland’s personality had dramatically changed—it pained Kurt to see Leland so humbled and scared. Though Leland had suffered many losses—stretching back to the early death of his father and the suicides of his brothers—the illness of his wife of 49 years seemed to be the hardest to bear. Kurt invited his grandfather to spend the night at his house, and when the two Cobain men arrived, Courtney was walking around in a slip. This was usual attire for a performer who made undergarments a fashion statement, but the old-fashioned Leland found it disturbing: “She had no pants on; it sure as hell wasn’t ladylike.” Leland ran into Cali in the living room, and was shocked when Kurt informed him this long-haired, stoned-looking young man was one of Frances’s nannies.

Courtney left for a meeting, so Kurt treated his grandfather to his favorite restaurant: the International House of Pancakes. Kurt recommended I-Hop’s roast beef, which they both ordered. As they ate, Kurt examined the itinerary for his upcoming European tour. The band was scheduled to play 38 shows in sixteen nations over a period of less than two months. While it wasn’t as grueling as the “Heavier Than Heaven” tour with Tad, it felt more fatiguing to Kurt. He had intentionally asked for a halfway break, during which he hoped to see Europe as a tourist with Courtney and Frances. Kurt told Leland that when he returned, he wanted to plan a fishing trip. During their dinner, Kurt was interrupted on three occasions by other patrons asking for autographs. “He signed them and asked what they wanted him to say,” observed Leland. “But he told me he didn’t like doing it.”

On the way back to the house, Kurt asked to drive Leland’s Ford truck, and he told his grandfather he wanted to buy a similar model. That month he’d already been out looking at cars, and had purchased a black Lexus. Jennifer Adamson, one of Cali’s girlfriends, remembered Kurt stopping by her apartment to show it off: “Courtney wanted to buy it but Kurt thought it was too fancy, and he didn’t like the color. They ended up taking it back.” Courtney later explained in an Internet posting: “We went out one day and bought a really spendy black car, drove it around, got totally stared at, and felt mortified like we were sellouts—so we returned it within eighteen hours of buying it.”

The last week of January Nirvana had a recording session at Robert Lang Studios in northern Seattle. The first day, despite repeated phone calls, Kurt failed to show. Courtney had already gone overseas with Hole, and no one answered the phone in the Cobain house. Novoselic and Grohl used the time to work on songs Dave had written. Kurt also failed to appear the second day, but on the third, a Sunday, he arrived, making no mention of why he’d missed the previous sessions. No one questioned him: The group had long ago lost its democracy, and Krist and Dave had resigned themselves to waiting, thinking it a miracle to have any participation from Kurt.

On that third day they worked for a full ten hours, and despite low expectations, laid down tracks for eleven songs. During the morning, a black kitten walked into the studio. This arrival, who looked a bit like Kurt’s old childhood pet Puff, lightened Kurt considerably. The band cut several songs written by Grohl (which later would end up re-recorded by the Foo Fighters), and on these, Kurt played drums. One song of Kurt’s they recorded was titled “Skid-marks,” referring to underwear stains; Kurt had never escaped his obsession with fecal matter. Another was called “Butterfly,” but this, like most of the new songs, was without lyrics and not completely formed.

One singular Kurt composition was completed with vocals, and it stands as one of the high-water marks in his entire canon. He later titled it “You Know You’re Right,” but the only time it was played live— Chicago on October 23, 1993—he had called it “On the Mountain.” Musically, it featured the same soft/hard dynamics of “Heart-Shaped Box,” with quiet verses followed by a loud chorus of Kurt’s screams. “We bombed it together fast,” recalled Novoselic. “Kurt had the riff, and brought it in, and we put it down. We Nirvana-ized it.”

Lyrically, the verses were tightly crafted, with a haunting, tormented chorus of “You know you’re right.” The first verse was a list of declarations beginning with, “I would never bother you / I would never promise to / If I say that word again / I would move away from here.” One couplet—that could only come from Kurt Cobain—went: “I am walking in the piss / Always knew it would come to this.” The second verse shifts to statements about a woman—“She just wants to love herself”—and closes with two lines that have to be sarcastic: “Things have never been so swell / And I have never been so well.” The plaintive wail in the chorus couldn’t be clearer: “Pain,” he cried, stretching the word out for almost ten seconds, giving it four syllables, and leaving an impression of inescapable torment.

Near the end of the session, Kurt looked for the black cat, but it had vanished. It was early evening when they finished, and the band celebrated by going out to dinner. Kurt seemed elated and told Robert Lang he wanted to book more time when they returned from Europe.

The next day Kurt phoned his father. They talked for over an hour, the longest conversation between the two Cobain men in over a decade. They discussed Iris and her prognosis—the doctors had sent her back to Montesano—and their respective families. Don said he wanted to see Frances, and Kurt proudly recited all the latest things she could say and do. As for their own strained relationship, they avoided reviewing their disappointments in each other, but Don was able to utter the words that many times earlier had eluded him. “I love you Kurt,” he told his son. “I love you too, Dad,” Kurt replied. At the end of the conversation, Kurt invited his father to come see his new house when he returned from tour. When Don hung up, it was one of the few times Jenny Cobain had ever seen her usually stoic husband weeping.

Two days later Kurt flew to France. The first show had Nirvana scheduled to play a variety show. Kurt came up with a solution that allowed him to save face: They purchased black pinstripe suits—he called them their “Knack outfits.” When the show began, they performed straight-ahead versions of three songs, but dressed in their attire it had the same effect as a comedy skit. In Paris, the band did a photo session with photographer Youri Lenquette; one of the pictures showed Kurt jokingly putting a gun to his head. Even this early in the tour, those close to him noticed a change in Kurt. “He was a mess at that point,” Shelli Novoselic recalled. “It was sad. He was just so worn out.” Kurt traveled in a separate tour bus from Novoselic and Grohl, but Shelli thought their relationship seemed better: “It wasn’t as tense as the previous tour, but maybe it all had just become normal.”

The next shows were in Portugal and Madrid. By Spain—only three dates into a 38-date tour—Kurt was already talking about cancelling. He phoned Courtney in a rage. “He hated everything, everybody,” Love told David Fricke. “Hated, hated, hated....He was in Madrid, and he’d walked through the audience. The kids were smoking heroin off tinfoil, and going, ‘Kurt! Smack!’ and giving him the thumbs up. He called me crying....He did not want to be a junkie icon.”

He also did not want to split with Courtney, but their increasing fights over the phone—mostly about his drug use—plus the separation caused by the tour, made him fearful of this outcome. He had wanted her on the road with him, but she was finishing post-production on her album. Kurt went to Jeff Mason and asked what would happen if he cancelled the tour: Mason informed him that because of past cancellations, they would be liable for damages from any missed shows, unless there was illness. Kurt fixated on this point, and in the tour bus the next day, kept joking that since the insurance only covered illness, if he was dead, they’d still have to play.

Though Kurt was heartbroken at seeing European teenagers equate him with drug abuse, the anxiety that overcame him did in fact spring from his addiction. In Seattle he knew where to find heroin, and it knew how to find him. In Europe, even if he found a drug connection, he was terrified of being arrested at a border crossing. Instead Kurt employed the services of a London physician who was well known for his liberal prescribing of legal but powerful narcotics. Kurt had prescriptions for tranquilizers and morphine, and he used both to cut the pains of his withdrawal. When he ran into trouble on tour, all it took was one phone call to this physician, who immediately wrote out prescriptions without question, and international couriers were used to ferry these to Kurt.

On February 20, a travel day, Kurt turned 27. John Silva jokingly gave him a carton of cigarettes as a present. Four days later, while in Milan, Kurt and Courtney celebrated their second anniversary, but they did so apart: She was still in London doing press for her album. They did talk on the phone and planned to celebrate when they reunited a week later.

By February 25, their second of two nights in Milan, something had shifted in Kurt. He no longer just seemed depressed—there was a defeatism about him. He came to Krist that day and said he wanted to cancel the tour. “He gave me some bullshit, absurd reason for why he wanted to blow it off,” Novoselic recalled. Kurt complained about his stomach, though Krist had heard this protest hundreds of times by now. Krist asked why he’d agreed to the tour in the first place, and reminded Kurt a cancellation would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. “There was something going on with him in his personal life that was really troubling him,” Krist observed. “There was some kind of situation.” But Kurt didn’t share any specifics with Krist—he had long ago stopped being intimate with his old friend.

Kurt didn’t cancel the tour that night, but the only reason he didn’t, Novoselic theorized, was because the next date was in Slovenia, where many of Krist’s relatives would attend. “He hung on there for me,” Krist recalled. “But I think his mind was made up.” During their three days in Slovenia the rest of the band toured the countryside, but Kurt stayed in his room. Novoselic was reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich , by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and he explained the plot to Kurt, thinking it would distract him: “It’s about this guy in a Gulag, who still makes the most of his day.” Kurt’s only response was, “God, and he wants to live! Why would you try to live?”

When the band arrived in Munich for two scheduled shows at Terminal Eins, starting March 1, Kurt complained he felt ill. He uncharacteristically phoned his 52-year-old cousin Art Cobain back in Aberdeen, waking him up in the middle of the night. Art hadn’t seen Kurt in almost two decades, and they weren’t close, but he was glad to listen. “He was getting really fed up with his way of life,” Art told People . Art invited Kurt to the upcoming Cobain family reunion when he returned from Europe.

Everyone who saw Kurt that day reported a sense of desperation and panic to his every action. Adding to his woes was the venue they were playing: It was an abandoned airport terminal turned into a club, and had horrid acoustics. At soundcheck, Kurt asked Jeff Mason for an advance on his per diem, and announced, “I’ll be back for the show.” Mason was surprised Kurt was leaving, considering how loudly he’d complained about feeling ill, and he inquired where he was bound. “I’m going to the train station,” Kurt answered. Everyone on the tour knew what this meant; Kurt might as well have announced, “I’m going to buy drugs.”

When he returned several hours later, Kurt’s mood was no better. Backstage he phoned Courtney and their conversation ended in a fight, as had all their talks over the past week. Kurt then called Rosemary Carroll and told her he wanted a divorce. When he put down the phone, he stood on the side of the stage and watched the opening act. Kurt picked all Nirvana’s opening bands, and for this leg of the tour he had selected the Melvins. “This was what I was looking for,” he’d written in his journal back in 1983, when he’d first seen this band and they had transformed his life. In many ways, he loved the Melvins more than he loved Nirvana—they had meant salvation at a time when he needed to be saved. It had been only eleven years since that fateful day in the parking lot of the Montesano Thriftway, but so much had changed in his life. Yet in Munich, their show only made him feel nostalgic.

When the Melvins finished, Kurt marched into their dressing room and unleashed a long list of problems to Buzz Osborne. Buzz had never seen Kurt so distraught, not even when Kurt had been kicked out of Wendy’s house back in high school. Kurt announced he was going to break up the band, fire his management, and divorce Courtney. Before he walked onstage, Kurt announced to Buzz, “I should just be doing this solo.” “In retrospect,” Buzz observed, “he was talking about his entire life.”

Seventy minutes later, Nirvana’s show was over, prematurely ended by Kurt. It had been a standard set, but, strangely, had included two covers by the Cars—“My Best Friend’s Girl,” and “Moving in Stereo”—and after this latter tune, Kurt walked offstage. Backstage, Kurt grabbed his agent, Don Muller, who happened to be at the show, and announced, “That’s it. Cancel the next gig.” There were only two shows before their scheduled break, which Muller arranged to postpone.

Kurt saw a doctor the next morning who signed a slip—required for their insurance—stating that he was too ill to perform. The physician recommended he take two months off. Despite the diagnosis, Novoselic thought it all an act: “He was just too burned out.” Krist, and several members of the crew, flew back to Seattle, planning on returning for the next leg of the tour on March 11. Kurt headed to Rome, where he was to meet up with Courtney and Frances.

On March 3 Kurt checked into room 541 in Rome’s five-star Hotel Excelsior. Courtney and Frances were slated to arrive later that night. During the day, Kurt explored the city with Pat Smear, visiting tourist attractions, but mostly gathering props for what he imagined would be a romantic reunion—he and Courtney had been apart for 26 days, the longest span of their relationship. “He’d gone to the Vatican and stolen some candlesticks, big ones,” Courtney recalled. “He also kicked off a piece of the Colosseum for me.” Additionally, he’d purchased a dozen red roses, some lingerie, rosary beads from the Vatican, and a pair of three-carat diamond earrings. He also sent a bellboy out to fill a prescription for Rohypnol, a tranquilizer that can aid heroin withdrawal.

Love did not arrive until much later than expected—she had been in London during the day doing press for her upcoming album. At one of those interviews, Courtney had taken a Rohypnol in front of the writer. “I know this is a controlled substance,” she told Select . “I got it from my doctor; it’s like Valium.” Courtney was seeing the same London doctor as Kurt. When Courtney and Frances finally arrived in Rome, the family, their nannies, and Smear had a warm reunion, and ordered champagne to celebrate—Kurt didn’t drink any. After a while, Cali and a second nanny took Frances to her room, and Smear left. Finally alone, Courtney and Kurt made out, but she was exhausted from traveling, and the Rohypnol put her to sleep. Kurt had wanted to make love, she later reported, but she was too exhausted. “Even if I wasn’t in the mood,” she told David Fricke, “I should have just laid there for him. All he needed was to get laid.”

At six in the morning, she awoke and found him on the floor, pale as a ghost, with blood coming out of one nostril. He was fully dressed, wearing his brown corduroy coat, and there was a wad of $1,000 in cash in his right hand. Courtney had seen Kurt close to death from heroin overdoses on more than a dozen occasions, but this wasn’t a heroin overdose. Instead she found a three-page note clutched in the tight, cold ball of his left hand.

Chapter 23

LIKE HAMLET

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

MARCH 1994

Like Hamlet, I have to choose between life and death.
—From the Rome suicide note.

When Kurt sat down to compose his suicide note in the Excelsior Hotel, he thought of Shakespeare and the Prince of Denmark. Two months earlier, during his attempt to dry out at the Canyon Ranch, his doctor warned he had to choose whether to continue with his addiction—which would ultimately mean death—or get sober, and that his answer would determine his very existence. Kurt replied, “You mean, like Hamlet?”

In his Rome note, Kurt cited Shakespeare’s most famous character: “Dr. Baker says that, like Hamlet, I have to choose between life and death. I’m choosing death.” The rest of the note touched on how sick he was of touring, and how Courtney “didn’t love him anymore.” This final point he reinforced by accusing his wife of sleeping with Billy Corgan, who he had always been jealous of. In one of their conversations that week, she’d mentioned Corgan had invited her to go on vacation. She declined, but Kurt heard it as a threat, and his vivid imagination went wild with it. “I’d rather die than go through another divorce,” he wrote, referencing his parents’ split.

Upon discovering Kurt’s lifeless body, Courtney called the front desk, and Kurt was rushed to Umberto I Polyclinic Hospital. Love had retrieved two empty blister packs of Rohypnol next to Kurt—he had taken 60 of the aspirin-size pills, individually removing each from a plastic-and-foil container. Rohypnol has ten times the potency of Valium, and the combined effect was enough to put him very close to death. “He was dead, legally dead,” Love reported later. Yet after his stomach was pumped, Kurt had a slight pulse, though he was in a coma. Doctors told Courtney it was a matter of chance: He might recover uninjured; he might have brain damage; or he might die. During a break in her vigil, she took a cab to the Vatican, purchased more rosary beads, and got down on her knees and prayed. She called his family in Grays Harbor, and they too prayed for him, though his half-sister, eight-year-old Brianne, couldn’t figure out why Kurt was “in Tacoma.”

Later that day, Cable News Network interrupted a broadcast to report Kurt had died of an overdose. Krist and Shelli picked up their phone to hear a Gold Mountain representative with the same sad news. Most of the initial reports of Kurt’s death had originated from David Geffen’s office—a female identifying herself as Courtney had left a message with the label head saying Kurt was dead. After an hour of panic and grief, it was discovered the caller was an impersonator.

As friends in America were being told he was dead, Kurt showed his first signs of life in twenty hours. There were tubes in his mouth, so Courtney handed him a pencil and a notepad, and he jotted, “Fuck you,” followed by, “Get these fucking tubes out of my nose.” When he finally spoke, he asked for a strawberry milkshake. As he stabilized, Courtney had him moved to the American Hospital, where she thought he’d get better care.

The next day, Dr. Osvaldo Galletta held a press conference and announced: “Kurt Cobain is clearly and dramatically improving. Yesterday, he was hospitalized at the Rome American Hospital in a state of coma and respiratory failure. Today, he is recovering from a pharmacological coma, due not to narcotics, but the combined effect of alcohol and tranquilizers that had been medically prescribed by a doctor.” Courtney told reporters that Kurt wasn’t going to “get away” from her that easily. “I’ll follow him through hell,” she said.

When Kurt awoke, he was back in his own small piece of hell. In his mind, nothing had changed: All his problems were still with him, but now were accentuated by the embarrassment of a highly publicized fall from grace. He had always feared arrest; this overdose, and having been declared dead by CNN, was about the only thing that could have been worse.

And despite a near death experience and twenty hours in a coma, he still craved opiates. Later, he would brag that a dealer visited his hospital room and pumped heroin through the IV; he also phoned Seattle and arranged for a gram of heroin to be left in the bushes outside his home.

Back in Aberdeen, Wendy was much relieved to hear Kurt was better. Wendy told the Aberdeen Daily World her son was “in a profession he doesn’t have the stamina to be in.” She told reporter Claude Iosso that she had handled the news well until she looked at the wall: “I took one look at my son’s picture and saw his eyes and I lost it. I didn’t want my son gone.” Wendy had health struggles of her own that year: She had been fighting breast cancer.

Kurt left the hospital on March 8 and four days later flew back to Seattle. On the plane, he asked Courtney for Rohypnol so loudly other passengers overheard him; she told him they were all gone. When they arrived at Sea-Tac airport, he was taken off the plane in a wheelchair, “looking horrible,” according to Travis Myers, a customs agent. Yet when Myers asked for an autograph, Kurt consented, writing, “Hey, Travis, no cannabis.” In America, the scrutiny he dreaded was mostly absent because the official Gold Mountain statement had declared Rome an accidental overdose—few knew he’d taken 60 pills or left a note. Kurt didn’t even tell his best friend, Dylan. “I thought it was an accidental OD, which was the party line, and was believable,” Dylan recalled. Even Novoselic and Grohl were told it was an accidental overdose. Everyone in the organization had witnessed Kurt’s overdoses before; many were resigned his drug use would one day claim his life.

The European tour had been postponed, but the band and crew were told to prepare for Lollapalooza. Kurt had never wanted to play the festival, and he had yet to sign the contract, but management assumed he’d yield. “Nirvana had confirmed they were going to appear on the 1994 Lollapalooza,” said promoter Marc Geiger. “Nothing was in writing at that point, but they were totally confirmed, and we were working on finishing up the contracts.” Nirvana’s take of box office revenues would have been around $8 million.

Kurt felt the offer wasn’t fair; he didn’t want to perform in a festival environment, and he simply didn’t want to tour. Courtney felt he should take the money, arguing that Nirvana needed the career boost. “He was being threatened with being sued for the shows he didn’t do in Europe,” Dylan recalled. “And I think he felt like he was going to be financially ruined.” Rosemary Carroll remembered Kurt emphatically announcing he didn’t want to play the festival. “Everyone around him basically told him that he had to, in his personal life and his professional life,” she said. Kurt handled this situation as he dealt with most conflict: He avoided it, and by stalling, he killed the deal. “He was withdrawing, not from drugs, but from dealing with people,” Carroll recalled. “It was such a difficult time that I think people exaggerated and blamed his drug use when they weren’t getting what they wanted out of him.”

Yet the drugs were present, in quantities greater than ever before. Courtney had hoped Rome would scare Kurt—it had terrified her— so his heedless overuse alarmed her. “I flipped out,” she told David Fricke. She decided to establish an iron-clad rule she hoped would keep Kurt, Cali, and herself clean: She insisted no drugs were to be done inside the house. Kurt’s response was simple and typical: He left his $1.13 million–dollar mansion and checked into $18-a-night motels on seedy Aurora Avenue. Throughout the worst spans of his addiction, he had frequently retreated to these dark places, not even bothering in most instances to check in under an assumed name. He frequented the Seattle Inn, the Crest, the Close-In, the A-1, and the Marco Polo, always paying cash, and in the privacy of his room he would nod off for hours. He favored establishments in northern Seattle: Though they were less convenient to his home, they were close to a favorite dealer. On nights he wouldn’t return home, Courtney became panicked, worried that he’d overdosed. She quickly rescinded her policy. “I wish I’d just been the way I always was, just tolerant of it,” she later told Fricke.

But it wasn’t just Courtney’s disappointment driving Kurt; something was different about him after Rome. Novoselic wondered whether the coma had indeed left him with brain damage. “He wouldn’t listen to anybody ,” Krist recalled. “He was so fucked up.” Dylan noticed a shift as well: “He didn’t seem as alive. Before, he had more to him; after, he seemed monochromatic.”

A week after Rome, Kurt’s father phoned, and they had a pleasant but short conversation. He invited his dad to visit, but no one was home when Don arrived. Kurt apologized the next day by phone, claiming he’d been busy. Yet when his father returned two days later, Cali reported Kurt again gone. Truth was Kurt was home but was high and didn’t want his father to see him in such a state. When they next spoke, Kurt promised to call as soon as he got a break from his busy career.

That career—at least when it came to Nirvana—was essentially over by the second week of March. Kurt’s decision to cancel the tour, turn down Lollapalooza, and refuse to practice had finally confirmed what Novoselic and Grohl had suspected was looming for some time. “The band was broken up,” Krist recalled. The only musical project Kurt planned was with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. Stipe had gone so far as to send Kurt plane tickets to Atlanta for a session they had scheduled in mid-March. At the last minute, Kurt cancelled.

On March 12 Seattle police were dispatched to the Lake Washington house after someone called 911 but hung up. Courtney answered the door, apologized for the call, and explained there had been a fight but it was now under control. Kurt told the officer, “There was a lot of stress” in his marriage. He said they should “go to therapy.”

On March 18 Kurt threatened suicide once again, locking himself in the bedroom. Courtney kicked the door, but was unable to break it down. He eventually opened it willingly, and she saw several guns on the floor. She grabbed a .38 revolver and put it to her head. “I’m going to pull this [trigger] right now,” she threatened. “I cannot see you die again.” It was the same game of Russian Roulette they had played in Cedars-Sinai Hospital in 1992. Kurt screamed, “There’s no safety! You don’t understand, there’s no safety on that. It’s going to go off!” He grabbed the gun from her. But a few minutes later, he locked her out again, and was back threatening suicide. Courtney called 911, and two police officers arrived within minutes.

Officer Edwards wrote in his police report that Kurt claimed he was “not suicidal and doesn’t want to hurt himself....He stated that he had locked himself in the room to keep away from Courtney.” Once police arrived, Courtney tried to downplay the episode so Kurt might avoid arrest. Just to be safe, she pointed out his guns, and police seized three pistols and the Colt AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle from the incident the previous summer—these weapons had been returned to Kurt a month after the original domestic violence arrest. The police also impounded 25 boxes of ammunition and a bottle of “white pills”— these later turned out to be Klonopin, a benzodiazepine used primarily for seizure control. Kurt was taking massive quantities of this tranquilizer, thinking it would help him with withdrawal. Klonopin made him paranoid, manic, and delusional. It had not been prescribed; he was instead buying the drug on the street. The officers took Kurt downtown but didn’t formally book him.

Ian Dickson was walking on Pine Street that night and ran into Kurt on a street corner. When Dickson asked what his old friend was up to, Kurt said, “Courtney had me arrested. I just got out of jail.” He described the fight, downplaying the guns. “He said it was a lovers’ spat,” Dickson remembered, “and that he was bummed because he really loved Courtney.” They walked to Piecora’s Pizza, where Kurt complained of being broke. “He asked to borrow $100, and if he could stay at my place,” Dickson recalled. “He was talking about how he was going to get his mom to wire him some money.” Kurt suddenly left, announcing he had to make a phone call.

Four days later, Kurt and Courtney were quarrelling when they took a cab to the American Dream car lot. Courtney urged Kurt to consider another Lexus, but Kurt had other ideas: He bought a 1965 sky blue Dodge Dart for $2,500. He put a “for sale” sign on his trusty Valiant.

He didn’t really need the car because he spent most of that March too messed up to drive. As his overuse spiraled, he found his usual dealers refused to sell to him: No one wanted the trouble of a famous junkie dying in their stairwell. He found a new dealer named Caitlin Moore, who lived at the intersection of 11th and Denny Way and would sell him “speedballs,” a mixture of heroin and cocaine. This was not Kurt’s preferred high, but Moore would allow rock-star clients to fix in her apartment, which was essential because Kurt no longer felt welcome at home.

When he wasn’t at Moore’s or at the Taco Time on Madison—his favorite place to buy a burrito—he could frequently be found at the Granada Apartments, home of Cali’s girlfriend Jennifer Adamson. Jennifer found herself in awe, watching the most famous rock star in the world sitting on her sofa, many times doing drugs, but on other occasions just killing time. “He’d sit in my living room with the hat with the ear coverings, and read magazines,” she said. “People came and went; there was always a lot of activity going on. Nobody knew he was there or recognized him.” In the world of junkie culture, Kurt found some of the anonymity he lacked elsewhere. Yet as Jennifer grew to know Kurt better, she was bewildered at how lonely he seemed. He told Jennifer and Cali, “You guys are my only friends.”

Courtney was unsure what to do to rein him in, and most discussions turned into arguments. “They started to fight a lot,” Jennifer observed. “Clearly he wasn’t reaching out to her at his most desperate time of need, or to anybody else for that matter.” As Kurt moved away from Courtney, he favored Dylan, if only because Dylan never lectured him to clean up his act. One night that spring the two men cemented their relationship by hot-wiring a car and ditching it on Kurt’s Carnation property. “I’ve got this millionaire husband,” Courtney recalled, “and he’s out stealing cars.”

After Rome, even Kurt’s drug buddies observed an increasing desperation to his usage. “When most people are doing a shot of heroin, they pay attention to how much,” Jennifer observed. “They think, ‘let’s make sure this isn’t too much.’ Kurt never thought about that; there was never any hesitation with him. He really didn’t care if it killed him; things would be taken care of that way.” Jennifer began to fear Kurt would OD in her apartment: “It amazed me for such a small person, and such a slight guy, how much he could do. You couldn’t fit enough in the syringe for him.” The third week in March, she chastised Kurt on how he was putting his life in danger, but his reply frightened her even more: “He told me he was going to shoot himself in the head. He said, half jokingly, ‘That’s how I’m going to die.’ ”

By the third week of March, like his beloved Hamlet in the fifth act, Kurt was a changed man and in a frenzy that showed no signs of abating. The drugs, combined with what many around him described as a lifelong undiagnosed depression, shrouded him in madness. Even heroin had betrayed him; he reported it wasn’t as effective a painkiller anymore; his stomach was still hurting. Courtney and Kurt’s managers decided to force him into treatment. In Kurt’s case, everyone knew this was a last-ditch effort at best, with little chance of changing him—he had previously gone through several interventions, and he wasn’t likely to be surprised. He had already been in a half dozen drug treatment facilities, and none had worked for more than a few weeks. But as Courtney saw it, at least an intervention was something they could do, a physical action. As with many families around an active addict, those around Kurt felt increasingly hopeless themselves.

Danny Goldberg contacted Steven Chatoff, of Steps recovery center. “I started having telephone conversations with Kurt where he was very, very loaded,” Chatoff recalled. “He was using quite a bit of heroin, or some other painkillers. But we also discussed, during some of his more coherent times when he wasn’t gravely impaired, about some of his childhood issues and some of his unresolved family of origin issues, and the pain he was in. He had a lot of stomach pain, which he was medicating with these opiates.” Chatoff felt underneath Kurt’s addiction was “a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, or some form of depressive disorder.” He recommended an inpatient treatment program. Chatoff described Kurt’s earlier rehabs as “detox, buff, and shine,” suggesting that they were designed to get Kurt sober, but not deal with the underlying problems.

Chatoff found Kurt surprisingly cooperative, at least at first: “He agreed that he needed [inpatient treatment]; that he needed to work on his ‘psychic pain,’ as he put it.” But one thing Kurt didn’t admit to— and Chatoff at the time wasn’t told by management—was that Rome was a suicide attempt: Chatoff believed what he’d read in the paper, that it had been an accidental overdose.

Kurt expressed grave doubts to Dylan whether rehab would help. Having tried treatment on a half dozen previous occasions, Kurt knew the odds were against repeat patients. Though there were brief moments when he would claim to be willing to go through the pain of withdrawal, most of the time he simply didn’t want to stop: Jackie Farry recalled picking up Kurt from a $2,000-a-day rehab, only to have him direct her to a house she suspected was his dealer’s. His other trips to rehab had all been the result of ultimatums from his managers, wife, or the court, and all had the ultimate same result: He’d gone back to using again.

Chatoff planned his intervention for Tuesday, March 21, but before those involved could even be assembled, Kurt was tipped off, and it was cancelled. Novoselic admitted he had tipped Kurt off, feeling the idea would backfire and that Kurt would flee. “I just felt so bad for him,” Krist recalled. “He looked so fucked up. I knew he wouldn’t listen to it.” Krist saw Kurt for the first time since Rome that week at the Marco Polo Motel on Aurora Avenue. “He was camped out there. He was delusional. It was so weird. He was like, ‘Krist, where can I buy a motorcycle?’ I was like, ‘Fuck, what are you talking about? You don’t want to buy a motorcycle. You’ve got to get the fuck out of here.’ ” Krist invited Kurt to go away on vacation, just the two of them, to talk things out, but Kurt refused. “He was really quiet. He was just estranged from all his relationships. He wasn’t connecting with anybody.”

Kurt complained of being hungry, so Krist offered to buy him dinner at a fancy restaurant; Kurt insisted he wanted a Jack in the Box hamburger. As Novoselic drove toward Jack in the Box in the nearby U-District, Kurt protested: “Those hamburgers are too greasy. Let’s go to the one on Capitol Hill—the food is better there.” Only when they arrived on Capitol Hill did Novoselic realize Kurt didn’t want hamburgers at all: He was simply using his old friend to get a ride to score drugs. “His dealer was right by there. He just wanted to get fucked up into oblivion. There was no talking to him. He just wanted to escape. He wanted to die, that was what he wanted to do.” The two men began screaming at each other and Kurt bolted from the car.

A new counselor named David Burr was hired, and another intervention was scheduled for later that week. Danny Goldberg remembered Courtney pleading on the phone, “You’ve got to come. I’m afraid he’s going to kill himself or hurt someone.” Burr’s intervention occurred on Friday, March 25. Just to make sure Kurt didn’t flee, Courtney slashed the tires on the Volvo and the Dart; the Valiant’s tires were so bald she thought Kurt wouldn’t risk driving it.

This intervention did surprise Kurt, though the timing ultimately was unfortunate: Kurt and Dylan had just gotten high. “Me and Kurt had been up all night partying,” Dylan explained. “And both me and him had just woken up and done a wake-up shot, and walked downstairs, and this sea of people were there to confront him.” Kurt was furious, showing the anger of a newly caged beast. His first reaction was to grab a recycling bin and throw it at Dylan, who he thought had lured him. Dylan told Kurt he wasn’t in on it, and urged Kurt to leave. But Kurt stayed and faced a room full of his managers, friends, and band-mates. It was as if he were on trial, and like a remorseful criminal in a capital case, he kept his eyes focused on the floor during the entire proceeding.

In the room were Courtney; Danny Goldberg, John Silva, and Janet Billig from Gold Mountain; Mark Kates and Gary Gersh from his label; Pat Smear from the band; Cali, the nanny; and the counselor David Burr. Kurt’s mother wasn’t there because she was in Aberdeen caring for Frances. Many of the participants had flown on red-eye flights to arrive in Seattle on short notice. One by one, each person recounted a list of reasons Kurt should go into treatment. Each speaker ended with a threat, the consequence Kurt could expect if he didn’t acquiesce. Danny, John, and Janet said they’d no longer work with him; Gary Gersh said Geffen would drop Nirvana; Smear said Nirvana would break up; and Courtney said she would divorce him. Kurt was silent during these warnings: He had already anticipated these endings, and in every instance he had already hazarded to sever these unions himself.

Though Burr told everyone they “had to confront Kurt,” few present were capable of that. “Everyone was so scared of Kurt,” Goldberg observed. “He had this aura around him, where even I would feel like I was walking on eggshells, and I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. He was so powerful an energy, the other people, with all respect, literally didn’t talk to him at all. They just kind of hung around, and lurked around in the background.” The person who said the most was Burr, who was attempting to professionally run an intervention, but in this case the patient was Kurt Cobain, who wasn’t listening: His addiction was too strong and ingrained a shield for these blows to break it.

The real drama began when Courtney spoke. She was by far the most direct of those in the room, but then she had the most to lose. She begged Kurt to go to treatment, imploring, “This has got to end!...You have to be a good daddy!” And then she threw down the threat she knew would hurt the most: If they divorced, and he continued with his addiction, his access to Frances would be limited.

After everyone other than Kurt had spoken, there was a brief moment of silence, like that which precedes a major battle in a John Wayne movie. Kurt’s eyes slowly rose and malevolently went from person to person, until he won every stare-down contest. When he finally spoke, he spat out words in anger. “Who the fuck are all of you to tell me this?” he bellowed. He took his own inventory of everyone in the room, describing, in explicit detail, instances he had witnessed of their drug usage. Danny Goldberg responded by telling Kurt it was his health they were all concerned with, not anyone else’s. “How are we going to even have a conversation if you are fucked up?” Goldberg implored. “So you get a little clean, and then at least you can have a conversation about it.” Kurt got angrier and angrier, and being a skilled verbal tactician he began to dissect everyone in the room, hitting each with an assault he knew would strike to their core weakness. He called Janet Billig “a fat pig,” and he called everyone in the room a hypocrite. He frantically grabbed the Yellow Pages and turned to the section for psychiatrists. “I don’t trust anybody here,” he declared. “I’m going to get a psychiatrist out of the Yellow Pages I can trust.”

His greatest rage was reserved for Courtney. “His big thing was that Courtney was more fucked up than he was,” Goldberg recalled. Kurt’s attack on Courtney was deflated when he was told she was flying to Los Angeles for rehab. He was urged to accompany her. He refused and continued to dial psychiatrists, getting only answering services. Courtney was a mess herself—the intervention and the last three weeks, where every day she expected to hear news of his overdose, had taken their toll. She had to be helped to a car, and Kurt was offered one more chance to accompany her. He refused, and as her car left, he was frenetically flipping through the Yellow Pages. “I did not even kiss or get to say good-bye to my husband,” Love later told David Fricke.

Kurt insisted no one in the room had any right to judge him. He retired to the basement with Smear, saying that all he wanted to do was play guitar for a while. Those present slowly began to leave; most had to catch flights back to Los Angeles or New York. By evening, even Burr and Smear were gone, and Kurt was left with the same emptiness he felt most days. He spent the rest of the evening at his dealer’s complaining about the intervention. The dealer later told a newspaper that Kurt had asked her, “Where are my friends when I need them? Why are my friends against me?”

The next day Jackie Farry came back to work for the Cobains and took Frances to Los Angeles to be near Courtney. Kurt’s mother and sister drove to Seattle, urged by Courtney, to try to talk to him. Their confrontation went no better than the intervention, and it left all parties with a greater sense of heartache and loss. Kurt was obviously high, and it anguished Wendy and Kim to see him in so much emotional pain. He wouldn’t listen: It had come to a point where nothing could be talked through anymore. As mother and sister were leaving—both in tears—Kim, being the most direct of the family, asked her brother one more question as she stood in the door: “Do you really hate us this much?” As she said this she was weeping, which must have appeared extraordinary to Kurt: Kim was always the tough one, the one that never cried. And here she was at the door of his house, and it was he who was making her cry. “Oh yeah,” he replied, sounding as sarcastic as she had ever heard him. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “I really hate you guys. I hate you guys.” Kim couldn’t say anything else—she had to leave.

In Los Angeles Courtney checked into the Peninsula Hotel to begin a controversial treatment plan called “hotel detox.” She was to be seen several times a day by a drug counselor in a hotel suite, avoiding the glare of a more public treatment center. She tried calling the Seattle house but got no answer.

Kurt, as she suspected, was out doing drugs. He was now alone in the house with Cali. Kurt showed up at a local dealer’s house later that day, but had bought and used so much heroin that the dealer refused to sell him any more: They did this both out of feigned concern for his health and fear that if he overdosed on their dope, it might bring the police upon them. “He was on a binge,” reported Rob Morfitt, who knew several people who encountered Kurt that weekend. “He was going around and getting extremely screwed up.” Kurt’s normal carelessness was replaced by a death wish that frightened even the most seasoned, cynical junkies. The last few months of his drug use, he had wantonly shared needles with other users, ignoring public health warnings about HIV and hepatitis. Black tar heroin frequently caused abscesses from the impurities used to cut it. By March, Kurt’s arms had scabs and abscesses, which themselves were a potential health danger.

Later that day he bribed other users to score heroin for him, promising them drugs in return. When the drugs were split up in their apartment and cooked, Kurt prepared a syringe that was as black as coal— he had failed to use enough water to dilute it. His compatriots looked on in horror as upon injecting himself, he immediately began to suffer the consequences of an OD. A panic went through the apartment, as Kurt began to gasp for air: If he died there, the police would inevitably be involved. The apartment residents ordered Kurt to leave, and when he was incapable of moving, they dragged him outside. His Valiant was parked on the street and they planted him in the back seat. One person offered to call 911, but Kurt was conscious enough to hear this and shook his head. They left him alone, figuring that if he wanted to die, he was going to do it on his own watch.

This is what it all had come to: The most famous rock star of his generation was lying in the backseat of a car, unable to talk, unable to move, and one more time coming just inches away from dying. He had spent many nights in this car—it was as reliable and cozy a home as he ever had—and it was as good a place to die as any. The “for sale” sign on the back window, written on a piece of a cardboard, had his home phone number on it.

Kurt didn’t die that weekend. In yet one more feat that defied science, his constitution survived another dose of heroin that would have killed most people. When he woke up in the car the next day, his emotional and physical pain were back: What he wanted more than anything was to be free from all hurts. Even heroin wasn’t helping now.

When he returned home, there were numerous messages from Courtney, and also messages from a new psychiatrist named Dr. Steven Scappa, who Buddy Arnold had recommended. Kurt called Scappa back and began to have long conversations with him. He seemed to be softening and connecting with Scappa in a way that he hadn’t with some of the other doctors. That Monday, he also took a call from Rosemary Carroll, who tried to talk him into treatment. “You are making it easy,” she told him, “for a lot of these people that you want to stop controlling your life to paint a completely negative picture of you; for them to essentially maintain control, because of the drug issue. If you go do the treatment thing, you give them one less arrow in their quiver, you radically diminish their ammunition. It may not make any sense, and it may not be based in logic, but that’s the way it is. So you go, and deal with this. It will make solving these problems easier when you get out. It will give us a basis to stand on.” Kurt’s response was, “I know.” He told Carroll he would try treatment one more time.

That Tuesday, reservations were made for Kurt to fly to Los Angeles, and Krist was enlisted to take him to the airport. When Kurt arrived at Krist’s house, it was obvious he did not want to go. As they took the 25-minute drive, Kurt sobbed and yelled and screamed. On Interstate 5, near the Tukwila exit, Kurt tried to open the door and jump from the moving car. Krist couldn’t believe this was happening, yet with his long arms he managed to hold on to Kurt as he drove, even as his car swerved. They made it to the airport a few minutes later, but Kurt hadn’t improved: Krist had to drag him by the collar, the way a schoolmaster might escort a ruffian to the principal’s office. In the main terminal, Kurt punched Krist in the face and attempted to flee. Krist tackled him, and a wrestling match ensued. The two old friends brawled on the floor of the crowded airport terminal, cursing and punching each other like two drunks in an Aberdeen bar brawl. Kurt freed himself from his friend’s grasp and ran through the building screaming, “Fuck you!” as shocked passengers looked on. The last Krist saw of Kurt was his blond mop turning the corner.

Krist drove back to Seattle alone, sobbing. “Krist had such a huge, huge amount of love for Kurt,” Shelli recalled. “We both did. He was family to us. I’d known him for almost half his life.” As a teenager, Shelli had slipped Kurt free Big Macs from behind the counter at the Aberdeen McDonald’s. For a couple of weeks back in 1989, Kurt, Tracy, Krist, and Shelli had all shared the same double bed, sleeping in shifts. Kurt had once lived in a van behind their house, and Shelli would bring him blankets to make sure he didn’t freeze to death. Krist and Kurt had driven what seemed like a million miles together, and they had told each other things they had never told another soul. But that Tuesday night, Krist told Shelli he knew in his heart he would never see Kurt alive again, and he was right.

Later that night, Kurt talked on the phone with Scappa several times, and also had what Courtney remembered as a pleasant conversation with her. He nodded out during it, but despite his actions earlier with Krist, he again was agreeing to treatment. Arrangements were made for him to fly out the next day.

Having resignedly agreed to go, Kurt did what most active addicts do before heading into treatment: He tried to do so much heroin that some would remain in his system during those first horrible days of withdrawal. The next afternoon, Kurt drove to Dylan’s with a favor to ask: He wanted to buy a gun “for protection and because of prowlers,” since the police had taken away all his other weapons, and he wondered if Dylan would purchase it for him. Dylan accepted this logic, even though there was no registration in Washington for rifles. They drove to Stan Baker’s Sports at 10000 Lake City Way. “If Kurt was suicidal,” Dylan later recalled, “he sure hid it from me.” Inside, Kurt pointed to a Remington M-11 twenty-gauge shotgun. Dylan bought it and a box of shells, paying $308.37 in cash, which Kurt handed him. Having purchased the shotgun, Kurt went home.

That night Harvey Ottinger, a driver for Washington Limousine Service, arrived in his town car as scheduled at the Lake Washington house. He waited an hour, and Kurt finally came down carrying a small satchel. On the way to the airport, Kurt realized he had left the box of shotgun cartridges in his bag, and asked Ottinger if he’d dispose of them. The driver said yes, and as they pulled up to Sea-Tac, Kurt exited the car and hurried for his flight to Los Angeles.

Chapter 24

ANGEL’S HAIR

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA– SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

MARCH 30–APRIL 6, 1994

Cut myself on angel’s hair and baby’s breath.
—From “Heart-Shaped Box.”

Pat Smear and Gold Mountain’s Michael Meisel met Kurt at LAX on Wednesday evening and drove him to Exodus Recovery Center, part of the Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital in Marina Del Rey. This was the same facility Kurt had attended in September 1992. It was a rehab favored by rock stars—Joe Walsh of the Eagles had left the day before, and Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers was there when Kurt arrived. Kurt checked in for what was scheduled to be a 28-day program.

He was assigned room 206 in the twenty-bed facility. That first night he went through a 40-minute intake interview with a nurse. Afterwards, he came down to the common room and sat next to Haynes, who had been one of his idols as a teenager. “Everyone was going to a Cocaine Anonymous meeting, but Kurt said he was going to stay at Exodus, because he’d just gotten there,” Haynes recalled. “He looked sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Thursday morning, Kurt began his course of treatment, which consisted of group therapy, meetings, and individual therapy with his substance abuse counselor, Nial Stimson. “He was totally in denial that he had a heroin problem,” Stimson said. “I asked him if he understood the seriousness of his Italy thing: ‘Man, you almost died! You have to take this seriously. Your drug abuse has gotten you to where you almost lost your life. Do you get how serious this is?’ ” Kurt’s response was, “I understand. I just want to get cleaned up and out of here.” Stimson had not been informed that Rome was a suicide attempt. As a result, Kurt was in a regular room at Exodus, though just a short distance away was the locked-down psychiatric unit of the hospital.

Courtney called Exodus several times that day and she argued with the staff when she was told Kurt was unavailable. In his sessions with Stimson, Kurt rarely mentioned his battles with Courtney. Instead, he said the worry of potentially losing a lawsuit with original “Heart-Shaped Box” video director Kevin Kerslake was what scared him the most. Kerslake had filed a suit on March 9, claiming he, not Kurt, had come up with many of the ideas in the video. Kurt told his counselor he had thought about almost nothing else since Kerslake’s suit had been filed and he worried the case would wipe him out financially. “He told me his biggest fear was that if he lost that suit, he would lose his house,” Stimson said.

During Thursday afternoon, Kurt was visited by Jackie Farry and Frances—Courtney did not visit because her physician had advised against it in the early stages of Kurt’s sobriety. Frances was nineteen months old at the time; Kurt played with her but Farry noticed that he seemed out of it, and she assumed it was because of drugs the center had given him to help with withdrawal. When talking with Farry, Kurt didn’t mention the Kerslake suit, but did bring up the battle with Courtney over Lollapalooza. Jackie and Frances only stayed a short while but promised to return the next day.

They came back on Friday morning at eleven and Jackie found Kurt looking surprisingly rested. “He was in this incredibly happy mood, which I just didn’t get,” Farry recalled. “I was thinking, ‘God, for one second, maybe he really is for real this time.’ He was laying it on thick, saying all these incredibly complimentary things to me and being really positive. And that wasn’t his deal—sitting around and trying to make the world look great. Usually he was kind of grumpy. But I just took it as a sign that it was a positive 24-hour turnaround.” Farry told Kurt about her plans for a television show and Kurt was uncharacteristically encouraging, telling her that she’d make a “great famous person” because she “wasn’t all screwed up.”

Kurt’s change in mood wasn’t enough to alarm Farry—she just assumed he was on pills provided by the rehab. Compared to the first visit, he was more physical with Frances, and threw her in the air to make her giggle. Farry went down the hall for a moment, thinking she would give the two of them time alone together. When she returned, Kurt was holding Frances over his shoulder, patting her on the back, and sweetly talking in her ear. Farry gathered Frances and told Kurt they’d see him the next day. He walked them to the door, looked his daughter in the eyes, and said, “Good-bye.”

In the early afternoon Kurt sat in the smoking area behind Exodus, chatting with Gibby. Most repeat-rehab patients—which both Kurt and Gibby were—approached treatment with a gallows humor, and the two of them gossiped about others with problems worse than their own. One drummer had developed such severe abscesses that his arm had been amputated. Gibby joked he was glad he was just the singer, and Kurt had a long laugh at this. They chuckled over a mutual acquaintance who had escaped Exodus by jumping over the back wall: This was completely unnecessary, since the front doors were unlocked. “Me and Kurt were laughing about what a dumb-ass he was for escaping over the wall,” Haynes recalled.

That afternoon, Kurt was visited by Pat Smear and Joe “Mama” Nitzburg. Mama was an artist friend of Courtney’s who had been through drug treatment before himself. The previous year, in an act of altruism never publicized, Kurt paid for Mama’s art school tuition when Mama’s financial aid was denied. Courtney had sent Mama to Exodus with a letter for Kurt, along with some candy and a fanzine she thought he’d like. Mama was surprised at how lucid Kurt was with just a day of sobriety. “You look good; how do you feel?” he asked. “I don’t feel that bad,” was Kurt’s deadpan response.

The three of them went to the back patio so Kurt could smoke. Gibby was still out there, and making the same jokes about jumping the wall. They chatted for almost an hour, but it was mostly small talk. Kurt had always wanted to go to art school and told Mama he was envious. Mama was left with the impression that Kurt was serene: “Whatever had troubled him, he seemed to have already made peace with it.” Pat and Joe left about five in the evening, and as they parted, Mama told Kurt they’d visit again. “He gave the impression that you want a drug addict in recovery to give you,” observed Mama, “the ‘I can’t-do-this-anymore-I-give-up’ impression.”

That Friday afternoon, Courtney repeatedly tried to reach Kurt on the patients’ pay phone. She finally called when he was near it, and they had a short conversation. “No matter what happens,” he told her, “I want you to know that you made a really good album.” She found it odd he would mention this, since her record wouldn’t be released for another week. “What do you mean?” she asked, confused at the melodrama in his voice. “Just remember, no matter what, I love you.” With that, he hung up.

At 7:23 that evening Michael Meisel’s roommate answered the phone. It was Kurt. “Michael’s out for the evening,” the roommate announced, “should I have him call you?” Kurt said he wasn’t going to be near a phone. Two minutes later, he walked out the back door of Exodus and climbed the six-foot wall he and Gibby had joked about earlier in the day.

He departed Exodus with only the clothes on his back. In his room, he left a couple of shirts and a recently started journal containing four embryonic songs. Over his 27 years he had filled two dozen different spiral notebooks that served as his journals, but by 1994 he was rarely writing down his thoughts. Yet sometime during Kurt’s stay at Exodus, he completed a Rorschach-like assignment that asked him to illustrate a dozen words; the results read like something from his diaries. It was the type of drill Kurt had excelled at his entire life, ever since his grandfather challenged him to draw Mickey Mouse.

When asked to illustrate “resentment,” he drew two angry eyes with red flames next to them. For “jealousy,” he drew a Nazi sign with legs. To express “lonely,” he sketched a narrow street with two giant skyscrapers dwarfing the sides. For “hurt,” he drew a spinal cord with a brain and heart attached to it: It looked a bit like the back of In Utero . For “safe,” he depicted a circle of friends. For “surrender,” he drew a man with a bright light emanating from him. For “depressed,” he showed an umbrella surrounded by ties. For “determined,” he drew a foot stepping on a syringe. And for the final page of the exercise, to show “abandon,” he drew a tiny stick figure the size of an ant on an immense landscape.

Two hours after he jumped the fence, Kurt used his credit card to buy a first-class ticket to Seattle on Delta Flight 788. Before boarding, he called Seattle Limousine and arranged to be picked up at the airport—he specifically requested they not send a limo. He made an attempt to call Courtney; she wasn’t in, so he left a message that he had called.

Courtney was already searching L.A. for him, convinced as soon as she heard word he’d left Exodus that he was going to score drugs and potentially overdose. “She was hysterical,” Joe Mama remembered. Courtney began phoning drug dealers and inquiring whether Kurt was there; she didn’t trust their word, so she visited. She also decided to spread the rumor that she had overdosed, assuming this deception would get to Kurt and he’d contact her. As a distraught Courtney—with three days of sobriety—found herself back in familiar dealers’ haunts, she fell off the wagon.

Meanwhile, Kurt was on the plane. He found himself sitting next to Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses. McKagan had begun his career in several Northwest punk bands, and despite all the bad blood between Nirvana and Guns, Kurt seemed happy to see Duff. Kurt admitted he had left rehab; Duff said he understood, as he was in recovery from heroin himself. McKagan could tell things were amiss. “I knew from all my instincts something was wrong.” The two talked about mutual friends, but there was also a wistfulness to their conversation—both were leaving Los Angeles and returning to the Northwest. “We were talking about what it feels like to be going back home,” McKagan recalled. “That’s what he said he was doing, ‘going home.’ ” Kurt announced this like someone who had been away for years, not three days. When the plane arrived in Seattle, McKagan went to ask if Kurt needed a ride, but when he turned around he was gone.

Kurt arrived home at 1:45 in the morning on Saturday, April 2. If he did sleep, it wasn’t for long: At around 6 a.m., as dawn broke, he appeared in Cali’s room on the first floor of the house. Cali was there with girlfriend Jessica Hopper, on spring break from her Minneapolis boarding school. Cali was simultaneously dating Jessica and Jennifer Adamson (he previously had been involved with Academy Award– nominated actress Juliette Lewis). Though Jessica was younger than Cali, and straight-edge (did no drugs or alcohol), she adored him.

Cali had passed out Saturday morning from cocaine. The previous night, in an attempt to warm the giant house after the heating oil had run out, a stoned Cali lit a Presto Log outside before attempting to carry it into his room; he dropped it on the living room floor. As his drug problems had increased and his nanny duties had been curtailed, Cali had become the Kato Kaelin of the Cobain household. “By that point, Cali wasn’t in charge of anything,” Jessica observed, “other than helping get drugs or making sure Kurt didn’t die.”

That morning Kurt walked into Cali’s room and sat on the end of the bed. Jessica woke, but not Cali. “Hey skinhead girl,” Kurt sang to Jessica, mimicking the lyrics to a punk song. Jessica implored Kurt, “Call Courtney! You’ve got to call Courtney; she’s freaking out.” She grabbed a number off a table, handed it to him, and watched as Kurt dialed the Peninsula. The hotel operator announced Courtney wasn’t taking any calls. “This is her husband. Let me through,” Kurt demanded. Kurt had forgotten the code name that was needed to reach his wife. He kept repeating, “this is her husband,” but the hotel operator wouldn’t let him through. Frustrated, he hung up. Cali momentarily woke up and, seeing Kurt, told him to call Courtney.

As Cali fell back asleep, Jessica and Kurt sat silently for a few minutes, watching MTV. Kurt smiled when a video by the Meat Puppets came on. Five minutes later, he called the hotel again, but they still wouldn’t let him through. Jessica fell asleep watching Kurt leafing through a copy of Puncture magazine.

Twenty minutes later, Kurt called Graytop Cab. He told the driver that he had “recently been burgled and needed bullets.” They drove downtown, but seeing as it was 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, sporting goods stores were closed. Kurt asked the driver to take him to 145th and Aurora, saying he was hungry. Most likely Kurt checked into either the Crest or Quest Motel, places he had stayed before—they were near one of his dealers. That day he also went to Seattle Guns and bought a box of twenty-gauge shotgun shells.

Back at the Cobain house, the main phone rang every ten minutes but Cali was afraid to answer it, thinking it was Courtney. When he finally answered, he told her he hadn’t seen Kurt. Still fried from drugs, Cali thought Kurt’s bedside visit was simply a dream. Cali and Jessica were fighting about his drug use, and in a fit of rage he suggested she take an early flight home. He tried to use the $100,000-limit Mastercard Kurt had given him to buy her an airline ticket but the charge was denied. He called Courtney to complain and she told him she’d cancelled Kurt’s cards, thinking this would help determine his whereabouts. Feeling ill, Jessica went to bed and spent much of the next two days sleeping and trying to ignore the house phone, which rang endlessly.

Over the next two days there were scattered sightings of Kurt. On Sunday evening he was seen at the Cactus Restaurant having dinner with a thin woman, possibly his dealer Caitlin Moore, and an unidentified man. After Kurt finished his meal, he licked his plate, which attracted the attention of other patrons. When the bill was presented, his credit card wouldn’t go through. “He seemed traumatized by hearing that his card was denied,” recalled Ginny Heller, who was in the restaurant. “He was standing at the counter, trying to write a check, but it looked like a painful process for him.” Kurt made up a story about his credit card being stolen.

That Sunday, Courtney phoned private investigators in the Los Angeles Yellow Pages until she found one working on a weekend. Tom Grant and his assistant Ben Klugman visited her at the Peninsula that afternoon. She said her husband had skipped rehab; she worried for his health; and she asked Grant to watch dealer Caitlin Moore’s apartment, where she figured Kurt might be. Grant subcontracted with a Seattle investigator, giving directives to observe Dylan Carlson’s house and Caitlin Moore’s apartment. Surveillance was set up late Sunday night. However, private detectives did not immediately set up at the Lake Washington house or the home the Cobains owned in Carnation, where Kurt’s sister Kim was living at the time. Courtney assumed that Cali would let her know if Kurt showed up at their house.

Early Monday, Cali and Jessica were in the middle of yet another argument when the phone rang, and Cali barked, “Don’t answer it. It’s just Courtney and we don’t know anything about Kurt.” Jessica asked Cali if he’d talked to Kurt since they saw him. “What do you mean, ‘since I saw him?’ ” Cali inquired, his eyes widening. Jessica recited the events from Saturday. Cali finally told Courtney Kurt had in fact been at the house on Saturday.

In Los Angeles, Courtney was attempting to do press, despite the fact that she was again going through a hotel detox. On Monday, she met with Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times to talk about Hole’s new album, Live Through This . She kept sobbing during the interview, and a Narcotics Anonymous handbook sat on her coffee table. Hilburn’s story began with the subhead: “Just when Courtney Love should be focusing on Hole and her career, she can’t help worrying about her husband.” “I know this should be the happiest time of my life,” Love said, “and there have been moments where I felt that happiness. But not now. I thought I went through a lot of hard times over the years, but this has been the hardest.”

It got harder that very day. After her interview, Courtney phoned Dylan, who reported he hadn’t heard from Kurt. Courtney thought Dylan was lying, and she kept challenging him. But her attitude didn’t seem to change his demeanor and he flatly said, “The last time I saw him was when he was going to L.A. and we bought the shotgun.” It was the first Courtney had heard of a shotgun, and she became hysterical. She phoned Seattle Police and filed a missing persons report, claiming she was Kurt’s mother. The report read: “Mr. Cobain ran away from a California facility and flew back to Seattle. He also bought a shotgun and may be suicidal. Mr. Cobain may be at [Caitlin Moore’s address] location for narcotics.” It described Kurt as “not dangerous” but “armed with shotgun.” Courtney asked the police to check the Lake Washington home, and officers drove by several times, but saw no activity. Courtney met with Tom Grant again on Monday, and told him to search some of the motels Kurt frequented. Seattle investigators checked these locations, but didn’t locate Kurt.

On Monday night Cali left the house for the evening, leaving Jessica alone in his room. Around midnight she heard noises. “I heard footsteps upstairs and in the hall,” she recalled. “They were walking with a purpose, you know, not tip-toeing about, so I assumed it was Kurt.” She called out “hello” into the darkness of the hallway, but heard no answer and returned to Cali’s bedroom. Jessica and Cali had been lectured by Courtney that as “staff” they should stick to Cali’s room. Cali didn’t return until after 3 a.m., and he and Jessica slept late the next morning.

On Tuesday afternoon Courtney sent Hole’s Eric Erlandson to the Lake Washington home to look for Kurt. “He burst in the house, like this big lightning bolt, and he was furious at Cali,” Jessica remembered. “You guys have got to help me look,” he ordered. Erlandson told them to search every nook and cranny, because Kurt had stashed a shotgun: He specifically insisted they look in a secret compartment in the back of the master bedroom closet, which Courtney had told him Kurt used. They found the compartment but no guns. They also searched a mattress for a hole Kurt had cut in it to store drugs—it was empty. No one thought to search the garage or greenhouse, and Erlandson rushed off, headed to the Carnation home.

Courtney had been scheduled to do a phone interview with The Rocket on Tuesday morning. Erlandson phoned the magazine and said it would have to be postponed, as would all of Courtney’s interviews the rest of the week. She certainly didn’t have time: She was on the phone every moment trying to find someone who had seen Kurt after Saturday. She hounded Dylan, still convinced he was hiding something, but he seemed as puzzled to Kurt’s whereabouts as she was.

On Wednesday morning, April 6, Jessica Hopper called a cab to take her to the airport. She still felt ill: During her visit there had been no food in the Cobain house except bananas and soft drinks, and it had been so cold she had rarely left Cali’s bed. As she walked out the long driveway to the car, she threw up.

Courtney continued to phone home, but her calls went unanswered. On Wednesday morning she told Grant she thought Cali might be hiding Kurt. Grant flew to Seattle that night, picked up Dylan, and together they checked Caitlin Moore’s apartment, the Marco Polo, the Seattle Inn, and the Crest, but found no sign of Kurt. At 2:15 a.m. Thursday they searched the Lake Washington house, entering through a kitchen window. The temperature outside had dropped to 45 degrees, but it seemed colder inside than outdoors. They went from room to room and found the bed unmade in the master bedroom, but cold to the touch. MTV was on the television with the sound off. Not seeing any sign of Kurt, they left at 3 a.m., without searching the grounds or garage.

On Thursday afternoon Courtney reached Cali at Jennifer Adam-son’s apartment—he had been staying there because he was afraid to be in the Cobain house. Courtney was incensed and demanded he return to look for Kurt. Cali and Jennifer drove together, bringing a friend, Bonnie Dillard, who wanted to see where such famous rock stars lived. It was dusk when they arrived, and Cali complained about how spooky the dark house was. He told Jennifer he didn’t want to go back in, but he knew that if he didn’t, Courtney would be enraged.

They entered and began searching once again, turning on lights as they went. Cali and Jennifer held hands as they entered each room. “Frankly,” Jennifer recalled, “we were expecting to find him dead at any minute.” Though the house was ostensibly Cali’s place of residence at the time, he jumped at every floor creak, the way a character in a Vincent Price movie would leap as a bat flew from a belfry. They searched all levels including the third-floor attic.

Jennifer and Dillard urged Cali to leave the instant they had surveyed every room. Night was falling and the old, gabled house—which was eerie on a sunny day—was filled with long shadows in the twilight. Cali hesitated to jot a note: “Kurt: I can’t believe you managed to be in this house without me noticing. You’re a fuckin’ asshole for not calling Courtney and at least letting her know that you’re okay. She’s in a lot of pain, Kurt, and this morning she had another ‘accident’ and now she’s in the hospital again. She’s your wife and she loves you and you have a child together. Get it together to at least tell her you’re okay or she is going to die . It’s not fair man. Do something now!” He left the message on the main staircase.

It was with a great sigh of relief that the trio entered the car and began to head down the long driveway, Cali and Jennifer in the front, and Dillard in the back. As they pulled onto Lake Washington Boulevard and sped toward town, Dillard meekly voiced: “You know, uh, I hate to say this, but as we were going down the driveway, I thought I saw something above the garage.” Jennifer exchanged a glance of abject terror with Cali. “I don’t know,” Dillard continued. “I just saw a shadow up there.” “Why didn’t you say something?” Jennifer snapped. “Well, I don’t know,” Dillard explained. “I didn’t think it was real.” Jennifer knew how superstitious Dillard was, and she kept the car headed toward town. “Well, I’ve had enough,” Jennifer announced. “I’m not going back.”

Two days earlier, in the predawn hours of Tuesday, April 5, Kurt Cobain had awoken in his own bed, the pillows still smelling of Courtney’s perfume. He had first taken in this fragrance when she sent the silk-and-lace heart-shaped box to him three short years before: He had sniffed the box for hours, imagining she had touched it with intimate parts of her body. In the bedroom that Tuesday, her aroma mixed with the slightly acrid smell of cooked heroin; this too was a smell that aroused him.

It was cold in the house, so he’d slept in his clothes, including his brown corduroy coat. Compared to the nights he’d spent sleeping outside in cardboard boxes, it wasn’t so bad. He had on his comfy “Half Japanese” T-shirt (advertising a Baltimore punk band), his favorite pair of Levi’s, and, as he sat on the edge of the bed, he laced up the only pair of shoes he owned—they were Converse sneakers.

The television was on, tuned to MTV, but the sound was off. He walked over to the stereo and put on R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People , turning the volume down so that Stipe’s voice sounded like a friendly whisper in the background—Courtney would later find the stereo still on and this CD in the changer. He lit a Camel Light and fell back on the bed with a legal-sized notepad propped on his chest and a fine-point red pen. The blank piece of paper briefly entranced him, but not because of writer’s block: He had imagined these words for weeks, months, years, decades. He paused only because even a legal-sized sheet seemed so small, so finite.

He had already written a long personal letter to his wife and daughter that he’d jotted down while in Exodus; he’d brought this letter all the way back to Seattle and had stuck it under one of those perfume-infused pillows. “You know, I love you,” he wrote in that letter. “I love Frances. I’m so sorry. Please don’t follow me. I’m sorry, sorry, sorry.” He had repeatedly lettered “I’m sorry,” filling an entire page with this plea. “I’ll be there,” he continued. “I’ll protect you. I don’t know where I’m going. I just can’t be here anymore.”

That note had been hard enough to write, but he knew this second missive would be equally important, and he needed to be careful with these words. He addressed it “To Boddah,” the name of his imaginary childhood friend. He used tiny, deliberate characters, and wrote in a straight line without the benefit of rules. He composed the words very methodically, making sure each was clear and easy to read. As he wrote, the illumination from MTV provided most of the light, since the sun was still rising.

Speaking from the tongue of an experienced simpleton who obviously would rather be an emasculated, infantile complainee. This note should be pretty easy to understand. All the warnings from the punk rock 101 courses over the years. Since my first introduction to the, shall we say, ethics involved with independence and the embracement of your community has proven to be very true. I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music along with reading and writing for too many years now. I feel guilty beyond words about these things. For example, when we’re backstage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowd begins it doesn’t affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury who seemed to love, relish in the love and adoration from the crowd. Which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact is I can’t fool you. Any one of you. It simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100 percent fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch in time clock before I walk out on stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it, and I do, God believe me I do, but it’s not enough. I appreciate the fact that I and we have affected and entertained a lot of people. I must be one of those narcissists who only appreciate things when they’re gone. I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasm I once had as a child. On our last three tours I’ve had a much better appreciation for all the people I’ve known personally and as fans of our music, but I still can’t get over the frustration, the guilt and empathy I have for everyone. There’s good in all of us and I think I simply love people too much. So much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. The sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man! Why don’t you just enjoy it? I don’t know. I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what I used to be. Full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become. I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general. Only because it seems so easy for people to get along, and have empathy. Empathy! Only because I love and feel for people too much I guess. Thank you all from the pit of my burning nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the past years. 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.

When he put the pen down, he had filled all but two inches of the page. It had taken three cigarettes to draft the note. The words hadn’t come easy, and there were misspellings and half-completed sentences. He didn’t have the time to rewrite this letter twenty times like he had many of the letters in his journals: It was getting brighter outside and he needed to act before the rest of the world woke. He signed it “peace, love, empathy. Kurt Cobain,” printing his name out rather than using a signature. He underlined “empathy” twice; he had used this one word five times. He wrote one more line—“Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your altar”—and stuck the paper and pen into his left coat pocket. On the stereo Stipe was singing about the “Man on the Moon.” Kurt had always loved Andy Kaufman—his friends used to crack up back in junior high school in Montesano when Kurt would do his Latka imitation from “Taxi.”

He rose from the bed and entered the closet, where he removed a board from the wall. In this secret cubbyhole sat a beige nylon gun case, a box of shotgun shells, and a Tom Moore cigar box. He replaced the board, put the shells in his pocket, grabbed the cigar box, and cradled the heavy shotgun over his left forearm. In a hallway closet, he grabbed two towels; he didn’t need these, but someone would. Empathy. He quietly walked down the nineteen steps of the wide staircase. He was within a few feet of Cali’s room and he didn’t want anyone catching sight of him. He had thought this all through, mapped it out with the same forethought he put into his album covers and videos. There would be blood, lots of blood, and a mess, which he didn’t want in his house. Mostly, he didn’t want to haunt this home, to leave his daughter with the kind of nightmares he had suffered.

As he headed into the kitchen he passed the doorjamb where he and Courtney had begun keeping track of how tall Frances had grown. Only one line was there now, a little pencil mark with her name 31 inches from the floor. Kurt would never see any higher marks on that wall, but he was convinced his daughter’s life would be better without him.

In the kitchen he opened the door of his $10,000 Traulson stainless-steel refrigerator and grabbed a can of Barq’s root beer, making sure not to lose grip of the shotgun. Carrying his unthinkable load—root beer, towels, a box of heroin, and a shotgun, all of which would later be found in a bizarre grouping—he opened the door to the backyard and walked across the small patio. Dawn was breaking and mist hung close to the ground. Most mornings in Aberdeen felt just like this: wet, moist, dank. He would never see Aberdeen again; never actually climb to the top of the water tower on “Think of Me Hill”; never buy the farm he had dreamed about in Grays Harbor County; never again wake up in a hospital waiting room having pretended to be a bereaved visitor just to find a warm place to sleep; never again see his mother, or sister, or father, or wife, or daughter. He strolled the twenty paces to the greenhouse, climbed the wooden steps, and opened the rear set of French doors. The floor was linoleum: It would be easy to clean. Empathy.

He sat on the floor of the one-room structure, looking out the front doors. No one could see him here, not unless they were climbing the trees behind his property, and that wasn’t likely. The last thing he wanted was the kind of fuck-up that might leave him a vegetable, and leave him with even more pain. His two uncles and great-grandfather had taken this same grisly walk, and if they had managed to pull it off, he knew he could too. He had the “suicide genes,” as he used to joke with his friends back in Grays Harbor. He never wanted to see the inside of a hospital again, never wanted a doctor in the white lab coat poking him, never wanted to have an endoscope in his painful stomach. He was finished with all that, finished with his stomach; he couldn’t be more finished. Like a great movie director, he had planned this moment to the smallest detail, rehearsing this scene as both director and actor. There had been many dress rehearsals over the years, close brushes that almost went this way, either by accident or sometimes with intent, like Rome. This had always been the thing he kept in the back of his mind, like a precious salve, as the only cure for a pain that would not go away. He didn’t care about freedom from want: He wanted freedom from pain.

He sat thinking about these things for many minutes. He smoked five Camel Lights. He drank several sips of his root beer.

He grabbed the note from his pocket. There was still a little room on it. He laid it on the linoleum floor. He had to write in larger letters, which weren’t as straight, because of the surface he was on. He managed to scratch out a few more words: “Please keep going Courtney, for Frances, for her life which will be so much happier without me. I love you. I love you.” Those last words, written larger than anything else, had completed the sheet. He laid the note on top of a pile of potting soil, and stabbed the pen through the middle, so that like a stake it held the paper aloft over the soil.

He took the shotgun out of its soft nylon case. He carefully folded the case, like a little boy putting away his best Sunday clothes after church. He took off his jacket, laid it on top of the case, and put the two towels on top of this pile. Ah, empathy, a sweet gift. He went to the sink and drew a small amount of water for his drug cooker and sat down again. He pulled the box of 25 shotgun shells open and took three out, sticking them in the magazine of the gun. He moved the action on the Remington so that one shell was in the chamber. He took off the gun’s safety.

He smoked his last Camel Light. He took another sip of the Barq’s. Outside an overcast day was beginning—it was a day like the one in which he had first come into this world, 27 years, one month, and sixteen days earlier. Once, in his journal he had attempted to tell the story of that very first moment of his life: “My first memory was a light aqua green tile floor and a very strong hand holding me by my ankles. This force made it clear to me that I’m no longer in water and I cannot go back. I tried to kick and squirm, back to the hole, but he just held me there, suspended in my mother’s vagina. It was like he was teasing me, and I could feel the liquid and blood evaporating and tightening my skin. Reality was oxygen consuming me, and the sterile smell of never going back into the hole, a terror that could never be repeated again. Knowing this was comforting, and so I began my first ritual of dealing with things. I did not cry.”

He grabbed his cigar box and pulled out a small plastic bag that held $100 worth of Mexican black tar heroin—it was a lot of heroin. He took half, a swab the size of a pencil eraser, and stuck it on his spoon. Methodically and expertly he prepared the heroin and his syringe, injecting it just above his elbow, not far from his “K” tattoo. He put the works back into the box and felt himself drift, rapidly floating away from this place. Jainism preached that there were thirty heavens and seven hells, all layered throughout our lives; if he had any luck, this would be his seventh and final hell. He put his works away, floating faster and faster, feeling his breathing slow. He had to hurry now: Everything was becoming hazy, and an aqua green hue framed every object. He grabbed the heavy shotgun, put it against the roof of his mouth. It would be loud; he was certain of that. And then he was gone.

Epilogue

A LEONARD COHEN AFTERWORLD

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

APRIL 1994–MAY 1999

Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld, so I can sigh eternally.
—From “Pennyroyal Tea.”

Early Friday, April 8, electrician Gary Smith arrived at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard. Smith and several other workers had been at the house since Thursday, installing a new security system. Police stopped by twice and told workers to alert them if Kurt arrived. At 8:40 Friday, Smith was near the greenhouse and glanced inside. “I saw this body laying there on the floor,” he later told a newspaper. “I thought it was a mannequin. Then I noticed it had blood in the right ear. I saw a shotgun laying across his chest, pointing up at his chin.” Smith called police, and then his company. A friend of his firm’s dispatcher took it upon himself to tip off radio station KXRX. “Hey, you guys are going to owe me some pretty good Pink Floyd tickets for this,” he told DJ Marty Riemer. Police confirmed that a body of a young male had been found at Cobain’s house and KXRX aired the story. Though police were not identifying the deceased, initial news reports speculated it was Kurt. Within twenty minutes, KXRX received a tearful phone call from Kim Cobain, who identified herself as Kurt’s sister, and angrily asked why they were broadcasting such a fallacious rumor. They told her to call the police.

Kim did, and after hearing the news, she phoned her mother. An Aberdeen Daily World reporter showed up on Wendy’s doorstep soon after. Her quote would go on the Associated Press wire and be reprinted around the world: “Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club.” She was referring to the coincidence that Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt had all died at age 27. But something else his mother said wasn’t reported in any other newspaper—though every parent who heard the news of Kurt’s death didn’t need to read it to know the loss she felt. At the end of her interview Wendy said of her only son, “I’ll never hold him again. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to go.”

Don heard about his son’s death from the radio—he was too broken up to talk to any reporters. Leland and Iris learned from watching television. Iris had to lie down after the news—she wasn’t sure if her weakened heart could take it.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Courtney had become a patient in Exodus, having checked in on Thursday evening. On Thursday she had been arrested at the Peninsula after police had arrived at her “vomit and blood-spattered room” and found a syringe, a blank prescription pad, and a small packet they believed to be heroin (the substance turned out to be Hindu good-luck ashes). After being released on $10,000 bail, she checked into inpatient treatment, giving up on her hotel detox.

Friday morning Rosemary Carroll arrived at Exodus. When Courtney saw the expression on Rosemary’s face, she knew the news without having to even hear it. The two women looked at each other for several moments in complete silence until Courtney finally uttered a one-word question: “How?”

Courtney left Los Angeles in a Learjet with Frances, Rosemary, Eric Erlandson, and nanny Jackie Farry. When they arrived at the Lake Washington house, it was surrounded by television news crews. Love promptly hired private security guards, who placed tarps over the greenhouse so media couldn’t peer in. Prior to the coverings going up, Seattle Times photographer Tom Reese shot a few frames of the greenhouse through a hole in the fence. “I thought it might not be him,” Reese remembered, “that it could be anyone. But when I saw that sneaker there, I knew.” Reese’s photograph, which ran on the front page of Saturday’s Seattle Times , showed the view through the French doors, including half of Kurt’s body, his straight leg, his sneaker, and his clenched fist next to a cigar box.

By afternoon, the King County Medical Examiner’s office had issued a statement confirming what everyone already knew: “The autopsy has shown that Cobain died of a shotgun wound to the head and at this time the wound appears to be self-inflicted.” Dr. Nikolas Hartshorne performed the autopsy—the task was particularly emotional because Hartshorne had once promoted a Nirvana gig in college. “We put ‘ap-parent’ self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in the report at the time because we still wanted to cross all our t ’s and dot all our i ’s,” Hartshorne recalled. “There was absolutely nothing that indicated it was anything other than a suicide.” Still, because of the media attention and Kurt’s celebrity, Seattle Police didn’t complete their full investigation for 40 days, and spent over 200 hours interviewing Kurt’s friends and family.

Despite rumors to the contrary, the corpse was recognizable as Kurt, though the scene was ghastly: The hundreds of pellets from the shotgun shell had expanded his head and disfigured him. Police fingerprinted the body, and the prints matched those already on file from the domestic violence arrest. Though a later analysis of the shotgun concluded “four cards of lifted latent prints contain no legible prints,” Hartshorne said the prints on the gun were not legible because the weapon had to be pried from Kurt’s hand after rigor mortis had set in. “I know his fingerprints are on there, because he had it in his hand,” Hartshorne explained. The date of death was determined to be April 5, though it could have been 24 hours before or after. In all likelihood, Kurt had been dead in the greenhouse while several searches of the main house occurred.

The autopsy found evidence of benzodiazepines (tranquilizers) and heroin in Kurt’s blood. The level of heroin found was so high that even Kurt—notorious for his enormous habit—may not have survived much longer than it took to fire the gun. He had pulled off a feat that was quite remarkable, though it bore similarities to his Uncle Burle’s actions (gunshots to both the head and abdomen) and those of his great-grandfather James Irving (knife to abdomen, and later ripping the wound apart): Kurt had managed to kill himself twice, using two methods that were equally fatal.

Courtney was inconsolable. She insisted police give her Kurt’s blood-speckled corduroy coat, which she wore. When the cops finally left the grounds, and with only a security guard as a witness, she retraced Kurt’s last steps, entered the greenhouse—which had yet to be cleaned—and immersed her hands in his blood. On her knees on the floor, she prayed, howled, and wailed, held her blood-covered hands up to the sky, and screamed “Why?” She found a small remnant of Kurt’s skull with hair attached. She washed and shampooed this gruesome souvenir. And then she began blotting out her pain with drugs.

That night she wore layers of Kurt’s clothes because they still smelled of him. Wendy arrived at the house, and mother and daughter-in-law slept in the same bed, clutching each other during the night.

On Saturday, April 9, Jeff Mason was employed to take Courtney to the funeral home to view Kurt’s body before it was cremated—she had already requested that plaster casts be made of his hands. Grohl was also invited, and declined, but Krist came, arriving before Courtney. He spent a few private moments with his old friend and broke down crying. As he left, Courtney and Mason were brought into the viewing room. Kurt was on a table, dressed in his nicest clothes, but his eyes had been sewn shut. It was the first time Courtney had been with her husband for ten days, and it was the last time their physical bodies would be together. She stroked his face, spoke to him, and clipped a lock of his hair. Then she pulled his pants down and cut a small lock of his pubic hair—his beloved pubes, the hair he had waited so long for as an adolescent, somehow these needed to be preserved. Finally, she climbed on top of his body, straddling him with her legs, and put her head on his chest and wailed: “Why? Why? Why?”

That day friends had begun to arrive to comfort Courtney, and many brought drugs, which she indiscriminately ingested. Between the drugs and her grief, she was a catastrophe. Reporters phoned every five minutes, and though she wasn’t in much shape to talk, she occasionally took the calls but to ask questions, not answer them: “Why had Kurt done this? Where had he been that last week?” As with many grief-stricken lovers, she focused on the tiny details so as to avoid her loss. She spent two hours on the phone with the Post-Intelligencer ’s Gene Stout pondering such musings and announcing, “I’m tough and I can take anything. But I can’t take this.” Kurt’s death made the front page of the New York Times , and dozens of television and newspaper reporters descended on Seattle, trying to cover a story where few sources would talk to the media. Most filed think-pieces about what Kurt meant to a generation. What else could be said?

A funeral needed to be arranged. Soundgarden’s Susan Silver stepped forward and scheduled a private service in a church, and a simultaneous public candlelight vigil at Seattle Center. That weekend, a slow procession of friends arrived at the Lake Washington house— everyone seemed shell-shocked, trying to make sense of the unexplainable. Added to their grief was physical discomfort: When Jeff Mason arrived Friday, he found the oil tank completely dry. To heat the huge house, he began to send limos out to buy kindling from Safeway. “I was breaking up chairs because the fireplace was the only way to heat the house,” he recalled. Courtney was upstairs in their bedroom, wrapped in layers of Kurt’s clothes, recording a message to be played at the public memorial.

On Sunday afternoon the public candlelight vigil was held at Seattle Center’s Flag Pavilion, and 7,000 attended, carrying candles, flowers, homemade signs, and a few burning flannel shirts. A suicide counselor spoke and urged struggling teens to ask for help, while local DJs shared memories. A short message from Krist was played:

We remember Kurt for what he was: caring, generous, and sweet. Let’s keep the music with us. We’ll always have it forever. Kurt had an ethic towards his fans that was rooted in the punk rock way of thinking: No band is special; no player royalty. If you’ve got a guitar, and a lot of soul, just bang something out and mean it—you are the superstar. Plug in the tones and rhythms that are universally human. Music. Heck, use your guitar as a drum. Just catch a groove and let it flow out of your heart. That’s the level that Kurt spoke to us on: in our hearts. And that’s where the music will always be, forever.

Courtney’s tape was played next. She had recorded it late the night before in their bed. She began:

I don’t know what to say. I feel the same way you guys do. If you guys don’t think that to sit in this room, where he played guitar and sang, and feel so honored to be near him, you’re crazy. Anyway, he left a note. It’s more like a letter to the fucking editor. I don’t know what happened. I mean, it was gonna happen, but it could’ve happened when he was 40. He always said he was gonna outlive everybody and be 120. I’m not gonna read you all the note, because it’s none of the rest of your fucking business. But some of it is to you. I don’t really think it takes away his dignity to read this, considering that it’s addressed to most of you. He’s such an asshole. I want you all to say “asshole” really loud.

The crowd shouted “asshole.” And then Courtney read the suicide note. Over the course of the next ten minutes, she mixed Kurt’s final words with her own comments on them. When she read the section where Kurt mentioned Freddie Mercury, she yelled: “Well, Kurt, so fucking what! Then don’t be a rock star, you asshole.” Where he wrote of having “too much love,” she asked, “So, why didn’t you just fucking stay ?” And when she quoted his line about being a “sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man,” she wailed: “Shut up! Bastard. Why didn’t you just enjoy it?” Though she was reading the note to the crowd— and the media—she spoke as if Kurt were her only audience. Toward the end, before reading the Neil Young line Kurt quoted, she warned: “And don’t remember this because this a fucking lie: ‘It’s better to burn out, than fade away.’ God, you asshole !” She finished the note, and then added:

Just remember, this is all bullshit! But I want you to know one thing: That eighties “tough love” bullshit, it doesn’t work. It’s not real. It doesn’t work. I should have let him, we all should have let him, have his numbness. We should have let him have the thing that made him feel better, that made his stomach feel better, we should have let him have it instead of trying to strip away his skin. You go home, and you tell your parents, “Don’t you ever try that tough love bullshit on me, because it doesn’t fucking work.” That’s what I think. I’m laying in our bed, and I’m really sorry, and I feel the same way you do. I’m really sorry, you guys. I don’t know what I could have done. I wish I’d have been here. I wish I hadn’t listened to other people. But I did. Every night I’ve been sleeping with his mother, and I wake up in the morning and I think it’s him because their bodies are sort of the same. I have to go now. Just tell him, he’s a fucker, okay? Just say, “Fucker , you’re a fucker .” And that you love him.

As Courtney’s extraordinary tape was being played at the Seattle Center, across town 70 people gathered at the Unity Church of Truth for the private memorial. “There was no time for a program or invitations,” remembered Reverend Stephen Towles, who presided. Most attendees had been invited by phone the previous night. Several of Kurt’s closest friends—including Jesse Reed—were overlooked or couldn’t make it on such short notice. The crowd included a contingent from Gold Mountain and several carloads of friends from Olympia. Bob Hunter, Kurt’s old art teacher, was one of the few from Aberdeen. Even Kurt’s ex-girlfriend Mary Lou Lord came and sat in the back. Courtney and Frances were in the front flanked by Wendy and Kim; the Cobain women seemed to be the only thing stopping Courtney from collapse. Don and Jenny and Leland came; Iris was too ill. Tracy Marander was there and was as distraught as the family—she had been as close to Kurt as his blood kin.

Inside the church, mourners found pictures of Kurt as a six-year-old laid out on the pews. Towles began with the 23rd Psalm, and then said: “Like a wind crying through the universe, time carries with it the names and deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we were, and all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way but for a brief moment. We are here to remember and release Kurt Cobain, who lived a short life that was long in accomplishment.” Towles recited the story of the Golden Buddha who spent years hidden under a coating of clay before his true worth was known, and followed that with a poem titled “The Traveler.” He then asked the crowd to consider a series of questions, designed to make them ponder the deceased. He asked: “Was there unfinished business between you?” If Towles had called for a show of hands in response, the room would have been filled with raised arms.

Towles then urged others to step forward and share their memories. Bruce Pavitt of Sub Pop spoke first and said, “I love you, I respect you. Of course, I’m a few days late in expressing it.” Dylan Carlson read from a Buddhist text. Krist read from prepared notes, similar to his taped message.

Danny Goldberg told of the contradictions in Kurt, how he said he hated fame, yet complained when his videos weren’t played. Goldberg said Kurt’s love for Courtney “was one of the things that kept him going,” despite his ongoing depression. And Goldberg spoke of Aberdeen, albeit with a New Yorker’s perspective: “Kurt came from a town that no one had ever heard of, and he went on to change the world.”

And then Courtney stood, and read with the actual suicide note in her hands. She yelled, cried, wept, and mixed Kurt’s note with selections from the Bible’s Book of Job. She ended by talking about Boddah, and how much this imaginary friend meant to Kurt. Almost no one in the hall knew who she was speaking of, but the mention of Kurt’s childhood imaginary friend was enough to make Wendy, Don, Kim, Jenny, and Leland quietly sob. Reverend Towles ended the ceremony with a reading from Matthew 5:43.

As the service ended the old feuds returned. Mary Lou Lord exited, afraid for her life. Don and Wendy barely spoke. And one of Kurt’s Olympia friends was so offended by Danny Goldberg’s comments that he circulated a parody the next day by fax. But nowhere was the divisiveness more apparent than in the scheduling of two competing wakes after the service. One was held by Krist and Shelli and the other by Courtney, and only a handful of mourners visited both. Courtney was late to the wake at her house since after the ceremony she had ventured to the candlelight vigil. There she handed out some of Kurt’s clothing to fans who were astounded to see her clutching the suicide note. “It was unbelievable,” recalled security guard James Kirk. “It wasn’t in a plastic bag or anything. She would show it to the kids, and say, ‘I’m so sorry.’ ” On her way back home, Courtney stopped by radio station KNDD, and demanded air time. “I want to go on the air and make them stop playing Billy Corgan and just play Kurt,” she announced. The station politely turned her away.

A week later, Courtney received the urn of Kurt’s ashes. She took a handful and buried them under a willow tree in front of the house. In May, she took the rest in a teddy-bear backpack and traveled to the Namgyal Buddhist monastery near Ithaca, New York, where she sought consecration for the ashes and absolution for herself. The monks blessed the remains and used a handful to make a tsatsa memorial sculpture.

The bulk of Kurt’s remains sat in an urn in 171 Lake Washington Boulevard until 1997, when Courtney sold the home. She moved to Beverly Hills with Frances and Kurt’s urn. Before selling the house, she insisted on a covenant allowing her to return one day and remove the willow tree.

Five years after Kurt’s suicide, on May 31, 1999, Memorial Day, Wendy organized a final service for her son. The plan was for Frances to scatter Kurt’s ashes in a creek behind Wendy’s house while a Buddhist monk recited a prayer. Courtney and Frances were already in the Northwest that week vacationing. Since Kurt’s death, Courtney had become close to Wendy, and had purchased her a $400,000 house on acreage just outside of Olympia. It was behind this house that the service was planned, and a handful of family and friends were invited. Though Wendy wouldn’t call Don herself, Courtney’s managers invited him, and he came. But some of the internal family feuds continued: Leland, who was only 30 minutes away—and spent most of his days alone in his trailer since Iris died, in 1997—wasn’t called. Courtney did invite Tracy Marander, and she came, wanting to say a final good-bye to Kurt. When Tracy arrived and saw Frances, she was taken aback by the girl’s beauty—barefoot, wearing a purple dress, her eyes looking remarkably like those of a boy Tracy had once loved. It was a thought Courtney has every day of her life.

Over the years since Kurt’s death, many had suggested a memorial be erected in Aberdeen, and his birthplace might have also served as an appropriate location to scatter his ashes. Scattering Kurt under his mythmaking bridge would have been a kind of rough justice and literal irony; for the first time, he would sleep there.

But instead, as the monk chanted, six-year-old Frances Bean Cobain scattered her father’s ashes into McLane Creek, and they dissolved and floated downstream. In many ways, this too was a fitting resting place. Kurt had found his true artistic muse in Olympia, and less than five miles away he sat in a shitty little apartment that smelled of rabbit pee and wrote songs all day. Those songs would outlive Kurt and even his darkest demons. As his one-time foster father Dave Reed once remarked, in as good a summation of Kurt’s life as was ever offered: “He had the desperation, not the courage, to be himself. Once you do that, you can’t go wrong, because you can’t make any mistakes when people love you for being yourself. But for Kurt, it didn’t matter that other people loved him; he simply didn’t love himself enough.”

There was another larger piece of fate, and a nugget of ancient history that bonded this particular plot of water and earth and air with these mortal remains; just over the hill, less than ten miles away, the source of McLane Creek and all the streams in the area, was the small range of Washington mountains known as the Black Hills. It was here, years ago, where a young family would go sledding after the first cold snap. They would drive their Camaro down the two-lane road, past the tiny logging town of Porter, up a funny little hill called Fuzzy Top Mountain. In the car was a mom, a dad, a baby daughter, and a little six-year-old boy with the same ethereal blue eyes as Frances Cobain. The boy loved nothing in the world more than sledding with his family, and during the drive from Aberdeen he would implore his father to drive faster because he couldn’t stand to wait. When the Camaro would come to a stop near the summit of Fuzzy Top, the boy would dash out, grab his Flexible Flyer sled, take a running start down the mountain, and race as if his flight alone could somehow stop time. At the bottom of the hill, he would wave his mitten-covered hand at his family, and a wide, warm smile would come over his face, his blue eyes sparkling in the winter sun.

Source Notes

The pagination of this electronic edition does not match the edition from which it was created. To locate a specific entry, please use the search feature of your e-book reader.

Writing this book entailed conducting more than 400 interviews over the course of four years. Most interview sessions were done in person and tape-recorded, though a few were conducted over the phone, or through e-mail, and a handful were even done through jailhouse protective glass. To avoid 50 pages of source notes reading “from an interview with the author,” each chapter begins with a list of my interview subjects in order of citation in the text for that particular section. Most of my subjects are quoted in the text: Many other sources provided background and their names do not appear in the manuscript, but their help and memories were nonetheless essential in piecing together this history. The first time a subject is listed, the year of my interview is noted. In addition to the numerous people listed here, many colleagues assisted by providing resources or support. I hope I have included them all in the Acknowledgments that follow.

Prologue

Page 2 “I woke up at 7 a.m.”: An e-mail from Courtney Love to Charles R. Cross, 1999.

Page 4 “It wasn’t that he OD’d”: Ibid.

Chapter 1: Yelling Loudly at First

Author interviews with Don Cobain, 1999; Mari (Fradenburg) Earl, 1998, 1999, 2000; Rod and Dres Herling, 1999; Brandon Ford, 2000; Tony Hirschman, 1999; Leland Cobain, 1998, 1999, 2000; Shirley DeRenzo, 1999; Colleen Vekich, 1999; Dorothy Vekich, 1999; Michael Vilt, 1999; James Ultican, 1999; Norma Ultican, 1999; Kendall Williams, 1999; and Kim Cobain, 2000. Hilary Richrod of the Aberdeen Timberland Library and Leland Cobain provided essential background on the history of Grays Harbor County and I am grateful to them both for their extensive assistance.

Chapter 2: I Hate Mom, I Hate Dad

Author interviews with Don Cobain; Leland Cobain; Kim Cobain; Gary Cobain, 1999; Mari Earl; Stan Targus, 1999; Steve Shillinger, 1999; Jenny Cobain, 1999; Lisa Rock, 1999; Darrin Neathery, 1999; Courtney Love, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001; John Fields, 1999; Roni Toyra, 1998; John Briskow, 1999; Lois Stopsen, 2000; Rod Marsh, 2001; Miro Jungum, 1998; and James Westby, 2000.

Page 16 “I had a really good childhood”: “Family Values,” Jonathan Poneman, Spin , December 1992.

Page 23 Iris Cobain once described 1976: Christopher Sandford, Kurt Cobain (Carroll & Graf, 1996), page 30.

Chapter 3: Meatball of the Month

Author interviews with Don Cobain; Tim Nelson, 1999; Bill Burghardt, 1999; Leland Cobain; Rod Marsh; Roni Toyra; Jenny Cobain; Kim Cobain; John Fields; James Westby; Mike Bartlett, 1999; Scott Cokely, 1999; Teri Zillyett, 1999; Beverly Cobain, 1999; Trevor Briggs, 1999; Mari Earl; and Jim Cobain, 1998.

Page 30 The article ran under the heading: Puppy Press courtesy of Scott Cokely.

Page 31 Kurt’s artwork was “always very good”: Interview with Nikki Clark by Hilary Richrod, 1998.

Page 34 Fields was not the only friend of Kurt’s: Bill Burghardt, Mike Bartlett, Rod Marsh, Trevor Briggs, Darrin Neathery and others have similar stories.

Page 37 As Kurt later described it: Michael Azerrad, Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana (Doubleday, 1993), page 21.

Chapter 4: Prairie Belt Sausage Boy

Author interviews with Don Cobain; Leland Cobain; Jim Cobain; Warren Mason, 1999; Dan McKinstry, 1999; Rick Gates, 1999; Bob Hunter, 1999; Theresa Van Camp, 1999; Mike Medak, 1999; John Fields; Kathy Utter, 2000; Shayne Lester, 2000; Mike Bartlett; Trevor Briggs; Mari Earl; Darrin Neathery; Brendan McCarroll, 1999; Kevin Hottinger, 1999; Evan Archie, 2000; Buzz Osborne, 1999; Bill Burghardt; Steve Shillinger; Andrea Vance, 1999; Jackie Hagara, 1999; Jesse Reed, 1999, 2000; Kurt Vanderhoof, 1998; Greg Hokanson, 1999; and Kim Cobain.

Chapter 5: The Will of Instinct

Author interviews with Jackie Hagara; Buzz Osborne; Krist Novoselic, 1997, 1998, 1999; Kim Cobain; Greg Hokanson; Paul White, 1999; Justine Howland, 1999; Jenny Cobain; James Westby; Beverly Cobain; Don Cobain; Jesse Reed; Dave Reed, 1999; Ethel Reed, 1999; Det. John Green, 2000; Det. Mike Haymon, 2000; Shee-la Wieland, 2000; Bob Hunter; Theresa Ziniewicz, 1999; Mike Poitras, 1999; Stan Forman, 1999; Kevin Shillinger, 1999; Det. Michael Bens, 2000; Trevor Briggs; Lamont Shillinger, 1999; Steve Shillinger; Mari Earl; Shelli Novoselic, 2000; and Hilary Richrod, 1998, 1999, 2000.

Chapter 6: Didn’t Love Him Enough

Author interviews with Kim Cobain; Matt Lukin, 1998; Jesse Reed; Shelli Novoselic; Tracy Marander, 1998, 1999, 2000; Steve Shillinger; Kurt Flansburg, 1999; Mark Eckert, 1999; Krist Novoselic;

Ryan Aigner, 1999; Aaron Burckhard, 1999; and Dylan Carlson, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000.

Chapter 7: Soupy Sales in My Fly

Author interviews with Kim Cobain; Krist Novoselic; Shelli Novoselic; Aaron Burckhard; Tracy Marander; Jeff Franks, 1999; Michelle Franks, 1999; Vail Stephens, 1999; Kim Maden, 1999; and Tony Poukkula, 1999. Special thanks to Jeff Franks for his research assistance.

Chapter 8: In High School Again

Author interviews with Tracy Marander; Steve Lemons, 2000; Slim Moon, 1998, 1999; Jim May, 1999; John Purkey, 1999; Krist Novoselic; Ryan Aigner; Krissy Proctor, 1999; Buzz Osborne; Jack Endino, 1997, 1999; Chris Hanszek, 1998; Dave Foster, 2000; Kim Cobain; Bob Whittaker, 1999; Bradley Sweek, 1999; Argon Steel, 1999; Win Vidor, 1998; Costos Delyanis, 1999; Dawn Anderson, 1999; Shirley Carlson, 1998; Veronika Kalmar, 1999; Greg Ginn, 1998; Jason Finn, 1998; Scott Giampino, 1998; Kurt Danielson, 1999; and Rich Hansen, 1999.

Page 97 “SERIOUS DRUMMER WANTED ”: The Rocket, October 1987.

Page 103 “The Seattle Scene is gearing up”: Bruce Pavitt, The Rocket, December 1987.

Chapter 9: Too Many Humans

Author interviews with Tracy Marander; Steve Shillinger; Krist Novoselic; Dave Foster; Chad Channing, 1997; Gilly Hanner, 1998; Ryan Aigner; Jan Gregor, 2000; Debbie Letterman, 1997; Chris Knab, 1998; Jack Endino; Alice Wheeler, 1997, 1999, 2000; Dawn Anderson; King Coffey, 2000; Slim Moon; John Purkey; Daniel House, 1997; Tam Orhmund, 1999; Damon Romero, 1998; Hilary Richrod; and Kim Cobain.

Page 114 “I’ve seen hundreds of Melvins’ ”: “It May Be the Devil,” Dawn Anderson, Backlash , September 1988.

Page 119 “Nirvana sit sort of at the edge”: Grant Alden, The Rocket , December 1988.

Chapter 10: Illegal to Rock ’N’ Roll

Author interviews with Tracy Marander; Amy Moon, 1999; Krist Novoselic; Dylan Carlson; Joe Preston, 1999; Jason Everman, 1999; Rob Kader, 1998; Chad Channing; John Robinson, 1998; J. J. Gonson, 1998; Sluggo, 1999; Michelle Vlasimsky, 1999; Slim Moon; Steve Fisk, 1999; Mark Pickerel, 1999; and Kelly Canary, 1997.

Page 131 “the last wave of rock music”: “Hair Swinging Neanderthals,” Phil West, The Daily , May 5, 1989.

Page 133 “You’re talking about four guys”: “Sub Pop,” Everett True, Melody Maker , March 18, 1989.

Page 133 “Nirvana careens from one end”: Gillian Gaar, The Rocket , July 1989.

Page 135 “I kinda reach my end of things to do”: “Nirvana,” Al the Big Cheese, Flipside , June 1989.

Page 141 “Bob Dylan picked ‘Polly’ ”: Chuck Crisafulli, Teen Spirit (Fireside, 1996), page 45.

Chapter 11: Candy, Puppies, Love

Author interviews with Tracy Marander; Kurt Danielson; Chad Channing; Alex MacLeod, 1999; Nikki McClure, 1999; Garth Reeves, 1998; Mark Arm, 1998; Carrie Montgomery, 2000; Steve Turner, 1998; Matt Lukin; Krist Novoselic; Pleasant Gehman, 1997; Jennifer Finch, 1999; Jesse Reed; Slim Moon; Damon Romero; Stuart Hallerman, 2000; Jon Snyder, 1998; Alex Kostelnik, 1998; Maria Braganza, 1998; Greg Babior, 1998; Sluggo; and J. J. Gonson.

Page 146 “I feel like we’ve been tagged”: “Berlin Is Just a State of Mind,” Nils Bernstein, The Rocket , December 1989.

Page 151 “had even come up with the term ‘grunge’ ”: Mark Arm, Desperate Times .

Page 154 “they cut eight songs”: Charles R. Cross and Jim Berkenstadt, Nevermind: Nirvana (Schirmer Books, 1998), page 32.

Chapter 12: Love You So Much

Author interviews with Tracy Marander; Dylan Carlson; Slim Moon; Alice Wheeler; John Goodmanson, 1998; Tam Orhmund; George Smith, 1999; Krist Novoselic; Susan Silver, 2000; Don Muller, 1998; Alan Mintz, 2000; Brett Hartman, 1998; Kim Cobain; Sally Barry, 1999; Paul Atkinson, 1998; Kevin Kennedy, 2000; Bettina Richards, 1999; Alex Kostelnik; Gordon Raphael, 1999; Ken Goes, 1998; Angee Jenkins, 1999; Nikki McClure; Jennifer Finch; Ian Dickson, 1999; and Mikey Nelson, 1998.

Page 162 “It’s probably the most straightforward”: “Heaven Can’t Wait,” Everett True, Melody Maker , December 15, 1990.

Page 169 “some of my personal experiences”: “The Year’s Hottest New Band Can’t Stand Still,” Chris Morris, Musician , January 1992.

Chapter 13: The Richard Nixon Library

Author interviews with Jesse Reed; Krist Novoselic; Dylan Carlson; Tracy Marander; Kaz Utsunomiya, 1999; Mikey Nelson; Joe Preston; Nikki McClure; Lisa Fancher, 1997; Damon Stewart, 1997; Susan Silver; Kim Thayil, 1997; Jeff Fenster, 1997; Alan Mintz; Dave Downey, 1999; John Purkey; Kathy Hughes, 1999; Craig Montgomery, 1999; Don Cobain; Michael Vilt; Lou Ziniewicz-Fisher, 2000; Susie Tennant, 1997; Bob Whittaker; Shivaun O’Brien, 1996; and Barrett Jones, 2000.

Page 181 “There was graffiti”: Cross and Berkenstadt, Nevermind: Nirvana , page 58.

Chapter 14: Burn American Flags

Author interviews with Krist Novoselic; Ian Dickson; Danny Goldberg, 2000; Michael Lavine, 1997; Carrie Montgomery; Courtney Love; Dylan Carlson; Slim Moon; John Troutman, 1997; John Rosenfelder, 2000; Mark Kates, 1999; John Gannon, 1999; Dave Markey, 1999; and Alex MacLeod.

Page 186 “I thought she looked like Nancy Spungen”: Azerrad, Come As You Are , page 169.

Page 189 “Uniformly,” Wallace recalled: Cross and Berkenstadt, Nevermind: Nirvana , page 97.

Page 196 “The most exciting time for a band”: Azerrad, Come As You Are , page 187.

Chapter 15: Every Time I Swallowed

Author interviews with Krist Novoselic; Lisa Glatfelter-Bell, 1997; Patrick MacDonald, 1997; Susie Tennant; Jeff Ross, 1997; Bill Reid, 1997; Robert Roth, 1998; Jeff Gilbert, 1998; Kim Warnick, 1998; Jamie Brown, 1997; Scott Cokely; Mary Lou Lord, 1998; Mark Kates; Courtney Love; Marco Collins, 1997; Amy Finnerty, 1999; Peter Davis, 1999; Lori Weinstein, 1998; Rai Sandow, 1998; Tim Devon, 1998; Ashleigh Rafflower, 1999; Craig Montgomery; Carrie Montgomery; Danny Goldberg; Alison Hamamura, 1999; Jim Fouratt, 2000; Jeff Liles, 1999; Gigi Lee, 2000; Darrell West-moreland, 1997; Kim Cobain; and Steve Shillinger.

Page 212 The Rocket review noted: Charles R. Cross, The Rocket , November 1991.

Chapter 16: Brush Your Teeth

Author interviews with Courtney Love; Krist Novoselic; Mary Lou Lord; Alex MacLeod; Carolyn Rue, 1988; Carrie Montgomery; Ian Dickson; Nikki McClure; Jerry McCully, 1997; Bill Holdship, 1997; Jeremy Wilson, 1998; Rob Kader; Amy Finnerty; Danny Goldberg; Bob Zimmerman, 1998; Michael Lavine; Mark Kates; and Kurt St. Thomas, 1999.

Page 214 “That’s when we started really”: Azerrad, Come As You Are , page 205.

Page 219 “This letter is directed more”: Aberdeen Daily World , November 11, 1991.

Page 221 “They were like clones, glued”: “The Power of Love,” Dana Kennedy, Entertainment Weekly , August 12, 1994.

Page 222 “nodding off occasionally in mid-sentence”: “Spontaneous Combustion,” Jerry McCully, BAM , January 10, 1992.

Page 222 “I’m getting married”: Ibid.

Page 228 “My attitude has changed drastically”: “Ain’t Love Grand,” Christina Kelly, Sassy , April 1992.

Page 229 “I just want to be situated and secure”: Ibid.

Chapter 17: Little Monster Inside

Author interviews with Rosemary Carroll, 2000; Courtney Love; Danny Goldberg; John Gannon; Kim Cobain; Kaz Utsunomiya; Naoko Yamano, 1998; Michie Nakatani, 1998; Atsuko Yamano, 1998; Dylan Carlson; Krist Novoselic; Shelli Novoselic; Barrett Jones; Craig Montgomery; Jennifer Finch; Carolyn Rue; Bob Timmins, 2000; Buddy Arnold, 2000; Sean Tessier, 1998; Tim Appelo, 1998; Mari Earl; Michael Azerrad, 2000; Jackie Farry, 2001; Robert Cruger, 2000; Alan Mintz; Jesse Reed; Alex MacLeod; and Anton Brookes, 2000.

Page 231 “We knew it really wasn’t the best”: Azerrad, Come As You Are , page 245.

Page 233 “My fame. Ha ha. It’s a weapon”: Poppy Z. Brite, Courtney Love, the Real Story (Simon & Schuster, 1997), page 131.

Page 234 “wasn’t very high. I just did a little”: Azerrad, Come As You Are , page 251.

Page 235 “if I quit then, I’d end up doing it again”: Ibid., page 255.

Page 240 “I don’t even drink anymore”: “Inside the Heart and Mind of Kurt Cobain,” Michael Azerrad, Rolling Stone , April 16, 1992.

Page 241 “[Nirvana’s] low profile has renewed”: Steve Hochman, Los Angeles Times , May 17, 1992.

Page 244 “from nobodies to superstars to fuck-ups”: “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Keith Cameron, NME , August 29, 1992.

Chapter 18: Rosewater, Diaper Smell

Author interviews with Rosemary Carroll; Courtney Love; Danny Goldberg; Kim Cobain; Neal Hersh, 2000; Anton Brookes; J. J. Gonson; Jackie Farry; Krist Novoselic; Alex MacLeod; Craig Montgomery; Buddy Arnold; Marc Fremont; Amy Finnerty; and Duff McKagan, 2000.

Page 246 “You get out of this bed”: Azerrad, Come As You Are , page 269.

Page 247 “I’m having the baby”: Ibid.

Page 247 “I was so fucking scared”: Ibid.

Page 247 “I held this thing in my hand”: “Life After Death,” David Fricke, Rolling Stone , December 15, 1994.

Page 247 “He almost died”: Ibid.

Page 260 “I don’t want my daughter”: “Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain,” Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times , September 21, 1992.

Page 260 “We might not go on any more long tours”: Ibid.

Chapter 19: That Legendary Divorce

Author interviews with Alex MacLeod; Kim Cobain; Anthony Rhodes, 1999; Mikey Nelson; Don Cobain; Courtney Love; Jeff Mason, 2000; Krist Novoselic; Jim Crotty, 1998; Michael Lane, 1998; Victoria Clarke, 1998; Jackie Farry; Danny Goldberg; Mari Earl; Neal Hersh; Rosemary Carroll; Jesse Reed; Karen

Mason-Blair, 1998; Inger Lorre, 1999; Buddy Arnold; Jack Endino; Michael Azerrad; Charlie Hoselton, 1998; Greg Sage, 1999; Jeff Holmes, 1997; Tim Silbaugh, 1998; Jamie Crunchbird, 1999; Earnie Bailey, 1998; Danny Mangold, and Barrett Jones.

Page 265 “They chased me up to the Castle”: Jim Crotty, Monk #14 , January 1993.

Page 266 “If I ever find myself destitute”: Azerrad, Come As You Are , page 268.

Page 268 “This whole concept of the man”: “Love in the Afternoon,” Gillian Gaar, The Rocket , November 1992.

Page 268 “We knew we could give”: Poneman, Spin , December 1992.

Page 270 “It’s just amazing that at this point”: “The Dark Side of Kurt Cobain,” Kevin Allman, The Advocate , February 9, 1993.

Page 274 “of which $380,000 went to taxes”: Ibid.

Chapter 20: Heart-Shaped Coffin

Author interviews with Krist Novoselic; Alex MacLeod; Courtney Love; Pat Whalen, 1999; Neal Hersh; Jackie Farry; Rosemary Carroll; Ingrid Bernstein, 1998; Kim Cobain; Dylan Carlson; Jessica Hopper, 1998, 1999; Nils Bernstein, 1999; Pare Bernstein, 1999; Neal Karlen, 1998; and Michelle Underwood, 1997.

Page 283 “Geffen and Nirvana’s management”: Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune , April 1993.

Page 284 “symptoms associated with an overdose”: This and all police notes that follow are from official Seattle Police Department reports.

Page 288 “a whirling dervish of emotion”: “Heaven Can Wait,” Gavin Edwards, Details , November 1993.

Page 290 “If Freud could hear it, he’d wet his”: “Domicile on Cobain St.,” Brian Willis, NME , July, 24, 1993.

Chapter 21: A Reason to Smile

Author interviews with Courtney Love; Krist Novoselic; Alex MacLeod; Dylan Carlson; Anton Brookes; Craig Montgomery; Jackie Farry; David Yow, 1998; Lori Goldston, 1998; Bob Timmins; Mark Kates; Danny Goldberg; Rosemary Carroll; Sean Slade, 1999; Paul Kolderie, 1999; Robert Roth; Mark Pickerel; Kristie Gamer, 1999; Jim Merlis, 2000; Kim Neely, 1998; Thor Lindsey, 1998; Curt Kirkwood, 1999; Derrick Bostrom, 1999; Amy Finnerty; Jeff Mason; and Janet Billig, 2000.

Page 295 Fremont’s son Marc asserted it was suicide: Marc Fremont, The Doctor Is Out , unpublished manuscript.

Page 295 “I desperately wanted to have”: “Howl,” Jon Savage, The Guardian , July, 22, 1993.

Page 297 “Cobain ricochets between opposites”: “The Band That Hates to Be Loved,” Jon Pareles, New York Times , November 14, 1993.

Page 301 “I’m glad you could make it”: “Kurt Cobain,” David Fricke, Rolling Stone , January 27, 1994.

Chapter 22: Cobain’s Disease

Author interviews with Courtney Love; Krist Novoselic; Jackie Farry; Alex MacLeod; Jim Barber, 2000; Dylan Carlson; Alan Mintz; Danny Goldberg; Amy Finnerty; Alice Wheeler; John Robinson; Dave Markey; Larry Reid, 1998; Rosemary Carroll; Leland Cobain; Don Cobain; Jennifer Adamson, 1999; Jenny Cobain; Shelli Novoselic; Danny Sugerman, 2000; Lexi Robbins, 1999; Bill Baillargeon, 1998; Don Muller; and Buzz Osborne.

Page 312 “It was a fruitful year. Nirvana finished”: Letter to The Advocate , January 25, 1994.

Page 319 “He hated everything, everybody”: Fricke, Rolling Stone , December 15, 1994.

Page 321 “He was getting really fed up,”: “Kurt Cobain,” Steve Dougherty, People , April 25, 1994.

Page 323 “I know this is a controlled substance”: “Love and Death,” Andrew Harrison, Select , April 1994.

Page 323 “Even if I wasn’t in the mood”: Fricke, Rolling Stone , December 15, 1994.

Chapter 23: Like Hamlet

Author interviews with Courtney Love; Jackie Farry; Krist Novoselic; Alex MacLeod; Kim Cobain; Shelli Novoselic; Leland Cobain; Travis Myers, 2000; Dylan Carlson; Rosemary Carroll; Marc Geiger, 1998; Ian Dickson; Jennifer Adamson; Danny Goldberg; Steven Chatoff, 2000; Dr. Louis Cox, 2000; Rob Morfitt, 1999; Karen Mason-Blair; Buddy Arnold; Mark Kates; and Anton Brookes.

Page 325 “He was dead, legally dead”: “The Trials of Love,” Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times , April 10, 1994.

Page 326 “in a profession he doesn’t have”: Claude Iosso, Aberdeen Daily World , April 11, 1994.

Page 327 “I flipped out”: Fricke, Rolling Stone , December 15, 1994.

Page 327 “I wish I’d just been the way”: Ibid.

Page 335 “I did not even kiss or get to say good-bye”: Ibid.

Chapter 24: Angel’s Hair

Author interviews with Courtney Love; Krist Novoselic; Dylan Carlson; Jackie Farry; Alex MacLeod; Michael Meisel, 1999; Gibby Haynes, 2000; Bob Timmins; Harold Owens, 2000; Buddy Arnold; Nial Stimson, 2000; Harold Owens, 1999; Joe “Mama” Nitzburg, 2000; Duff McKagan; Jessica Hopper; Ginny Heller, 1999; Bret Chatalas, 1999; Jennifer Adamson; Rosemary Carroll; and Danny Goldberg. The events of Kurt’s final hours are pieced together from police reports, forensic evidence reports, and pictures of the scene.

Page 347 “I know this should be the happiest”: Hilburn, Los Angeles Times , April 10, 1994.

Epilogue: A Leonard Cohen Afterworld

Author interviews with Courtney Love; Marty Riemer, 1998; Mike West, 1998; Kim Cobain; Don Cobain; Leland Cobain; Jenny Cobain; Jackie Farry; Rosemary Carroll; Tom Reese, 1998; Nikolas Hartshorne, 1999; Dave Sterling, 1998; Sharon Seldon, 1999; James Kirk, 1994; Jeff Mason; Alan Mitchel, 1999; Gene Stout, 1998; Dan Raley, 1998; Cynthia Land, 1998; Krist Novoselic; Susan Silver; Rev. Stephen Towles, 2000; Bob Hunter; Alice Wheeler; Tracy Marander; Dylan Carlson; Danny Goldberg; Janet Billig; and Leland Cobain.

Page 356 “I saw this body laying there on the floor”: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer , April 9, 1994.