Till My Head Falls Off 04.07.04: Endless, Nameless

For Your Listening Pleasure
Various Artists – No Alternative

Said But True
“They say it takes two years to get over something like that… Then it gets better, you can move on. But then, eight years later, it all starts coming back, all over again.”
— Courtney Love, in an interview with MTV’s Kurt Loder

Endless, Nameless
Ten years ago this week, I was one of many high school seniors who felt like his world got turned upside down. The radio on, driving home on the afternoon of April 8, 1994, I first learned that “the body of a white male” was found in the greenhouse above Kurt Cobain’s garage. My first reaction was shock – yes, shock, even though he had “tried to commit suicide” a month earlier in Italy. Then all I could think about was calling the other members of my band, finding out if they’d heard anything. We used to cover Nirvana songs all the time, and a few months later got a great reaction from the crowd during a senior talent show performance of “Come As You Are.” By the end of the day, when the identity of the body was confirmed, I finally had a chance to sit down at home and listen to my heart sink.

Did I listen to Nirvana more after Kurt Cobain died? Probably. But what made me a hardcore Nirvana fan wasn’t the attention Kurt’s death brought to his band, but their emotional performance on MTV’s “Unplugged” the previous year. I remember sitting and watching that show with my dad, and him turning to me to say how impressed he was with Kurt’s voice. The voice of my generation? Probably not (have you heard some of the shit that my fellow “GenXers” listen to?). But on that night, there was a little extra honesty in his voice. What really stood out to me was the contrast between the softer, bluesy first few verses of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” and the all-out, trademarked screaming that closed out the song. That night, Nirvana went from a band that played refreshingly loud, grungy punk with occasional poppy hooks and cool-because-they’re-vague lyrics, to a band that I fell in love with.

Unfortunately, the band died with a gunshot to Kurt’s head before the soundtrack of that MTV special was even released on CD. The band’s legacy, however, has been immeasurable.

I can talk about some of the negatives, like the dozens of copy-cat suicides that followed the news that Kurt was responsible for his own death, and the fact that the Seattle Police Department decided it was a suicide without even investigating the possibility of foul play. Hey, we all love a good conspiracy theory – and the two books by Ian Halperin and Max Wallace, that use much of former P.I. Tom Grant’s theories about Kurt’s death to raise the question of Courtney Love’s involvement in his murder, have been doing a good job of leading the debate of this issue. But let’s forget about the possibility of forged/misinterpreted suicide notes, whether or not Kurt could have pulled the trigger after ingesting three times the lethal dose of heroin, and what’s on Grant’s tapes (and the documents that Courtney’s doing her best to keep sealed). All of this “evidence” may be purely circumstantial, and at the end of the day it may be proved that this troubled man did indeed kill himself. But if he didn’t? If there’s even a remote possibility that he didn’t, can we really say that those copy-cats would still be dead today? That’s my biggest problem with the apparent lack of a murder investigation.

Well, that, along with the fact that I basically idolized the guy, and don’t want to believe that he would really pull that trigger.

Hey, I’m not the only one. After Kurt’s death, song after song has been written as a tribute to this great singer/songwriter/punk. Just a few include:

Bikini Kill – “R.I.P.”
Cher – “The Fall (Kurt’s Blues)”
Cold – “The Day Seattle Died”
Dan Bern – “God Said No”
Foo Fighters – “My Hero”
For Squirrels – “The Mighty K.C.”
Neil Young – “Sleeps With Angels”
Pearl Jam – “Immortality”
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Tearjerker”
R.E.M. – “Let Me In”
The Samples – “Weight of the World”
Vernon Reid – “Saint Cobain”

I’m sure there are several more, and that doesn’t even include covers of Nirvana songs performed/recorded as a tribute to the band, or the chapters of Nick Hornby’s About A Boy that are written entirely around Kurt Cobain’s death. Let’s face it, “right band in the right place at the right time” or not, Nirvana changed the face of pop culture when Nevermind knocked Michael Jackson off the top of the Billboard charts in the early 90s, bringing a unique punk/metal hybrid to the mainstream, opening the door for a ton of new artists to get exposure, and inspiring high school and college kids everywhere to pick up a guitar and learn some power chords. The Beatles, the Ramones, Nirvana… ask a rock musician who their biggest influence is and I bet you a majority of them will name one or more of those three bands. But Nirvana only had three full-length albums, and yet are still put on a pedestal – by their peers and fans alike – with some of the most talented, creative and prolific rock bands of all time. Sure, the emerging “Seattle scene” led to a bunch of crappy grunge wannabes (and way too much flannel), but for every Sponge or Bush out there, there’s a classic Nirvana song that holds your attention and captures your soul for the few minutes it’s on the radio. I’ll take that trade-off. Unfortunately – and this is reinforced every time I hear the single released last year “You Know You’re Right” – the songs that are out there seem to be it. No “lost album” exists that we know of, no secret sessions with Michael Stipe, Cobain’s friend and planned future collaborator. While I’m in awe whenever I hear “You Know You’re Right” on the radio, and realize it’s ten times better than anything “new” that is being played before or after it, I’m also extremely sad that the song is basically the last new Nirvana tune I’ll ever hear.

Fortunately, despite a lot of the garbage who’s way was paved by Nirvana, the band also served as a stepping-stone for Dave Grohl, one of my favorites around right now. Not only is the man one of the greatest rock drummers of all time, once he picked up his guitar and stepped up to the microphone, he began his journey to prove that he just might have been the most talented artists to come out of the whole grunge “movement.” We saw touches of Grohl’s songwriting in the Nirvana b-side “Marigold,” but otherwise, he was merely a background player in the Kurt Cobain Show. Kurt’s charisma drew people to him, and any fans that laid their eyes on Nirvana didn’t really have a choice as to where their attention focused. Of course, it seems that it was that attention that ultimately led to his downfall.

There are a whole slew of characters also in the background of this story. Bassist Krist Noveselic formed his own bands, Sweet 75 and Eyes Adrift (not to mention his appearances on Mike Watt’s great Ball-Hog or Tugboat? CD and in Jello Biafra’s No WTO Combo), before deciding to focus on political endeavors. Second guitarist Pat Smear joined the band towards the end, and then was a part of the Foo Fighters with Grohl before leaving them not too long after he joined.

But we can’t leave out Kurt’s wife and daughter, Courtney and Frances Bean Cobain. We couldn’t forget about Courtney even if we tried. Here are some of my thoughts on Mrs. Cobain, as taken from a column I wrote for 411mania in October 2002:


“Within the months between October 1991 through December 92, I have had four notebooks filled with two years worth of poetry and personal writing … The most violating thing I’ve felt this year is not the media exaggerations or the catty gossip, but the rape of my personal thoughts. Ripped out of pages from my stay in hospitals and airplane rides hotel stays etc. I feel compelled to say f— you F— you to those of you who have absolutely no regard for me as a person. You have raped me harder than you’ll ever know.” – Kurt Cobain, as excerpted from his personal journals

So, Riverhead Books has paid the Cobain estate $4 million, and whattaya know, Courtney Love Cobain has seemingly approved the rape of her deceased husband’s personal thoughts. Lovely, isn’t she?

This is the type of thing that drives someone like me truly insane. What kind of wife was this woman? I’m sorry, I wish I could give her the benefit of the doubt, but time and time again, she does nothing but alienate her husband’s fans and paint herself as a disgusting whore. Maybe, as some have suggested, it’s all a show, with her intentionally altering her image: first as a way to fit in, then doing a complete 180 and telling us all to f*ck off. Kurt himself was brilliant at manipulating the media. Perhaps the accusations that she once offered a man $10,000 to kill her husband — and that after this failed, she persisted until the job was finally done — are just conspiracy theories thought up by fans who don’t want to believe their hero took his own life. Maybe she really was looking out for the best interests of her daughter Frances Bean (who just celebrated her tenth birthday on August 18) throughout all of her legal battles with David Grohl and Krist Noveselic over the rights to all things Nirvana.

Wherever you stand on the above issues, and however you feel about this very intriguing musician/actress/widow, it’s hard to give her the benefit of the doubt after this latest outrage. Yes, I said “outrage” — because it’s outrageous to me that she would allow her very private husband’s very private thoughts be consumed by the public. She has no respect for his memory and I can’t see what this woman can possibly do to gain my respect. But, I’m entitled to my opinion, right? And, despite my disgust, I doubt I’ll have the will power to stay away from the journal excerpts that are made public. It’s almost impossible to not want to take a look into this man’s life, and seek answers to a true rock and roll tragedy why scanning through what he was thinking, especially in the months leading up to April 5: the day he was killed. Thoughts such as:

“I like punk rock. I like girls with weird eyes. I like drugs. (But my body and mind won’t allow me to take them). I like passion. I like playing my cards wrong. I like vinyl. I like to feel guilty for being a white, American male. I love to sleep. I like to taunt small, barking dogs in parked cars. I like to make people feel happy and superior in their reaction towards my appearance. I like to have strong opinions with nothing to back them up with besides my primal sincerity. I like sincerity. I lack sincerity.”

You didn’t lack sincerity, Kurt, and nothing will ever make me doubt your passion. You know I’m right…

I can write on and on about how this week has been hard for me, bringing back memories of a really sad time in my life (I was young when Kurt died, and took myself a lot more seriously back then, so when I think about how I felt when his body was found, it’s hard to resist feeling like a high school kid again). I can tell you how old I felt when I realized that I’m the same age, 27, that Kurt was when his life ended. I can try to convince you that it’s not heresy to list Nirvana in the same sentence as the Beatles or the Ramones (or, for that matter, to spend so much time reflecting on an imbalanced, junkie, “sad little Pisces Jesus man” during the most holy week for Christians and Jews around the world, when there are a lot more important issues to be reflecting on).

In fact, it doesn’t really matter what I think about this subject outside of the context of this column, when there’s a young girl who has been raised without a father, and is presently caught in the middle of a custody battle between her mother and grandmother. I can only pray that Frances Bean Cobain is somehow able to stay away from all the bullshit that goes with having a revered father and Courtney Love as a mother.

We all know how it ended for Kurt. And, to be completely selfish for a moment, I’ve gotten some great music and hours of emotional debate out of the deal. What this story is missing, and what it really needs, is a happy ending for the people in the background.

Until next time…

peace. love. moe.

– Matt

Matt’s Black Log

Matthew Michaels’s columns can also be found on moodspins and 1-42.