Just to commence, Tom Grant’s own book series regarding his investigations into the death of Kurt Cobain has entered publication and is available here. And yes, I must admit I’m intrigued, at twenty years distance the whole topic is infotainment and I’d very much like to read it even if I have severe doubts whether I agree with him.
After many years I finally decided to read the Max Wallace and Ian Halperin books on the basis of a gentleman called Brett Robinson who quite reasonably said to me back last year “my biggest qualm is that people aren’t open to the idea that the story as we have been told has been completely misrepresented.” I’ve always been a fan of the idea that one should be open-minded but not so much so that one’s brain falls out or one abandons any willingness to accept a consensual reality — yes, everything can be denied, but in reality everyone compromises. Anyways, I decided it was time I stopped doing my best Sid Vicious curled upper lip look at the mere mention of murder.
Just to be at least a little bit surprising, yes, I think those who have read a significant number of the two hundred plus articles on here might have noted I’ve little time for the murder theories. On the other hand, as a spoiler, I’d like to state from the start that I was surprised how much merit I found in certain elements of the murder theory. Permit me time to get to them in amidst the areas in which I simply thought “this is shockingly poor reportage, poor literature, poor evidence and gross profiteering.” I’ll admit to both reactions as we go and naturally I am very cool with the idea that many opinions have been spilt over this topic and mine is just one more addition with no greater answer.
Today I’m focusing on just one item; Max Wallace and Ian Halperin’s Who Killed Kurt Cobain book from 1998. I’ll then move onto Love & Death from 2004 — a book I was glad, having concluded the former, that they chose to take more time to put together.
The opening chapters of the book rapidly provoked my ire; anyone who relies on Christopher Sandford’s Kurt Cobain bio is immediately suspect to me given that book’s political agenda and many flaws. Intriguingly, Mr. Sandford’s agenda focused on a belief that Kurt Cobain’s suicide acted as a trigger for other teen suicides and therefore that rubbishing Cobain — calling him a rapist, a violent man who beat another into a coma and laughed about it, an active homosexual, an untalented songwriter and musician, a mummy’s boy… — was legitimate if it tarnished his image among young people. Intriguingly the Halperin/Wallace books have precisely the same underlying agenda; the first book is dedicated to “sixty eight lost souls”, the sixty-eight suicides supposedly sparked by Kurt Cobain’s death or influence. The book’s most clever sleight of hand is that, while Sandford attacked Cobain himself, Halperin/Wallace blame Courtney Love rather than Cobain; she “owes it to the families of sixty-eight dead teenagers…To thousands more who still suffer acute depression over the death of their hero.” By arguing that they are the friends of Cobain’s fans they’re able to target the same cause as Sandford but attract loyalty and partisanship rather than opposition.
This posture means they’re forgiven the toned down hatchet job on Cobain in the early chapters of their book — their reading is basically that whatever Kurt Cobain does for over two years is the fault of his puppeteer; Courtney Love. The core function of the first one hundred plus pages is to repeatedly tie Cobain’s actions to Love’s influence — they reduce Cobain to a drooling imbecile incapable of doing anything more than obey. Similarly, within pages he’s delighted to be famous or lying about how much he disliked it then making anti-commercial recording and touring moves with the contradiction never addressed — he’s not permitted to be real. Likewise, he’s an addict because of fights with Courtney and because of stomach problems — again, both might be true but the slinging of mud is never synthesised into a single argument, points add up without being pulled together coherently. Just believe the worst of Cobain and you’ll be fine.
The authors’ most regular trick is to distance themselves from their own work; the appearance of the detached observers when they, in fact, are not. The book claims, and the authors have claimed, that they’re an impartial summary of what’s been stated by others. Yet the actual work is a highly partisan and highly biased case for the prosecution – there’s no critical distance, no balance and the emphasis is very firmly on claiming that Kurt Cobain was murdered. Throughout the book they adopt an (im)plausible deniability where they can claim that they’re reporting claims, not judging sources, nor making any claim of their own despite the very clear and overt selection and emphasis placed on the statements that they want to put forward.
The result is a book where its authors’ create a chain of supposed evidence that they simultaneously point out is unprovable, fabricated, unlikely to be true — an overt compendium of lies by two people who claim they’re not pulling the strings. As an example, while wrapping the book up in a moral mission to save the youth from the Cobain legend they do take time to point that “obviously, nobody takes their own life just because of a dead rock star…There are always other factors involved…” Too darn right, but in which case why are they writing a book to deflate the Cobain suicide and stating it’s because of kids committing suicide if they believe there are far more significant factors? It’s OK, they revert quickly back to the claims that Kurt Cobain holds a semi-magical talismanic power over the young. I think it’s that lack of courage, that overt duplicity — the equivalent of the gossip who when confronted says they didn’t say anything, they merely repeated what they heard in a complete abdication of responsibility for the potential effects of their unwillingness to think or consider what they’re saying.
It’s a long book…There’s more. Part two tomorrow…
Note that this post is one of four linked articles on the topic: