E.F.F.E.C.T. Cobain 1992 through 1994

My hangovers have become two day extravaganzas. One day of physical pain then a second day of general emotional vibes and not quite being with it, motivation down, self-criticism up. Apparently this is quite common. Partly it’s age, partly it’s because I don’t drink as often as I used to so my body just isn’t used to it – plus not drinking often means it’s possible to see the depressive effect of alcohol for what it is. Alcohol in itself is a pure substance, but we consume it usually in adulterated forms and imprecisely varied amounts so the body is facing an array of chemical onslaughts. Couple that with the impact of body temperature, pre-existing mood and psychological status, physical health, body mass, efficiency of internal organs, whether one is drinking stood up or sat down, sleep patterns, quantity and/or type of food consumed with it, whether one drinks water…The impact of alcohol in a laboratory can be tested to derive a scientific rule or equation but loose in society it becomes a conundrum of infinite complexity. Most of us have experienced it; the morning after a booze-soaked outing but somehow we’ve survived, or the couple of pints on the way home that somehow leaves the head buzzing the whole of the next day – or the friend who downs beer with abandon but needs carrying home as soon as they touch shots.

I’m always struck that people often have difficulty dealing with ambiguity; in the case of Cobain I’m always struck by people studying photos, looking at video footage, reading observations from others and claiming that the reality of his addiction wasn’t all it was made out to be because he was fine on this occasion or that. As I’m sure most people actually do realise on some level, the fact the impact upon him varied shouldn’t come as a surprise. The fact that in July 1993 he overdosed sometime in the period immediately before going on and was still able to play indicates that he was remarkably functional drug addict able to sing and play guitar despite being undoubtedly under the influence and probably not in anything close to a decent state. On the other hand, The Jesus Lizard have said before that it wasn’t exactly a virtuoso performance – he phoned it in. Not such a disaster that people talk about it in the way they do the January 16th show in Sao Paolo but still a zombified human being. It was both things at once – amazing stamina and well-practised capability, drug-induced sluggishness and lack of energy.

Examining a video and catching behavioural changes resulting from drug use might be valid, but the only thing that could be told from a photo would be skin damage and/or weight gain/loss. Similarly, the indication of off-kilter movement or speech on a video says that at that point in time someone might be having trouble…But it doesn’t extend to suggesting that three days later that was still their ongoing condition – it captures a moment not a trend or a pattern. The video and camera doesn’t lie, people are just asking far too much of it if they expect it to tell all about an individual. The functioning of his internal organs, the chemical impact on his brain, on fluid levels, on lung capacity, on heart rate or vision – none of this can be told without a close up examination.

To make a wider statement about his holistic condition across a period of time means combining evidence and here the evidence is very clear; witness reported overdoses, statements regarding drug use or purchase, photos indicating skin damage (take a look at the shots from Paris in 1994 where makeup was required to cover what had happened to his face), video clips indicating impacted motion and performance, hospitalisation, self-reported usage, the independent decision to seek treatments, reported physical pains and issues that may or may not have been linked to drug use. There’s no debate, given the span of time over which these sources are available, that there was a committed ongoing drug habit of varying intensity with spells of relatively controlled or intermittent usage and periods of heavy debilitating and incapacitating usage. There’s an expectation – born of a focus on worst case scenarios and imagery that sticks in the mind – that he should look like a Nancy Reagan approved dessicated skeleton, preferably with damaged teeth and eyes rolled back. He never did. In some images it’s clear that at age 26 Cobain had grown into his looks, in others he’s looking pretty rough – no one image can tell the tale and there’s no single pattern or path that could be observed in something as blunt as an image.

As human beings in a rapidly moving world, we make mental snapshots that allow us to evaluate and respond at pace; we rarely assess our fellows wholly or completely. Common statements that always make me twitch are “he didn’t look/act like a (insert choice here – pedophile, mass murderer, terrorist, spree killer, serial cheat, fraudster)” as if anything other than a tiny minority of individuals fall into the required image. It’s particularly lunatic because all those items are legally created and contextual descriptions – in a society with no legal age limit for sexual activity there’s no such thing as illegal and therefore immoral activity with a child, in a society that accepts killing in certain situations even mass murder doesn’t mean one wouldn’t invite them for dinner, meanwhile the ability of respectable individuals in smart clothing to egregiously enrich themselves seems to be a boom industry because people judge the clothing, personal grooming, accent and presentation rather than any awareness of internal intent or objective.

The result is statements like “I don’t understand why they’re unhappy – I mean, they’re rich/beautiful/successful/powerful/loved…Ad infinitum.” Again, easy external markers are used as a substitute for any knowledge of the internal emotional and/or psychological condition of an individual. It’s like saying of someone who dies of cancer – “but they looked so healthy,” – our position as external observers of one another gives us no ability to glance inside to that individual’s personal measures of success, personal frustrations or desires. In order to be able to function as a social order, in other words to understand and judge or react to status, position and our potential relationship to an individual, we substitute the things that we can measure at a glance; style, demeanour, brands, employment status and so forth. None of these things show us what the person might be like one minute to a next but they’re the nearest we can get in the quick-study contact most of us experience with one another day-by-day.

In the case of Cobain, he didn’t need to look like a drug addict to be one. And being chemically or psychologically dependent on pharmaceuticals didn’t make him a less moral or less decent person – nor a less functional one. Just as one’s morality exists independent of what one eats for dinner, so did Cobain’s. Anyways, sorry! Afternoon rant over!

For the record, the only thing I’ve ever found truly effective against a hangover is how much water I consume WHILE drinking – I used to drink water afterwards when I made it home but too much at that point disrupted sleep and so forth. Avoid mixing – for it is the devil’s work!!


5 thoughts on “E.F.F.E.C.T. Cobain 1992 through 1994”

  1. Sounds like you are completely forgetting the tell tales of someone on opiates like I told you before with the clips where he is in brazil and the mtg 1993 interview. You get a “heroin voice” everyone sounds like kurt cobain did in the end when they take heroin (exaggerating) . But look for pinpricks and heroin voice , u don’t really get that much skin damage from heroin if ur not living on the streets .

    About the alcohol very studious and I can see how your brain ticks you’re absolutely right . However which “onslaught of drugs” besides etanol that comes to us I am unaware of .

    Would you live in Seattle if you could?

    Love Jim

    1. Hey ya Jim! Happy New Year – y’alright there…?

      I think that’s the point – long term and persistent usage, sure, everyone ends up with that Keith Richard’s/Steve Tyler ‘shrunken head’ look! 🙂 But on the brief timescale of Cobain’s existence…Just not long enough to look properly…

      Apologies for the egregious overkill – I just enjoyed the word ‘onslaught’. I meant that each food stuff or chemical we consume (given even water IS a chemical compound) makes organs of the body work. So, overconsumption of anything, even just beers, leads to a significant quantity of work for the body – its why people can die of water intoxication, it’s overconsumption and overwork that cause damage and issues. Yes, particular chemicals will have a greater and more harmful effect at a lower dosage.

      On the Seattle question…I remember walking round thinking “yeah, I could live here…” It was a nice place. Definitely underappreciated. But then I saw it at its best.

  2. I knew a girl who used heroin often enough to have a ‘problem’ for a couple of years and no one but her drug buddy knew anything about it, looks wise or other. She packed it in when said buddy overdosed and didn’t make it.

    1. Axl Rose apparently did heroin for a few months then decided it was affecting his vocal chords so simply STOPPED. But then again, he only did it for a few months apparently… I guess that’s the complexity of pharmaceuticals – impacts differ according to individual size, weight, chemical content, food, sunlight let alone the contents of the illegally sourced product someone is playing with.

  3. There’s one thing that isn’t talked about enough regarding this topic of kurt’s health, drug addiction and how well he may have looked at a certain point. In 1993 kurtney had escaped the L.A. child services grasp and moved to Seattle. Prior to this though they had to pass a series of drug tests and evaluations. Kurt was never clean after his opiate addiction had begun. I mean to say that if he’d managed to detox off of opiates it would’ve been extremely temporary and we know that he was on pills and opiate maintenance drugs like buprenex which was not legal then but is now. The buprenorphine he was given allowed him to be a functional person to record in utero in Minnesota where it has Bern reported that he wasn’t messed up. At some point in 1993 the doctor who prescribed this then illegal drug committed suicide. Its after kurt no longer had access to this maintenance drug that his addiction took its toll in ways not previously seen. Buprenorphine is a long lasting drug that takes a very long time to detox off of and it increases the tolerance for other opiates substantially. So kurt would’ve been taking heroin and other opiates in greater amounts than before. At this time his wife, his band and the people dependent on him financially were on him to tour and specifically to do lollapalooza for a big payday. He just wanted to do drugs. The difficulty of touring Europe while maintaining a serious addiction with everyone around you disapproving and his suspicion that his wife was cheating on him would’ve been magnified by the depression associated with his chemical dependence. He always looked like shit in 1994. It is common for addicts to stop hygiene and kurt wasn’t all that hygienic to begin with. If the conspiracy theorists knew anything they’d no longer be conspiracy theorists.

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