Had the pleasure of chatting to a very perky Mr. Tad Doyle a little while back – finally finished writing it up.
Had the pleasure of chatting to a very perky Mr. Tad Doyle a little while back – finally finished writing it up.
These recordings have been floating around for a while; October 1992, the peak of the Cobain’s siege mentality as Vanity Fair’s poison-pen letter had sparked the intervention of Child Welfare Services who removed Frances Bean Cobain from her parents at two weeks old so an investigation could take place regarding their drug usage and fitness as parents. Kurt and Courtney had to endure a guessing game of figuring out which ‘inside sources’ (what the rest of us would get to call ‘friends’) had made anonymous accusations against them – who could they trust? Relationships with Cobain’s closest friend – Krist Novoselic – had been rocky since early that year given a few disagreements between respective spouses – another link broken. And, being frank, Cobain was hitting a peak in his drug usage. While it’s pointless (and impossible – though potentially fun) to try and plot a calendar of ‘how high?’ or to argue he was OK on the basis of X or Y photograph or video footage, ultimately Kurt Cobain really did have a drug problem of sufficient scale that he had spent parts of the year in rehab and even greeted his own daughter’s birth having been fetched from there by his wife – not exactly perfect virtue. The weeks after the arrival of a child are a busy, tiring, fraught time for any set of parents – for these two, at this time, the media light, the pharmacology of the father, the mistrust of those around them…It added up.
All I feel is that it was sheer bad luck and misfortune for two U.K. journalists to walk into the middle of this environment where the slightest sign of intrusion could be deemed to have negative intent, or a traitorous edge. Victoria Mary Clarke tells her own tale and I’ve no desire to take her words from her so here she is:
June 26, 1992 – it’s already going wrong. That’s the date of the Roskilde Festival. Denmark beat Germany in the European soccer championships so the whole nation was celebrating – Nirvana even agreed to go on an hour or two late because the audience wanted to see the match on the big screens on stage. Cobain met a Geffen-hired photographer for a quick ceremony handing over gold discs for sales of Nevermind in Denmark – he was happy, courteous, complimented the football result. It was a good show. He gave an interview that day, a little more edgy, a little more withdrawn – but, again, not particularly difficult. And somewhere in amidst it he’s had management kick this journalist out of the festival.
September 1992, out comes Vanity Fair – things kick off more deeply. It seems to be the news that Britt and Victoria have spoken to Lyn Hirschberg that provokes the final storm…36 minutes of vitrolic voicemails from various sources:
The Dave Grohl call is…Something I’d not checked before. Wow. Grohl calls claiming that he’s heard a rumour that they’ve slept together – he’s clearly unhappy, for whatever reason, he threatens legal action on top of the death threats from Kurt and the barrage from Courtney.
Then it gets truly surreal…Kurt’s aunt now calls up to demand that no material from her interview be used in the book – again, legal threats, a statement that the understanding is that the intended book is a hatchet job.
There’s a wider orchestration at work – multiple levels of attack coming down on the two journalists – calls from the couple at the centre seem to be leading to these reactions from other people, meanwhile the record company’s legal people and the Cobain’s private representatives are tackling the publishers in both U.K. and U.S. Full defence at play. Ultimate result is that a book never materialises – just an ugly incident.
Listening to it all is voyeuristic, for sure – don’t think I’ll listen to these again any time. The fact that Kurt calls sometime on the night of October 22 – early morning on October 23 doesn’t bode well for his condition, the tape is fascinating in the sense that more than the Sao Paolo performance in January 1993 or the post-overdose performance in July 1993 in New York, he’s visibly wasted. Nirvana are one week before the poor performance in Buenos Aires where Cobain is invisible except for the performance and brief backstage time before – he’s ill? Yeah…For sure.
The comments under the YouTube clips tend to be a bit of a ‘right/wrong’ battle at points with people taking sides. I’m not sure there’s a side to be taken here. The voicemails are vicious, unpleasant, unnecessary – it’s harassment, it’s threatening, it’s gross behaviour from both Kurt and Courtney. On the other hand, the scale of the threat to their family at that point, their love for one another and for their child, the situation they’re currently in – their terror, their rage, their misery is all understandable also. Of course we do live in a society governed by rule of law so that doesn’t justify extra-judicial intimidation but it makes their verbal violence comprehensible if not forgivable. I’m into reasons (why something happens and someone does something) not excuses (why something happens and therefore someone’s actions aren’t their fault.)
As far as Victoria and Britt…Again, similar splitting of the difference. Journalism by its very nature is intrusive – it’s meant to be. The bargain any artist makes with the media is that by giving away a certain amount of privacy they’ll receive a certain amount of benefit resulting from coverage. The individual artists draw their lines, journalists are independent and therefore entitled to explore, question, find other routes to clear understanding. The ‘quest for the truth’ doesn’t negate them receiving blame for the harm that the truth can cause. Revealing someone as a killer obviously hurts their family, their friends – but there’s a greater good at play. Music biography, a trickier field. Instinctively I’d hate it if the only biography permitted was the sugar-coated faux-honesty of artists telling their own tale – they’re entitled to try but I think most artists are flippant, deceptive, sometimes blind. We all are – it’s human to underplay or reinterpret one’s sins.
I can’t imagine Victoria or Britt gathered anything other than the truth about the situation around the Cobains; that Courtney Love had made herself a less than beloved figure long before meeting Kurt Cobain, that drugs were a major part of the scene around both people, that Cobain was on drugs throughout the pregnancy, that Courtney came off as soon as she knew but it’s hard to believe there wasn’t some blurring of early lines while still ignorant and still kicking. Revealing the views of others wouldn’t have been flattering, but wouldn’t have been dishonest either. The band’s lack of cooperation certainly didn’t help the situation – in a way it’s a shame they didn’t continue given Lime Lizard had followed Nirvana from their early days around the 1989 European tour, it may have been nice to see someone from the indie publishing world rather than the corporate music press create the first authorised biography of Nirvana.
End result? I think Victoria Clarke’s blog piece summarises things nicely. That it was grim on every front – that no one emerged untarnished or totally spotless. As a fan of Nirvana, therefore a fan of Kurt Cobain, I never want to turn admiration for someone’s creative works, or an attempt to understand a person one admires much of the time, into an application for sainthood (bleugh!) A recording like this is a good reminder that everyone has times they’re not all they are at their best – I wouldn’t wish you to see me at my worst either. It’s a grim recording, but a human one and a nice reply to the less balanced, more gushing end of Nirvana coverage and writing. A specific moment in time caught forever.
I remember a friend handing me Sweet 75, Krist Novoselic’s post-Nirvana project back sometime late in my time at school. I also remember not thinking much of it –with age I begin to wonder whether I may have overlooked some essential quality within the album…So, given Novoselic’s post-Nirvana releases are so cheap on eBay I did some digging and decided it was time to revisit Sweet 75, the No WTO Combo and Eyes Adrift. What do Novoselic’s post-1994 releases demonstrate about Kurt Cobain’s chief lieutenant and are they worth time and energy in and of themselves?
Starting with Sweet 75, OK, it vanished without a trace at the time despite ongoing work right through into 2000 – curious to think of it as a five year project when Nirvana itself barely lasted seven. Of course it doesn’t seem to have been a band with great ambition behind it – a significant contrast to Nirvana’s 60-90 gigs a year heyday and regular recording and release schedule. That’s often the problem with something so casual – as a one-off, as a document of a specific moment in time, they can often be effective. But the idea that this album is a testament to efforts between 1995 and 1997 – the same length of time it took for Nirvana to go from Mrs Butterworth to the January 1988 sessions, through Love Buzz and all the way to Bleach…Of course, Wikipedia states that he met Yva Las Vegas at one of his birthdays – which would mean either the association began around May 1994 (which seems a bit swift and sudden perhaps?) or didn’t begin until May 1995…Oh well. What of the album?
This is going to come as a controversial statement, but the Sweet 75 album stands as a real testament regarding Krist’s hidden talent as a guitarist. Trying to focus down simply on his guitar-playing, it’s remarkable how adaptable he is. On Cantos de Pilon he contributes a beautifully finger-picked Spanish guitar backing. On Ode to Dolly, Dogs and Japan Trees you’ll hear a jazzy guitar vibe similar to Cobain’s Black & White Blues home demo. Lay Me Down, Six Years and Nothing all plumb the Americana vein. La Vida meanwhile is bloody crooner-jazz music more befitting Michael Buble…I admire that last piece of open-mindedness while still not wanting it on my stereo. The rest of the album has a firmer alt-rock feel but always with other touches emerging like Bite My Hand’s South American breakdown. He’s certainly a more traditional guitar player than Cobain – the moments of overdriven fuzz on the record are used sparingly while little here feels wildly out of control – he has a clear grip of technique and such a wide awareness of styles and techniques which he deploys with real precision. The song Six Years moves through several different feels and vibes in a relatively brisk four minutes.
The only slight issue one could point to is that across the album there’s a relatively limited tempo to all the songs. It’s like comparing top form Lil Wayne mixtapes to the walking pace approach on The Carter IV where he could barely break out of ‘talking speed’ for more than a song or two. The same affliction is present on Sweet 75 – it’s an album of half a dozen dominant styles, divided again by the diversions taken within each individual song, but all taken at the pace one might reserve for practising an instrument. Accuracy rules over heart n’ soul. Praising the openness to neat instrumental touches – like the really well placed mellotron interventions on Fetch, or the accordion on Oral Health – is genuine, the compositional talent on display is very clear but, again, it feels constructed in it’s precision while simultaneously lacking a unifying feel.
On Game’s The RED Album there’s a horrendous mid-album R n’ B segment which seems cynically planned to permit sales to the dominant music market and to open it up to the female demographic. It totally ruins the momentum of the overall album, destroys the flow – not to mention that the songs are appalling crap. There’s absolutely no sense of anything so strategically planned out (and strategically flawed) on the Sweet 75 album – it feels far more spontaneous, it is what it is…The problem being that there’s not much sense of a plan at all. Nevermind clearly has a plan – Cobain quite clearly is mapping out the flow of the LP and does so for quite a long time prior to the album’s finalisation. That album is also a very focused object – there’s no huge deviation into completely disparate territory and yet, simultaneously, it certainly doesn’t belabour a single sound nor outstay it’s welcome. The Sweet 75 album is of comparable length but flies off in so many directions there’s no flow or development to it – there’s no movement, no reason why a song should be in one place or another and as a listening experience it’s really audible. While the Game’s effort wants to be a gangsta rap revival AND a chart-bothering R n’ B EP all on the same overlong album, the Sweet 75 album doesn’t seem to have any determined identity, it simply flits between guises to the detriment of some good touches, good moments and details. It’s wrong to read too much into a single release but if it said anything about Novoselic it would be that he has an incredible amount of under-exposed and under-rated musical talent that went to waste in the dictatorship that was Nirvana – however, it suggests he functions better with a leader, with someone saying what will fly and what must die.
What more can I say? At its core Sweet 75 has a suite of really excellent alt. rock songs with Take Another Step and Red Dress being tracks I’ll happily listen to again – there’s something that reminds me of Babes in Toyland about the vocal delivery which is eminently listenable. Around those songs, however, are so many diversions it’s impossible to love it all. I’ve spoken to two journalists who say that after Cobain’s death they had to move away from working on rock music because Kurt, for them, had exposed all the gross consequences and endings of the clichés of rock n’ roll. I would understand Novoselic wanting to play something a world away from Nirvana – which he does here – but at some point this album needed someone to decide what it was, it doesn’t have that. Foo Fighters got it right; a punk rock/pop rock band – set the controls, go. It doesn’t mean I always loved them but it was clear what was being delivered. Sweet 75 is three EPs in 14 tracks – I still don’t know who they are.
Eyes Adrift is a firm correction of almost all those question marks. It further expands my appreciation of Novoselic as a musician too – Krist sings! And he does a good job of it too! His voice is surprisingly similar to Curt Kirkwood’s, maybe his voice is just something he had to grow into because it’s a world away from his 1987 take on Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves. I’m immediately fond of his gentle approach on Inquiring Minds – it’s a great lil’ song! And, this time around, Curt clearly provides the leadership and the focus lacking from Sweet 75 – the album has a defined identity, a solid core, a unity that lends coherence. But wait…Agh. OK, I like the Meat Puppets, I like Meat Puppets II, I like Up on the Sun…But the problem is there’s only so much southern hospitality rock I can take. The focused identity of the Eyes Adrift album is that particularly gentle country rock vibe Meat Puppets ended up with – it’s ultimately a Meat Puppets album with one Krist replacing one Cris, when what would be a neater thing would be a Nirvana-ish album with one Curt replacing the other Kurt. Instead it just feels a bit…Gentle, a bulbous summer warmth that never boils into sweaty motion or dries to frazzled crispness. It also shows Krist, on the Dottie Dawn & Julie Jewel track, again proving quite keen on the Leadbelly guitar influence a few decades too late. But maybe it’s just me. Middle-of-the-Road indie is as irksome as MOR rock always was.
Which brings me to the No WTO Combo – phew, Gods, it’s nice to hear some raw guitar and an impassioned vocalist at last! On Full Metal Jackoff Jello Biafra’s delivery recalls Johnny Rotten’s style on Pretty Vacant – a good sound to emulate. Again, there’s a clear leader here – the first fifteen minutes are Jello hyping the cowd, there’s a Dead Kennedys’ song, there’s a song from his 1989 collaboration with D.O.A., there’s two new songs he’s written. But what the hell, it means there’s a sound being aimed for and it works well. Plus it’s a focused recording – a single night, a specific point in time, a quality line-up including Kim Thayil who kills on guitar. When defending Sweet 75 or Eyes Adrift I can understand people saying that they’re unpretentious records, that they’re the sound of musicians enjoying themselves…Except I think the No WTO live show sounds a lot less pretentious, a lot more like musicians enjoying themselves – the albums are not people just cutting an album for the hell of it, they’ve made an album because they want to release some music and have formulated it as such. No WTO Combo is about highlighting a cause, getting attention, putting the word out there…But it kicks ass in a way the other two don’t. There’s a real feeling of being sat bobbing head up-and-down on the corner of a stage in a club so full everyone has an elbow in there gut one way or another – the production is somehow so clear and yet it also that slight mist over everything that makes it live – you can hear Jello breathe…Momentum matters, Jello spending a minute or two ranting doesn’t break the intensity at all thanks to his practised delivery, it just lends outrage in between the bursts of straight-forward punk.
I’m definitely aware that what I’m feeling is my preference for rock over indie – my assessment has to be judged on those terms, that I’m arguing from the perspective of someone who ‘feels’ the rough-edged punk guitar but feels no affinity for quite a lot of country-influenced music (there are exceptions! The Broken Family Band, early Meat Puppets, Herd of Turtles!) The drift toward stripped down acoustic music seems to be a simple part of the life progression of the average noisenik or ex-alt. rocker, even Thurston Moore has ended up there (thank God for Chelsea Lights Moving and Twilight) while Michael Gira has really owned it (thank God for the Swans revival but also for Gira being able to make even the most lite song sound menacing.) Being aware of it, that eventually turning down the volume is all anyone seems to be able to do doesn’t make me a vast supporter of it. The directness of the No WTO Combo, the absence of any attempt to create an album makes for a far stronger connection with the artists while Sweet 75 and Eyes Adrift…They don’t speak with me, I don’t feel someone communicating to anyone outside of the circle of players. Ah well.
Again, the inlay booklet presents Krist on articulate form – he wears his intelligence lightly, it’s been impossible for years to ever mistake the guy for a fool. He writes well, speaks well, makes points effectively and with a clear depth of knowledge and awareness. Again, reading the liner notes of the No WTO Combo gave me a further appreciation for Krist Novoselic. Really glad I spent the £6-7 it took to get hold of the three records even if they reminded me of what was lost when the stakes got too high. The result is that zone of comfort, of lack of consequence to music – when it’s just something nice to do rather than something one has to do, the millionaire rock star syndrome or just the aftermath of the horror?
Since Saturday morning the YouTube quality has improved significantly when it comes to the McCartney/Grohl/Novoselic/Smear material…All the songs are now up there…
I’ve always been of the opinion that Nirvana’s career as a live band reached its peak in 1991. 1989 had seen them play 82 shows, turning what had been a relatively stilted live band into a powerhouse — it was their education. The pace dropped slightly in 1990, to 62, then rocketed to 92 performances in 1991 with the majority being in the final spell of the year. This quantity of work as a unit bonded them to the point that they could pull any song out of the bag.
Having plotted the overall numbers for the songs Nirvana performed live I was curious whether one could see that peak in terms of the sheer range of songs Nirvana played. There were provisos; firstly, the increase in set lengths toward the end of their career potentially would influence the results — Nirvana needed only 10 to 12 songs a night in 1987-1988 rising to a norm of 23 to 25 by 1994. Also, as Nirvana wrote more songs it would perhaps be natural that they would (or at least ‘could’) play more — again, potentially this would blot out any indication of their variety as a live act. Finally, for some months, there simply isn’t much data on their shows meaning strange results appear. But what the hey, I thought I’d simply give it a try and see what emerged…
I had one spreadsheet showing every song Nirvana ever played live, which I’d converted to try to show the span of time rather than the overall totals per month (by converting each month in which a song was performed from a total number of performances to simply a ‘1’ meaning I could add a formula that added up how many months the song appeared in.) This made it pretty easy to calculate how many different songs were performed that month.
The influence of individual shows could immediately be seen, for example, the early peak in November 1990 is down to the show at The Off Ramp Café where Nirvana triumphantly pulled out numerous rarities and new songs; the growling response to the weight of negative press coverage in late 1992 was the triumphant stomp of Reading which nearly hit 30 songs; the January 1993 peak is a result of the desultory show at Sao Paolo where the only way to make it to the allotted stage time (and not get sued by the promoters) was for the band to switch instruments and whack through a few sarcastic covers. The tail-end of 1991 does stand as the most sustained period of rapid set-list revision though I’d underrated the sporadic weight and variety of the In Utero tour.
What I was curious about next was to see the impact of removing cover songs from consideration…
The result shows clearly that Nirvana’s set-lists only truly ‘blow up’ once the band are free to unleash Nevermind in its full glory upon the public. Similarly, the increase in set-list length really does contribute to the 1993-1994 In Utero tour being far more varied than I’d expected. While the band were whipping mystery songs or covers out of the hat each night, they were playing a solid core of Nirvana’s songs. Late 1991, however, when In Utero was still two years away as a coherent album (if half written) was still the finest period in terms of the flexibility of Nirvana.
I did one last scan of the results due a suspicion that the November peak in 1993 was clearly the consequence of MTV Unplugged — another example of a special event in Nirvana’s history leading to unusual and unique choices when it came to sets (Nirvana really knew how to throw a party on stage…) I simply identified the drop in songs if covers were removed:
The results make Sao Paolo in January 1993 and MTV Unplugged in November 1993 very starkly indeed. It also shows that, beyond the total figures it was that spell in late 1991 where Nirvana were performing long shows and simultaneously varying the set-lists significantly. The best month to follow Nirvana was November 1991 as the storm was breaking and the band could throw anything at a performance.
Flaky blog service this week I confess, purely down to work pressures; would you believe me if I told you I was in this chair yesterday from 8.55am until 1.30am this morning minus bathroom breaks and a 30 minute lunch outing? Then back up to do it again!
I’m presuming everyone has read the interview with Jason Everman in the New York Times by now?
And in another aside…Not that I’m fixated on making the comparison, but today I’m musing on one more factor making a crucial difference between Kurt Cobain and Axl Rose; guess what it is? It’s 1962 versus 1967. Earlier this week we were looking over and considering the well-known list of Kurt Cobain’s Top 50 albums and it was very visible that the peak of his musical revelations came between 1981 and 1984 – somewhere in amidst his teenage years from age 14 to 17. That five year gap between February 6, 1962 and February 20, 1967 pushed Cobain into the era of the emerging punk-influenced alternative scene. Axl Rose, by contrast, hit age 14 in 1976, the year of Aerosmith Rocks, of Led Zeppelin releasing Presence, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, Elton John Blue Moves…The Sex Pistols hadn’t even made it over to the States or released an album yet. Basically the generational shift placed each man at one side or other of the great punk divide, one as both the last great hard rock showman and a genuine fan of interesting twists on rock music, the other steeped in punk rock and also gravedigger to the hard rock superstar. The next shift was to the Seventies babies (Fred Durst, August 1970 – Jonathan Davis, January 1971 – Billie Joe Armstrong, February 1972)…What a difference time makes.
Anyways, recently I’ve been thinking about the nature of performance. Despite the near complete (and ongoing) relegation of guitar-based music to a ghetto underneath the avalanche of electronics, or to a hybridised status designed to make it fit for the dance floor, the reality is that it is still guitar-centred bands who are making the money in the live arena. I believe the nature of live performance inherently favours live instrumentation…Why?
As an audio experience, as pure sound, let’s be honest, music will always have greater clarity and detail on a stereo or over headphones. But we go to live shows because the physical kick of organic sound on vast speakers in a room full of juiced up fans is what makes the difference – the human buzz. Related to that, the visual factor in live music is sorely underrated. Music DVDs fail to capture the connection between humans, that’s why they’re such disappointing objects; there’s a flatness to them. Similarly, at venues, seating can kill the mood because it removes a lot of the proximity and press of actual flesh – likewise seats and positions with restricted views will always be cheaper because the absence of sight strips away a crucial part of the live experience; a live performance is about music as it is performed not just about sound as a singular sensory avenue.
With laptop based music and mixing decks, the relative absence of motion from the performer, the relatively static nature of their role makes it a very pure audio experience – which in turn makes it completely unexciting. It’s why most laptop artists perform against video backdrops; they’re aware that something is lacking within the experience. It’s why dance music is still the primary realm for electronics/computer based music because the action and activity of the audience substitutes for the absence of a true performer or performance and reinstates the buzz of human connection.
The predominance of what are, now, traditional instruments (whether in classical performance, rock-derived modes, jazz and so forth), despite their relative death in terms of commercial audio home/portable listening sales, is because they remain absolutely crucial to observed performance. The ‘buzz’ people describe in live music is about the presence of living breathing humans and is at its most intense when one can see those creating the music meaning one’s mind associates the motions seen on stage with the sounds assailing the ears. To quote a friend of mine “if you’re singing, your lips, face, and chest all move; and if you watch the best singers, they tell a story with their eyes as much as with gestures; if you’ve got an instrument then you’re physically interacting with it, your arms, fingers, and whatever else you use to get it to make a sound.” Laptops and table-bound articles obscure movement and involve only limited motion. They’ll never compare to a singer stretching out to catch a high note, a guitarist wrenching notes from the guitar or throttling a riff from it, it’s nothing like seeing a drummer deluging their kit with blows in a spray of sweat.
The best laptop performance I saw was a guy who performs under the name, The Caretaker. The two preliminary acts were fairly traditional laptop acts, cool but not visually that interesting – watching films with some music over the top. The Caretaker (Leyland Kirby being the guy’s name) stepped on stage, chatted to the audience, then asked to be allowed one self-indulgent tradition from his wilder musical days – so commenced a mental karaoke version of “Here I Go Again” the Eighties rock tune by Whitesnake which concluded with him having rolled himself off the stage altogether and being in a heap in the middle of the audience. It was deliberately parodic, undermined the audience/performer gap, wiped away the po-faced chin-stroking aspect of his present music (he manipulates classical music and old 78 RPM records)… Next, he put up a video that commenced with a message explaining it was a video diary of his time living in Berlin and the collapse of his relationship with then girlfriend which gave it a humanity and a poignancy it was hard not to look for…He meanwhile, departed entirely from the ‘performer’ script and simply sat down by the desk on stage, set the laptop going, got a full bottle of whisky and proceeded to polish three-quarters of it while sat on stage watching with us. The initial five minutes of sound were a full blown assault – genuinely nasty – drove the pop fans out the room altogether…And THEN finally he commenced with the softer material he’s been known for recently for those left behind who had been OK to accept the deviations… He was totally and deliberately amateur, genuinely unwilling to stick to the increasingly rigid script to which musicians must work live (i.e, turn up on time, respect commuters, be nice to those bringing their kids, play the hits, be good…) and utterly wonderful for it. It was that rarest of things; a genuinely unpredictable and unforeseeable show. Not many about these days; commoditised performance for ease of consumption.
Time to finish off I think. Today I simply want to deep dive into the supposed evidence and leave the whole topic there. If you haven’t done so yet go listen to Tom Grant’s taped evidence at http://www.cobaincase.com and note that he’s only released tapes that support the more innocuous of the claims he makes in this book — most of those featuring Rosemary Carroll are Grant talking with Rosemary just agreeing that she’s doubtful and still shocked by it all. Barely any of the tapes are more than a matter of seconds, the topics are barely focused and the only interesting one is the minute and a half exchange over the existence of a letter in a bed. Enjoy!
The issue of the use of Kurt Cobain’s credit card after his death is often cited as an ‘ah-ha’ moment for the murder case but there’s no evidence whatsoever that the card was taken from the crime scene. Two reasonable arguments, firstly, technical error, secondly, theft or loss in the days prior to death, are available. A third option is supplied within Love & Death which is that, as the authors state they suspected, a member of what they call “Cobain’s entourage” could use the card number without the card being present — essentially there are three good alternatives rather than the killer being dopey enough to use their victim’s card. Frankly, having executed this murder cunningly concealing it as a suicide, it seems unlikely the killer would take the risk of stealing the credit card given even the merest idiot knows that would create an electronic record. Of course, if the (non)killer was Courtney’s agent she may have mentioned having cancelled the credit cards but that’s supposition so strike it from the record. Far more importantly, in the conspiratorial version of events this greedy killer took the credit card but left $120 sitting on the floor plus a further $63 in Cobain’s pocket — $183 dollars in untraceable hard cash that could never have been connected back to Cobain was abandoned but an easily noticeable credit card, that if used would create an electronic record, was taken.
The authors also dwell on the absence of fingerprints yet, again, there’s a sleight of hand taking place; they state clearly on page 222 “when the police dusted for fingerprints, they actually found four latent prints.” What they are really referring to is the absence of other prints. They disingenuously question why there are no prints from Dylan Carlson or the salesman from March 30 nine days before— I can understand a buyer giving the object a casual wipe on the way home and nine day old prints not being guaranteed. Kurt Cobain’s body lay for around three days in an unheated space with the moisture levels and so forth affected by the joyously wet world of the Pacific North-West. There’s no reason to believe that residual oil from fingertips would be unaffected. The book also describes that different conditions make it more or less likely for fingerprints to be left anyway. Again, it’s a non-evidential point.
The authors at least accept that the gun was wedged tight in Cobain’s hands. But they move into la-la-land again with a bitty and fragmented discussion of where the gun blast would leave the shotgun lying after firing. It’s quite remarkable, someone is genuinely trying to scientifically demonstrate the likely place a gun would fall without definite proof of body position when fired, of force of shot, of position of mouth on gun, of tightness of grip, of gun-butt position — they’ve no valid evidence at all with which to either cast doubt or make claims. It’s pure fantasy.
Next there’s the matter of the claim that Kurt Cobain’s note was in fact a statement that he was quitting Nirvana/music; they make it repeatedly yet this is palpable nonsense. The note rambles widely over comments around the personality of his daughter, of his wife, it doesn’t mention Nirvana by name, it dwells on personal feelings of fear, hatred, disappointment, sadness — one could read, at most, two paragraphs of it as part of a resignation statement but no more. The claim also rests on the bizarre idea that Cobain left the statement lying around so his killer (presumably while escorting Kurt and a shotgun from the house) scooped it up “ah, helpful! A note that just happens to read like a suicide note!” Perhaps the killer stood over Kurt like a school teacher and made him write it? It’s a poor claim and a deeply selective note reading.
The authors move on and claim that Tom Grant has evidence, that he never shows them, that Courtney was practising handwriting. The book deftly evades ever comparing the supposed sample to the Cobain note; that would have helped but it seems that either the samples didn’t match, or there’s no proof they even existed. It also relies on a fascinating set-up in which Courtney Love mailed or hand-delivered the chosen killer after Kurt’s unplanned leave from rehab to supply a note — it’s the only way this piece about handwriting is relevant, she’d have had to write and mail the note on the off-chance Cobain turned up in a killable scenario. Again, there’s only one man’s word for any of it but it posits that Courtney was already planning to somehow lure Cobain into a situation in which a suicide scenario could be set-up and arranged which seems bizarre given she doesn’t know where he is. Meanwhile, as I describe in Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide, the note is entirely in line with Cobain’s use of images found elsewhere in his writing, its loaded with personal references and descriptions that match with his other writings and the tone, right down to the self-depreciation, fits his known work; there’s nothing at all to show the note isn’t the work of Kurt D. Cobain.
Failing to make a case for the note being a forgery the authors have such threadbare material they instead shoehorn in the claim that the final four lines were written by someone else. I can’t tell if they’re saying Courtney practiced two versions of Cobain’s handwriting just for the occasion, or that she somehow got to the scene to write them in before the Police got there, or that the cunning killer wrote them to leave a handwriting sample to be picked up at the scene — either way, Courtney couldn’t write the last four lines without having written the rest of the note (if delivered to the killer) which makes a nonsense of the ‘two forms of handwriting’ claim. Unless they’re arguing Courtney didn’t write it at all and that the killer appended the last four lines in which case their argument about her practising handwriting is shown to be irrelevant. Certainly the authors show Ms Love to be quite a woman, I mean, WOW, she’s permanently on the phone, she’s in prison, in hospital, on drugs, preparing to release an album, running round in a limousine arranging contract killings, mailing off notes, practising her handwriting, oh, and being a mother on top of it. It’s a jumble of nonsense.
Again, the topic shifts — that’s the crucial modus operandi of these books, given the absence of any deep or meaningful evidence for anything that is stated the authors simply have to tag together a wide enough variety of material to hide the gaping holes. The discussion moves to Rome in March; again, there’s claim and counter-claim that there was/wasn’t a note wedged in with doubt whether it was/wasn’t a suicide note — again, no proof. Over and over again what really bothers me is that entire arguments are made on the basis of nothing more than the statements of Tom Grant. He claims Courtney was attempting to mislead him, or told him things he found untrue yet, over and again, the only word available is that of Tom Grant.
The matter of the unlocked balcony door is brought up — the possibility that someone clambered over the balcony and dropped the nine-ten foot to the ground below having killed Cobain. They claim that the Police are being deceptive and that the door was not, in fact, barricaded therefore anyone could have been in the room. Again, it’s a disingenuous statement; there’s still a door with a chair with a pile of gardening supplies on it positioned closely enough to the door as to make it hard for anyone to slip out and to end up being reported as ‘wedged.’ More importantly, to me anyway, it’s simply unnecessary for the killer to have to leap spectacularly over a balcony railing and risk injury. The victim is dead, the scene is posed, the killer can simply stroll out the door the same way they and their victim walked in. If they fear observation or detection then a stunning dive off a balcony and crash-down is definitely not the way to go. Instead, let’s just say that Cobain had no reason to lock doors that didn’t lead to an exit — he wanted privacy so he locked the only true entrance. Superman wasn’t going to fly in.
The rest of the book’s 270 odd pages is basically made up of hearsay, discussion of unrelated matters, quotations of dubious relevance (no, sorry, the fact Leland Cobain things Kurt was murdered isn’t evidence — sorry.) Adding it all together, is it possible to say something odd was going on? I mean, think of it; massive heroin dose, unlocked door, no fingerprints, missing credit card, apparently unclear behaviour from wife and others, unopened drinks can at the scene, Allen Wrench — surely this is all weight for the murder claim?
Again, take it apart again; no proof that the heroin dose was so massive or of Cobain’s tolerance level, unlocked door still partially blocked and not leading to an exit, there were fingerprints, better arguments around the credit card, no proof bar Tom Grant’s word for most of what he claims about wife and others, no proven relevance of the drinks can, no proof whatsoever (and a public denial) from Mr Wrench. Having a load of unexplored avenues doesn’t mean there’s a case to be made. The weight of evidence is still far more on the side of suicide; very much so. Missing so hard to locate, killed by own gun found in own hand, only true entrance/exit locked, note in own handwriting, major drug addiction, estrangement from all except drug connections, marital breakdown, professional breakdown, apparent depressive tendencies and no antipathy to the idea of suicide.
I’ve now read the two books, the PDF link given the other day, the two main websites, chunks of the Harrison book and the end result is I see a batch of people making money and/or publicity off the idea that Kurt Cobain was murdered. I see no reason to accept that Tom Grant has been unfairly treated, or that the Seattle Police were negligent, or that any of the claims made for the murder theory stand up to any examination at all. But what the hey, it’s all kinda fun isn’t it? Maybe that’s all this is now, a twenty year old death only lives on as infotainment.
Note that this post is one of four linked articles on the topic:
As I stated the other day, I’m glad Wallace and Halperin took time to rehash their investigation in a second volume; if you want to read a distillation of the murder theory and the crucial evidence then Love and Death is ‘the one to read’. While Who Killed Kurt Cobain is barely coherent and poorly written, this volume is a far more readable summarisation, however, being a straight rewrite (and a fairly egregious bit of profiteering, two books with barely 10% difference) the book is still guilty of all the flaws of the first volume. At least it placed a few more clear cards on the table and finally spent more time on the evidence than on name-calling.
…But, to repeat, that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues. One of my issues with the entire murder subject is the way opinions are substituted for fact of any sort. For example, while Kurt Cobain’s hatred of the media is well-documented, this book is happy to credit that he had revealed to one writer, David Fricke , that in late 1993 Cobain was as happy as happy could be. There’s a raft of similar quotations in here to support the idea that Cobain wasn’t sad or depressed and/or that he feared for his life, yet it all adds up to the kinds of statements that surround the average murder event, the kinds of things people say about the neighbour with imprisoned children in the backyard or the child who shoots their classmates; “oh, he was such a quiet boy, I would never have thought they could do it…” It’s life run by external spectators believing they have an absolute insight into the inner world of an individual and that their brief personal experiences sum up the whole of what someone is or isn’t.
The schizophrenia in the Halperin/Wallace books is undimmed with them trying to simultaneously acknowledge Cobain was troubled, while saying he was untroubled, saying he was happy while admitting he was a major drug addict, saying he was positive about life while saying he was terrified for his life and of/for his wife — it all depends which page you’re on. The authors ignore clear statements from Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, Pat Smear and others in the year since Cobain’s death that they knew he was genuinely troubled at the time and focus on those saying he wasn’t. On one page they even quote Mark Lanegan saying “I never knew Kurt to be suicidal, I just knew that he was going through a really tough time” as if that doesn’t clearly refute their statements about how happy he supposedly was. The way they do it is to try and argue that it’s possible to see, in advance, that someone is suicidal; that there’s some dividing line between depressed, miserable, enduring a hard time versus about to kill oneself.
The authors compound previous literary tricks in this volume. A primary one all the way through is deviating from a subject where they’re on weak ground to a concrete quotation or statement about an unrelated topic — it provides the initial topic with an unwarranted gloss of credibility. Trying to be positive about what they’ve done here though, their volume does make a much more substantial case for the unsavoury and untrustworthy nature of Courtney Love — but no more than fair observance of her shape-shifting and odd behaviour over the years has yielded for most observers. There’s still no case for murder in the behaviour or evidence they provide. It’s a tale in which the only people given credence are those the authors feel are supporting their case; some individuals are only permitted credibility for that brief time. Mr. Grant, on the other hand, gets away with comments that at this distance look feeble such as “I can’t go into too many details about what I learned when I arrived that morning…Some of the details will be very important for the prosecutor who eventually tries this case and I don’t want to tip my hand too early.” Twenty years…Twenty years…Permit me to dub thee “liar.”
Remember also that this isn’t just the tale of one murder; by the end of the book the implication is that Love is involved in the deaths of El Duce, of a police officer and of Kristen Pfaff on top of her husband. Her accomplices are the medical examiner, to the investigating officers (the entire murder squad and chain of command are, its implied, also incompetent or corrupt and only one guy who stopped being a police officer at age 29 after he ‘burned out’ over twenty years before these events has the truth), to the Cobain’s nanny, to Eric Erlandson, to Dylan Carlson — it’s a full blown conspiracy hooking in all and sundry. Everyone is lying or hiding the truth including the Cobain’s attorney who is apparently hiding the mystical ‘truth’ whereas is seems more likely she might have worked out Mr. Grant was nuts and was the kind of untrustworthy and paranoid character who was taping every conversation with anyone he spoke to.
The selectiveness continues; only the evidence that supports their case is allowed to stand whether that regards the crime scene, the autopsy, the events surrounding the discovery of Cobain’s body — it’s a serve-yourself buffet in which they pick-and-choose which bits of what anyone says are fact and whether people are talking rubbish. For example, while claiming that the autopsy reports have been unavailable and crucially prevent Mr. Grant making his case, they simultaneously state that the autopsy reports were leaked. This is important because they credit this leak with revealing, definitively, Cobain’s blood morphine level then make an unfounded assumption that these results would have meant nothing to the medical examiner and a further assumption that not one of the professionals conducting the toxicology tests would say anything about what their tests meant. They hang their strongest evidence on several assumptions and a contradiction. That’s where the blood heroin piece falls; no matter how many opinions one gathers around a potentially fictitious number, the number is still unproven.
Let’s take it at face value though. This piece did give me pause; heroin, if injected direct into the blood stream should, in most cases, act almost immediately and in the quantity claimed is lethal. The difficulty is, however, that, beyond the absence of evidence that they had the correct amount, there’s also a lack of scientific evidence related to tolerance levels among heroin addicts — it’s pretty hard to measure dosages in a sufficient number of people and see if it kills them. A study is cited featuring only 189 fatal self-poisonings with opiates and yet the authors don’t recognise the oddity they create; they argue that one of those people had a level as high as Cobain’s which, contrary to their argument, is proof that someone could have a level that high and that levels do fluctuate between individuals. The book has already pointed out that quite a number of addicts have developed high tolerance and can continue functioning for quite a while after injecting — again, there’s no evidence revealing the tolerance levels of Kurt Cobain so the argument is only made by statements related to non-millionaire addicts.
The authors deviate from their central thread in a bamboozling array of pseudo-science that may/may not be relevant. They claim one study shows no one committed suicide with opiates in north-west London for twenty years which, again, doesn’t hinder the argument that Cobain did self-anaesthetise before shooting himself, the cited study in fact puts Kurt into the 20% who died of physical injury. They cite another study regarding likelihood of suicide among missing persons; again, the stat that only 1 in 2000 missing persons’ cases end in suicide isn’t particularly useful because it proves that a number do. Furthermore, showing that an event (suicide) that only happens to a tiny minority of people only happens to a tiny minority of people is irrelevant to this case. I can’t tell if this is a deliberate attempt to throw numbers at the audience because of a belief that the audience isn’t statistically literate or if it’s because the authors aren’t able to decipher the numbers themselves. The authors rapidly abandon the attempt to add science to disproving the suicide verdict and retreat back to unrelated comparisons and personal anecdote where they’re more comfy.
Pages 98 to 104 briefly describe the intriguing phenomenon of staged suicides; great stuff and genuinely the discussion fascinated me. In terms of the Kurt Cobain case though it simply proves to be further smoke and mirrors; the authors mash six separate sources together, citing not particularly relevant or connected information from two books, then, in contrast to the Cobain case, they dwell on cases where there was very clear evidence at crime scene to show that homicide was a strong possibility. They often slip entirely into being misleading, for example, the statement on page 100 “the typical homicide victim — a man between 25 and 34 killed at home with a gun — fits a profile eerily similar to Cobain’s” is utterly devoid of meaning; firstly, finding that he’s the right age to be killed doesn’t prove he was but also males in that age range are also more likely to commit suicide too. There’s no reward for soundly identifying Cobain as a 27 year old male. There’d be more reward if it supported or refuted that he killed himself but it doesn’t.
Note that this post is one of four linked articles on the topic: