PART 1 OF 4Screenplay:
[Nick Broomfield] At 8:40 a.m. on April 8, 1994, Kurt Cobain's body was found. He had been killed by a shotgun wound to the head. The verdict was suicide.
The medical examiner in Kurt's case knew Courtney well before she got married to Kurt. In fact, they were pretty good friends and used to go out barhopping together. This should be reason for someone else to handle the examination. Shortly after this potential conflict of interest was revealed, he left the King County medical examiner's office and took a job in a small town in Florida. Coincidence? I think not.
The Seattle medical examiner who examined Cobain's body, Dr. Nicholas Hartshorne, insisted that all of the evidence pointed to a suicide. However, many have questioned his opinion because he once promoted concerts for Nirvana, to which he replied, "It's leap of faith, that someone who once promoted concerts for bands would now risk his job, prison, and public disgrace, in order to cover up a murder. I have promoted numerous concerts. Would I aid in covering up a murder? No. As a promoter you don't have that type of relationship with the bands you promote."
-- Death of Kurt Cobain, by Wikipedia
According to the police report, there was a cigar box to the right containing narcotics paraphernalia, syringes, burnt spoons, and small pieces of black tar.
[Gary Smith, Veca Electric ] I noticed something on the floor. I thought it was a mannequin.
[News Person] An electrician arrived at Kurt Cobain's luxurious home early in the morning to install security lighting.
What he discovered in this apartment ....
above the home's garage was horrible.
[Gary Smith, Veca Electric] And I looked a little closer, and I could see blood in the ear, and a weapon laying on his chest.
The electrician that found Kurt's body was sent out by Courtney to make sure everything was working correctly at the Cobain Mansion. No one was going to be at the mansion any time soon. This random task for the electrician leads me to believe that he was sent out to discover Kurt.
[News Woman] 27-year-old Kurt Cobain ...
an international music star ...
and lead singer of the group "Nirvana" ...
had taken his own life, shooting himself in the head.
Beside him lay a suicide note. Sources close to the police investigation say it was addressed to family, friends, and fans, and describes how he was riding a wave of success, and dealing with a lot of the difficulties that go along with that.
[Nick Broomfield] Kurt Cobain was an icon, an inspiration to millions.
The news of his death was devastating.
The traffic literally stopped in his hometown Seattle ...
and thousands gathered to pay homage and to comfort one another. There have been many copycat suicides throughout the world.
He died at the peak of his career ...
and many people have found it hard to accept ...
that he could have killed himself.
Various conspiracy theories have grown up.
"Who Killed Kurt Cobain?"
On the morning of April 8, 1994, Electrician Gary Smith entered an unfurnished greenhouse in suburban Seattle to install a security system. What he found would put a premature end to his workday and make him the answer to a morbid trivia question. Peering through the window of the locked garret, he saw the --
Kurt was like a folk hero, a god in his own right.
He popularized punk rock, and experienced incredible success.
But people loved him not only for his music, Kurt also remained true to his roots.
This is what he said about his newfound wealth and money.
[Kurt Cobain] Yeah, you can't buy happiness.
I mean, that made me happy for a little while. [Laughs]
But I mean, I was just probably almost just as happy --
I don't know. I look back on going to second-hand stores, and stuff like that, and finding a little treasure like that, and that actually meant more to me. Because it was more of a stab in the dark in a way, you know. Because you didn't know if you were going to be able to afford it. And you don't know what you're really looking for. And when you find it, it's more special to you. Rather than, you know, having a thousand dollars, and going into a store like that, and just buying the whole store, you know. It's not as special.
[Nick Broomfield] Kurt Cobain's story is the story of a brilliant artist, a tragic love story. It's also a story that some people have not wanted told in their various attempts to control the journalists, writers, and filmmakers that have tried to tell it. This control, I discovered, made even the financing of this film very difficult.
We traveled up to Seattle, Washington, where Kurt had spent his last years, to find that wall. He was seemingly happily married to Courtney Love, with a young daughter.
In this street, Kurt's Aunt Mary lives who gave him his first guitar ...
and with whom he did his first recordings.
[Aunt Mary] The first recording that he did, it was on like a great big old board.
I had this great big old PV7 channel mixer, you know, And eventually I ended up selling it to him. I sold him the old PV mixer that I had because he wanted it for his band that he was getting into. Gosh, I'm not even sure exactly when that was.
[Nick Broomfield] What kind of music did he like then?
[Aunt Mary] Punk.
[Nick Broomfield] Once he got over the Monkees.
[Aunt Mary] Yeah, right.
You want to hear some of that stuff?
[Nick Broomfield] The Monkees one?
[Aunt Mary] Oh, yeah. He used to sing a lot of Beatles stuff.
[Nick Broomfield] Yeah, that would be great.
[Aunt Mary] I think I can get it on here.
[Kurt Cobain] [Making baby sounds and singing punk rock] Mama-mama-mama. I can do it by myself, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Yeah, go.
[Nick Broomfield] How old is he?
[Aunt Mary] He's probably about two, something like that.
He was a pretty loud little guy. See, he was the center of attention.
[Nick Broomfield] Mary also played Kurt's very first tracks that she'd helped him record as a teenager.
[Aunt Mary] He was like 15 years old when he did this stuff. And he was banging on his suitcase. I asked him, or I told him, "Kurt, you're totally welcome to use my computer drummer that I have down here." And he says, "Oh, yeah, I don't want to use a computer," he says, "I want to keep my music pure." [Laughs] So he wouldn't take my offer.
[Nick Broomfield] Did he record it on that machine, too?
[Aunt Mary] Yeah, he did. So we can hear a little bit of it here.
[Nick Broomfield] Just play it.
[Aunt Mary] "Just play it."
[Nick Broomfield] Courtney Love has threatened legal actions, so I removed the song.
Instead, this song is by Kurt's best friend, Dylan, and his band Earth.
We traveled up to Aberdeen where Kurt was born on the 20th of February, 1967, a small red-neck logging town in upstate Washington that has become rundown.
Punk rock was an escape. It offered Kurt his way out.
Kurt lived in this house with his parents and sister, but his life changed enormously after the age of 8 when his parents divorced.
Kurt's childhood was anything but glamorous. We went to see Kurt's old schoolmaster with whom he lived for a while.
[Schoolmaster] Speak to me. Who are you? What are you doing? Fill me in. I'm not sure.
[Nick Broomfield] We're from the BBC, and we're doing probably the same film everybody else does who comes to Aberdeen: a film about Kurt Cobain.
[Schoolmaster] He had been kicked out of his own home. My two eldest sons brought him home one evening with the request, "Dad, Kurt has been kicked out of his house, and he needs a place to sleep for tonight. Would it be okay if he spent the night on our couch?" And our response was, "Sure." I mean, we have taken in a number of kids who needed a place to stay. And he spent the first night there, and then that first morning he got up and asked what he could do to help around the house, what he could do to be of service and fit in. He asked if he could spend the second night. And then the second night stretched to a week, and the week stretched to a month, and he kept his sleeping bag behind the couch. He was put into the rotation of family chores. He washed dishes when it was his turn, vacuumed when it was his turn.
[Nick Broomfield] And did he have much contact with either of his parents?
[Schoolmaster] I don't believe that we ever made contact with the mother or the step-father the whole time he was there.
[Nick Broomfield] Really?
[Schoolmaster] I don't think they ever contacted us.
[Nick Broomfield] So they didn't come around very much.
[Schoolmaster] I don't think we ever made contact with them once. No.
[Nick Broomfield] In the whole year?
[Nick Broomfield] At other times, Kurt would go and live under the bridge at the end of his street, a bridge immortalized by Kurt in his song, "Something in the Way."
Kurt never lived underneath that bridge!!! That's a fact, we drank at the bridge many a times. Yes he was "homeless" a few times but always had a floor or a couch to crash on. All you people on here from everywhere but here where he lived and grew up talking like you all knew him, how??? My sister in law went to school with Kurt from elementary through high school. I used to smoke out with him at Mikey Dees' house, drinking good ol' Reinlander and Oly beer with them in the 80's. Kurt didn't commit suicide and I will not say who killed him, don't believe everything you read!!Courtney was/is a conniving bitch and paid to have him killed and no it wasn't El Duce who did it. Yes he passed the lie detector test when asked if Courtney offered him $50,000 to off Kurt. Everyone on here should just quit assuming things and get on with their lives. -- Derek, Olympia, WAhttp://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=2505
We were told by one of the locals that when MTV filmed here, they repainted it and removed all the syringes.
At the age of eleven, Kurt Cobain was the subject of a description to be published in his school's newspaper, the Puppy Press, under the headline, "Meatball of the Month":
Kurt is a seventh grader at our school. He has blonde hair and blue eyes. He thinks school is alright. Kurt's favorite class is band and his favorite teacher is Mr. Hepp. His favorite food and drink are pizza and coke. His favorite saying is, "excuse you." His favorite song is "Don't Bring Me Down" by E.L.O. and his favorite rock group is Meatloaf. His favorite TV show is "Taxi" and his favorite actor is Burt Reynolds.
Kurt's biographer Charles R. Cross writes, "his doodles mostly were of cars, trucks, and guitars, but he also began to craft his own crude pornography." He had many pets. He loved animals, taking care of strays.
When he was eight his grandparents took him to Disneyland for the first time. His mother drove him from Aberdeen to Seattle where he took a plane to Arizona. It was a whirlwind, stretching his experience of the world.
In the second grade, Red Dye Number Two was removed from his diet. He could not concentrate on any one thing for long, and this was thought to be the culprit. A doctor prescribed Ritalin to remedy the problem. Kurt possessed an overactive mind.
Almost every time someone writes about Kurt's childhood, they invent a different way from the last person who tried it. One biography of Kurt describes him "a kind of menace," another paints him as a sensitive artist. It is as if the person talking about Kurt was never themselves young. He was without doubt his family's horcrux: he simply was not very interested in being anything they were.
at age fourteen
He was artistically gifted from the first, but he could not inure himself from criticism. When a peer could not understand one of his paintings, he lashed out at the willfully obtuse fourteen-year-old girl. His mother divorced Kurt's father when he was nine. She later said, "Everybody was telling him how much they loved his art and he was never satisfied with it."
Later, his worried parents would decide to finally send him to a child psychiatrist. He told Kurt to fit in more.
As soon as his parents got divorced, Kurt stopped eating. At the age of ten, he transferred to a new elementary school in Montesano closer to his father. Girls began noticing him for the first time, his blue eyes. He loved television, never found himself without something fascinating to absorb in silence. His favorite shows were Taxi and Saturday Night Live.
He was not happy in his town, and wanted to live with his mother again. She had moved on to an even worse relationship. Later, when Kurt confronted his mother about why she'd forced him to stay with his father, she told him, "Kurt, you don't even know what it was like. You would have ended up in juvie or jail."
His sketches became more advanced. He once showed a sketch of a vagina to a friend, and when his friend asked him what it was, he laughed.
He was probably not ADHD, but he was still on a pill regimen: not just Ritalin, but sedatives, too. When something was wrong he knew where to go. He felt he could not really depend on anyone else. In junior high, he called his teachers racist and got high whenever he could. He avoided school to be alone, not to hang out with friends.
LSD, marijuana, mushrooms and amyl nitrate. Plus whatever he was taking on script.
His parents became even more concerned when, at the age of fifteen, Kurt composed his first short film, Kurt Commits Bloody Suicide, which featured fake blood pouring out of his wrists. He had thought Jimi Hendrix killed himself and wanted to evade the world in a similar fashion.
He stayed with his uncle for awhile, but the man and his wife had an infant daughter and for space reasons, they made Kurt move out. He was shuttled around between other relatives for a time. No one seemed to take much of an interest in the boy. Back in Aberdeen for high school, he was picked on more than he was admired. His still beautiful mother started dating younger men before she married a longshoreman who regarded Kurt as a kind of pestilence or plague.
In his new art class, one assignment encouraged the students to show an object as it developed. Kurt drew sperm. A classmate said, "It was such a different mental attitude. People began to talk about him, wondering, 'What does he think of?'"
When he moved back in with his father, the man made Kurt pawn his only guitar. Kurt left after he had redeemed the instrument, and turned down the Navy. Out of desperation his mother put down a $100 deposit on an abandoned house for her son. One of Kurt's first ideas was to install a tank full of turtles. One of his other ideas was to change music forever.
Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Madonna's adolescence.
-- Description of Kurt Cobain, by Ellen Copperfield
Kurt Cobain was born on February 20, 1967, to Donald Cobain and Wendy Fradenburg in Aberdeen, Washington. He took an early interest in music; at the age of two he was singing along to Beatles songs. At the age of eight, Kurt was profoundly affected when his parents divorced. According to his mother, after the divorce, her son’s personality dramatically changed. Not knowing how to cope with his parents divorce, the once charismatic Kurt became withdrawn and distant. Cobain recalled this period of his life in a 1993 interview saying, “I remember feeling ashamed, for some reason. I was ashamed of my parents. I couldn’t face some of my friends at school anymore, because I desperately wanted to have the classic, you know, typical family. Mother, father. I wanted that security, so I resented my parents for quite a few years because of that.”
Kurt lived with his mother directly after the divorce, but after a year moved from Aberdeen to Montesano to live with his father. For the first few years, father and son lived in a trailer park, however, the family moved into a house when his father remarried in 1978. In the years that followed, Kurt grew more and more rebellious, despite his still introverted nature. During this tumultuous time, the elder Cobain didn’t know how to handle his son’s rebellion and Kurt was shuffled between friends and other relatives.
When Kurt turned 14, his uncle gave him a choice of birthday presents: a guitar or a bicycle. By this time Kurt was finding escape in strong punk scene of the Pacific northwest, frequently going to see punk shows and even hanging out at the practice sessions of local area band, The Melvins. Owing to this interest in music, he chose the guitar and began to learn a few cover songs.
By the middle of his tenth grade year, Kurt was living back in Aberdeen with his mother. He would remain with his mother until two weeks before graduation, when he dropped out of school after realizing he did not have enough credits to graduate. His mother, angry at her son’s decision, gave him the ultimatum of getting a job or getting out of her house. Shortly after Kurt found all of his clothes boxed up. Without a steady home, Kurt stayed at various friends houses and occasionally would sneak into his mother’s basement to sleep. When he could not find any other place to go, Cobain hung out under a bridge on the Wishkah River.
In 1985, Kurt Cobain’s first serious attempt at forming a band resulted in a project with Melvins’ bassist, Dale Crover, entitled ‘Fecal Matter’. The band recorded it’s demo tape, ‘Illiteracy Will Prevail’, at Cobain’s aunt’s house. Kurt would play guitar and vocals, and Dale would handle bass and drum duties. In Early 1986, Buzz Osborne, also of The Melvins, joined the band on bass followed later by Greg Hokanson on drums. Shortly after, however, the group would disband. Buzz and Dale went on to record The Melvins debut album and Kurt began his search for a new band.
Kurt had long wanted to form a band with Krist Novoselic, whom he had met while hanging out at The Melvins’ practice sessions. Proud of his talent on the demo he recorded with Crover, Kurt gave it to Krist and asked him to join him in forming a band. Krist agreed and the beginnings of Nirvana were in place. In their early days, the duo played host to a revolving list of drummers before settling on Chad Channing, with whom they would record the band’s debut album, ‘Bleach’. Chad didn’t last long, however, and by the time the band recorded their major label debut, ‘Nevermind’, he had been replaced by Dave Grohl.
‘Nevermind’ was, unexpectedly, a huge commercial success. Kurt had a hard time dealing with the newfound fame, which clashed with his underground roots. Being on the national stage meant that Nirvana gained a lot of people who claimed to be fans, but did not acknowledge the band’s political message. Kurt’s lyrics were his outlet, and were deeply personal, he harbored resentment for those followers who called themselves fans but didn’t bother to listen to the band’s message.
Cobain’s future wife, Courtney Love, first met him briefly at a Nirvana show in 1989 and developed a crush on him. After being formally introduced in 1991 and told by Dave Grohl that the two shared interests, Courtney began pursuing Kurt. By late 1991 the two were spending a lot of time together, bonding over their mutual affinity for drugs. In early 1992, the couple discovered that they were expecting a baby, and were married on February 24 of that year. Their daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, was born on August 18.
A 1992 article in Vanity Fair revealed that Courtney admitted to using heroin while she was pregnant with Frances. Courtney claims that she was misquoted, but nevertheless, the incident created a big problem for the family as the Los Angeles Department of Children’s Services claimed that the two were unfit parents because of their drug use. Frances was taken from the couple and placed in the care of Courtney’s sister for several weeks. The couple regained custody, but had to submit to drug tests and random visits from a social worker.
By 1994, Kurt’s drug use was becoming an increasing problem for his health, and the band. Love organized an intervention on March 25 of that year. Following the intervention, Cobain agreed to enter a detox program and on March 30 entered the Exodus Recovery Center in Los Angeles. The next day, Kurt climbed a six foot fence and left the facility. On April 3, having not heard from her husband, Love called in a private detective to find him.
On April 8, 1994, Kurt Cobain’s dead body was found in his Lake Washington home by an electrician who had come to the house to install a security system. A suicide note was found with the body that read “I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music, along with really writing . . . for too many years now.” On April 10 a public vigil was held for the musician at the Seattle Center. It drew nearly seven thousand mourners.
-- Kurt Cobain Biography, Videos & Pictures
This is Kurt at the family Christmas party in 1987. And there's his Aunt Mary.
Kurt was then currently working on songs for the "Bleach" album.
The girl with Kurt is Tracy Marander, his one and only real love before he became famous.
[Tracy Marander] This is the living room down here.
[Nick Broomfield] We went 'round to visit Tracy who lived with Kurt for about 3 years.
Kurt was also a talented artist.
He gave Tracy these dolls, which he baked with plaster.
He also gave Tracy this self-portrait.
[Tracy Marander] It's a very skinny skeleton at that.
[Nick Broomfield] Did it reflect him at all?
[Tracy Marander] I think somewhat, in the way that he felt about his body size.
[Nick Broomfield] Why, what did he feel?
[Tracy Marander] He always felt like he was too skinny.
[Nick Broomfield] He thought he was too skinny?
[Tracy Marander] Yeah, and he tried to gain weight, and tried to work out a little bit. But he just couldn't gain any weight, just sort of stayed, I think about, 120 what he weighed.
[Nick Broomfield] Really?
[Tracy Marander] Yeah.
[Nick Broomfield] Did he get teased about it at all?
[Tracy Marander] He got teased about it in high school. You know, guys would think he was gay because he looked sort of feminine.
[Nick Broomfield] Is that why he wore so many layers of clothing?
[Tracy Marander] I think so, yeah. Because there's no way you could wear that many layers of clothing and still be comfortable. But yeah, it added extra padding.
[Nick Broomfield] So he used to wear how many layers of clothing?
[Tracy Marander] Sometimes he'd wear like a pair or two of long-johns, and then wear a pair of jeans with a pair of ripped up jeans over it, and then a couple of T-shirts, and a sweatshirt, and a flannel shirt, and a jacket.
[Nick Broomfield] Really?
[Tracy Marander] Yeah.
[Nick Broomfield] So are there any other paintings somewhere else?
[Tracy Marander] Yes, in the bedroom.
[Nick Broomfield] Do you mind if we go in there?
[Tracy Marander] No. You want to go this way?
[Nick Broomfield] Sure.
[Tracy Marander] Okay. More room.
[Nick Broomfield] There's Elvis.
Did he like Elvis?
[Tracy Marander] You know, I'm not really sure if he liked Elvis, or he liked the whole idea of Elvis and Graceland.
Um, this way.
He did this painting right here.
[Nick Broomfield] What's that?
[Tracy Marander] That looks to me like a fetus, or an embryo.
[Nick Broomfield] An embryo. Was he sort of fascinated with fetuses?
[Tracy Marander] He didn't really seem to be, except for in his artwork. Other than that, not really.
[Nick Broomfield] But wasn't he sort of somewhat fascinated by the whole birth process?
[Tracy Marander] I think to him the whole thing was kind of gross, in a way. And I think he was sort of fascinated by things that were gross.
[Nick Broomfield] Did he find the birth process gross?
[Tracy Marander] Well, all the blood, and mucus, and tissue, and stuff didn't really appeal to him. He had made this collage painting. I mean I don't have it. But it was a collage of diseased vaginas, and pieces of meat and stuff. And he pieced it all together.
[Nick Broomfield] Really?
[Tracy Marander] Uh huh.
[Nick Broomfield] Diseased vaginas?
[Tracy Marander] Yeah, he found that when he worked at a doctor's office as a janitor.
[Nick Broomfield] So what was it like living with Kurt?
[Tracy Marander] Um, it was fun. I liked it. He had a good sense of humor. I mean, we had some problems with him not cleaning the house, and that kind of stuff. But generally he had a really good sense of humor, and liked to play jokes. He liked to cook a lot.
In the kitchen, Courtney has taped lists all over the cabinets. "Kurt’s ex-girlfriend made these," she says. "I found them when I went through his stuff." She reads aloud from one: "1. Good Morning! 2. Will you fill up my car with unleaded gas. 3. Sweep kitchen floor. 4. Clean tub. 5. Go to Kmart. 6. Get one dollar in quarters." This last one seems to crack her up. "He never did any of that stuff."
-- Strange Love, by by Lynn Hirschberg
[Nick Broomfield] Do you think you mothered him quite a lot?
[Tracy Marander] Probably, yeah, without really meaning to. But yes.
[Nick Broomfield] Do you think he kind of looked for a mother in a way?
[Tracy Marander] I think a little bit. I think he sort of missed that.
When I first started going out with him, he was just getting friendly with his mother again. For quite a few years they were not on good terms.
[Nick Broomfield] Is it true that you said at one point that, "You've got to get a job," and he said he would move into his car?
[Tracy Marander] Yeah. And then I said, "Well, you don't have to live in your car, you can just stay here." But that was good. I mean, he wrote a lot of songs. He was always playing.
[Nick Broomfield] So in a way you were the patron of Nirvana?
[Tracy Marander] Sort of. Yeah, I guess you could say that. I mean, I don't want to say that for sure. But yeah, in a way -- of Kurt anyway. I mean, that helped him, I think, get successful a little faster than if he would have had to work at a real job and support himself.
[Nick Broomfield] Is it true that he wrote that song about a girl, he said, "I can't spend every night with you for free"?
[Tracy Marander] He never told me directly that song was about me. Michael Azerrad said that Kurt said that it was. It's a beautiful song, actually. I mean, I love that song.
[Nick Broomfield] I had hoped to play the song about a girl over these stills that Tracy had taken of Kurt, but the music is tightly controlled.
I was told by the record company that Courtney now owned the rights, and unless she approved of this film, it would be impossible to license the song.
Here's Kurt standing outside the house he shared with Tracy in Olympia.
It was said that he particularly enjoyed firing pellets from his BB gun across the street ...
into the Washington State Lottery.
Hi. I'm sorry to bother you. I'm doing this film about Kurt Cobain, and I heard that he used to fire his rifle at this building.
[Lottery Lady] I'm sorry, sir, but you're not allowed to come in here. I'll have to call Security. Are you authorized to be in the building with the camera?
[Nick Broomfield] No, it's a little question.
[Nick Broomfield] Good grief!
[Lottery Lady] Do you want to shut the camera off, please?
[Nick Broomfield] Okay, we can go.
[Lottery Lady] Do you want to turn the camera off?
[Nick Broomfield] Okay, we're going.
[Lottery Lady] Just stay here. Just a minute.
[Nick Broomfield] Let's go. No, we're going to go now.
But the fame really changed things. Kurt grumbled about yuppies in BMWs singing along to his songs. His privacy was invaded.
This is Alice Wheeler, a friend of Kurt's.
[Alice Wheeler] You know, after he got famous, like he was hard to hang out with then.
[Nick Broomfield] Why?
[Alice Wheeler] Because you could never just go walk up to him and say, "Hey dude, how's it going?" which was always my past --
[Nick Broomfield] Well, why couldn't you?
[Alice Wheeler] Because there were a lot of bodyguards, and people in the way. And he had handlers, that even when you did see him, and you started to hang out with him, as soon as he'd like turn his back, the handlers would try to get rid of you. Like that happened to me. They kicked me out. They tried to kick me out a couple of times. And then he'd turn around and say, "No, don't kick her out, she's my friend. It's okay." And then as soon as he went off to the bathroom, or whatever, they kicked me out.
[Nick Broomfield] I asked why they isolated him.
[Alice Wheeler] Well, I think that fame is a process of isolation. And I think that none of us knew that that's what it was. I mean, I think when you're a kid, and you're growing up, and you see rock stars and things like that, you always think, "Oh, wow, wouldn't it be great to be famous?" But the reality of being famous is kind of frightening in a certain way. Especially if you're a kid that was used to being picked on by other people anyway. It's almost the same feeling, like kids chasing you in high school, who beat you up because you're a geek, or fans chasing you to get your autograph. I mean it's still --
[Nick Broomfield] Did he deal with that very badly?
[Alice Wheeler] I think he was embarrassed by it. I mean, that's the impression that I got from my direct experience.
[Nick Broomfield] He was embarrassed by the fame?
[Alice Wheeler] By the fame, and by the trappings of fame. I mean, once I was riding in a limo with him, and we were talking, and we were having a really nice talk, and he was very embarrassed that he was in a limo. He said, "Oh, usually we take a van." Like he made a big point of telling me that, you know, that usually they take a van. And I said, "Hey, it's fun for me, I've never ridden in a limo before. I'm kind of excited."
[Nick Broomfield] Alice Wheeler took these photos of Kurt and Courtney.
By the time Kurt married Courtney Love in 1992 ...
he had become a serious heroin user.
He said that heroin helped his stomach pains that often left him doubled up for days on end ...
and which were caused by the stresses of his life.
Courtney Love is quoted as saying they bonded pharmaceutically over drugs, like battery acid and Evian water.
Courtney, when she first met Kurt, had been on the periphery of the music scene for years.
She had recently formed the band "Hole," who achieved their first major success with the album "Live Through This," released the week Kurt died.
Kurt took the relationship very seriously.
This is what he said when asked whether he'd changed his mind about having a child.
[Kurt Cobain] Oh, yeah, absolutely. Um, I really can't describe what changed our attitudes so fast.
I think, you know, I really was a lot more negative and angry, and everything else, a few years ago.
But that had a lot to do with not having a mate, not having a steady girlfriend, and stuff like that. You know, that was one of the main things that was bothering me that I wouldn't admit at the time, you know. So now that I've found that, the world seems a lot better for some reason, you know.
It really does change your attitude about things. I mean, four years ago I would have said the classic thing like, you know, "How dare someone bring a child into this life? It's completely a terrible way to go. And the world's going to explode any day." And stuff like that. But once you fall in love, it's a bit different.
[Nick Broomfield] I wanted to try and talk to Courtney, but had no idea at this stage how long it was going to take before I would eventually meet her.
The thing that most surprised me was the strength of feeling directed against her. Even Courtney's own father, Hank Harrison, who lives on this housing estate outside Sacramento, has publicly come out to criticize Courtney for in some way, possibly being involved in Kurt's death.
Hank Harrison was for a short time the manager of the Grateful Dead.
Harrison was no hippy drug addict pothead burnout. He always looked clean. In fact he was a trained shrink. The first time I saw him he was wearing a Searsucker suit and a bow tie and was carrying an attaché case. I could venture a guess that Harrison was a CIA operative or a Saul Alinsky graduate in charge of organizing bands like the Grateful Dead.
-- David Crosby, Crosby, Stills & Nash
He's written two books about Kurt: "Kurt Cobain Beyond Nirvana," and "Who Killed Kurt?"
There he is.
Hi, how do you do?
[Hank Harrison] Nick?
[Nick Broomfield] Yeah.
[Hank Harrison] Hank Harrison. Good to meet you, Nick.
[Nick Broomfield] Good to meet you, too.
[Hank Harrison] Wow, we're on already, huh?
[Nick Broomfield] Yeah. So when did you last hear from Courtney?
[Hank Harrison] Well, mother heard from her last week, and she said she's getting married.
[Nick Broomfield] You're kidding.
[Hank Harrison] Yeah, but I don't think she's really going to go through with it. I think she's just trying to get into the ... you want to come into the house?
[Nick Broomfield] Sure. And who's she marrying?
[Hank Harrison] Uh, Edward Norton.
This is the galley proof of the book, just to prove that it actually is finished.
[Nick Broomfield] And what does it say on the front there?
[Hank Harrison] "Kurt Cobain, Beyond Nirvana." You might get some gloss off of the sun, so maybe we should sort of shadow it a little bit.
[Nick Broomfield] What's your general feeling?
[Hank Harrison] About Kurt? Well, I don't think he killed himself. I think that somebody killed him. I have never said that Courtney killed him. I don't know if that's the case or not.
[Nick Broomfield] Do you think she might be involved in his death, or even murder?
[Hank Harrison] I can't say one way or the other. I mean, I have no idea, really. I didn't say I know who did it. All I know is that the evidence is so strong towards the possibility that he was murdered.
[Nick Broomfield] But in the thing I read, your book, your other book, which I think is "Who Killed Kurt Cobain?" you say something about the fact that he was going to leave --
[Hank Harrison] They were definitely going to get a divorce. That's correct. I mean, that's a well-established fact.
[Nick Broomfield] What about the Will?
[Hank Harrison] He was going to change his Will, that's correct. And that's only one of the many, many points that are in that book. And also in this book.
[Nick Broomfield] So look, one of the things I was interested in here was this book you wrote here about "Who Killed Kurt Cobain?" And I was wondering if I could get you to read -- there's a poem in here somewhere -- yeah this one. Yeah, I was wondering if you could read that out loud.
[Hank Harrison] "Future Date." The reason I did this in Courtney's handwriting is so that people wouldn't think I was making this up. This is a poem that Courtney wrote, probably in Ireland in 1980, when she lived with me over there. Now she's told a number of people that she only lived with me for three or four days, but the truth is it was about 4-1/2 months. And during that time she threw away a lot of poetry. And I salvaged it out of the garbage or the fireplace. And one of the things she wrote was "Future Date."
[Courtney Love] I love you forever. I'm going to be your wife. I'm going to keep you around for the rest of my life. I finally got all these flies off of me, and now I can see a future date. A future date right over the horizon, right on the tip of your tongue --
[Hank Harrison] Which is a reference to LSD I think, but anyway.
[Courtney Love] I'll destroy anyone in my way. I'll kill everyone, every lousy lay. 'Cause I got my eye on a future date.
[Hank Harrison] And you know, it didn't make sense to me when I read it years ago. But after Kurt died I read it again, and often wondered if she didn't have that extraordinary sense of commitment and determination that nothing is going to stand in her way under any circumstances. Nobody's ever going to put her down, you know. And she felt, I guess, that she had to have that kind of determination to make it as a success in the rock world, or in the movie industry, you know, which I'm sure you do have to have that kind of commitment. But putting this in context with a number of other elements, you start to see a kind of almost deranged thinking process underlying a lot of this obsession that she has. It's almost a compulsion to succeed no matter what. That the means justify the ends.
[T]hey came back to a buzz in the States. By then, she was together with Kurt and the Madonna thing happened and everything was falling into place. "It wasn’t surprising," Courtney says. "I mean, I wasn’t surprised. I always knew ...
Things are really good. It’s all coming true."
-- Strange Love, by by Lynn Hirschberg
[Nick Broomfield] You're not like exaggerating the violence and so on?
[Hank Harrison] No, not at all. If anything, I'm downplaying the violence. I mean, Courtney has had a reputation for being extraordinarily violent for a great many years. And after I lost track of her -- she was taken away from me when she was only 5 or 6 years old, so I have no idea what went on -- but she's been notoriously violent. She's written me a number of letters where she said she stabbed a kid on the school ground. She'd been in juvenile hall, and had a number of fights. It's all documented. She's punched out other rock stars like Kate Hanna. She's had fights with Tad Doyle's girlfriend. She's had fights backstage with a number of men and women. Some of it is kind of lightweight. But when she was pregnant with the baby in Ireland, a friend of mine called me and said Courtney got in a punch-out in the street, on Grafton Street, in front of Bewley's Restaurant. So I mean, I know that Courtney has a well-documented violent outburst pattern.
[Nick Broomfield] For a father, Hank seemed unsympathetic to the life Courtney had led.
Born Courtney Love Michelle Harrison on July 9, 1965 ...
It was autumn in San Francisco, the season of the witch, 1964. Somebody in the Haight was giving a party for jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, and Hank Harrison was invited. Hank believed himself to have a standing invitation to any party in San Francisco, whether anyone had actually invited him or not; his music connections got him in everywhere.
Hank was going places. His old college buddy Phil Lesh played bass with a hot band called the Warlocks, and Hank was always bragging that Phil could get him a gig in the music business anytime. He would later claim to have managed the Warlocks, who in 1965 would change their name to the Grateful Dead.
Heavy-set and round-faced, with a humped nose, a scruffy black mustache, and a hairline that was beginning to recede, Hank was nobody's pretty boy. But he was a loquacious charmer. His gift of gab and his music connections got him plenty of girls, and that night at Dizzy Gillespie's party, they got him Linda Risi.
Linda was a naive rich girl on her own for the first time. A San Francisco native, she had grown up on ritzy Nob Hill and gone to Catholic school. Now she was nineteen and adrift in the city, swayed by the burgeoning vibes of the sixties. Blonde and slender, neat and WASPish, she didn't blend into the Haight-Ashbury crowd. That was why she caught Hank's attention.
The adopted daughter of an optician (and an heiress to the Bausch optical fortune), raised in the Catholic church, Linda had come to San Francisco upon reaching her majority. Like so many other young people in that city, in that year, she was looking for something she couldn't identify or explain. She didn't find it in Hank Harrison, but for a while she thought she had. They left the party together that night, and staggered up and down the steep sidewalks of the magically lit, carnival-like Haight until they reached Hank's dingy apartment.
Linda was already pregnant when she married Hank in Reno a few months after they met. Hank kept feeding her a line about how the combination of their genes -- his brains and her looks -- would produce the perfect child. Linda had no way of knowing that half of Hank's genes came from a violently alcoholic father, and, being adopted, she knew nothing about her own genes. (Linda would later allegedly discover that her biological father had been a psychiatrist from New York, and his father had been a Jewish psychoanalyst from Vienna, but since she was a well known therapist herself by the time of this "discovery," it must be taken with a grain of salt.)
Hank has since claimed that Linda refused to use birth control because of her religious beliefs. Whatever the case, Linda could not have given up the baby even if Hank had wanted her to. Her own adoptive father had been an abusive drunk, and Linda considered herself an outcast, a person with no family at all. This baby would be the first blood relative she had ever known.
Linda Harrison nurtured her fetus in a heady broth of fear and sugar: she constantly craved candy, cookies, any kind of sweets. She gained weight, vomited all the time, felt that pregnancy had made her hideously ugly. Hank, already getting bored with the relationship, did nothing to allay her fears.
At 9:15 A.M. on July 9, 1965, at St. Francis Memorial Hospital, Linda gave birth to a daughter whose birth certificate read Love Michelle Harrison. The labor had been long and wrenchingly painful. Linda tried to imagine what her baby must have felt, expelled from the cradling womb, constricted for hours in the tight tube of muscle. She imagined that the child had been frightened and furious, and had taken out every ounce of it on her.
Hank was not in attendance at the birth. Sleeping late after a Warlocks gig, possibly. Who knew? But Linda and the other freaks made an occasion of the birth anyway: Courtney would later claim that they had stewed Linda's placenta with onions and eaten it.
Linda, now twenty, adored her daughter helplessly. She had no idea how to care for a baby, though she was sure she had the good "instincts" of every hippie mama. That hungry pink mouth tugging on her heavy breasts, those fierce eyes staring up at her with disquieting awareness -- these quickly became the most important things in Linda's life. No child ever had a needier mother, and the baby must have sensed the chasm of Linda's emotional dependence.
Even then, though, Linda's feelings toward her daughter were ambivalent. Love Michelle didn't always act like a normal baby. She did frightening things: stiffened and screamed upon being cuddled; cried until she all but passed out from lack of oxygen. A photograph taken of the Harrison family at Christmas 1965 shows Linda sitting stiffly with a strained smile on her pretty face, legs crossed at the knee, ignoring the arm Hank has draped around her shoulders; she is distinctly looking away from the baby and does not appear to be touching her. The baby has a lost look, and her hands are reaching toward Linda.
The Harrisons lived in a big Victorian house that Linda's parents had paid for. As well as supporting Hank, Linda often cooked for a ragtag assortment of musicians, groupies, and street urchins. The baby grew up in a fantasy world partly of her own design, partly sketched in by the freaks and artists around her. None of these happy hippie dreamers, though, suspected how dark the child's own inner world was. The earliest dreams she remembered were nightmares of skeletal wraiths, deformed internal organs, poisoned milk (the latter a motif that would recur in her poetry and her later songwriting).
Meanwhile, the people around her wanted her to "act like a flower," to "dance like springtime." She was encouraged to stretch her imagination, and occasionally was helped along with a bit too much zeal. When she was four years old, she has said, her father gave her LSD. (She has no memory of this, but later, during the Harrisons' divorce, Linda and one of Hank's girlfriends would testify that it was so in child-custody court.)
The effects of LSD on a four-year-old are difficult to speculate upon. LSD is best known for causing hallucinations, which may have been especially frightening to an already disturbed child. But LSD also causes introspection and heady flights of imagination. How different would the experience have seemed from her usual highly subjective reality? Did she have a bad trip, and what would a four-year-old's bad trip be like? Did she tap into some well of preconsciousness that adults could never hope to access? Did she even notice?
She has said that her father was involved in the manufacture and sale of LSD in those days, and that he may have supplied the Dead. If so, his acid was probably clean and pure. Though the experience can be psychologically damaging, LSD itself causes no physical harm to the brain or body. Perhaps she just saw colors and pretty lights; perhaps it was even a temporary escape from the confusion of her everyday life.
Although everything was supposed to be peace and love, her parents fought all the time and her father scared her. She was glad when Linda told her that Hank would be moving out for good.
Linda and Hank divorced in 1970, and both sued for custody of their daughter. In the ensuing trial, the charges of Hank's having dosed the child were brought out, and custody was awarded to Linda, who promptly changed her five-year-old daughter's first name to Courtney after a woman she'd known during her pregnancy. "Love" apparently no longer applied to the product of her union with Hank.
Soon after the divorce, Hank disappeared with a Deadhead girl and Linda married again. Love's father had been horrible, but it looked as if Courtney's stepfather might be a nice man.
Frank Rodriguez was a schoolteacher from Portland, and the organizer of that city's Kite Day. He talked to Courtney like a real adult talking to a real child, not in the unfiltered hippie psychobabble she was used to hearing. He also legally adopted her and gave her his surname. Frank was the first (and possibly the only) benevolent authority figure in her life. Tellingly, she began calling him "Daddy" as soon as he and Linda were married, and Hank became "BioDad."
"Courtney was a wonderful child," Frank told Premiere years later. "She had a strong will. There were things she didn't want to do. I wanted her to dress in saddle shoes. But she hated them. She wanted Mary Janes. We went round and round about that kind of stuff. Boy, she sure has gotten them now."
The Rodriguez family relocated to Eugene, Oregon, where Linda started attending psychology classes at the university. Soon she had decided psychological work was her true calling, and the entire family underwent therapy at her behest.
Linda and Frank had two daughters together, Jaimee and Nicole. With other children around, even babies, Courtney felt like the outcast again. Her behavior became increasingly moody, even violent. She made disturbing crayon drawings of terrible things happening to her baby half sisters. Linda apparently became resentful because coping with Courtney's problems began to encroach on her time with her two younger daughters. Linda and Frank were having problems, too. They both began seeing other people, and the marriage split up. Though Courtney would keep in touch with Frank, and her own daughter would eventually call him Grandpa, she must have felt that she was losing the only father she'd ever known.
He was soon replaced by David Menely, a sportswriter and outdoor-expedition leader Linda met on a river-rafting trip. She brought him home, married him, and asked him to adopt her daughters, giving Courtney her third surname in eight years.
David was not as nice as Frank. He had a cynical wit that Courtney admired -- something she recognized in herself -- but he could be vicious. He smoked pot constantly, but it didn't seem to mellow his acerbic personality any, and Courtney associated the smell of pot smoke with BioDad.
In 1973, the Menelys moved from Eugene to a nearby commune in Marcola, where they lived in what Courtney later described as a "tepee." It was a large hut with rough-hewn timbers and a packed-earth floor, full of smoke and shared by many other people. The commune discouraged gender "stereotyping," and Courtney was no longer allowed to wear girly clothes or play with dolls, not that she'd ever had many of either. As she had been in the San Francisco house, she was exhorted by the hippies around her to express herself and be creative.
But the commune's facilities were worse than primitive. Courtney still talks about how the kids at her school called her "Pee Girl" because no one ever thought to wash her clothes. The photograph on the back of her second album, Live Through This, dates from this period. It shows a little girl standing barefoot on a gravel road, her skin shockingly pale, her long hair golden-brown and stringy. Her plaid shirt is too large, and unbuttoned farther than might be considered appropriate for, say, a school picture. Her expression is indecipherable.
In school, Courtney had always performed poorly despite her obvious level of intelligence. Most of the other children shied away from her, and she from them. She was diagnosed by one of her therapists as mildly autistic. To Linda, Courtney seemed to be in pain most of the time: hating to be touched, seething with silent rages, withdrawing into a world where no one else could go. Linda knew something was wrong with her oldest daughter, but no one could tell her exactly what.
Now a well-known therapist, Linda recently broke her longstanding silence about her famous daughter to speak to Vanity Fair. "I think that Courtney came with a tremendous sense of pain in her," she told writer Kevin Sessums in 1995. "She's not any different than she was when she was two years old...yet there were times, even as a small child, she would be really, deeply touched by something. And when that would happen, it was as though every part of her went soft for a little while -- including her heart.
"When she was in the second grade in Eugene, Oregon, she was having a lot of nightmares. I had no idea what to do. I took her to a psychiatrist just to try to find some way to bring her some solace. The psychiatrist said part of the problem with her was that she needed to join Girl Scouts. She needed to be involved in ordinary kid activities. I dutifully went to a Brownies meeting with her...I could tell it was really hard for her to be in the same room with all these kids. The Brownies leader suggested they have an art show. She asked all the kids to draw something. The things that Courtney drew were always startling. She didn't draw sunsets and apple trees. She would draw sort of...wounded figures. I can still see her that day -- her little face so intense with those crayons. At the end of that, the teacher told the troop that they were going to see what drawing they liked the most by holding them up one by one and everyone applauding. I knew that this would be terrible for her. When it got to hers, she just grabbed it and ran over to me, and we left.
"At that time, when a child was exhibiting the kind of pain Courtney was exhibiting -- a lot of nightmares and a lot of crying and hating school and hating everything -- the treatment was pretty much to try and make that child what they called 'normalized' rather than saying, 'What kind of creature is this, and how can we make her be okay with who she is?' That whole belief system was really awful for her."
Courtney's old friend Robin Bradbury offers a different perspective. "I don't know how much of it is true, but she told me stuff like they thought she was a bad influence on her sisters, so they would make her sleep in the shed, and they tried to have her put in a psychiatric place and they did some tests on her and found out that she had a genius IQ, but they [Linda and David] were trying to say she was crazy and keep her away from her sisters...She was a little kid, for God's sake. I just don't think they had time for her."
Courtney tells of auditioning for a school production of Snow White around this same time, certain that she was destined to play the lead. "I studied the part of Snow White forever and had it down," she recalls. "And they gave me, without even auditioning me, the part of the Evil Witch." It was clear that school was never going to be a happy experience for her.
When Courtney was eight, Linda and David Menely made the surprising decision to move to New Zealand and start a sheep ranch with Linda's Bausch money. It would be a fresh, uncluttered life, Linda thought. She and Courtney had begun to have hysterical fights about trivial matters, fights that sometimes made Linda feel younger and weaker than her own daughter. In keeping with her new, uncluttered life, she arranged to leave Courtney with a therapist friend back in the States.
Courtney escaped this abandonment by dreaming of fame, of a time when people would cry and swoon in her very presence. One day she made a clay model of herself and contemplated it with something approaching awe: she had absolute control over this thing, this icon of herself. But control was only a fantasy; in real life she had no say in where she lived, with whom she lived, or even how she was treated. She could mold and crush the clay doll just as the adults in her life could do to her.
School had become an active source of terror. Courtney dreamed about keeping tiny people in jars and starving them, about starting a farm for women where she would beat them and make them beautiful. She sneaked Dorals from the therapist friend's purse and invented witchy little rituals in her room. The friend had a son who called Courtney ugly and fat, then tried to do other things when no one was looking -- grabbing at her, touching her with dirty fingers. Courtney sneaked into his bedroom one day, pricked her finger with a pin, and dabbed blood on his pillow. Soon afterward, the friend dispatched Courtney to her family in Nelson, New Zealand, on the north end of the southern island.
Even there, Courtney was too much trouble. Though Jaimee and Nicole were living with them on the ranch, Linda and David sent Courtney to stay with another friend. Shirley, though, was nothing like the therapist friend with the beastly son. She was a self-proclaimed spinster with a wonderful collection of books and a garden, and she acted as if she didn't mind having Courtney around, maybe even loved her a little. School in New Zealand wasn't as bad as it had been in the States. For the first time she could remember, Courtney let herself believe that her short, sad life was getting better.
But Linda came for a visit and everything went back to hell. Shirley, Linda claimed, had begged her to take Courtney away. Courtney was driving Shirley "crazy" and she "couldn't handle it." Courtney had no idea what she might have done to make Shirley so mad.
Was there any truth to Linda's claim? Shirley was a person who valued her privacy; she might well have found the sudden responsibility of caring for a young child overwhelming. Then again, Linda may have been jealous of her daughter's relationship with Shirley, which was obviously more important to Courtney than her relationship with Linda.
Whatever the reason, Courtney had to go live on the sheep farm with Linda and David. By this time they had adopted an emotionally disturbed boy. Courtney was not allowed to play with her siblings, and was forced to sleep alone in a tiny hut behind the main house. Courtney spent much of her time sitting in the pasture, daydreaming about being a witch, making little slits in her skin with sharp blades of grass until the blood ran down her inner arms.
Linda and David had a son. Courtney found the baby ugly, and thought he had a mean look. When her half brother got sick and died in the hospital before ever coming home, Courtney was afraid she would get blamed for the death somehow. Still, she couldn't help wishing all Linda's babies had died -- all except her. Then Linda would have to love her.
"I feel like not being here all the time," Courtney told author Amy Raphael in 1994. "I've felt it since I was six or seven. I remember the first time it hit me. I was on a cliff in New Zealand. But I never do anything about it because it's my responsibility not to. If I don't outgrow it in this lifetime, I'm not ever gonna outgrow it."
She had a long, long way to go.
-- Courtney Love: The Real Story, by Poppy Z. Brite
Copyright © 1997 by Poppy Z. Brite