If You Read Youll Judge
Journals begins with passion and ambition. It ends as a harrowing cautionary tale about addiction.
Oct. 28 issue Kurt Donald Cobain was born on Feb. 20, 1967, in Aberdeen, Wash., a small logging town near the Pacific. His parents divorced after his 9th birthday. Journalsexcerpted here with Cobains erratic spelling and grammar intactbegins in the late 80s, as the singer and his bassist friend Krist Novoselic try to launch Nirvana.
ABOUT A BOY
I like punk rock. I like girls with weird eyes. I like drugs. (But my Body And mind wont allow me to take them). I like passion. I like playing my cards wrong. I like vinyl. I like to feel guilty for being a white, American male. I love to sleep. I like to taunt small, barking dogs in parked cars. I like to make people feel happy and superior in their reaction towards my appearance. I like to have strong opinions with nothing to back them up with besides my primal sincerity. I like sincerity. I lack sincerity ... I like to complain and do nothing to make things better. I like to blame my parents generation for coming so close to social change then giving up after a few successful efforts by the media & Government to deface the movement by using Mansons and other Hippie representatives as propaganda examples on how they were nothing but unpatriotic, communist, satanic, inhuman diseases. and in turn the baby boomers become the ultimate, conforming, Yuppie hypocrites a generation has ever produced.
In the summer of 1988, Cobain, who was 21, and Novoselic were living in Olympia, Wash., and preparing to release their first single on the indie label Sub Pop Records. Cobain wrote the following letter to the bands drummer, Dave Foster, who was living an hour away in Aberdeen.
Dave, A band needs to practice, in our opinion, at least 5 times a week if the band ever expects to accomplish anything.
Were tired of total uncertainty everytime we play a show. We think, Are we going to suck? Are we tight yet? We have shows and we dont practice! The two main reasons are, Chris and his work and you and your location. Chris can eventually alter his work schedule and at least practice every week night. We dont blame you at all for being tired of driving, and we realize what a problem and hassle it is to get someone else to drive you up, but even if you could make it up every day we dont start until 8:30 or 9:00, which is not enough time to even go through the set. We know how long it takes to build a house and you wont move up here as soon as you have claimed, and in our morals and values, fixing up a race car isnt half as important as getting to practice or recording or touring.
Instead of lying to you by saying were breaking up or letting this go any further we have to admit that weve got another drummer. His name is Chad, hes from Tacoma and he can make it to practice every night. Most importantly, we can relate to him. Lets face it, you are from a totally different culture. Youre a great drummer and we hope you pursue another band very soon. We expect you to be totally pissed off and hate our guts and we dont blame you, because this is very sudden and we have not tried to warn you that this was happening. This is not your fault. Its ours. [And] we feel really sy that we dont have the guts to tell you in person. But we didnt know how mad you would get.
By late 1988, Nirvana was competing for attention with higher-profile Seattle bands like Soundgarden and Mudhoney. Below, excerpts from a letter to Jesse Reed, Cobains best friend from high school.
Jesse Hello, Hey Cheer up dude, your letter sounded like youre kinda bored. I cant wait until you come down for Christmas, it will be the most exciting event this year ... Weve decided to put out our own LP. We found a record pressing plant that will press 1000 records for $1600.00. SO at $8.00 a piece we only have to sell about 250 records to get our money back, and the rest is pure profit, then all we have to do is find a distributor.
Chris and Shelli broke up. God Am I relieved! She is still living in Tacoma and Chris is temporarily staying in Aberdeen for free at his moms. Im very content with the relationship Chris, Chad and I have, we get along great and have a lot of dedicated fun. We are becoming very well received in Seattle&other places in Wash. Promoters call us up to see if we want to play, instead of us having to Hound people for shows. Its now just a matter of time for labels to hunt us down, now that weve promoted ourselves pretty Good by doing small remote tours. OK. enough about the band.
Ive got a janitor job working with this older guy cleaning 4 restaurants. Pays cash under the table part time.
HITTING THE TOP
Nirvana released its first album, Bleach, in 1989. A year later, drummer Dave Grohl joined the band and, in early 1991, the trio recorded its breakthrough album, Nevermind. Around this time Cobain met Courtney Love. He also wrote, but never sent, the following letter to an ex-girlfriend, Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail.
The band now has an image: the anti-gluttony, materialism and consumerism image which we plan to incorperate into all of our videos. The first one: smells like teen spirit will have us walking through a mall throwing thousands of dollars into the air as mall-goers scramble like vulchers to collect as much as they can get their hands on, then we walk into a jewelry store and smash it up in anti-materialist fueled, punk rock violence. then we go to a pep assembly at a high school And the cheerleaders have Anarchy As on their sweaters and the (custodian) militant revolutionarys hand out guns with flowers in the barrels to all the cheering students who file down to the center court and throw their money & jewelry & Andrew dice Clay tapes into a big pile then we set it on fire and run out of the building screaming. oh, didnt Twisted Sister already do this? We played a really fun show with Fits of Depression at a really small coffee house called the jabberjaw. We were indescribably f-ed up on booze and drugs, out of tune and rather uh, sloppy. It took me about fifteen minutes to change my guitar string while people heckled and called me drunk Robyn Zander (cheap trick lead singer?) After the show I ran outside and vomited, then I came back in to find Iggy Pop there, so I gave him a sloppy-puke breath kiss and hug. Hes a really friendly and cool and nice and interesting person. It was probably the most flattering moment of my life.
As you may have guessed by now Ive been taking to a lot of drugs lately It might be time for the Betty Ford clinic or the Richard Nixon library to save me from abusing my enemic, rodent-like body any longer. I cant wait to be back at home (wherever that is) in bed, neurotic and malnourished and complaining how the weather sucks and its the whole reason for my misery. I miss you, Bikini Kill. I totally love you.
In the final week of 1991, Nevermind went to No. 1 on Billboards album charta defining moment for pop music. The Seattle scene ruled the radio, with Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains following in Nirvanas wake. Cobains ambivalence was plain in his diary.
If we were going to be ghettoised, Id rather be in the same slum as bands that are good like Mudhoney, Jesus Lizard, the Melvins and Beat Happening rather than being a tennant of the corporate landlords regime. I mean, were playing the corporate game and were playing as best as we can suddenly we found ourselves having to actually play instead of using the corporations great distribution while staying in our little world because we sold 10 times more than the amount of records we had expected to sell. Its just a shock to be doing interviews with magazines that I dont read.
There are a lot of bands who claim to be alternative and theyre nothing but stripped down, ex sunset strip hair farming bands of a few years ago. I would love to be erased from our association with Pearl Jam or the Nymphs and other first time offenders.
I AM NOT A JUNKIE
Cobain married Love in February 1992. The singers heroin addiction raged all summer. He entered a rehab facility in Marina del Rey, Calif., and wrote in his journal prodigiously. Among the entries was this open letter to Nirvana fans, which he never made public.
I kind of feel like a dork writing about myself like this as if I were an American pop-rock icon-demi God, or a self-confessed product of corporate-packaged rebellion, but Ive heard so many insanely exhaggerated stories or reports from my friends and Ive read so many pathetic second rate, freudian evaluations from interviews from my childhood up until the present state of my personality and how Im a notoriously fked up heroine addict, alcoholic, self destructive, yet overtly sensitive, frail, fragile, soft spoken, narcoleptic, neurotic, little pissant who at any minute is going to O.D. jump off a roof wig out blow my head off or all 3 at once. Oh Pleez GAWD I cant handle the success! The success! And I feel so incredibly guilty! For abandoning my true commrades who were the ones who are devoted who were into us a few years ago. And in 10 years when NIRVANA becomes as memorable as Kajagoogoo that same very small percent will come to see us at reunion gigs sponsored by Depends diapers, bald fat still trying to RAWK at amusement parks. Saturdays: puppet show, rollercoaster & Nirvana ...
Well for those of you who are concerned with my present physical and mental state. I am not a junkie. I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes. Ive had a rather unconclusive and uncomfortable stomach condition for the past 3 years which by the way is not related to stress which also means it is not an ulcer. Because there is no pattern to the burning, nauseaus pain in my upper abdominal cavity, I never know when it will happen, I can be at home in the most relaxed atmosphere sipping natural spring water, no stress, no fuss and then WHAM! like a shotgun: stomach time. Then I can play 100 live performances in a row, guzzle boric acid & do a zillion television interviews and not even a burp. This has left doctors with no ideas except the usual: here Kurt, try another peptic ulcer pill and lets jam this fibre optic tube with a video camera in it down your throat for the 3rd time and see whats going on in there. Again. Yep your in pain alright. Your stomach is extremely inflamed and red. Try eating ice cream from now on. Please lord, fk hit records, just let me have my very own unexplainable rare stomach disease named after me. And the title of our next double album, Cobains disease.
So after protein drinks, becoming a vegetarian, exercise, stopping smoking, and doctor after doctor I decided to relieve my pain with small doses of heroine for a walloping 3 whole weeks. It served as a band-aid for a while but then the pain came back so I quit. It was a stupid thing to do and Ill never do it again and I feel real sorry for anyone who thinks they can use heroine as a medicine because um, duh, it dont work. Drug withdrawal is everything youve ever heard. You puke, you falail around, you sweat, you st your bed just like that movie Christiane F. Its evil. Leave it alone.
I am the product of 7 months of screaming at the top of my lungs almost every night 7 months of jumping around like a retarded rheesus monkey 7 months of an-swering the same questions over and over ... Im really bored with everyones concerned advice like: man you have a really good thing going. Your band is great. You write great songs, but hey man you should get your personal st together. Dont freak out, and get healthy. Gee I wish it was as easy as that but, honestly I didnt want all this attention but Im not freaked out which is something a lot of people would like to see. Its an entertaining thought to watch a rock figure whos public domain mentally self destruct. But Im sorry friends Ill have to decline. Maybe Crispin Glover should join our band.
Well Ive spewed enough, probably too much but oh well, for every one opinionated, pissy, self appointed rock judge cermudgeon theres a thousand kids ...
Hope I die before I turn into Pete Townshend.
SOMETHING IN THE WAY
During rehab, Cobain wrote not just to his fans, but to himself, as in the following diary entries.
Uncertainty certainty. I wish there was someone I could ask for advice, someone who wouldnt make me feel like a creep for spilling my guts and trying to explain all the insecurities that have plagued me for oh, about 25 years now. I wish someone could explain to me why exactly I have no desire to learn anymore why I used to have so much energy and the need to search for miles and weeks for anything new and different. Excitement. I was once a magnet for attracting new offbeat personalities who would introduce me to music and books of the obscure and I would soak it into my system like a rabid sex crazed junkie hyperactive mentally retarded toddler whos just had her first taste of sugar.
I tried heroine the first time in 1987 in aberdeen and proceeded to use it about 10 more times from 87 to 90. When I got back from our second European Tour with Sonic Youth I decided to use heroine on a daily basis because an ongoing stomach ailment that I had been suffering from for the past five years had literally taken me to the point of wanting to kill myself. There were many times that I found myself literally incapicitated in bed for weeks vomiting and starving. So I decided I feel like a junky as it is so I may as well be one. After the last European tour I vowed to never go on tour again unless my condition is either masked or cured. I did heroine for about one month then found myself realizing that I wouldnt be able to get drugs when we go to Australia and Japan so Courtney and I detoxed in a hotel room.
I went to Australia and of course the stomach pain started immediately. We had to cancel a few shows because the pain left me immobile doubled up on the bathroom floor vomiting water and blood. I was liter-ally starving to death. My weight was down to about 110 lbs. I was taken to a doctor at the advice of my management who gave me physeptone. The pills seemed to work better than anything else Ive tried. A bit later on the tour I read the fine print on the bottle it read: physeptone contains methadone. Hooked again. We survived Japan but by that time opiates and touring had started to take their toll on my body. And I wasnt in much better health than when I was off of drugs. I returned home to find that Courtney had gotten hooked again so we checked into a detox center for 2 weeks. She recovered. I instantly regained that familiar burning nausea and decided to either kill myself or stop the pain. I bought a gun but chose drugs instead. I stayed on heroine until one month before Frances due date. Again I checked into a detox center and went through 2 months of the slowest process I have ever witnessed in recovery 60 days of starvation and vomiting.
FATHER TO FATHER
Cobain and Loves daughter, Frances Bean, was born in August 1992. Shortly afterward, he wrote the following letter to his father. He never sent it.
Every time I see a television show that has dying children or seeing a testimonial by a parent who recently lost their child I cant help but cry. The thought of losing my baby haunts me every day. Im even a bit unnerved to take her in the car in fear of getting into an accident. I swear that if I ever find myself in a similar situation than youve been in, ie the divorce, I will fight to my death to keep the right to provide for my child. Ill go out of my way to remind her that I love her more than I love myself. Not because its a fathers duty but because I want to out of love. And if Courtney and I end up hating each others guts we both will be adult and responsible enough to be pleasant to one another when our child is around us.
I know that youve felt for years that my mother has somehow brainwashed Kim and I into hating you. I cant stress enough how totally untrue this is and I think its a very lazy and lame excuse to use for not trying harder to provide your fatherly duties. I cant recall my mother ever talking st about you until much later in the game, right around the last two years of high school. That was a time when I came to my own realizations without the need of my mothers input. Yet she noticed my contempt for you and your family and acted upon my feelings in accordance by taking the opportunity to vent her frustrations out on you. Every time she talked st about you Ive let her know that I dont appreciate it and how unnecessary I think it is. Ive never taken sides with you or my mother because while I was growing up I had equal contempt for you both.
Nirvana recorded In Utero, the bands third and final studio album, in September 1993. The title of the first single, Heart-Shaped Box, was a reference to a gift Cobain had gotten from Love. He wrote this letter to her in his journal.
Courtney, when I say I love you I am not ashamed, nor will anyone ever ever come close to intimidating persuading, etc me into thinking otherwise. I wear you on my sleeve. I spread you out wide open with the wing span of a peacock, yet all too often with the attention span of a bullet to the head. I think its pathetic that the entire world looks upon a person with patience and a calm demeanor as the desired model citizen. Yet theres something to be said about the ability to explain ones self with a toned down, tune deaf tone. And I will say it: I am what they call the boy who is slow. How I metamorphosized from hyperactive to cement is for lack of a better knife to the throat uh, annoying, aggrevating, confusing as dense as cement. Cement holds no other minerals. You cant even find fools gold in it. Its strictly man made and youve taught me its ok to be a man and in the classic mans world I parade you around proudly like the ring on my finger which also holds no mineral. Love Kurt
FLACK, BACKSTABBING AND PEARL JAM
Cobain vented in his journal about the way his band was being treated both in the mainstream and the alternative press, as well as about his sense of isolation.
For many months I decided to take a break from reading rock magazines mainly to rest and clear my head from all the folk lore and current affair journalism that had been piling up since weve become a lot of peoples (dare I say) breakfast lunch and dinner gossip. Last month I thought Id take a peek at a few rock mags to see if things have cooled down. Well, to my estimation many trees have been wasted on account of bored and boring people who still like NIRVANA DRECK ... We simply wanted to give those dumb heavy metal kids (the kids who we used to be) an introduction to a different way of thinking and some 15 years worth of emotionally and socially important music and all we got was flack, backstabbing and Pearl Jam.
Within the months between October 1991 thru December 92 I have had 4 four notebooks filled with two years worth of poetry and personal writing ... The most violating thing ive felt this year is not the media exxagerations or the catty gossip, but the rape of my personal thoughts. Ripped out of pages from my stay in hospitals and aeroplane rides hotel stays etc. I feel compelled to say fk you Fk you to those of you who have absolutely no regard for me as a person. You have raped me harder than youll ever know.
The singer sketched out a sort of advice column in his diary, titling it only For Boys.
Step # one: remember that your older brothers, cousins, uncles, and your fathers are not your role models. This means you do not do what they do, you do not do what they say. They come from a time when their role models told their sons to be mean to girls, to think of yourself as better and stronger and smarter than them. They also taught things like: you will grow up strong if you act tough and fight the boys who are known as nerds or geeks.
THE DAMAGE DONE Kurt Cobain committed suicide at his Seattle home on April 5, 1994. Hed written a long letter to his wife and daughter. Im sorry, sorry, sorry, it said. Ill be there. Ill protect you. I dont know where Im going. I just cant be here anymore.
In February 1994, Nirvana embarked on a European tour. Cobain wrote the following entry on stationery from the Hotel Villa Magna in Madrid. A few weeks later, in Rome, he overdosed on heroin and barely survived.
I remember someone saying if you try heroine once youll become hooked. Of course I laughed and scoffed at the idea but I now believe this to be very true. Not literally, I mean if you do dope once you dont instantly become addicted it usually takes about one month of every day use to physically become addicted. But after the first time your mind say ahh that was very pleasant as long as I dont do it every day I wont have a problem. The problem is it happens over time ... With everyone some time at least once a year some sort of crisis happens to everyone, the loss of a friend or mate or relative this is when the drug tells you to say fk it. Every drug addict has said fk it more times than they can count ... By the time youve said fk it the long process of trying to stay off begins. The first kick is usually easy if you have pills. You basically sleep. Which is bad in my opinion because you think if its that easy I could get hooked and kick for the rest of my life. By the second and third time it becomes very different. It takes sometimes 5 times longer. The psychological factors have set in and are as damaging as the physical effects. Every time you kick as time goes by it gets more uncomfortable. Even the most needle phobic person can crave the relief of putting a syringe in their arm. People have been known to shoot water, booze, mouthwash, etc. drug use is escapism whether you want to admit it or not ... Every junkie Ive ever met has fought with it at least 5 years and most end up fighting for about 15-25 years, until finally they have to resort to becoming a slave to another drug the 12 step program which is in itself another drug/religion. If it works for you do it. If your ego is too big start at square one and go the psychological rehabilitative way. Either way youve got at least 5 to 10 years of battle ahead of you.
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