About a Boy

BY ALEX WOLSKY
Daily Arts Editor
Published April 8, 2004

The Michigan Daily discovered in November 2004 that several articles written by arts editor Alex Wolsky did not meet the newspaper's standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. The article below appears to contain plagiarism, and the Daily no longer stands by its content. For details, see the Daily's editorial.

Beth Dykstra

“To Boddah:

Speaking from the tongue of an experienced simpleton who obviously would rather be an emasculated, infantile complainer, this note should be pretty easy to understand. All the warnings from the Punk Rock 101 courses over the years since my first introduction to the, shall we say, ethics involved with independence and embracement of your community, it’s proven to be true. I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music, along with really writing something, for too many years now.”

Kurt Cobain had been missing for six days. On the morning of April 8, 1994, shortly before 9 a.m., Gary Smith, an electrician working in the area, discovered Cobain dead in his home in Washington state. Though police, private investigators and friends were on his trail, Cobain lay there for nearly two and half days. He was identifiable only by his fingerprints.

In the year leading up to his death, Cobain and his band Nirvana went through more than most bands would endure in a lifetime. By the time of his death in ’94, Nirvana had pushed millions of units, sold out venues across the country and become bigger than anything Cobain had ever imagined … or wanted. The year preceding his death would prove to be unreasonably difficult for Cobain as his drug habit escalated, his band would undergo intense criticism and his relationship with wife Courtney Love would deconstruct.

Something in the Way

In January 1993, Nirvana announced they were finishing work on their third full-length album. Bassist Krist Novoselic told Rolling Stone, “It’s not going to be as glossy and candy as Nevermind. It’s going to be more raw.”

Hoping to capture the raw, visceral sound of their early years, Nirvana courted producer Steve Albini to assist with their new project. In April, however, comments Albini made about the album stirred up controversy. He remarked that David Geffen-owned DGC Records, would never release the record he had finished. He told the Chicago Tribune, “Geffen and the band’s management hate the record. I have no faith this record will be released.”

Albini painted a picture of a major music conglomerate that’d grasped onto Nirvana’s legs and was holding on for dear life. The mere idea of change would inevitably sink the record. Cobain was confident the record would be released, as it was: Raw, energetic Nirvana that wasn’t heard on Nevermind or any of their other releases to that point. It was a sound that wasn’t marketable at the time.

Albini put Nirvana on the spot. Despite the huge commercial success of Nevermind, which sold more than four million copies in its first two years, the band remained a credible indie act; Nirvana’s next album was sure to be closely scrutinized for any signs of commercial compromise, and Albini’s remarks suggested that any changes the band made in those recordings would be a result of caving in to commercial pressures from DGC. When In Utero was released in the fall of ’93, Cobain adamantly denied rampant accusations of selling out.

“I feel guilty beyond words about these things. For example, when we’re backstage and the lights go out and the roar of the crowd begins, it doesn’t affect me in the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury, who seemed to love and relish the love and adoration for the crowd. Which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact that I can’t fool you, any one of you, it simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I could think of would be to pull people off by faking it, pretending as if I’m having 100 percent fun.”

On a Plain

In September ’93, Nirvana was ready for the road again, and launched their first full tour since the band exploded in late ’91. Struck by the immediate success of Nevermind, Cobain originally felt no need to tour, regularly, but in ’93 felt touring again was necessary.

Cobain had grown hateful towards being on the road since late ’91. After a disastrous show at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, Cobain sat down with Rolling Stone publisher David Fricke for an historic interview. Plagued by bad acoustics and technical failures, the show set Cobain off, and as a result, he took out his anger on the Chicago crowd. He yelled, he spit and he refused to do what they cheered for: the hits. During the interview, Fricke asked Cobain why he didn’t play their most well-known single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” to which Cobain responded, “I’m not interested in that kind of stuff. Once it got mainstream, it was over. I’m just tired of being embarrassed by it.”

By the winter of ’93 Cobain had grown disenchanted with the success Nevermind had garnered and the effect it was having on his music. The media, the fans and the critics had all focused so much on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that it began to eclipse other, more obscure songs in Nirvana’s catalog. As a result, Cobain began to feel uncomfortable on stage and would often throw his guitar and walk away during a show.

Cobain consistently hinted at the fact that the band was exhausted and that they had gotten to a point where things were becoming repetitious. Cobain grew fearful of the band’s longevity noting that he and his bandmates could only do so much before they realized their own limitations. Unlike his idols — The Pixies, R.E.M. and The Melvins — who fused multiple genres, he and Nirvana had been pigeonholed into “grunge.”

“Sometimes I have feel like I should have a punch-in time-clock before I walk out on stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it, and I do. God believe me, I do, but it’s not enough. I appreciate the fact that we have entertained and effected [sic] so many people. I must be one of those narcissists who only appreciates things when they’re alone. I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasm I once had as a child. On our last three tours, I had a much better appreciation of the people I knew personally, and as fans of our music, but I still can’t get out the frustration to gather the empathy I have for everybody. There’s good in all of us and I simply love everybody. So much that it makes me so fucking sad.”

Heart-shaped Box

On March 5, 1994, Cobain awoke from a coma after overdosing on a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol. Nirvana had been touring Europe for almost three weeks at the time and Cobain was suffering from throat irritation, causing him to cancel a handful of shows in Germany. He took a jet to Rome and checked into a hotel with his wife and 18-month-old daughter Frances Bean. He was carried out of the hotel unconscious the next morning.

The drug was Rohypnol, an addictive, valium substitute being taken for his stomach, and the drink was champagne. Nirvana’s management was quick to squash any idea that Cobain was attempting suicide, noting the overdose was strictly accidental. According to a European newswire, Cobain drifted in and out of consciousness for nearly 24 hours before coming out of the coma completely the afternoon of March 5. They reported that his first request was a strawberry milkshake and to “get these fucking tubes out of my nose.”

The incident in Rome was alarming to many, including those close to Cobain who’d known about his severe stomach pains, which he blamed for using the combination in the first place. Cobain’s family and friends had worried about his depression and chronic drug use for years and his experimentation was well documented. Cobain was a user of nearly every type of drug available and was deeply involved with heroin and painkillers.

However, it wasn’t until a week after his return to Seattle that those close to him felt the need to resort to drastic measures. Those around Cobain claimed that he had gone insane. Friends and family noted an increase in violence between Cobain and Love and their growing distaste for each other’s drug habits. Love was often forced to spend nights away from the house to escape Cobain’s erratic behavior. Cobain grew increasingly paranoid that Love was having an affair.

His life with Nirvana was getting just as disoriented. According to MTV, Love said that Cobain had claimed after Rome, “he couldn’t play with them anymore.” She added, “he just wants to play with Michael Stipe and R.E.M.” Rolling Stone’s Neil Strauss reported in ’94 that Cobain and Stipe had a musical project in the works, but nothing was recorded.

On March 18, things escalated further. After being summoned by Love, police arrived on the scene of a domestic dispute. Cobain had locked himself in a room with a .38 caliber revolver and claimed “he was going to kill himself.” According to the officer’s report, the gun was confiscated with a variety of other small handguns and a bottle of unidentified pills.

By this time, Cobain’s family, friends and management began the process of getting an intervention organized to confront him about his drug use. Cobain was in full denial.

Novoselic staged his own separate intervention with Cobain, but the most grueling confrontation took place on March 25. That afternoon, about 10 people gathered at Cobain’s home with a new intervention counselor. As part of the intervention, Love threatened to leave Cobain, and Smear and Novoselic said they would break up the band if Cobain didn’t check into rehab. At first, Cobain was unwilling to admit he had a drug problem, refusing to believe that his recent behavior had been self-destructive. By the end of the tense five-hour session, however, Cobain’s resolve had weakened. He agreed to enter a detox program in Los Angeles later that day. Cobain never boarded the plane.

Meanwhile in Seattle, friends of Cobain’s reported that he visited his regular drug dealers in a state of incoherency. One dealer told Rolling Stone, “he constantly said ‘Why are my friends against me?’ while stumbling around.” He stayed in Seattle for five more days, before finally agreeing to go to Los Angeles.

Before he left, however, he visited longtime friend Dylan Carlson. Cobain asked Carlson for a gun, claiming there had been trespasser’s on his property in recent days and wanted to feel protected if they should come back. Carlson told the Seattle Times, “He looked normal. I’d loaned him guns before; I figured he didn’t want to buy one because the cops would confiscate it from him.” Carlson took Cobain to buy a shotgun, which he later stashed in the house.

Cobain spent a dizzying week in L.A. before returning to Seattle, and friends and family were quick to notice something was wrong. When he returned to Seattle, he was a wreck, according to eyewitnesses. Two separate sightings, according to the Seattle Times, put Cobain in a park near his home wearing a large jacket and hat. Investigators reported that Cobain also spent time at his second home in Carnation, Wash. There, they found a sleeping bag with an ashtray and single piece of paper next to it. On the paper was a drawing of a sun with the phrase, “cheer up” underneath. The ashtray contained two brands of cigarettes — one was Cobain’s, the other wasn’t.

Sometime before the morning of April 5, Cobain barricaded himself in the room above his garage by wedging a chair under the door handle. Evidence suggests that Cobain took off his cap, the same one seen in the park, and dug into his drug stash before penning a note. He addressed the note to Boddah — his imaginary friend — and placed it on a table in the room before lying down, placing the shotgun on his chin and using his thumb, pulling the trigger and ending his life.

“I had a good marriage and for that I’m grateful. But, since the age of seven, I had grown hateful of humans in general only because it seems so easy for people to get along with empathy. Only because I love and feel for people too much, I guess. Thank you all from the pit of my burning, nauseous stomach for your letters and concern over the past year. I’m pretty much an erratic, moody person and I don’t have the passion anymore. Peace, love, empathy, Kurt Cobain.”

Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, spent three years in the spotlight and released as many studio albums, though their impact on modern music will know no time barrier. It’ll stretch on, through Nirvana’s records and their influence on mainstream music will continually be a force to observe. As new generations discover, adore and saturate themselves with Nirvana’s music, Cobain will forever be heard.

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