Never More

The death of a hometown antihero: Ann Powers reports from Seattle on the suicide of Kurt Cobain


At first, after the suicide, Courtney Love tried to stay behind the veil—not simply out of decorum, but out of genuine grief. Love's been made into such a cartoon by malevolent rivals, gossip hounds, and media whores that her strength in this ordeal has been, in some ways, its biggest shock. Because Courtney, who knows fakeness well enough to make it the major theme of Hole's brilliant DGC debut, Live Through This (scheduled to be released, in the cruelest of ironies, today), refused in the end to play like a lady, and did something that finally made Cobain's death—and her survival of it—seem real.

photo: Staci Schwartz

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  • Strangely, Love performed her heroic act in absentia. The tape-recorded message she prepared for the vigil offered the weekend's only real catharsis and not only because it bore Cobain's pathetic, soon-to-be-famous last words. What Courtney did was argue with him, dispute the terms of his refusal; in doing so, she opened up a view of what he must have really felt, the disorder that consumed him. She would read a little from the note, then curse the words, then express her sorrow. "The worst crime I could think of would be to put people off by faking it and pretend as if I was having 100 percent fun." "No, Kurt, the worst crime I could think of was for you to continue to be a rock star when you just . . . hated it." Like some heroine from Euripides, furious at the gods, Courtney provided some guidance to escape the dark. Some of what she said was disturbing; she's clearly not anywhere near solid ground yet. After reading the note, she revealed her own remorse. "We should have let him have his numbness, the thing that helped his stomach and stopped his pain, instead of stripping away his fucking skin," she sobbed. "Just tell him he's a fucker, say fucker, he's a fucker. And we love him." Courtney was the only one who made the vigil's audience cry.

    As much as the loss of Nirvana, the dissolution of the Love/Cobain partnership is an artistic tragedy. These two were exploring the male-female dynamic together, as musicians and as public figures, with insight, daring, and a sometimes fruitful incomprehension. Just as it's mercilessly unfair to blame Love for Cobain's death, it may be in bad taste to point out that he committed suicide the week her album was to be released. Whatever the particulars of his anger, if her career is stalled, that will also be a significant loss.

    Listening to Love's tape at the vigil, I began to think about women's silence versus men's, and the balance of power that causes women to speak when men feel they can remain silent. Powerful men can keep their words to themselves; power speaks for them. Part of Cobain's personal tragedy was his inability to feel his own power; at this moment, Love's achievement is to be able, across the black expanse of her sorrow, to maintain a sense of her own.


    In his painful last love letter to a world he couldn't grasp, Kurt Cobain quoted Neil Young: "It's better to burn out than to fade away." "That's bullshit," Courtney said to her ruined husband as she read the note aloud. Truth is, Cobain didn't even burn out. He fell out of our lives, unfinished. All the media attention, the vigil and the memorials in print and the endless rounds of MTV Unplugged, only recalls his absence, the lack he stood for and could never fill.

    A few years ago, a friend of mine died of a heroin overdose. He'd been long gone before he actually left the earth. His old lover said, Ted died because he could never find the words to say what he really wanted. Kurt's whole struggle, the same one rock's going through in its most serious moments these days, was to cut into himself until he found a vocabulary that might offer those words. Sometimes a few of them would gush forth. In the end, though, silence swallowed him alive.

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