On a rainy Monday night, Anthony DeCurtis and Neil Strauss of Rolling Stone Magazine logged on for a on-line conference about the late Kurt Cobain. COBAIN -- A Commemorative by the Editors of Rolling Stone had just been published. The book chronicles the life and death of Nirvana's singer in photos, interviews, and articles.
DeCurtis is a writer and editor at Rolling Stone, where he oversees the record-review section. He is the editor of Present Tense: Rock & Roll and Culture and co-editor of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll and The Rolling Stone Album Guide. He won a Grammy for his liner notes for the Eric Clapton retrospective Crossroads and has twice won the ASCAP Demems Taylor Award for excellence in writing about music. He holds a Ph.D. in American Literature from Indiana University and lectures frequently about cultural matters. Strauss writes for Rolling Stone, the New York Times, and the Village Voice, among other publications. He compiled and edited RADIOTEXT(E), and anthology of radio-related writings.
STEF SLUT Has anyone else read that horrible "bio" about Kurt by Dave Thompson?
NEIL STRAUSS STEF, he's already put out his next quickie book. It's on the history of ambient music. I guess that whenever someone needs a quick book. They call him.
SONIC HOST WHAT WAS THE IDEA BEHIND THE ROLLING STONE
ANTHONY DECURTIS I think the idea of it was to try to acknowledge what KC had done while not turning him into a saint.
SONIC HOST WAS THAT A CHALLENGE?
STEF SLUT Was this book being planned before he died?
ANTHONY DECURTIS SS: The book wasn't being planned before he died. But once he did die the choice was either doing something or doing nothing.
STEF SLUT One thing I am very curious about was exactly what happened on the european tour. Were you able to pinpoint exactly when, how Kurt started to decline? He seemed pretty happy until the In Utero tour started, then in Europe everything just seemed to go to hell.
NEIL STRAUSS Not that I can speak for Kurt, but he was on the decline long before the European tour. But, if anything set off the final fall (if that's the right word) it was the forces that went to work on him after the publicity about the coma in Rome hit.
ANDREW SARNOW Do you feel that the record co/mgmt turned their heads to his problems?
NEIL STRAUSS That's a good question because when I was originally reporting the news story about Kurt, I wondered the same thing, and felt very resentful about the way they covered up certain of Kurt's overdoses and experiences in rehab with blatant misinformation. But the fact is that the record co/management were probably doing the best job they could, given the situation, which is some combination of making sure that they sought all the psychological and rehabilitative help for them they could while making sure he was still able to go on stage at the same time.
STEF SLUT Getting back to the "forces" after Rome, can you elaborate a little?
NEIL STRAUSS I guess the forces would be: first of all, all the media that never paid attention to him before suddenly depicting him as this drug tragedy plus the pressure of covering up the fact that it was a suicide plus everyone back in Seattle treating him differently plus the fact that the suicide attempt had failed and he was still here, dealing with everything he had to before only it was worse, and everyone was trying harder to make it better.
NEIL STRAUSS ...of course, almost everyone I interviewed about Kurt said that he was a walking time bomb, and that the suicide could have happened any time: it only happened to be at that moment in his life.
STEF SLUT But why that moment, is my question. He had the Bean, he had a happy marriage.
ANTHONY DECURTIS Everybody's life is complicated. Part of him wanted to live and was looking to the future and enjoying his life as a husband and father. He also was thinking about future directions for his music. But, as NS said, part of him was dealing with all the problems he'd had for a long time and not finding a way to put them in a place he could live with.
ANDREW SARNOW Did Courtney have a positive, or negative, or non-existent effect on him at that point?
ANTHONY DECURTIS CL couldn't save his life no matter what she did. Like the question about management earlier. She wouldn't have been there if she had tried to make him quit using. But I'm sure she did whatever she could to try to keep him alive.
STEF SLUT Did Krist, Dave, Pat Smear, Courtney, etc. grant you interviews?
NEIL STRAUSS Krist and Dave still have not granted anyone interviews about this though while I was in Seattle with Michael Azzerad, reporting this, they spent time off the record with him. As far as Courtney goes, she spent a lot of time on the phone with people, mostly off the record. She called just about everyone she could to find out about Kurt's last days but the short interviews
with her that did appear were actually from people calling her at home after Kurt's suicide because the police accidentally left her home number on the report they gave to journalists. It seemed to be out of line to call her there but actually, in the issue of Rolling Stone that comes out later this week, David Fricke interviews Courtney Love for the first time (in print, at least) since April.
HARRY GOLDSTEIN Ten years from now, what will we be saying about Kurt Cobain, cultural artifact?
ANTHONY DECURTIS It's hard to predict the future...
STEF SLUT I prefer to think he was just a guy caught in a situation he didn't know would be so difficult and he was not able to get the support he needed.
ANTHONY DECURTIS His cultural impact and artistic achievement is assured, I think.
ANDREW SARNOW To the rumor that Courtney pursuaded Kurt
to purchase a Lexus, then many of his Seattle friends made fun of him?
ANTHONY DECURTIS He got a lot of support, I know that for a fact...
NEIL STRAUSS Yes, at least the police investigation, confims that...
ANTHONY DECURTIS Everyone who knew him, people who talked to me off the record, who were very close to him and Courtney told me stuff. He seemed determined to exit. I don't know what could have saved him.
NEIL STRAUSS Which is kind of interesting, because the police said the investigation was closed before they turned up that tidbit, but it is true, but I don't think it reflects on Courtney as much as it does on Kurt's self-image.
STEF SLUT I didn't mean to say Kurt didn't GET support, just that he didn't, or couldn't, ACCEPT the help given him.
ANTHONY DECURTIS That's absolutely right. It's incredible to think about.
ANDREW SARNOW Thanks, NEIL.
SONIC HOST As journalists, how did you feel about the whole media/Cobain relationship after his death?
NEIL STRAUSS The media relationship, well that's interesting, because, as I think, Ann Powers puts it in her article republished in the book (hype, hype), there were two kinds of journalists in Seattle, covering the story. There were the rock critics, like Ann Powers, myself, Sid Hajari of Entertainment Weekly, Mim Udovitch of Details that were, frankly, embarrassed to be in Seattle for this reason and then there was the National Enquirer, A Current Affair, Hard Copy, etc and we were all trying to find the same story so, the media relationship, was sick, but, it was also the biggest tragedy (or at least, the most unexpected and tragic) to strike the rock community this decade. Over to you, Anthony.
ANTHONY DECURTIS SH: I think everyone knows what's happening as far as the media is concerned. Some people are writing things that deal with what happened and what people are feeling and some aren't.
STEF SLUT Where did Mr. Dave Thompson who wrote the absolutely putrid paperback complete with inserts of pix
of the corpse....
HARRY GOLDSTEIN What about the icon-of-a-generation
ANTHONY DECURTIS Well, that's nothing KC would have wanted. But that doesn't mean it's meaningless. He represented something, whether he wanted to or not.
MEGATONE RECORDS Who will ever know what KC wanted and obviously didn't have.
STEF SLUT Love I think, self-love.
ANDREW SARNOW The police apologized for the picture, didn't they, for releasing it?
CYBERBABE His death has turned alternative music into almost a commercial awakening.
JANIS It was already commerical
HARRY GOLDSTEIN What did he represent?
STEF SLUT Some of the British rags were saying right after the suicide that Kurt was brain damaged after the coma. Have either you, Anthony or NEIL heard anything about this, and is it true?
NEIL STRAUSS Yes. I heard that rumor too and looked into it. But his friends who saw him in Seattle after the coma said he seemed fine, mentally and physically and I think the fact that, after the last intervention, he went downstairs and recorded with Pat Smear--playing drums, guitar, and singing shows that if there was indeed any damage, it wasn't apparent.
ANTHONY DECURTIS HG: I don't think that's a simple question. He obviously meant something to the people who listened to his music and who responed to his death the way everytime a Hendrix or a Lennon or a Joplin dies. He meant something as an artist.
STEF SLUT What direction do you think the music would have taken had he lived?
MEGATONE RECORDS Darker, more introverted.
ANTHONY DECURTIS Given his comments are REM and the nature of the unplugged performance, it seems that he wanted to experiment with a quieter, more textured sound to let his emotions speak for themselves.
GREG EMMANUEL Did Stipe and KC have actual plans to record together?
ANTHONY DECURTIS They did. Also there was talk of REM and Nirvana performing together.
NEIL STRAUSS Wasn't it more the pop success of Nevermind then the media frenzy surrounding his death that awakened people (or at least those with the money to promote these things) to alternative music?
MEGATONE RECORDS Was it a frenzy or just news?
NEIL STRAUSS I'd say news would be obituaries and news stories after the fact. A frenzy would be the Los Angeles Times (just one example) continuing to ask every single pop star they interview (with few exceptions) their thoughts on Kurt Cobain.
CYBERBABE Frenzy and total curiousity from anyone who
wants to know the reasons behind his death.
SONIC HOST What about the rumors that Kurt wrote Hole songs?
ANTHONY DECURTIS I kind of think that rumor's sexist, frankly.
Whatever problems CL has, she seems able to write good songs.
CYBERBABE Everyone seems to have it out for her. People want him to have written those songs.
GREG EMMANUEL Was the difference in the two Hole records CL's atempt to match her late husbands success?
MEGATONE RECORDS Wasn't it responsible reporting to tell of a tragic death that touched so many? Is that a frenzy? After JKF was shot, that was a frenzy. OJ is frenzy. KC seemed a foot note to the times, and his fans.
NEIL STRAUSS Megatone, is a frenzy bad? A story broke, a surprise and a tragedy and every media outlet, even those that had never really paid much attention to Cobain before (besides his coma) went
after it, which was their job. A frenzy, yes. One that's unwarranted,
MEGATONE RECORDS The music press not general entertainment reporting.
STEF SLUT It is horribly ironic that he turned himself into Jim Morrison, after all he became his own worst nightmare.
JANIS Why do we make such a big deal about Kurt?
ANTHONY DECURTIS J: The music was important and good and he was one of these people who found himself a current for the
zeitgeist. Also suicide leaves survivors in a f*cked-up, complex place, that it's hard to make sense out of. So we just keep talking.
NEIL STRAUSS Janis, we meaning, culture as a whole? Or we, meaning those of us on this conference?
JANIS Culture as a whole.
MEGATONE RECORDS A frenzy is not bad, but I feel Kurt's death recieved courteous and fair coverage.
NEIL STRAUSS Janis, outside of the obvious interest in the nature of his suicide where you have drugs, guns, secrets, a widow, a baby, a scandal, a mosquito, a libido, he was the first rock star ever to end their own life since Del Shannon, and certainly the first one to take his own life at the top of his game. And it was unexpected. The question I have is, were we obsessed with Kurt before he became a tragic figure?
SONIC HOST It sure seems that way.
HARRY GOLDSTEIN Why do we have to make sense out of it?
ANTHONY DECURTIS It helps people go on.
HARRY GOLDSTEIN But they're not going to get any answers. The conversation will just continue.
ANTHONY DECURTIS That's ture, but it doesn't mean that the conversation isn't meaningful.
HARRY GOLDSTEIN But how do we make it meaningful in the sense that something is truly different, that we've learned something?
JANIS Good question, Harry.
MEGATONE RECORDS Sucide is a very selfish act.
ANDREW SARNOW Obviously. . .
STEF SLUT If anyone else here has America On Line Courtney posted there, and she had some very interesting and touching things to say. She talked about the funeral, and about what her day to day life was like...also Krist and Dave APPEAR to have made a joint post...
WPUR RADIO Cobain's and Love's music is more real then most
other stuff out there.
ANDREW SARNOW Kurt did not want this amount of fame but he did sign on with Geffen.
HARRY GOLDSTEIN True.
ANDREW SARNOW How much did he want?
MEGATONE RECORDS I think KC was a true artist who merely wanted an audience for his music. I do not feel he wanted the great success he achieved but I'm sure as with most musicians it was in the back of his head at all times.
NEIL STRAUSS Andrew, most people want fame, but they also want a life. And signing with Geffen is certainly not a mistake. Any musician wants to get their music heard. If a tree falls in the Olympia Rainforest, does anybody... you know.
MEGATONE RECORDS Some musicians are statisfied with 200 people in a club. Some need the roar of a stadium.
STEF SLUT Neil and Anthony: did something happen in Europe? Something specific?
ANTHONY DECURTIS Are you talking about the British press stories about CL and other lovers?
STEF SLUT No, psychically, to him. It just seems weird, like something MUST have happened.
ANTHONY DECURTIS I think things that had already been going on just continued and came to a head....
WPUR RADIO But where will all this take us ? I mean his death had such an effect on all of us, but then it seems that a lot of the media are down playing the importance of Cobain's and Love's music. I don't know ...
ANDREW SARNOW I agree w/ WPUR. Most people downplay the importance of his musc, overplaying his image.
NEIL STRAUSS I don't know if I agree with WPUR. Was the media downplaying the significance of his music, or were they overplaying it. I'm really not trying to hype the book (though I am here), but when I read all the introductory essays by writers who had reviewed his records when they came out and then had a chance to reevaluate the music after his death, almost all of them apologized for not seeing his true vision and genius and torment...
NEIL STRAUSS I have a question: did anyone review Kurt
Cobain's music and call him a genius and visionary and symbol of his generation before his death? (Not that he was or wasn't, just did anyone recognize it?)
MEGATONE RECORDS Most genius in music are not reconized until after their deaths.
NEIL STRAUSS Good point, Megatone, and not just in music.
CYBERBABE That is such hypocrisy to 'apologize' for not seeing someone's true vision. And genuis, you like what you want to like.
ANTHONY DECURTIS One thing no one's ever said too much about is the fact that the suicide happened the week the Hole album was coming out.
STEF SLUT Do you think that's significant, Anthony?
ANTHONY DECURTIS I have nothing but speculation to go on, but actually I think it is.
SONIC HOST Do you think it was a coincedence?
MEGATONE RECORDS Wasn't the Hole album out earlier than
STEF SLUT No, it came out the next week.
STEF SLUT Do you think Kurt was jealous of Courtney's freedom to do what she wanted, being a pariah anyhow to a lot of people -- that she could accomplish what he could not?
ANTHONY DECURTIS I'm not sure. It just seems obvious to me in hindsight that CL is obviously the stronger of the two and KC seemed so insecure that another strong manifestation of her independence might have been part of the innumerable things that were tormenting him.
WPUR RADIO I think Courtney is jealous of Kurt. She was acting as if she could care-less (about life) the last time I saw her show, maybe that was apart of the act.
JANIS No one in this country takes drug abuse seriously
until its too late.
NEIL STRAUSS That's true, and even after it's too late.
STEF SLUT Let me ask a rough question. Do you two, Anthony and Neil, feel any sense of responsibility for being part of a media that eventually created a horrible situation? Not that I think you should, but I am curious, because you obviously are both fans and have a real appreciation for Kurt's work but also have jobs to do that might conflict with that.
ANTHONY DECURTIS I know what you're saying. Sometimes it' s hard not to be embarassed about what the media has become. But I think writing and thinking about this is important. It's important that people know what happened. You can exploit or you can try to deal with it. I think we're trying to deal with it.
HARRY GOLDSTEIN But, you're also making money.
ANTHONY DECURTIS My entire personal fee for this book was $200. We live in a culture where...
HARRY GOLDSTEIN Wow!
ANTHONY DECURTIS ...when you do stuff, money is involved. Whether you're KC or anyone else.
HARRY GOLDSTEIN Thanks for the candid answer.
ANTHONY DECURTIS You're welcome.
NEIL STRAUSS I was initially angry with Gold Mountain for keeping Kurt's drug abuse quiet (Gold Mountain is Kurt's management company), but all the attention that was focussed on drug abuse after his death still didn't save Kristen Pfaff.
CYBERBABE I think the media were way aware of his drug problem and wanted to play it down.
ANDREW SARNOW Did you read Babes In Toyland?
NEIL STRAUSS As, I hate to say it, but not yet. But I might know what you're getting at. What were you going to say?
ANDREW SARNOW It dealt with the drugs, as influenced by the peer presure...
STEF SLUT Has anyone else here read "Never Fade Away?" What did u think of it? I thought it was sensationalist crap. There was also a guy on cable access in Seattle who was apparently attempting to "prove" KC was murdered, and he had elaborate graphs, which allegedly "proved" that there was no way the bullet could have...
ANDREW SARNOW Stef, there was a gunman in the grassy knoll.
STEF SLUT A friend of mine saw this and said it was really f*cked up. Has anyone else actually seen it? I have not.
MEGATONE RECORDS And a CIA conspiricy?
NEIL STRAUSS That allegedly proved that the bullet what?
STEF SLUT That allegedly proved the bullet could not have exited where the police report said it did because of the exit wound....evidently it was extremely bizarre. As I said I didn't see it personally...
MEGATONE RECORDS Is it the responibilty of management to tell the world their client is an addict? Does that not betray the personal client trust?
NEIL STRAUSS Megatone, it isn't. It is their responsibility to say "no comment" when asked about it. It isn't their responsibility to say that Kurt was sick in Ireland because he had eaten too much junk food.
JANIS Megatone: It is irresponsible if they have an addict on the label and they do nothing about it? I'm not saying they have to broadcast Kurt's addiction, but at least on a personal level someone should have taken it more seriously.
CYBERBABE It was obvious enough what was going on because it was denied.
NEIL STRAUSS Janis, that's a good point, but we don't know how seriously or not they took the problem...
MEGATONE RECORDS Do we personally know that someone did not? An addict can only seek and get help when he needs it and can accept it. Otherwise you can preach to an addict until you're blue in the face they must seek to change form within
NEIL STRAUSS I do know that a number of intervention attempts had been made for at least two years prior to his death, including some with counsellors who simply couldn't handle the problem and
ANDREW SARNOW Was there media hype during the deaths of JJ, JH, JM?
ANTHONY DECURTIS The media didn't care about those people. No one who wasn't hip cared about rock & roll.
HARRY GOLDSTEIN The flower children were already defined Generation X didn't have a face yet.
CYBERBABE Generation X shouldn't have a face. That is labeling at its worst.
NEIL STRAUSS Janis, I really do think they tried to do everything...
MEGATONE RECORDS Intervention often fails. Addiction is cunning baffiling and powerfull.
ANTHONY DECURTIS Obviously, when Lennon died, things heated up, media-wise.
CYBERBABE He was murdered he didn't decide that he had had enough.
STEF SLUT But Lennon was murdered. I really think the fact that this was a suicide changes the ball game a lot.
ANTHONY DECURTIS The suicide aspect is key. Also the media is much heavier now. Every newspaper and TV show has Someone who thinks they know about rock & roll. Back in the day, they just didn't
NEIL STRAUSS But when someone is self-destructive (and we all know this) no one can stop them besides themselves and physical restraints.
MEGATONE RECORDS Maybe more could have been done but maybe all that could be done was in fact done. One can not rewrite fate.
JANIS But didn't his drug use enhance his image? If they had interfered...less money.
HARRY GOLDSTEIN Didn't Janis OD?
MEGATONE RECORDS JANis did.
HARRY GOLDSTEIN And wasn't that a sort of suicide?
ANTHONY DECURTIS Sort of, but different from putting a rifle to your head. The level of intent w/ KC is really frightening, I think.
STEF SLUT You can say that about a lot of people too, James Dean, Morrison, etc. James Honeyman, Scott and Pete Farndon of the
Pretenders, who nobody talks about anymore...
MEGATONE RECORDS I do not think youth feels taking drugs is glamerous. I feel they are much smarter than that.
JANIS Think again Megatone.
CYBERBABE WRONG Megatone.
MEGATONE RECORDS There is always a "drug culture" but don't be so broad based in your assumptions.
CYBERBABE Drug taking is the glamist thing to do especially if you are too young to buy drinks at a bar.
MEGATONE RECORDS I disagree or drug deaths would be even greater.
ANTHONY DECURTIS Cyberbabe: It's hard to take too hard a stand against drugs without sounding like a Republican.
MEGATONE RECORDS Yes the Republicans will save us all mostly from ourselves.
CYBERBABE But to be in the 'youth' scence you have to belive what you see and not what you hear.
STEF SLUT Interestingly enough, the hardcore scene that Kurt, Krist and Co. sprang out of in the mid 1980s had a faction really against drugs. I think we all remember our straightedge days listening to Minor Threat records.
NEIL STRAUSS I remember listening to Minor Threat records, but I don't remember being straight edge at the same time.
STEF SLUT Changing the tune a bit, there are a lot of high quality illicit recordings available now that have demos, acoustic tracks (Kurt singing softly into a tape recorder, "Opinion," "Sappy," etc, "Return Of The Rat") Geffen really should release a live CD if nothing else, as a collector and a fan I love the music and I do buy it but I'd rather see the band benefit.