By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
On April 8, 1994, the echo of a shotgun blast reverberated around the world. Kurt Cobain was dead, by his own hand, according to police investigators and the King County medical examiner. While millions of Gen Xers mourned the death of their "voice of a generation," critics and fans alike were quick to point out the foreshadowing of the Nirvana leader's suicide through his song subject matter and titles (i.e., "I Hate Myself and Want to Die"), his omnipresent drug habit and various quotes from interviews given over the years.
Shortly after, the repercussions began. After the Seattle public memorial, held in a park near the Space Needle on April 10, 28-year-old Daniel Kaspar returned home, despondent over Cobain's death, and shot himself. This was only one of the more than 60 "copycat" suicides related to the death of Cobain. And if the evidence presented in a recently published book is to be believed, these tragic victims of their own hands weren't even emulating their hero. The book, Who Killed Kurt Cobain?, postulates that he was murdered.
There are a number of automatic responses to such an assertion--everyone knows that Cobain offed himself; look at the suicide note, the lyrics, the heroin; this is just another crazy conspiracy theory, albeit a considerably more hip one than JFK or Roswell; and besides, who would have wanted to kill the '90s greatest rock figurehead? For these reasons, the book is best read by forgetting that you know who the subject is, by ignoring what you think you know about Cobain and analyzing it as a true-life murder mystery.
The book, and a largely unrelated documentary by BBC filmmaker Nick Broomfield, have, at the very least, damaged Courtney Love's bid for Hollywood respectability. At worst, they have stirred up considerable antipathy toward her from Cobain fans who feel they haven't been given all the answers. Now, with Love set to restart her musical career with the September 8 release of Hole's album Celebrity Skin, the Cobain murder theory stands as a wild card whose power no one can gauge.
In a recent Billboard piece about the upcoming MTV Video Awards, at which Hole will perform, Jamie Saxon, Wherehouse manager in Hollywood, predicted that Hole's commercial standing will hinge on the strength of the band's performance at the awards show. Saxon is quoted as saying, "Courtney Love hasn't had a lot of good PR lately, and she needs to remind people that she's in a band." Of course, much of the bad PR Saxon refers to has--directly or indirectly--come from Who Killed Kurt Cobain?
The authors, Montreal journalists Ian Halperin and Max Wallace, embarked on their investigation after hearing a number of Seattle musicians and people close to Cobain express their doubts as to his suicide, and after hearing about the claims of Beverly Hills investigator Tom Grant. Grant was originally hired by Courtney Love a few days before Cobain's body was found, but he continued investigating independently after becoming convinced that the death was not a suicide. His claims have been made public in a number of magazine articles and talk-radio appearances, and Grant strongly believes that Love was behind the murder of her husband.
Grant, though met with derision by many naysayers of the murder theory, has a sterling reputation and apparently has not attempted to cash in on his investigation's findings. The authors of the book launched a critical investigation of his findings, verifying many findings and casting doubt over others; the general conclusion is that there is more than ample evidence to warrant a reopening of the case by the Seattle PD, although this is unlikely.
Max Wallace, co-author of the book, says he was "always quite skeptical about that because they're not going to admit that they botched the case. For the Seattle PD to reopen it is to admit that they made a mistake and a rush to judgment. The goal is to have some outside law enforcement agency look into it. Grant's goal right now is to get the FBI looking at it, because if there was an interstate conspiracy--let's say Courtney Love's in California plotting to kill Kurt in Washington state--that would be the FBI's jurisdiction."
The biographical portion of the book, covering Cobain's and Love's respective childhoods, their romance and subsequent marriage, and chronicling the couple's much publicized troubles with drugs and confrontations with the media, is extensive and thorough, though somewhat biased toward the authors' conclusion.
The trauma of Cobain's parents' divorce is downplayed, with greater weight given to the marital problems between Love and Cobain, and the chasm created between Love and Cobain's bandmates. The book also reveals that in the summer of 1993, Cobain's perpetual excuse for his heroin use and general misery, his mysterious "burning, nauseous stomach," was both diagnosed and treated. Cobain's best friend, Dylan Carlson, verifies that fact, saying that he was a "new person after that."
Knowing that this is sensitive subject matter and that any evidence presented to support the claim that Cobain was murdered would be subjected to intense criticism, the authors researched and presented their evidence meticulously. There are several indisputable facts that support the murder theory. Hours before the body was discovered in the greenhouse of Love and Cobain's Lake Washington home, someone attempted to use his credit card to purchase flowers. However, the medical examiner determined that the body had been dead for about three days. Mysteriously, no legible fingerprints were found on the shotgun, the shells and box of shells, or the pen used to write the "suicide" note (which was stabbed through the note into the dirt of a planter near the body). Also, two of the world's foremost handwriting analysts determined that the last four lines of the note were written by a different person than the body of the note.