Chapter 15

EVERY TIME I SWALLOWED

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON


SEPTEMBER 1991–OCTOBER 1991

Every time I swallowed a piece of food, I would experience an excruciating, burning, nauseous pain in the upper part of my stomach lining.

—An inventory of Kurt’s drug and stomach problems from his journal.

The second Friday of September—a Friday the thirteenth—was one of the most extraordinary days of Kurt’s life. It was a day that would encompass two food fights, a fire extinguisher duel, and the destruction of gold record awards in a microwave oven. All of this divine chaos was in celebration of the release of Nevermind in Seattle.

The day began with a series of radio interviews on Seattle’s biggest rock stations. Kurt sat still for the first one on KXRX, but barely said a word and started throwing pizza around the control room. Earlier in the week he had been willing to talk with any interested journalist. “Even if it was a writer they didn’t like,” recounted publicist Lisa Glatfelter-Bell, “Kurt would say, ‘That guy’s a prick, but he loves the record, so we’ll give him ten minutes.’ ” His attitude changed after just a few phone interviews. He tired of trying to explain himself, and each progressive interview turned into a game to see what new fiction he could fabricate. When he talked with Patrick MacDonald of the Seattle Times, he claimed to have purchased an inflatable love-doll, cut off the hands and feet, and intended to wear it onstage. Yet, by the end of the week, even deceiving journalists bored him. Where he had been joyous in Europe two weeks previously, being back in America—and promoting the album—seemed to tire him. The exuberance of Rotterdam had quickly given way to reticence and resignation. Kurt stayed in the car during the next two interviews, leaving Krist and Dave to chat up the DJs.

At six o’clock, the band had their much anticipated invitation-only record release at the Re-bar, an event Kurt had been waiting his whole life for (Bleach had no such celebration). The invitations read, “Nevermind Triskaidekaphobia, here’s Nirvana.” The phobia referred to a fear of Friday the thirteenth, but what was truly scary was how packed the club was with musicians, music journalists, and the power brokers of the scene.

It was Kurt’s chance to bask in glory, having finally conquered Seattle, yet he seemed uncomfortable with the attention. On this day, and during many to follow, he gave the impression that he’d rather be anywhere than promoting his record. As a boy who had grown up the center of attention in his family, only to lose that distinction in adolescence, he responded with suspicion to his change of fortune. He sat in a photo booth at the party, physically present, but hidden from view by a cloth curtain.

The band had smuggled in a half gallon of Jim Beam, a violation of Washington liquor law. But before any liquor inspector could bust them, mayhem erupted, when Kurt started throwing ranch dressing at Krist, and a food fight ensued. A bouncer grabbed the offenders and threw them out, unaware he’d ejected the very three men the party was being held for. Before DGC’s Susie Tennant was able to straighten matters out, Krist had to be dragged away from a confrontation with the bouncer. “We were laughing,” Krist recalled, “saying, ‘Oh my God, we just got kicked out of our own record release party!’ ” For a time, the band stood in the alley behind the club and talked to their friends through a window. The party was still raging inside, and most of the attendees never noticed the guests of honor had been banished.

The celebration resumed at the loft of a friend, until Kurt shot off a fire extinguisher and the place had to be evacuated. They then moved to Susie Tennant’s house, where the destruction continued until dawn. Susie had a gold record by the band Nelson on her wall; Kurt took the plaque down, calling it “an affront to humankind,” rubbed lipstick on it, and stuck it in a microwave on defrost. The night ended with Kurt trying on one of Susie’s dresses, applying makeup, and walking around in drag. “Kurt made a great-looking woman,” Susie recalled. “I had this one dress, my Holly Hobby dress, and Kurt looked better in it than I did, better than anyone I’d ever seen.”

Kurt spent that night at Susie’s, as did many of the revelers. He fell asleep under a Patti Smith poster wearing the dress. When he arose the next morning, he announced that he and Dylan planned to spend the day shooting holes in a rump roast. “After we shoot it all to hell, we’re going to eat it,” he said. He departed, asking for directions to a supermarket.

Two days later, Nirvana held an “in-store” at Beehive Records. DGC expected about 50 patrons, but when over 200 kids were lined up by two in the afternoon—for an event scheduled to start at seven—it began to dawn on them that perhaps the band’s popularity was greater than first thought. Kurt had decided that rather than simply sign albums and shake people’s hands—the usual business of an in-store—Nirvana would play. When he saw the line at the store that afternoon, it marked the first time he was heard to utter the words “holy shit” in response to his popularity. The band retreated to the Blue Moon Tavern and began drinking, but when they looked out the window and saw dozens of fans looking in, they felt like they were in the movie A Hard Day’s Night. When the show began, Beehive was so crowded that kids were standing on racks of albums and sawhorses had to be lined up in front of the store’s glass windows to protect them. Nirvana played a 45-minute set—performing on the store floor—until the crowd began smashing into the band like the pep rally in the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video.

Kurt was bewildered by just how big a deal it had all become. Looking into the crowd, he saw half of the Seattle music scene and dozens of his friends. It was particularly unnerving for him to see two of his ex-girlfriends—Tobi and Tracy—there, bopping away to the songs. Even these intimates were now part of an audience he felt pressure to serve. The store was selling the first copies of Nevermind the public had a chance at, and they quickly sold out. “People were ripping posters off the wall,” remembered store manager Jamie Brown, “just so they’d have a piece of paper for Kurt to autograph.” Kurt kept shaking his head in amazement.

Kurt retreated to the parking lot for a smoke and some downtime. But there, the day became even more freakish when he saw two of his old Montesano schoolmates, Scott Cokely and Rick Miller, holding copies of “Sliver.” Though Kurt signed hundreds of autographs that day, none made him feel more surreal than putting his signature on a single about his grandparents for two guys from the town his grandparents lived in. They talked about their mutual friends from the harbor, but the conversation made Kurt wistful—Cokely and Miller were a reminder of a past Kurt thought he had left behind. “Do you get back to the harbor much?” Cokely asked. “Not very often,” Kurt replied. Both Cokely and Miller were confused when they looked at their singles and noticed Kurt had signed them “Kurdt.”

Kurt later cited this exchange as one of the first moments he realized he was famous. Yet rather than comfort him, this realization set off something just short of a panic. Though he had always wanted to be famous—and back when he was in school in Monte, he had promised his classmates one day he would be—the actual culmination of his dreams deeply unnerved him. Krist would recall this particular show—a free show in a record store a week before the album’s official release date—as a turning point in Kurt. “Things started to happen after that,” Krist said. “We weren’t the same old band. Kurt, he just kind of withdrew. There was a lot of personal stuff that was going on. It got complicated. It was more than we bargained for.”

It wasn’t that the Beehive audience was more intrusive than most; in fact, as the band discovered when their tour began, the Seattle crowd was subdued, compared to what they encountered elsewhere. The tour had been booked before the success of the record, so most of the venues were tiny, leading to hundreds, if not thousands, of fans coveting tickets they couldn’t get. Each show was a circus. When they rolled into Boston on September 22, Kurt was looking forward to seeing the Melvins on this rare night off. Yet when he tried to talk his way into the club, the doorman hadn’t heard of Nirvana. Mary Lou Lord, a Boston singer-songwriter who was standing by the door, chirped in to say she’d heard of Nirvana and they were playing the next night. This failed to sway the doorman, and Kurt finally paid the cover.

Once inside, Kurt turned his attention to Lord, rather than his old friends. When Lord said she was a musician who played the subway platform, he asked her favorite bands, and she listed the Pastels, the Vaselines, Daniel Johnston, and Teenage Fanclub. “Bullshit,” replied Kurt. “Those are myfavorite bands, in order!” He forced her to name songs by each artist to prove she wasn’t jesting. They talked for hours, and Lord gave him a ride on her bicycle’s handlebars. They ended up talking all night, and the next day Kurt went to her apartment, where he saw a picture of Lester Bangs hanging on the wall. He asked Lord to do a song, and when she performed two tunes from the yet-to-be-released Nevermind, he felt like he’d been bewitched by this rosy-cheeked girl from Salem, Mass.

As they walked around Boston, the stories of his life sprang forth from him in a torrent. He told Lord about his father kicking a dog once, about how miserable he was growing up in his family, and about Tobi. If one of the cardinal rules of flirting was never to talk about your last girlfriend with your potential next, Kurt broke this rule. He told Lord that Tobi was “awesome,” but that she was “a real heartbreaker.” He admitted he wasn’t over her.

Kurt also told Lord how enraptured he had become with an Eastern religion called Jainism. He had seen a documentary on late-night television that enchanted him because the official Jain flag featured an ancient version of the swastika on it. He had since read everything he could find on the Jains, who worshipped animals as holy. “He told me,” Lord recalled, “that they had hospitals for pigeons. He said he wanted to join them. He planned to have this big career, and that when everything was all done, he was going to go off and join the Jains.” One of the concepts of Jainism Kurt was most taken with was their vision of the afterlife. Jainism preached of a universe that was a series of heavens and hells layered together. “Every day,” Kurt told Lord, “we all pass through heaven, and we all pass through hell.”

As they walked through Boston’s Back Bay, Kurt couldn’t keep up with Lord. “He was like an old man,” she observed. “He was only 24, but there was a weariness about him far beyond his years.” He told Lord that certain drugs helped temper his stomach pain. She didn’t do drugs, and didn’t inquire further, but a half hour later he revisited the topic and asked her if she’d ever tried heroin. “I don’t even want to hear you talking about that kind of shit,” she said, cutting off the conversation.

That night they went to the Axis, where Nirvana shared a bill with the Smashing Pumpkins. As Kurt and Lord approached the club, he grabbed her guitar and held her hand. “I’m sure people in line were thinking, ‘That’s Kurt with the dorky subway girl,’ ” Lord said. “I’d been there for years and everybody knew me, and they all probably thought I was awful. But then here I was, walking down this street, holding hands with him.”

The next day, September 24, Nevermind officially went on sale. An MTV crew filmed a brief news segment of Krist playing Twister in his underwear covered with Crisco shortening. Kurt blew off most of the interviews and promotions DGC had set up and instead spent the day with Lord. When DGC’s Mark Kates took Novoselic and Grohl to Newbury Comics, Boston’s hippest record store, they found a long line. “It was amazing,” Kates recalled. “There were like a thousand kids trying to buy this record.”

It took two weeks for Nevermind to register in the Billboard Top 200, but when it did chart, the album entered at No. 144. By the second week it rose to No. 109; by the third week it was at No. 65; and after four weeks, on the second of November, it was at No. 35, with a bullet. Few bands have had such a quick ascendancy to the Top 40 with their debuts. Nevermind would have registered even higher if DGC had been more prepared—due to their modest expectations, the label had initially pressed only 46,251 copies. For several weeks, the record was sold out.

Usually a quick rise on the charts is attributable to a well-orchestrated promotional effort, backed by marketing muscle, yet Nevermind achieved its early success without such grease. During its first few weeks, the record had little help from radio except in a few selected cities. When DGC’s promotion staff tried to convince programmers to play “Teen Spirit,” they initially met with resistance. “People at rock radio, even in Seattle, told me, ‘We can’t play this. I can’t understand what the guy is saying,’ ” recalled DGC’s Susie Tennant. Most stations that added the single slated it late at night, thinking it “too aggressive” to put on during the day.

But radio programmers took notice of the number of listeners who phoned in requests. When Seattle’s KNDD did research on “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the song received the highest positive response the polling company had ever registered. “When a song like that is being researched,” observed KNDD’s Marco Collins, “we’re talking about playing this track through a phone line, and people only hearing a fifteen-second clip. Try to imagine what it would be like to hear ‘Teen Spirit’ for the first time through the phone.”

Within MTV, the video caused a stir when it was considered in early September. Amy Finnerty, a 22-year-old programmer, felt so strongly about the video, she announced that if the channel wouldn’t play the clip, then MTV wasn’t the kind of place she wanted to work. After some heated debate, the video was added to the specialty show “120 Minutes.” It went into regular rotation in November as one of the channel’s first “Buzz Bin” videos.

The first time Kurt saw himself on television was in New York City a few days after the Boston shows. He was staying in the Roger Smith Hotel, and Mary Lou Lord was in his room. When the video came on “120 Minutes,” Kurt phoned his mother. “There’s me,” he gleefully said. “There’s me again,” he repeated when ten seconds later he reappeared. “And there’s me again.” He kept playfully announcing this every time he saw himself on the television, as if his presence were a surprise.

That afternoon Nirvana played a rare acoustic in-store at Tower Records. During the short set, Kurt pulled Oreos from a bag of groceries one fan was carrying, and washed those down with milk he also pilfered from the sack. That same night, they played a sold-out show at the Marquee Club, which was followed by a party at the home of MTV’s Amy Finnerty. Word of the celebration leaked out to the club audience, many of whom showed up uninvited. Kurt snuck out of the party and went with Finnerty and Lord to a bar across the street. “This place has the best jukebox I’ve ever seen,” Kurt declared, though the machine had only disco tunes. For one of the few times in his entire life, perhaps in honor of the official release of Nevermind, Kurt stood up and danced.

After New York the tour accelerated, and so did Nirvana’s fame. As both the single and video of “Teen Spirit” vaulted up the charts, every show was sold out and signs of a greater mania appeared. Kurt stayed in touch with Lord by phone and described her to soundman Craig Montgomery as his “girlfriend.” Two weeks after New York she came to Ohio, only to discover Kurt in a meltdown. He was sitting on a pool table, kicking his legs and cursing. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Everything,” he replied. “Nobody can get the fucking sound right. This fucking sucks. I’ve been doing this for so fucking long. And the show fucking sucked. I couldn’t hear myself at all.” Used to busking on the subway for quarters, she told him to enjoy his success, but she was unable to cheer him. “I’m tired of this fucking shit, these fucking rat-holes,” he announced. What she didn’t know was that Kurt was suffering from drug withdrawal. It was a dirty secret he hadn’t told Lord or his bandmates. She followed the tour for two more dates, but in Detroit, on the morning of October 12, she left to return to her job at a record store in Boston. Kurt and the band headed for Chicago and a show at the Metro.

On that same morning of October 12 Courtney Love boarded a plane in Los Angeles and flew to Chicago to visit Billy Corgan. Love and Corgan had a tempestuous relationship—she was more enthralled by the love letters he wrote than his actual presence. When she arrived at his apartment, she found him unexpectedly back with another girlfriend. A ruckus ensued and Courtney fled amidst a hail of shoes.

She spent her last $10 on a cab to the Metro, where she was surprised to find Nirvana on the bill. After talking her way past the doorman, she called Corgan from a pay phone: In later tellings, she’d claim the call was to make sure she was completely broken off with Billy before becoming romantically involved with Kurt. Corgan told her he couldn’t see her, and she slammed down the phone.

All the signs of Courtney and Kurt’s sexual attraction had been present in earlier meetings, just not the opportunity. She watched the final fifteen minutes of Nirvana’s set, which basically involved Kurt smashing the drum kit, all the time wondering what made this boy so angry. He was a mystery to her, and Courtney was attracted by the unexplained. She was not the only woman to fall under this spell. As Carrie Montgomery observed: “Kurt made women want to nurture and protect him. He was a paradox in that way, because he also could be brutally and intensely strong; yet at the same time he could appear fragile and delicate.”

After the show she made her way to a backstage party, where she beelined for Kurt: “I watched her walk across the room and sit on his lap,” recalled manager Danny Goldberg. Kurt was happy to see her, and particularly happy when she asked to stay at his hotel. If Kurt was bad about confessing past romantic entanglements, Courtney was his equal in this department, and she told him the whole sorry tale of the fight with Corgan. As they conversed, Kurt was reminded of the “coolest girl in the world” description he had bestowed on her after that long talk in Los Angeles five months before. They left the club together and walked along Lake Michigan, eventually ending up at the Days Inn.

The sex, as Kurt later described it to his friends, was amazing. He told Courtney he could count his previous lovers on one hand. She was as shocked by this fact as anything else he said; she came from a Sunset Strip world where sex was as casually offered as a ride home from a gig. Courtney was also surprised to see that Kurt wore zebra-striped briefs for underwear. “You have got to get boxers,” she told him.

But their bond, even in that post-intercourse languor, was considerably more than sexual—it was an emotional connection, one that none of their friends or bandmates understood. Ironically, Kurt’s confidantes thought he was slumming to become involved with her; Court-ney’s friends felt the same about her dating him. Their individual stories had a familiar feel, and when Courtney described a childhood that included neglect, being shuttled between divorced parents, and struggles in school, it was a terrain Kurt knew. She was the first woman he’d ever met that when he told her the stories of his youth—mythologized at this point beyond simple exaggeration—she responded by saying, “I can top that.” It became almost a game of “Who had the worst childhood?” but in their union Kurt felt a normalcy about his life.

Like anyone, what Kurt wanted most in a partner was unconditional love; but that night in the Days Inn he discovered something else in Courtney that had eluded him in other relationships—understanding. He felt Courtney intrinsically knew the smell of the shit he’d crawled through. Mary Lou Lord had liked the Vaselines, but she had never lived in a cardboard box. Tracy, for all her unwavering love of Kurt, had always been accepted by her family, even when she did something as crazy as date a punk rocker from Aberdeen. Kurt had tried everything to make Tobi love him, but their paths had been so different he couldn’t even make her understand his nightmares, much less the reason he did drugs. But Courtney knew the gelatinous flavor of surplus government cheese given out with food stamps; she knew what it was like to tour in a van and struggle for gas money; and during her time working as a stripper, at “Jumbo’s Clown Room,” she had come to understand degradation of a sort not many people taste. Both of them later joked that their bonding was over narcotics—and it would certainly include drugs—but the initial attraction was something far deeper than a shared desire to escape: It was, instead, the very fact that Courtney Love, like Kurt Cobain, had something to escape from.

They parted that next morning, Kurt continuing on the tour, and Courtney heading back to Los Angeles. But over the next week, they exchanged faxes and phone calls, and were soon chatting every day. Despite Nirvana’s success, Kurt was not happy on the road, and bitched constantly about the state of their van, the “rat-hole” clubs, and a new complaint—the frat boys who were now coming to their shows after seeing the band’s video on MTV. Some in the Nirvana camp initially greeted Courtney’s involvement with Kurt enthusiastically—at least he had someone to talk to (he was communicating with Novoselic and Grohl less and less).

In Dallas, on October 19, Kurt went into meltdown mode again, this time onstage. The show was doomed from the start because it was oversold and the audience spilled onto the stage. Frustrated, Kurt destroyed a monitor console by whacking his guitar against it. When a few minutes later he dived into the crowd, a bouncer named Turner Van Blarcum attempted to help him back onstage, which Kurt mistakenly read as an aggressive act. He responded by smashing the butt end of his guitar on Van Blarcum’s head, drawing blood. It was a blow that might have killed a smaller man, but it only stunned Van Blarcum, who punched Kurt in the head, and kicked him as the singer fled. The audience began to riot. Kurt hid upstairs in a closet until promoter Jeff Liles finally convinced him Van Blarcum had gone to the hospital and could do him no harm. “I know he had drunk a ton of cough syrup that night,” Liles explained. Kurt finally reappeared and finished the set.

But the action was far from over. After the show, Liles managed to get the band into a waiting cab, which sped off only to come right back: No one in the band knew what hotel they were in. Just as the cab returned, so did Van Blarcum—complete with a bloody bandage on his head. He shattered the taxi windows with his fist as the driver frantically tried to pull away. The cab escaped, but as they drove off—with no destination still—the members of Nirvana sat in the backseat covered with broken glass. This was not an isolated event—the band’s road manager soon found himself paying out thousands of dollars every week to cover damages caused by the band.

A week later Kurt was reunited with Courtney at a pro-choice benefit in Los Angeles. Backstage they seemed very much together, and many remarked how they made the perfect rock ’n’ roll couple. Yet later in the evening, behind closed doors, their relationship took a more destructive bent. For the first time, Kurt brought up the idea of doing heroin. Courtney paused for a moment, but then agreed. They scored dope, went to his hotel, the Beverly Garland, prepared the drugs, and he injected her—Courtney couldn’t stand to handle a needle herself, so Kurt, the former needle-phobe, handled things for himself and her. After getting high they went out walking and came upon a dead bird. Kurt pulled three feathers off the animal and passed one to Courtney, holding the two others in his hand. “This is for you, this is for me,” he said. And then holding the third feather in his hand he added, “and this is for our baby we’re gonna have.” She laughed and later remembered this as the point when she first fell in love with him.

But Kurt already had another mistress. By the fall of 1991 heroin was no longer a recreational weekend escape for him and was instead part of an ongoing daily addiction. He had “decided” several months before he met Courtney to become a “junkie,” as he wrote in his journal. Later, Kurt sat down and, for the sake of a treatment program he was enrolled in, detailed his entire drug history. It begins:

When I got back from our second European tour with Sonic Youth, I decided to use heroine on a daily basis because of an ongoing stomach ailment that I had been suffering from for the past five years, [and that] had literally taken me to the point of wanting to kill myself. For five years, every single day of my life, every time I swallowed a piece of food, I would experience an excruciating, burning, nauseous pain in the upper part of my stomach lining. The pain became even more severe on tour, due to lack of a proper and regimented eating schedule and diet. Since the beginning of this disorder, I’ve had ten upper and lower gastrointestinal procedures, which found an enflamed irritation in the same place. I consulted 15 different doctors, and tried about 50 different types of ulcer medication. The only thing I found that worked were heavy opiates. There were many times that I found myself literally incapacitated, in bed for weeks, vomiting and starving. So I decided, if I feel like a junkie as it is, I may as well be one.

What was extraordinary about Kurt’s recounting of his journey into addiction was his consciousness regarding the choices involved. He wrote of his addiction as a “decision,” one undertaken because of the suicidal thoughts he had after chronic stomach pain. His timing put the start of his full-fledged addiction at the beginning of September 1991, the month of the release of Nevermind.

Courtney had struggled with drug addiction herself during the summer of 1989, when heroin had been the rage in the Los Angeles rock scene: She had used 12-Step groups and Buddhist chanting to help her break her habit. But her sobriety was tenuous by October 1991, the main reason friends like Jennifer Finch warned her to stay away from Kurt. Love’s drug issues were different from Kurt’s—to her, heroin was a social drug, and the very fact that she couldn’t stand to inject herself was a barrier to daily abuse. But because Courtney had previously struggled with the drug, many in the rock community gossiped that she had gotten him hooked on drugs, when in many ways the opposite was true. “People blame Courtney, that Courtney turned him on to heroin, but that’s not true,” asserted Krist. “He did it before he even met Courtney. Courtney did not get Kurt on drugs.”

After their first night doing heroin together, he came by the next evening and wanted to get high again. “I had a rule about not doing drugs two nights in a row,” Courtney recalled, “that that was bad. And I said, ‘No, that’s not going to happen.’ So he left.”

The third night, Kurt phoned her, sobbing, and asked if she could come over. When Courtney arrived at the hotel, she found him shaking uncontrollably, having a breakdown. “I had to put him in the bath,” she remembered. “He was about to get famous, and it freaked him out. And he was really thin and skinny. And I had to sort of pick him up with my arms because he collapsed. He wasn’t on drugs. But he went back and pouted because I wouldn’t do heroin with him.” Courtney did heroin with him again that night. “I’m not saying it was his fault, but I am saying that there was a choice I made. I thought, ‘I’ll go back to this, I guess.’ ”

As Nirvana continued with the Nevermind tour, record sales increased exponentially. Each morning, as their tour progressed up the West Coast, they would hear a new report of the latest figures. The album had sold 100,000 copies by San Diego, 200,000 by L.A., and by the morning they hit Seattle, for a Halloween show, it had gone gold, selling half a million. Just over a month before, Kurt had been destroying Nelson gold records in a microwave—soon he would have one of his own.

But despite the attention and his mushrooming fame, that afternoon Kurt had other pressing concerns—he was out of socks. He and Carrie Montgomery walked from the theater to Bon Marché. In the department store, Kurt selected several pair of underwear (he was now buying boxers) and socks (white). When he brought his purchases to the counter, a scene worthy of a Samuel Beckett play unfolded: “He starts taking off his shoes and socks to get the rest of his money out,” recalled Carrie. “He’s got these crumpled bills in his shoe. He is literally dumping his shoe out on the counter in the Bon, and the salesperson is looking at him like he’s insane. In this crotchety, old, crusty way, he starts unfolding these bills, and it took him forever to count them out. He had to reach into another pocket to find more. There’s this big pile of lint on the counter next to his money. The salesman, in a suit, is looking at Kurt as if he were a homeless person.” Despite his gold record, Kurt was still homeless—staying in hotels or with friends like Carrie when the band wasn’t touring.

That evening’s show was a blur for Kurt: With a documentary crew filming, media attention, radio promo people, and his family and friends backstage, it seemed like everywhere he turned, someone was asking him for something. He had complicated matters by two of his own decisions: He invited Bikini Kill to open the show, so Tobi was around, plus he had convinced Ian Dickson and Nikki McClure to act as gogo dancers in full body suits—his said “girl,” and hers said “boy.” When the camera operators kept pushing Kurt’s dancers out of the way, he became frustrated and it showed in his performance. The Rocket review noted: “These guys are already rich and famous, but they still represent a pure distillation of what it’s like to be unsatisfied in life.”

After the show, Kurt looked shell-shocked. “He reminded me of a cat in a cage,” observed photographer Darrell Westmoreland. When Westmoreland posed Kurt with his sister Kim, Kurt yanked her hair at the moment the shutter snapped. “He was all pissed off and being a dick,” Kim recalled.

But the strangest moments of the day were reserved—as at the Beehive in-store—for a couple of ghosts Kurt couldn’t escape. Later in the evening, he hung out with Tobi, and she ended up sleeping on the floor of his hotel room. She wasn’t the only one in his room—like always, there were a half dozen friends who needed a place to crash— but it was no small irony that Tobi was sleeping on his floor the day he’d sold half a million copies of an album that was ostensibly about how she didn’t love him.

And after the show, Kurt ran into another familiar face from the harbor. There, standing by the stage door smoking pot with Matt Lukin, was Steve Shillinger, once one of Kurt’s closest friends and a member of the family that had given him shelter when he was sleeping in a cardboard box. Shillinger spoke the words that were now painfully obvious to Kurt no matter how much he wanted to deny them: “You’re really famous now, Cobain. You are on television, like, every three hours.”

“I didn’t really notice,” Kurt said, pausing for a moment to search for the classic “Cling-On” comeback that would disarm this condition of fame, as if words alone could halt something that was now unstoppable. “I don’t know about that,” Kurt replied, sounding very young. “I don’t have a TV in the car I live in.”

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