LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
JANUARY 1992–AUGUST 1992
There is a little monster inside your head that says, “you know you’ll feel better.”
—Kurt describing addiction to his sister, April 1992.
It was all those drawings of “flipper babies” he’d done over the years that made Kurt panic upon hearing the news of the pregnancy; that and knowing that they’d been using heroin during the period the child was conceived in early December. Kurt’s harshest critic was always his own inner voice, and this tainted pregnancy, his friends observed, caused him some of the most potent shame of his life. Through all the rottenness in his life—both internal and external—he’d held two things sacred: a pledge he would never turn into his parents and a vow that if he ever had children he’d offer them a better world than the one he grew up in. Yet, in early January 1992, Kurt couldn’t stop thinking of all the “flipper baby” drawings he’d done and wondering if he was being given one of his own as divine retribution.
Concurrently, even within Kurt’s despair, there was a hopefulness around the pregnancy. Kurt truly loved Courtney and thought they would have a child with many gifts, including above-average intelligence. He believed the affection he had for her was deeper than the love he witnessed between his own parents. And despite Kurt’s freak-out, Courtney seemed surprisingly calm, at least calm by Courtney standards. She told Kurt the baby was a God-given sign, and she was convinced it would not be born with flippers, no matter how many drawings of deformed fetuses Kurt had sketched in his youth. She said his nightmares were just fears, and that her dreams showed them having a healthy, beautiful child. She held these beliefs even as those around her suggested otherwise. One drug treatment doctor she consulted offered to “give her morphine” if she’d agree to an abortion. Courtney would have none of it, and sought another opinion.
She visited a Beverly Hills specialist in birth defects who said that heroin, when used in the first trimester of pregnancy, posed few risks for birth defects. “He told her if she followed a course of treatment and tapered off, there was no reason in the world she couldn’t have a healthy baby,” recalled her lawyer, Rosemary Carroll. With the “flipper baby” images fading from his head, Kurt joined Courtney in the conviction that the pregnancy was a blessing. If anything, the disapproving attitudes of others only strengthened Kurt’s resolve, just as it had done in his coupling with Courtney. “We knew it really wasn’t the best of times to have a child,” Kurt told Michael Azerrad, “but we were just determined to have one.”
They had rented a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles for $1,100 a month at 448 North Spaulding, between Melrose and Fairfax. It was a quiet neighborhood, and they were relatively isolated because neither could drive: Kurt had failed to pay some traffic tickets and had temporarily lost his license; Courtney had never learned to operate a car. It was the first time Kurt had lived outside of Washington state, and he found himself missing the rain.
But soon after moving in, they departed for the confines of a Holiday Inn. They had hired a drug doctor who specialized in quick detox therapy and he recommended they check into a motel—it would be messy, he had told them. And it was. Though later Kurt tried to downplay this withdrawal, claiming he “slept for three days,” others painted a far darker picture of the detox, which entailed hours of vomiting, fever, diarrhea, chills, and all the symptoms that one would associate with the worst influenza. They survived by copiously using sleeping pills and methadone.
Though both were detoxing for the sake of the baby, Kurt had to leave in two weeks for a tour of the Far East. “[I] found myself realizing that I wouldn’t be able to get drugs when we got to Japan and Australia,” he wrote in his journal. In the middle of his detox, Kurt had to film a video for “Come As You Are.” He insisted all shots of his face appear obscured or distorted.
Before leaving for the tour, Kurt called his mother to tell her the news of the pregnancy. His sister Kim answered the phone. “We’re having a baby,” he declared. “I better give you to Mom,” Kim replied. When Wendy heard the news, she announced: “Kurt, you can’t shock me anymore.”
The first few concerts in Australia went smoothly, but within a week Kurt was suffering from stomach pain, forcing the cancellation of dates. He went to the emergency room one night, but walked out after overhearing a nurse say, “He’s just a junkie.” As he wrote in his journal, “the pain left me immobile, doubled-up on the bathroom floor, vomiting water and blood. I was literally starving to death. My weight was down to about 100 pounds.” Desperate for a solution, he went to an Australian doctor who specialized in rock bands. On the office wall, proudly displayed, was a photograph of the physician with Keith Richards. “I was taken to a doctor at the advice of my management, who gave me Physeptone,” Kurt wrote in his journal. “The pills seemed to work better than anything else I’ve tried.” But a few weeks later, after the tour hit Japan, Kurt noticed the label on the bottle: “It read: ‘Physeptone—contains methadone.’ Hooked again. We survived Japan, but by that time opiates and touring had started to take their toll on my body and I wasn’t in much better health than I was off of drugs.”
Despite his physical and emotional struggles, Kurt adored Japan, sharing the nation’s obsession with kitsch. “He was in a completely foreign country, and he was fascinated with the culture,” recalled Virgin Publishing’s Kaz Utsunomiya, who was on the tour. “He loved cartoons and ‘Hello Kitty.’ ” Kurt didn’t understand why Japanese fans gave him presents, but announced he would accept only “Hello Kitty” gifts. The next day, he was deluged with trinkets. Before a gig outside Tokyo, Utsunomiya had to help Kurt buy new pajamas. When Kurt told the salesman he wanted the pajamas to wear onstage, the staid clerk looked at the singer like he was truly insane.
In Osaka, on a rare night off, Nirvana reunited with one of their favorite touring partners, Shonen Knife, a pop group made up of three Japanese women. They gave Kurt gifts of toy swords, a new motorized Chim-Chim monkey, and took him to dinner at a bratwurst restaurant he had selected. He was disappointed to learn Shonen Knife had a gig the next night, as did Nirvana. Uncharacteristically, Kurt ended the Nirvana set early and announced from the stage he was planning to go see Shonen Knife. Leaving the venue, his cab was mobbed by Japanese girls grasping at the car, just wanting to touch it. At the Shonen Knife show, things were just as surreal, because as the only blond, blue-eyed boy there, he was easy to spot. “He was still wearing his pajamas,” remembered Shonen Knife’s Naoko Yamano.
Courtney had rejoined the tour in Japan, and they spent Kurt’s 25th birthday flying to Honolulu for two scheduled shows. On the plane they decided to get married in Hawaii. They had fantasized about a Valentine’s Day wedding, but didn’t finish their prenuptial agreement in time. Kurt had suggested a pre-nup after strong lobbying from manager John Silva, who never liked Courtney. The pre-nup was mostly to cover future earnings, because at the time of their marriage they were still “fuck poor,” as Courtney described it. When Kurt filed his 1991 taxes, owing to the arcane way the music industry pays royalties so late and the huge percentage taken by managers and lawyers, his gross income was just $29,541. He had deductions of $2,541, giving him a taxable income of $27,000 during a year he played before hundreds of thousands of fans and sold almost two million records.
Courtney was negotiating her own record deal with DGC, which gave Hole an advance of a million dollars and a royalty rate considerably higher than Nirvana’s, a matter of great pride to her. She still had reservations about how she might not be perceived as an artist in her own right married to someone as famous as Kurt. In Japan, she had jotted her melancholia in her journal: “My fame. Ha ha. It’s a weapon, kiss my ass, just like morning sickness.... Could it just be the commercial effect of too many sales and a semi-freak accident, semi-meant to be, but I’m starting to think I can’t sing, can’t write, that esteem is at an all-time low, and it isn’t his fault. God, how could it be.... Don’t you dare dismiss me just because I married a ROCKSTAR.”
They were married on Waikiki Beach at sunset on Monday, February 24, 1992. The ceremony was conducted by a non-denominational minister found through the wedding bureau. Kurt had done heroin before the wedding, though he told Azerrad he “wasn’t very high. I just did a little teeny bit so I didn’t get sick.” Courtney wore an antique silk dress that had once belonged to actress Frances Farmer. Kurt wore blue-plaid pajamas and a woven Guatemalan purse. With his gauntness and bizarre clothing, he looked more like a chemotherapy patient than a traditional groom. Yet the wedding was not without meaning to him, and he cried during the short ceremony.
Since the wedding was hastily arranged, most of the eight guests were from the band’s crew. Kurt had Dylan Carlson fly in to serve as best man, though this was partially precipitated by Kurt wanting Dylan to bring heroin. Dylan had not yet met Courtney, and his first encounter with her was the day before the wedding. He liked Courtney and she liked him, though neither would be able to get over a belief that the other party was a negative influence on Kurt. “In some ways, she was very good for him,” Dylan recalled, “and in other ways, she was terrible.” Dylan brought his girlfriend, and the two were the only attendees not on the Nirvana payroll.
But of more significance were those missing: Kurt hadn’t invited his family (nor had Courtney), and Krist and Shelli were noticeably absent. The morning of the wedding, Kurt had banned Shelli and a few crew members because he felt they were gossiping about Courtney—the effect of this edict was to also uninvite Krist. “Kurt was changing,” recalled Shelli. That month, Kurt had told Krist, “I don’t want to even see Shelli, because when I look at her, I feel bad about what I’m doing.” Shelli’s analysis of this: “I think looking at me was like looking at his conscience.”
Shelli and Krist left Hawaii the next day, assuming the band was broken up. “We thought it was over,” recalled Shelli. Krist was just saddened and felt shunned by his old friend: “Kurt was in his own world at that point. After that, I was pretty estranged with him. It was never the same. We talked about the direction of the band somewhat, but there really was no direction of the band after that.” It would be four months before Nirvana would perform again in public, and almost two months before Krist and Kurt would see each other.
Kurt and Courtney honeymooned in Hawaii, but the sunny island was not Kurt’s idea of paradise. They returned to Los Angeles, where his drug habit was easier fed. Kurt later downplayed his increasing abuse as “a lot less turbulent than everyone thinks.” He told Azerrad he decided to continue being an addict because he felt “if I quit then, I’d end up doing it again for at least the next couple of years all the time. I figured I’d just burn myself out of it because I hadn’t experienced the full junkie feeling yet. I was still healthy.” His chemical and psychological dependency were so great at this stage, his comments were an attempt to minimize what had become a debilitating addiction. His own description of himself in his journal was anything but healthy, at least as he imagined others saw him: “I’m thought of as an emaciated, yellow-skinned, zombie-like, evil, drug-fiend, junky, lost cause, on the brink of death, self-destructive, selfish pig, a loser who shoots up in the backstage area just seconds before a performance.” This was what he imagined people thought of him; his own self-talk was even darker, summed up by a line that would repeatedly show up in his writings: “I hate myself and I want to die.” By early 1992, he had already decided this would be the title of his next album.
Heroin became, in many ways, the hobby he’d never had as a child: He methodically organized his “works” box the way a small boy might shuffle his baseball card collection. In this sacred box he stored his syringe, a cooker to melt the drugs (West Coast heroin had the consistency of roofing tar and needed to be cooked), and spoons and cotton balls used in preparing the heroin for injecting. A seamy underworld of dealers and daily deliveries became commonplace.
In the spring of 1992 he did virtually nothing involving the band, and refused to schedule future shows. The band was offered outrageous sums to do a headlining arena tour—Nevermind was still near the top of the charts—but Kurt turned down all overtures. Though Courtney had kicked drugs during their January detox, with Kurt buying heroin daily and filling their apartment with the smell of it cooking, she found herself falling down a slippery slope again. The combination of their weaknesses helped pull each into a spiral of abuse, and their mutual emotional dependence made breaking that cycle nearly impossible. “With Kurt and Courtney, it was like they were two characters in a play, and they’d simply switch parts,” observed Jennifer Finch. “When one would get sober and better, the other would slip. But Courtney could control herself more than Kurt. With him, it was this train wreck that was going down and everyone knew it, and everyone just wanted to get out of the way.”
In early March, Hole’s Carolyn Rue visited their apartment to get high. When Rue asked for an extra syringe, Kurt replied, “We broke them all.” In an effort to control their addictions, Courtney would frequently destroy every syringe in the apartment, which only had the effect of forcing Kurt to buy new ones when he bought his daily heroin. Even to Rue, who had her own struggles, Kurt’s addiction seemed full-throttle. “Kurt talked about taking drugs like it was so fucking natural,” she recalled. “But it wasn’t.” Even within the confines of drug culture, Kurt’s level of use seemed abhorrent.
The prospect of the baby gave Kurt a small beacon of hope in what had become an increasingly bleak existence. To ensure the fetus was properly developing, they’d gotten several sonograms, pictures of the baby in the womb. When Kurt saw them he was visibly shaken, and wept with relief that the child was developing normally. Kurt took one of the sonograms and used it as the centerpiece of a painting he began working on. When a second test produced an ultrasound video of the fetus, he asked for a copy and watched it obsessively on his VCR. “Kurt kept saying, ‘look at that little bean,’ ” recalled Jennifer Finch. “That’s what they were calling her, ‘the bean.’ He would point out her hand. He knew every single feature of that graphic image.” Early in the pregnancy, after determining the child’s gender, they had selected a name: Frances Bean Cobain. Her middle name was their nickname, while her first name came from Frances McKee of the Vaselines, or so Kurt would later tell reporters. Her sonogram photo later was reproduced on the sleeve of the “Lithium” single.
By March concern over Kurt’s increasing dependence on drugs and its effect on Courtney pushed his managers to attempt their first formal intervention. They brought in Bob Timmins, an addiction specialist whose reputation was built on working with rock stars. Courtney recalled Timmins being so starstruck by Kurt he paid little attention to her. “He literally ignored me, and was drooling over Kurt,” she said. Timmins suggested Kurt consider an inpatient chemical dependency program. “My advice was taken,” Timmins said. “Why I recommended that particular one was because it happened to be Cedars-Sinai Hospital, and I felt that some medical issues presented themselves in my evaluation. It wasn’t just a simple ‘go to treatment, get clean and go to meetings.’ There were a lot of medical issues going on.”
Initially, Kurt’s stay at Cedars-Sinai helped considerably, and soon he appeared sober and healthy. But though he agreed to continue on methadone—a drug that stops withdrawal without producing a high— he ended treatment early and balked at 12-Step meetings. “He definitely wasn’t a joiner,” observed Timmins. “That part of his personality probably got in the way of the recovery process.”
In April Kurt and Courtney traveled to Seattle, where they shopped for a house. They appeared one evening in Orpheum Records and caused a scene when they seized all the Nirvana bootlegs in the store. Courtney rightly claimed that the CDs were illegal, but the clerk protested that he’d be fired if the owner found the CDs were missing. Ironically, Kurt had come in the store searching for a CD by the band Negativland that itself had been ruled a bootleg after a lawsuit. The clerk asked if they could write a note to his boss, so Courtney wrote: “I need for you not to make money off my husband so I can feed my children. Love, Mrs. Cobain.” Kurt added: “Macaroni and cheese for all.” The note was so odd, the worried clerk asked Kurt, “If I lose my job can I work for you?” The next day the store received a phone call from a man who asked, “Is that guy with the long hair who was working there last night still employed?”
While the couple were in Seattle, the Fradenburgs threw a combo wedding reception/baby shower for them. It would be the first time many of Kurt’s uncles and aunts would get a chance to meet Courtney, but several left before she arrived: The party had been scheduled for 2 p.m., but the guests of honor didn’t show until seven. Courtney told Kurt’s relatives they might purchase a Victorian mansion in Grays Harbor. “Then we can be the king and queen of Aberdeen,” she joked.
Marriage seemed initially to mellow both Kurt and Courtney. When they were away from the spotlight, and away from drugs, their relationship had many moments of tenderness. Stripped of their fame, they both turned back into the scared lost children they’d been prior to being discovered. Each night before bed they would pray together. Once in bed, they would read each other books. Kurt said he loved to go to sleep listening to the sound of Courtney’s voice—it was a comfort he had missed for much of his life.
That month, Courtney returned to Los Angeles for Hole business; Kurt stayed in Seattle and even did a short one-day recording session with Nirvana, at Barrett Jones’s home studio. They cut “Oh, the Guilt,” “Curmudgeon,” and “Return of the Rat,” the final song slated for a tribute album for the Portland band the Wipers. The day after the session, Kurt drove his Valiant to Aberdeen for his first visit to Grays Harbor in months.
Two days later Kurt drove back to Seattle to retrieve his sister and bring her to Aberdeen. He had a subtext to this long day of travel, a six-hour round trip, which he did not announce to Kim until the car drove past “Think of Me Hill” just minutes from Wendy’s home. “You know your best friend Cindy?” he asked. “She told Mom you and Jennifer were having an affair.”
“It’s not an affair,” Kim answered. “We’re girlfriends. I’m gay.” Kurt knew this, or at least suspected it, but his mother had not. “Mom’s kind of flipped out right now,” he told his sister. Kurt told Kim to pretend as if their mother didn’t know. Kurt, like Wendy, preferred a nonconfrontational style—Kim, however, told her brother she would do no such thing.
As they drove into Aberdeen, Kurt decided they needed to confer before walking into the house. He drove to Sam Benn Park, where they sat on a swing, and he decided to use this moment to drop his own bombshell. “I know you’ve tried pot, and you’ve probably done acid and cocaine,” he told her. “I’ve never touched cocaine,” Kim argued. “Well, you will,” her brother replied. Their conversation devolved into a debate about whether Kim, just two weeks away from turning 22, would end up using cocaine. “Well, you willuse cocaine,” Kurt insisted. “But if you ever touch heroin, I’ll go get a gun, and I’ll come find you, and I’ll kill you.” It did not sound like he was joking. “You don’t have to worry about that,” Kim told him. “I’d never stick a needle in my arm. I’d never do that.” Kim realized that in the way Kurt had constructed the warning, he’d been broadcasting a message about himself.
After the kind of long silence only natural among siblings, Kurt finally announced, “I’ve been clean about eight months.” He didn’t specify what he’d been clean from, but Kim had heard the rumors just like everyone else. She also suspected he was lying about having eight months clean-time—it was actually less than a month, and he was still on a daily dose of methadone.
“I don’t know much about heroin,” she told her brother. Kurt sighed and it was as if a door had opened, and the brother Kim had always loved came through and revealed himself to her once more. He didn’t hide behind his constructed self or lies or fame as he told her about the pain he felt trying to kick heroin. He described it as similar to cigarette smoking, where each progressive attempt at quitting becomes harder and harder. “The more you do it,” he explained, “and the more you quit, the harder it gets to quit on the third, and the fourth time, and the fifth, and the sixth time. There is a little monster inside your head that says, ‘You know you’ll feel better, and you know I’ll feel better.’ It’s like I have another person in my head who is telling me that everything will be okay if I just go and do a little.”
Kim was speechless. She knew from his mentioning how hard it was to quit the “fifth” or “sixth” time that he was far more gone than she had supposed. “Don’t ever worry about me, Kurt, because I’m never touching that shit,” she said. “I’ll never get near it. You’ve been clean for eight months—that’s great. Please continue.” She was running out of words, and reeling from the shock of “finding out your brother is a junkie,” as she remembered it. Despite the rumors, Kim had a difficult time accepting that her brother, who had grown up with her and suffered many of the same indignities, was an addict.
Kurt moved the topic back to Kim’s sexuality and the prejudice he knew she would encounter on the harbor. He tried to talk her out of being a lesbian. “Don’t totally give up on men,” he urged. “I know they’re assholes. I would never date a guy. They’re dicks.” Kim found this hilarious, since despite keeping her secret from her family, she had always known she was gay, and felt little shame. Even with all the “Homo sex rules” graffiti Kurt had spray-painted around Aberdeen, he struggled to accept that his sister was gay. As the conversation wound down and they headed toward home, he gave her a long brotherly embrace and pledged he’d love her forever.
On April 16, 1992, Nirvana made their first appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone. Though the piece was ostensibly about the band, even the headline—“Inside the Heart and Mind of Kurt Cobain”—was evidence everything Nirvana did was focused on Kurt. For the cover photo he wore a T-shirt reading “Corporate Magazines Still Suck.” The fact that the story came together at all was a testament to how hard Kurt’s managers had worked to convince him that corporate magazines didn’t suck. He had rejected Rolling Stone’s interview requests in 1991, and in early 1992 he wrote the magazine a letter: “At this point in our, uh, career, before hair loss treatment and bad credit, I’ve decided I have no desire to do an interview....We wouldn’t benefit from an interview because the average Rolling Stone reader is a middle-aged ex-hippie turned hippiecrite, who embraces the past as ‘the glory days’ and has a kinder, gentler, more adult approach towards the new liberal conservatism. The average Rolling Stone reader has always gathered moss.” He didn’t mail the letter, and a couple of weeks after writing it, he was sitting down with the magazine’s Michael Azerrad, talking once again about how he wanted a tie-dyed T-shirt made from the blood of Jerry Garcia.
He initially had given Azerrad an icy reception, but when Kurt started reciting tales of getting beaten up in high school, Azerrad stood and displayed his five-foot six frame and joked, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” They bonded after that, and Kurt answered Azerrad’s questions, managing to get in print many of his major life revisions, including that “Something in the Way” was about the time he lived under a bridge. When asked about heroin, Kurt replied: “I don’t even drink anymore because it destroys my stomach. My body wouldn’t allow me to take drugs if I wanted to, because I’m so weak all the time. Drugs are a waste of time. They destroy your memory and your self-respect and everything that goes along with your self-esteem. They’re no good at all.” As he spoke, sitting in the living room of the Spaulding apartment, his beloved “works box” sat like a bejeweled family heir-loom in the closet.
Though the Rolling Stone article downplayed tensions within the band, between the time of the interview and its publication, Nirvana had temporarily ceased to exist. When the band signed their original publishing deal, Kurt had agreed to evenly split songwriting royalties with Novoselic and Grohl. This was generous, but at the time no one imagined the record would sell millions. With the phenomenal success of Nevermind, Kurt insisted these percentages be shifted to give him the bulk of the revenue—he proposed a 75/25 split on the music, with him getting 100 percent of the lyrics—and he wanted the agreement to be retroactive. “I think once Nevermind was playing itself out, Kurt began to realize that [publishing contracts] weren’t just theoretical documents; that this was real money,” observed attorney Alan Mintz. “The publishing splits meant lifestyle issues.”
Krist and Dave felt betrayed that Kurt wanted the new deal to be retroactive, but they eventually agreed, thinking the other option was dissolving the band. Kurt had resolutely told Rosemary Carroll—now simultaneously serving as lawyer for Kurt, Courtney, and Nirvana—he would break up the band if he didn’t get his way. Though Grohl and Novoselic blamed Courtney, Carroll remembered Kurt being unmovable on the issue. “His focus was laser-like,” she observed. “He was very clear and very persistent, and knew to the penny what he was talking about. He knew what he was worth, and he knew he deserved all the money, [since] he wrote all the lyrics and the music.” Ultimately, the percentages didn’t leave as deep a hurt as the manner in which Kurt chose to handle it: As with most conflicts, he avoided the issue until he was in a rage. Several of the band’s crew members were shocked to hear Kurt talking badly about Krist, who had been one of the greatest anchors in his life.
By May Kurt was back on heroin again, having managed to stay sober for less than six weeks. His addiction was common knowledge in rock circles, and eventually rumors made their way to the Los Angeles Times. On May 17, in an article headlined “Why is Nirvana missing from a heavenly tour season?” Steve Hochman wrote “[Nirvana’s] low profile has renewed public speculation that singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain has a heroin problem.” Gold Mountain dismissed the rumors, issuing what would become the standard denial, blaming the band’s absence on Kurt’s “stomach problems.”
Kurt’s old friend Jesse Reed visited that month, and on the day Jesse was there, Kurt had to shoot up twice. Both times he went into the bathroom so as not to use in front of his oldest friend or Courtney, who was suffering from morning sickness and didn’t want to witness Kurt getting high. But Kurt wasn’t shy about discussing his habit with Jesse, and they spent most of the day waiting around for a new supply of heroin to be delivered. Kurt was clearly over the fear of needles Jesse remembered from their youth—Kurt even begged his old friend to find him some illegal injectable steroids.
Jesse found the apartment not that differently furnished from the pink apartment back in Aberdeen—there was graffiti on the walls, the furniture was cheap, and, in general, “it was a shit-hole.” But one aspect of the domicile did impress Jesse: Kurt had begun to paint again, and the living room was filled with his work. “He had 100 square feet of canvas,” Jesse recalled. “He was talking of quitting music and opening his own gallery.” The art Kurt painted in 1992 showed dramatic growth. One painting was a 24-by-36-inch canvas of bright orange with a brown dog tooth hanging from a string in the middle. Another featured crimson blotches with pressed flowers in the center of the paint smears. Yet another showed blood-red crosses with ghostly white alien images behind them. One giant canvas featured an alien hanging like a marionette with a tiny nub of an exposed penis; a small cat was in a corner looking at the viewer, and in another corner Kurt had lettered: “rectal abscesses, conjunctivitis, spinabifida.”
Kurt’s royalty checks had finally started to come in, and money for canvas and paint was no longer a problem. He told Jesse he was doing $400 worth of heroin a day, an extravagant amount that would have killed most users; part of the reason for that figure was that most dealers overcharged Kurt, knowing he could pay. Jesse detected that when Kurt fixed, there was little impairment to his motor functions: “He didn’t nod off. There was no change.”
Jesse and Kurt spent most of the afternoon watching a videotape of a man shooting himself in the head. “He had this video of a senator,” Jesse recalled, “blowing his brains out on TV. This guy takes a .357 magnum from a manila envelope, and blows his brains out. It was pretty graphic. Kurt got it at some snuff shop.” The video was actually the suicide of R. Budd Dwyer, a Pennsylvania state official who, upon being convicted of bribery in January 1987, called a press conference, thanked his wife and children, handed an envelope to his staff containing his suicide note, and told the reporters, “Some who have called have said that I am a modern-day Job.” With the cameras filming, Dwyer inserted a gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger—it took off the back of his head and instantly killed him. Bootlegged copies of the live television coverage had circulated after Dwyer’s death, and Kurt had purchased one. He watched the suicide obsessively during 1992 and 1993—almost as often as he watched the ultrasound of his daughter in the womb.
After Kurt’s heroin delivery arrived, Jesse accompanied Kurt on some errands. One stop was Circuit City, where Kurt dropped almost $10,000 buying the latest video equipment. Jesse left that night to return to San Diego, and gave the frail Kurt a hug as he parted. They continued to stay in touch over the phone, but though neither knew it at the time, it would be the last time the two old friends would see each other.
In June, Nirvana began a ten-date European tour to make up for cancelled 1991 shows. By the first date in Dublin, Kurt was already complaining of stomach pain and was rushed to the hospital. There he claimed the pain was caused by failing to take his methadone pills; during other incidents he would claim methadone caused some of his stomach pain. This being the first concert on the tour, it was well attended by journalists who had interviews scheduled with Kurt: When they were told he was “unavailable,” they smelled a story. The band’s U.K. publicist, Anton Brookes, found himself almost comically trying to shuffle reporters out of the lobby without anyone seeing Kurt leaving the hotel on a stretcher. When one reporter declared, “I just saw Kurt in an ambulance,” Cobain’s health problems were suddenly hard to deny. “I remember getting back to the office, and CNN had been on the phone,” Brookes recalled. “I’d say, ‘He had stomach problems. If it was heroin, I’d tell you. He’s on medication.’ ” To outwit persistent reporters Brookes would display Kurt’s prescription bottles. After an hour in the hospital, Kurt improved and went on to play the next day’s show without incident. But management had hired two guards to follow Kurt—and he immediately gave them the slip.
Before a show in Spain, the band did an interview with Keith Cameron for the NME. Cameron’s article mentioned the drug rumors and questioned whether it was possible for Nirvana to go “from nobodies to superstars to fuck-ups in the space of six months.” It was their most damning press yet, and seemed to encourage other U.K. writers to include allegations of heroin abuse in their pieces, a topic previously considered taboo. But despite Cameron’s description of Kurt as “ghoulish,” the photos accompanying the article found him looking boyish, with bleached short hair, and sporting thick Buddy Holly–style glasses. He didn’t need the glasses but thought they made him look intelligent; he also wore a similar pair in the “In Bloom” video. When his aunt told him the spectacles made him look like his father, Kurt never wore them again.
On July 3, still in Spain, Courtney began to have contractions though her due date wasn’t until the first week of September. They rushed her to a Spanish hospital, where Kurt was unable to find a doctor who could speak English well enough to comprehend him. Finally, by phone they reached Courtney’s physician, who recommended they take the next plane home. They did, and Nirvana cancelled two dates in Spain for the second time.
When they arrived in California, doctors assured them everything was fine with the pregnancy, but nonetheless they returned to catastrophe: Their bathroom had flooded. Kurt had stored guitars and journals in the bathtub, and they were ruined. Disheartened, he and Courtney decided to move immediately, even though she was eight months pregnant; there were also heroin dealers knocking on their door at all hours, a temptation Kurt found hard to resist. Kurt marched down to Gold Mountain’s office to insist Silva find them a new place to live. Despite his increasing wealth, Kurt hadn’t yet been able to establish credit, and he left all his financial matters to his managers.
Silva helped them locate a house, and they moved in late July, leaving all their trash in the Spaulding apartment and the word “patricide” written on the wall above the fireplace. Their new home, at 6881 Alta Loma Terrace, was something straight out of a movie; it had been used as a location for several films including Dead Again, and Robert Altman’s version of The Long Goodbye. It sat on a small bluff in the hills of North Hollywood, overlooking the Hollywood Bowl. The only way to reach the bluff, which had ten apartments and four houses, was by a shared Gothic-looking elevator. The Cobains rented their house for $1,500 a month. “It was yucky in a lot of ways,” remembered Courtney, “but it was okay. It wasn’t an apartment, anyway.”
Distraught over his increasing stomach pain, Kurt contemplated suicide. “I instantly regained that familiar burning nausea and decided to kill myself or stop the pain,” he wrote in his journal. “I bought a gun, but chose drugs instead.” He abandoned methadone and went right back to heroin. When even drugs didn’t seem to relieve him of the pain, he eventually decided to try treatment again, after lobbying by Courtney and his managers. On August 4 he checked into the drug rehabilitation unit of Cedars-Sinai hospital for his third rehab. He had begun using a new physician—he saw a dozen different chemical dependency specialists during 1992—and had agreed to a 60-day intensive detox program. It was two months of “starvation and vomiting. Hooked to an IV and moaning out loud with the worst stomach pain I have ever experienced.” Three days after Kurt’s admission, Courtney checked into a different wing of the same hospital under an assumed name. According to her medical records, which were leaked to the Los Angeles Times, she was being given prenatal vitamins and methadone. Courtney was suffering from both a complicated pregnancy and emotional exhaustion: Earlier that week she had received a fax of a profile of her, set to appear in the next month’s issue of Vanity Fair.