Chapter 18

ROSEWATER, DIAPER SMELL

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA


AUGUST 1992–SEPTEMBER 1992

Rosewater, diaper smell. . . . Hey, girlfriend, detox. I’m in my Kraut box, held up here in my ink penitentiary.

—From a 1992 letter to Courtney.

Frances Bean Cobain was born at 7:48 a.m. on August 18, 1992, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. When the doctor announced she appeared to be in excellent health at seven pounds and one ounce, an audible sigh of relief could be heard from both mother and father. Not only was Frances healthy, she was also cute, being born with her father’s blue eyes. She cried upon birth and responded like a normal baby.

But Frances’s birth story and the events that unfolded that week were anything but normal. Courtney had been in the hospital for ten days of bedrest, but her fame had drawn tabloid reporters who had to be shooed off. Even though she’d been ordered to stay in bed, once her contractions began, at four in the morning, she managed to pull herself up, grab the IV-stand she was connected to, and walk through the halls of the huge medical facility until she found Kurt in the chemical dependency wing. His rehab had not been going well; he found himself unable to keep food down and spent most of his time sleeping or vomiting. When Courtney arrived at his room, she pulled the covers off his face and yelled, “You get out of this bed and you come down now! You are not leaving me to do this by myself. Fuck you!”

Kurt sheepishly followed her to the labor and delivery wing, but he wasn’t much assistance. He was in such fragile health—at 105 pounds and still hooked up to an IV—he was unable to inhale deeply enough to serve as a breathing coach. Courtney found herself turning her focus away from her contractions and caring for her ailing husband: “I’m having the baby, it’s coming out, he’s puking, he’s passing out, and I’m holding his hand and rubbing his stomach while the baby’s coming out of me,” she told Azerrad. Kurt fainted moments before Frances’s head crowned, and he missed her passing through the birth canal. But once the baby was out, suctioned off, and cleaned up, he held her. It was a moment he described as both one of the happiest of his life and the most fearful. “I was so fucking scared,” he told Azerrad. As Kurt inspected her more thoroughly and saw that she had all her fingers and was not a “flipper baby,” some of that fear subsided.

Yet even the sweeping joy of holding his newborn couldn’t pull Kurt out of the increasing hysteria set off by the Vanity Fair article. The next day, in a scene that could have been written for a Sam Shepard play, Kurt escaped the hospital’s detox unit, bought heroin, got high, and then returned with a loaded .38 pistol. He went to Courtney’s room, where he reminded her of a vow the two had made—if it appeared they would lose their baby for any reason, they would kill themselves in a double suicide. Both feared Frances would be taken from them, and Kurt feared he’d be unable to kick heroin. He had pledged not to live with such a fate. Courtney was distraught over the magazine article, but not suicidal. She tried reasoning with Kurt, but he was mad with fear. “I’ll go first,” she finally told him as a ploy and he handed her the pistol. “I held this thing in my hand,” she recalled in a 1994 interview with David Fricke, “and I felt that thing that they said in Schindler’s List: I’m never going to know what happens to me. And what about Frances? Sort of rude. ‘Oh, your parents died the day after you were born.’ ” Courtney gave the gun to Hole’s Eric Erlandson, who was the one friend they could count on no matter how sordid things became, and he disposed of it.

But Kurt’s feelings of despair didn’t go away; they only increased. The next day he snuck a drug dealer into Cedars-Sinai, and in a room off the labor and delivery wing, he overdosed. “He almost died,” Love told Fricke. “The dealer said she’d never seen someone so dead. I said, ‘Why don’t you go get a nurse? There’s nurses all over the place.’ ” A nurse was found and Kurt was revived, beating death yet another time.

But he couldn’t escape the September issue of Vanity Fair, which hit the streets that week. Written by Lynn Hirschberg, the article was headlined “Strange Love: Are Courtney Love, lead diva of the postpunk band Hole, and her husband, Nirvana heartthrob Kurt Cobain, the grunge John and Yoko? Or the next Sid and Nancy?” It was a damning portrait, calling Love a “train-wreck personality,” and painting her marriage to Kurt as nothing more than a career move. But the deepest wounds came from several anonymous quotes, obviously from a person close to the couple, which raised concerns about the health of Frances and their drug problems during the pregnancy. The allegations were bad enough; Kurt and Courtney felt doubly betrayed that someone in their organization would slander them in a public forum.

Worse yet, the article was treated as news by other media outlets, including MTV. Kurt told Courtney he felt deceived that the network would make him famous, only to destroy him. That week he sat down and wrote a letter to MTV attacking Hirschberg and the network:

Dear Empty TV, the entity of all corporate Gods: How fucking dare you embrace such trash journalism from an overweight, unpopular-in-high-school cow who severely needs her karma broken. My life’s dedication is now to do nothing but slag MTV and Lynn Hirschberg, who by the way is in cahoots with her lover Kurt Loder (Gin Blossom–drunk). We will survive without you. Easily. The old school is going down fast.

—Kurdt Kobain, professional rock musician. Fuck face.

For her part, Courtney was still reeling from the fact that she had so wrongly read Hirschberg. Most of the issues the article raised had already been brought up in other stories, but it was the tone of the piece that felt like class warfare. In 1998, Courtney posted the following reflection on America Online:

I had NO fucking clue how a “boomer mentality” like Vanity Fair/ Hirschberg would receive me and my family. I was sheltered from the mainstream in every possible way my entire life: Feminism, punk rock, and subcultural living did not enable me to have a value system that understood mainstream thought or that understood how us “dirty punks” had no rights to the American dream; that, plus I thought it would be neat to get famous; I had NO IDEA about the archetype I would get slammed into....But the fact remains that most of that article was unsaid and untrue.

The attention moved Kurt and Courtney out of the rock magazines and into the newspapers in the U.S., where the court of public opinion was quick to damn any parent considered unfit. The Globe tabloid ran a story headlined “Rock Star’s Baby is Born a Junkie,” complete with a picture of a deformed newborn they deceptively implied was Frances. Though Courtney wasn’t the first mother with drug problems to have a child, she was soon the most public, and “the Cobain baby” was as talked about across lunch counters and supermarket checkout lines as the Lindbergh baby had been decades before. Axl Rose, of Guns N’ Roses, even weighed in from the stage: “Kurt Cobain is a fucking junkie with a junkie wife. And if the baby’s born deformed, I think they both ought to go to prison.”

Two days after Frances’s birth, the couple’s worst fears were realized, when a social worker from the Los Angeles County Department of Children’s Services appeared in the hospital, holding a copy of Vanity Fair. Courtney was crestfallen, and felt—more than at any other moment in her life—she was being judged, which she was. Kurt had spent most of his life feeling judged, but this time it was his skills as a parent being evaluated and his drug addiction. The conversation between the social worker and Love immediately became testy. “Within five minutes of meeting this woman,” Rosemary Carroll remembered, “Courtney created an atmosphere wherein the woman wanted to bring her down and hurt her. And unfortunately the ammunition was there.” The county petitioned to take Frances away and to have Kurt and Courtney declared unfit parents, based almost entirely on the Vanity Fair article. As a result of the county’s actions, Courtney wasn’t even allowed to take Frances home when she left the hospital three days after the birth. Instead, Frances had to stay for observation—despite the fact that she was healthy—and only left a few days later in the care of a nanny, as the court would not release her to Kurt and Courtney.

On August 24, 1992, six days after Frances’s birth, the first court hearing was held. Though they hoped to retain custody of Frances as a couple, Kurt and Courtney were prepared for the possibility the court might put restrictions on one parent, and therefore had separate lawyers. “This is done strategically,” recalled Neal Hersh, Kurt’s attorney, “so if there is a divergence of interests or issues, you can separate the parents and make sure the child stays with family.” As it was, the judge ruled Kurt and Courtney would not be allowed to see their own child without the supervision of the court-appointed guardian. Kurt was ordered to undergo 30 days of drug treatment, and both parents were required to give random urine tests. Kurt had been clean for several days, yet he told Courtney he felt the ruling had broken his heart in two. “It was horrible,” recalled Carroll. “That child was very wanted. Courtney had gone through a whole lot to have that child. Almost everyone she knew and trusted had told her not to have that child with varying degrees of intensity, obviously excluding Kurt. She’d gone through physical pain, much more than a regular pregnancy, because of the struggles to withdraw and stay healthy, at a time when nothing around her was healthy. To go through that and have the baby, and then have the baby taken away from you....” Hersh recalled, observing Kurt with Frances, “You should have seen him with that kid. He just could sit and stare at her for hours. He was as adoring as any father would be.”

They had already planned on having a nanny; soon they developed a complex plan to put Frances into the temporary care of nannies and relatives, as required by the judge. This presented another problem: What relative? Both Kurt and Courtney had so many issues with their own families, they weren’t willing to trust Frances to their respective parents. Eventually the idea of Courtney’s half-sister Jamie Rodriguez came up. “There was no issue that they were not going to take good care of this child,” observed Carroll. “That was not an issue. The only issue was drugs. It was this insane American puritanical ‘war-on-drugs’ mentality. The assumption is that you can’t be an addict and be a good parent.”

After considerable finagling, Jamie was flown in to satisfy the letter of the court decree. “She barely knew Courtney,” recalled Danny Goldberg, “and she couldn’t stand her. So we had to kind of bribe her to pretend she gave a shit. We rented her a place right next to Kurt and Courtney, so officially she had custody for a few months, while the legal system decided it was okay for them to raise their own kid. I was frequently the one who Jamie would come to, to write another check.”

Jackie Farry, a friend of Gold Mountain’s Janet Billig, was hired as nanny and for the next eight months she would have the primary responsibility of parenting Frances. Though Farry had no previous nanny experience—and had never even held a baby before—she took the job seriously and attempted to give Frances consistent care in a situation of high drama. “It was crucial, because of what [Kurt and Courtney] were going through in their lives, that somebody always be there to take care of Frances,” Farry recalled. Jackie, Jamie, and Frances all moved to the Oakwood—the same apartment complex where Kurt stayed during the making of Nevermind—while Kurt continued in rehab, and Courtney returned to the Alta Loma house without her child.

Two days after the court hearing, Kurt flew to England. New baby, drug rehab, Vanity Fair article, and court hearings aside, he was needed onstage.

Not only did Nirvana headline the 1992 Reading Festival, Kurt essentially programmed the line-up, which included the Melvins, Screaming Trees, L7, Mudhoney, Eugenius, and Bjorn Again, an Abba-cover band Kurt adored. But most of the 60,000 fans had come for Nirvana, and Kurt was the king of this punk-rock prom.

There was more frenzy around this show than any concert Nirvana ever played. Much of it was generated by the English press, which had been reporting stories about Kurt’s personal life as if they were breaking international news flashes. Several newspapers claimed Nirvana was broken up, and Kurt was described as in ill health. “Every day there were new rumors going around that Nirvana weren’t going to play,” Anton Brookes remembered. “People would come up and ask me, every five minutes, ‘Are they playing?’ And I’d say, ‘Yes.’ And then someone else would come up and say that they’d heard Kurt was dead.”

Kurt was very much alive, having arrived in London that week. J. J. Gonson was walking through Piccadilly Circus two days before the festival when she ran into him. They chatted for a while, Kurt showed off baby pictures, then said he had to go the bathroom. They were directly in front of the Rock ’N’ Roll Wax Museum, so Kurt walked up the stairs to the entrance, and very politely asked if he could use the bathroom. “No,” the guard told him, “our restroom is for patrons only.” Kurt stormed away. In the window of the museum sat a wax replica of Kurt holding a guitar.

At the concert, anticipation built during the opening acts and rumors continued to circulate that Nirvana was going to be a no-show. It rained, and the crowd greeted Mudhoney by pelting them with mud. “The body heat was so intense,” recalled Gonson, “clouds of steam rose off the crowd as the rain continued to fall in the night.” People waited to see whether Nirvana would actually appear and if Kurt was still breathing. “The energy level was so incredibly high,” Gonson remembered. “When any figure came onstage, there was a ripple of shock through the audience.”

Kurt had decided to play to the rumors, and arranged to appear on-stage in a wheelchair and a disguise of a medical smock and a white wig. As he rolled onto the stage, he fell out of the chair and collapsed. Krist, always the perfect straight man, said into the microphone, “You’re gonna make it, man. With the support of his friends and family... you, guy, are going to make it.” Kurt tore off the disguise, jumped into the air, and ripped into “Breed.” “It was such an electric moment,” recalled Brookes, “it made you want to cry.”

The show itself was revelatory. The band had not played together, or even rehearsed, for two months, yet they performed a 25-song set that spanned their entire catalog. It even included a snippet of Boston’s 1976 hit “More Than a Feeling” to introduce “Teen Spirit,” appropriate since Kurt claimed in interviews he’d stolen his riff from Boston. Several times they appeared on the brink of breakdown, but always edged away from the precipice. Kurt dedicated “All Apologies” to Frances, and asked the crowd to chant “Courtney, we love you.” During a song break, the band joked about their own demise in a way that didn’t seem funny. “I don’t know what you guys have heard, but this isn’t our last show or anything,” Krist told the audience.

“Yes, it is,” asserted Kurt. “I would like to officially and publicly announce that this is our last show...”

“. . . until we play...,” chimed in Krist.

“. . . again...,” added Grohl.

“...on our November tour,” finished Kurt. “Are we going to tour in November? Or are we going to record a record?”

“Let’s do a record,” responded Krist.

It was no surprise when they ended the night with “Territorial Pissings” and demolished their instruments. They walked offstage as conquering invaders, while road manager Alex MacLeod pushed the abandoned wheelchair. “They had something to prove and they wanted to prove it,” observed MacLeod. “They wanted to stand up, in front of all these people who were saying, ‘It’s over, he’s a fuck-up, he’s useless,’ and say to them, ‘Fuck you. It’s not over.’ ”

Kurt returned to Los Angeles on September 2, but despite having wooed the United Kingdom for the third time, he was feeling less than victorious. He was still on methadone and in rehab, though he had switched treatment centers and was now a patient at Exodus in Marina Del Rey. Krist visited him at the center and found his friend looking ill: “He just laid there on the bed. He was just worn-out. He got better after that, because he’d gotten really strung-out. Everything was so heavy; he was a father; he was married; he was a rock star; and it all happened at one time. For anybody to go through all that stuff, it was a lot of pressure, but to be addicted to heroin while you were going through it is another matter.”

Kurt spent his time in Exodus attending individual therapy, group therapy, and even 12-Step meetings. Most nights he wrote in his journal, producing long treatises on everything from the ethics of punk rock to the personal price of heroin addiction. “I wish there was someone I could ask for advice,” he wrote one night. “Someone who wouldn’t make me feel like a creep for spilling my guts and trying to explain all the insecurities that have plagued me for, oh, about 25 years now. I wish someone could explain to me why, exactly, I have no more desire to learn anymore.”

Though Kurt was allowed to check out for brief day visits with Frances and Courtney, his nights seemed endless. Their marriage had the not-uncommon dynamic that when Kurt was weak and needy, he romanced Courtney more. The letters he wrote her from rehab were a combination of poetry and stream-of-consciousness ranting. He covered them with candle wax, blood, and, occasionally, his semen. One he penned during this period read:

Rosewater, diaper smell. Use your illusion. Speak in tongue and cheek. Hey, girlfriend, detox. I’m in my Kraut box, held up here in my ink penitentiary. Kinda starving and kinda bloated. My water broke. Selling my body of water every night in a full house. Sell out in dark in bed, missing you more than an Air Supply song. Doll steak. Well done.... Your milk is so warm. Your milk is my shit. My shit is your milk. I have a small man’s complexion. I’m speechless. I’m toothless. You pull wisdom from my teeth. My mom is the tooth fairy. You give me birth and dentures and fangs. I love you more than the tooth fairy.

But most of what Kurt wrote was about his struggle to free himself from heroin. Immediately prior to entering rehab, his journal entries reflected a growing state of denial, particularly in response to the media coverage of his drug problem. “I am not a heroine addict!” he penned one day, as if he were trying to convince himself. Another such entry read: “I am not gay, although I wish I were just to piss off homophobes. For those of you who are concerned with my present physical and mental state, I am not a junkie. I’ve had a rather inconclusive and uncomfortable stomach condition for the past three years, which, by the way, is not related. No stress, no fuss, and then, wham! Like a shotgun: stomach time.”

Yet as soon as Kurt kicked heroin long enough to break the physical addiction, he took on the opposite slant, displaying a hatred and disgust at himself for getting hooked in the first place. “Almost everyone who tries hard drugs, i.e. heroine and cocaine, will eventually become literally a slave to these substances,” he declared in one such self-examination. “I remember someone saying, ‘if you try heroine once, you’ll become hooked.’ Of course, I laughed and scoffed at the idea, but now I believe this to be very true.” And though when high, Kurt used his stomach as an excuse for drugs, when sober, he challenged this: “I feel real sorry for anyone who thinks they can use heroine as a medicine because, uh, duh, it don’t work. Drug withdrawal is everything you’ve ever heard. You puke, you flail around, you sweat, you shit your bed just like that movie Christiane F.” Kurt was referencing a 1981 German film about drugs.

He found more success in his own treatment when he began seeing Dr. Robert Fremont, a Los Angeles chemical dependency counselor, who was also caring for Courtney. Fremont couldn’t have been more controversial: He had once lost his medical license after prescribing himself narcotics. He eventually regained his license and started a practice treating some of Hollywood’s biggest stars for their drug problems. He was successful in a profession where rates of relapse are extraordinarily high, perhaps because he understood addiction firsthand. He believed in generously prescribing legal drugs to clients detoxing from heroin, which was the methodology he used with Kurt.

In September 1992 Fremont began to use an experimental—and at the time illegal—treatment plan on Kurt that involved giving him daily doses of buprenorphine. This relatively benign narcotic stimulates the brain’s opiate receptors, and thus can cut the craving for heroin, or so Fremont supposed. It worked in Kurt, at least temporarily. As Kurt described in his journal: “I was introduced to buprenorphine, which I found alleviates the [stomach] pain within minutes. It has been used experimentally in a few detox centers for opiate and cocaine withdrawal. The best thing about it is that there are no known side effects. It acts as an opiate, but it doesn’t get you high. The potency range of buprenorphine is that of a mild barbiturate, and on a scale of one to ten, it’s a one, and heroine is a ten.”

On September 8 Kurt received a day-pass from Exodus to rehearse with Nirvana—despite his ongoing rehab, the business of the band didn’t stop, and they were scheduled to play MTV’s Video Music Awards the next day. The VMAs were the equivalent of the grunge Academy Awards—they were the highest-profile music awards, more respected at the time than the Grammy Awards, and came complete with a ceremony that attracted the power brokers of the industry. Nirvana had been nominated for three awards, and in July it had been announced they would play the show.

Still there were doubts whether Kurt could, or should, play an awards show in his state. Kurt chose, with pressure from management, to play. “He hated going to awards shows,” explained manager Danny Goldberg, “and he didn’t always like being recognized, but he worked very hard to get nominated for those awards shows, and he worked very hard to be recognized.” Kurt whined in interviews that MTV played his videos too much; privately he called his managers and complained when he thought they didn’t play them enough.

The huge television audience was guaranteed to sell more albums, but perhaps more important to Kurt, the awards were his first chance to stand on a podium and be recognized as the biggest rock star in the world. Though Kurt always downplayed his success and made out in interviews that he was trapped by his popularity, at every turn of his career he made critical choices that furthered fame and success; it was one of the greatest contradictions in his character. The absurdity of a man appearing on MTV and talking about how he hated publicity was lost on many of Nirvana’s fans, who preferred to see Kurt as he successfully presented himself—as an unwilling victim of fame rather than someone who had skillfully sought it. Yet even in that desire for recognition, Kurt wanted things on his own terms, as events this week would prove.

Controversy erupted from the first rehearsal. As Kurt walked into UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, he went up to MTV’s Amy Finnerty and told her, “I’m going to play a new song.” “He was all excited about it, and acted like it was a gift,” remembered Finnerty. Much to the surprise of MTV’s executives, who had expected to hear “Teen Spirit,” they cranked out “Rape Me.” It wasn’t in fact a new song—Nirvana had been playing it in concert for two years—but it was new to MTV’s brass. It had only eleven lines of lyrics, with a chorus of, “Rape me, my friend, rape me again.” It had the same catchy soft/loud dynamic as “Teen Spirit,” and with the odd chorus, it created a perfect Cobain aesthetic—beautiful, haunting, and disturbing.

Finnerty was immediately pulled into a production trailer where she was lectured by her bosses about the band’s song choice: They thought “Rape Me” was about MTV. “Oh, come on,” she protested. “I can assure you that he didn’t write the song for or about us.” Kurt had written it back in late 1990, but by 1992 he had altered the lyrics to include a slam at “our favorite inside source,” a reference to the Vanity Fair article. Though he would defend the song in interviews as being an allegory of society’s abuses, by September 1992 it had also come to represent a more personal metaphor for how he felt treated by the media, his managers, his bandmates, his addiction, and MTV (as the MTV executives had astutely realized).

A battle of wills began between MTV brass and the still-in-rehab Kurt, with Finnerty and Gold Mountain acting as go-betweens. MTV threatened to yank Nirvana from the show; Kurt said that was fine. MTV threatened to stop playing Nirvana videos; Kurt said that was fine, though he probably secretly feared it. And then the network upped the ante and threatened to stop playing videos by other artists managed by Gold Mountain. Finnerty was recruited to run between the two camps, and she drove out to Exodus with Courtney, Frances, and nanny Jackie to talk to Kurt, who had been whisked back to the facility immediately after the rehearsal. They sat on the lawn and discussed the options, but no resolution was found, and Kurt had to rush off to therapy. During each progressive rehab effort, therapy had become a larger part of his drug treatment, though he still refused to attend counseling when not in rehab.

Kurt reconsidered his song choice, but only after being told that Finnerty would be fired if Nirvana played “Rape Me.” MTV’s executives were visibly surprised when Nirvana showed up for the final rehearsal on the day of the show. All eyes in the hall turned to Kurt as he entered, and in that moment he reached down, grabbed Finnerty’s hand, and defiantly walked down the center aisle, exaggeratedly swinging his arms with Amy’s, like two toddlers on a day-care excursion. It was done entirely for the MTV honchos: Kurt was letting it be known that if they fired her, he wasn’t playing their party.

This particular rehearsal was uneventful. The band played “Lithium,” it sounded great, and the MTV staff clapped, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. Yet as everyone waited for the show to start, a rumor circulated that once the show was live, Kurt planned to play “Rape Me.” It was the kind of tension that enveloped most significant Nirvana performances, and Kurt thrived on it.

Meanwhile, a drama was unfolding backstage. Kurt, Courtney, nanny Jackie, and Finnerty were sitting with Frances when Axl Rose walked by, holding hands with his model-girlfriend Stephanie Seymour. “Hey Axl,” Courtney beckoned, sounding a bit like Blanche Dubois, “will you be the godfather of our child?” Rose ignored her but turned to Kurt, who was bouncing Frances on his knee, and leaned down near his face. As the veins in Axl’s neck thickened to the size of a garden hose, he barked: “You shut your bitch up, or I’m taking you down to the pavement!”

The idea that anyone could control Courtney was so laughable that a giant smile came to Kurt’s face. He would have started chortling uncontrollably if it weren’t for his own strong sense of self-preservation. He turned to Courtney and ordered, in a robot-like voice: “Okay, bitch. Shut up!” This brought a snicker to everyone within earshot, other than Rose and Seymour. Perhaps seeking to save face, Seymour created her own confrontation, asking Courtney, with as much sarcasm as she could muster, “Are you a model?” Love, who had just delivered her child three weeks before, was too quick for anyone to best her in this type of repartee—particularly Stephanie Seymour—and she fired back, “No. Are you a brain surgeon?” With that, Rose and Seymour stormed off.

Then it came time for Nirvana to take the stage. MTV’s chiefs had already come up with a contingency plan to make sure they weren’t duped by Kurt. The engineers had been instructed that if the band played “Rape Me,” they should immediately go to a commercial. The only problem was, no one in the booth knew what the unreleased “Rape Me” sounded like. The show began, and Nirvana appeared on-stage. Suddenly, there was an awkward pause and in that moment one could see Kurt, Krist, and Dave locking eyes. Kurt lived for moments like this—all those hours during his youth doodling band logos in notebooks and countless hours watching MTV had trained him well. He knew to never disappoint an audience, whether it be eighteen kids at the Community World Theater or a bunch of MTV suits sitting in a VIP section. He began slowly, strumming his guitar. At first it wasn’t clear what song he was playing, but as Krist came in with the bass part, everyone in the hall, and over the airwaves, heard the opening chords to “Rape Me.” What television viewers couldn’t hear or see was an MTV executive running toward the control truck. But before they could be cut off, Nirvana shifted into the first chords of “Lithium.” “We did that to fuck with them,” Krist recalled. It had been less than twenty seconds—and MTV would edit it out when they replayed the show—but it was one of Nirvana’s finest moments. As the song ended, Krist threw his bass in the air and it landed directly on his forehead. He staggered from the stage and collapsed, and many thought he was dead. When Finnerty found him backstage, he was shaking it off and laughing.

When Nirvana won the award for Best Alternative Music Video, they sent a Michael Jackson impersonator to accept. But all three band members did appear when they won Best New Artist, and Kurt said, “You know, it’s really hard to believe everything you read.” Rebutting the Vanity Fairpiece had become an obsession for him. Sober for two weeks, he had a clear complexion and a preacher’s clarity in his eyes. Later, while Eric Clapton played “Tears in Heaven,” Finnerty and Courtney conspired to make Kurt and Eddie Vedder slow dance together. When they were pushed together by the women, Kurt grabbed his rival and danced with him like an awkward teenager at the prom.

Novoselic, meanwhile, found himself confronted by Duff McKagan, of Guns N’ Roses, and two bodyguards, looking for a brawl. Krist, Courtney, and baby Frances were inside the band’s trailer when the entourage unsuccessfully attempted to topple it. Kurt missed this because he’d left to make the Exodus curfew. “That was pretty funny, what you did,” Finnerty said as he climbed into the van to leave. “Yeah,” Kurt said. He was smiling like a little boy who had embarrassed his teachers but escaped to annoy them again another day.

A week after the MTV Awards, Kurt sat down in his Alta Loma home with Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times for his first major interview in six months. It was the first time he had been remotely honest with anyone in the press about his heroin addiction—over half the printed interview was concerned with his drug and health struggles. Kurt admitted to a heroin problem, but downplayed its extent. He said, correctly, that his experience with narcotics before he recorded Never-mind only amounted to “dabbling,” but when he talked about his use since then, he minimized it, calling it “a little habit,” and describing his addicted phase as “three weeks.” He said he “chose to use drugs,” mirroring the language from his own journals.

Many of his comments, on his health and his life, were shaded by the presence of Frances, who he held in his arms during the interview. “I don’t want my daughter to grow up and someday be hassled by kids at school....I don’t want people telling her that her parents were junkies,” he said. “I knew that when I had a child, I’d be overwhelmed, and it’s true....I can’t tell you how much my attitude has changed since we’ve got Frances. Holding my baby is the best drug in the world.”

He talked about how he’d come close to quitting Nirvana, but said the band was now on solid ground. They planned to record “a really raw album,” and might tour again, he suggested. But he discounted the idea of a long tour, warning that his fragile health prevented him from it. “We might not go on any more long tours,” he told Hilburn. “I would rather be healthy and alive. I don’t want to sacrifice myself or my family.”

The interview represented an emotional breakthrough for Kurt; by being truthful about his addiction, he had taken away some of the shame associated with it. Once Kurt found he was applauded for his honesty, rather than shunned, he felt like a man who had been condemned to a public execution only to be pardoned at the last moment. Shortly after the Hilburn article ran, he reflected in his journal on the current state of his life:

Sometimes I wonder if I could very well be the luckiest boy in the world. For some reason I’ve been blessed with loads of neat stuff within the past year, and I don’t really think these baubles and gifts have been acquired by the fact that I’m a critically-acclaimed internationally-beloved teen idol demi-God-like blonde front man, cryptically honest. Stuttering outspoken speech impediment articulately award acceptance speech, Golden boy, rock star who has finally, and finally come out of the closet in regards to his viscous two month drug habit, showering the world with the classic, “I can no longer keep this a secret because it pains me to hide any part of my private life from my adoring, concerned, we-think-of-you-asour-public-domain-cartoon-character-but-we-still-love-you-fans.” Yes, my children, in the words of a total fucking geek, speaking on behalf of the world, “we really appreciate you finally admitting what we have been accusing you of, we needed to hear it because we were concerned because the catty gossip and jokes and speculation at our jobs, schools, and parties had become well, uh, exhausted.”

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