Chapter 22

COBAIN’S DISEASE

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON


NOVEMBER 1993–MARCH 1994

And the title of our double album is “Cobain’s Disease.” A rock opera about vomiting gastric juice.

—From a journal entry.

The day of “Unplugged,” Kurt had a secret that colored his mood: His stomach problems were back, and he was vomiting bile and blood. He had returned to doctor-roulette, seeing multiple specialists on both coasts, or wherever the tour stopped. While he received many different opinions on his ailments—a few thought it irritable bowel syndrome but the diagnosis was uncertain, and he had tested negatively for Crohn’s disease—none of the treatments gave him relief. He still swore heroin helped, but whether he was off heroin long enough to know if it was the problem or the cure was debatable.

The morning of “Unplugged” Kurt spent an hour filling out a physician’s questionnaire on his eating habits. In it he told the story of a lifetime of near starvation, both spiritual and physical. He wrote his favorite flavor was “raspberry-chocolate,” and his least favorite was “broccoli/spinach/mushroom.” When asked what dish his mother made he liked the best, he replied “roast, potatoes, carrots, pizza.” To the question, “What did you feed the family dog under the table?” he answered, “Stepmother food.” He described his top take-out choices as Taco Bell and thin-crust pepperoni pizza. The only cuisine he professed to hating was Indian food. When the questionnaire inquired about his general health, he failed to mention his drug addiction and simply wrote “stomachaches.” As for exercise, the single physical activity he reported was “performance.” And to, “Do you enjoy the great outdoors?” he wrote a two-word answer: “Oh, please!”

He recorded the progression of his gastrointestinal problems in his journal, spending pages on minute details like describing an endoscopy (a procedure whereby a tiny video camera is inserted through the throat into the intestines, something he’d had done three times). He was both tormented by his stomach and, in some small way, entertained by it. “Please Lord,” he pleaded in one entry, “fuck hit records, just let me have my very own unexplainable rare stomach disease named after me. And the title of our double album is ‘Cobain’s Disease.’ A rock opera about vomiting gastric juices, being a borderline anorexic, Auschwitz-grunge boy, with an accompanying Endoscope home video!”

Though “Unplugged” had been an emotional high, ten days later in Atlanta, he hit a physical low, lying on the dressing-room floor clutching his belly. The tour caterers had disregarded his request for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese—instead, they concocted a dish of pasta shells, cheese, and jalapeño peppers. Courtney carried the plate of pasta in to manager John Silva and demanded, “What the fuck are jalapeños and jack cheese doing in this macaroni?” As she held the plate aloft like a waitress, she displayed Kurt’s rider where in bold type it stated “only Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.” To emphasize her point, she tossed the food in the trash. “She didn’t care what Silva thought of her, she just wanted to make sure Kurt got food he could eat,” Jim Barber, who was in the room, recalled. “She said to John, ‘Why don’t you just let Kurt be who he is?’ ” To further illustrate her point, Courtney forced Silva to examine Kurt’s vomit, which contained blood. After Love left the room, Silva turned to Barber, and said, “See what I have to deal with?”

The relationship between Kurt and his managers had deteriorated to the point where the Nirvana organization resembled a dysfunctional family—in truth, it bore a similarity to Kurt’s own family, with his bandmates playing the role of step-siblings, while his managers were parents. “Kurt hated John,” recalled one former Gold Mountain employee, perhaps because Silva reminded Kurt a bit of his father. By late 1993 Kurt’s distrust of Gold Mountain was so strong, he routinely employed Dylan Carlson to look over his financial statements because he felt he was being cheated, and Kurt had most of his interactions with Michael Meisel, Silva’s assistant. For his part, Silva openly described his most famous client as “a junkie,” which was accurate, yet, to those who overheard it, it seemed disloyal. It was also true that Silva—like everyone in Kurt’s life, Courtney included—simply didn’t know what to do about Kurt’s addiction. Was tough love better than acceptance? Was it better to shame him or enable him?

Kurt’s other manager, Danny Goldberg, had worked as the press agent for Led Zeppelin during the height of that band’s debauchery; consequently, tasks like locating drug rehab doctors usually fell to him. Kurt grew to treat Danny as a father figure, even while he thought Danny’s company—Gold Mountain—was screwing him. Their personal relationship was complicated by their professional one: Goldberg’s wife, Rosemary Carroll, was attorney for both Kurt and Courtney. It was an incestuous situation that raised eyebrows. “I don’t think it was in his overall best interest, and I say that without comment to [Carroll’s] abilities as an attorney,” observed Alan Mintz, Cobain’s prior lawyer.

Yet there was no denying Kurt trusted both Rosemary and Danny. Not long after Frances was born, he wrote a draft “last will and testimony” (it was never signed), stating that if Courtney were to perish, he wished for Danny and Rosemary to be his daughter’s guardians. After them, he gave the duty to his sister Kim, and following her, he designated a list of subsequent guardians: Janet Billig; Eric Erlandson of Hole; Jackie Farry, their previous nanny; and Nikki McClure, Kurt’s old neighbor, whom he hadn’t talked to in more than a year. Ninth in succession—only to be given responsibility for Frances if Courtney, Rosemary, Danny, Kim, Janet, Eric, Jackie, and Nikki were deceased themselves—was Wendy O’Connor, Kurt’s mother. Kurt wrote that under absolutely no circumstances—even if every single other relative in his family was dead—was Frances to be turned over to his father or anyone in Courtney’s family.

The U.S. leg of the In Utero tour lumbered on for another month after “Unplugged,” hitting St. Paul, Minnesota, on December 10. Nirvana had another MTV filming at the end of the week, and Kurt decided to make peace with the network: He invited Finnerty and Kurt Loder to interview him. At the taping, the band got drunk and dog-piled each other until they knocked over the camera. “It never aired,” Finnerty recalled, “because everyone, including Kurt Loder, was so fucked up on red wine it was unusable.” Loder and Novoselic then destroyed a hotel room by smashing the television and dragging pieces of the furniture out into the lobby. The hotel later unsuccessfully sued to collect what they alleged was $11,799 in damages.

Three days later the band taped MTV’s “Live and Loud” in Seattle. The network filmed Nirvana’s set before a small crowd, using props to make it appear it was New Year’s Eve, when the program would air. After the performance Kurt invited photographer Alice Wheeler back to the Four Seasons Hotel to chat. He ordered steak from room service, explaining “MTV’s paying.” He urged Wheeler to come visit him at a new home he and Courtney were purchasing, but he couldn’t recall the address. He told her, like he now told most friends, to contact him through Gold Mountain. Giving out the number of his management had the inadvertent result of further isolating Kurt: Many old friends told of calling Gold Mountain but never hearing back, and eventually losing touch.

A week later, when the tour came to Denver, Kurt reunited with John Robinson from the Fluid. When Robinson revealed the Fluid had broken up, Kurt wanted to know every detail; he left the impression he was looking for tips. Robinson mentioned he had begun writing songs on piano and wanted to make a lush album using strings and horns. “Wow!” Kurt replied. “That’s exactly what I want to do!” He declared he’d been discussing a similar idea with Mark Lanegan, and invited Robinson to collaborate with the two of them after the lengthy tour was over. He’d also been talking about working with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe.

The tour finally took a break at Christmas, and Kurt and Courtney flew to Arizona to spend four days at the exclusive Canyon Ranch Spa, outside of Tucson. For a Christmas present, she gave him a video copy of Ken Burns’s series “The Civil War,” which fascinated Kurt. While at the spa, Kurt attempted his own self-policed detox and each day visited Dr. Daniel Baker, the facility’s resident counselor. The therapist offered one insight that stayed with Kurt well after the long weekend: He warned Kurt his addiction had progressed to the point where he had to get sober, or it would mean his death. Many others had given the same advice, but on this particular day Kurt appeared to listen.

The difference between sobriety and intoxication was never more clearly illustrated than on December 30, when Nirvana played a show at the Great Western Forum near Los Angeles. Filmmaker Dave Markey was videotaping that night and observed a display of inebriation so extreme, he turned his camera off in pity. And it wasn’t Kurt who was a mess—it was Eddie Van Halen. The famed guitar player was backstage on his knees drunk, begging Krist to let him jam. Kurt arrived only to see his one-time hero collapsing toward him with his lips puckered, like a toasted Dean Martin in a bad Rat-Pack skit. “No, you can’t play with us,” Kurt flatly announced. “We don’t have any extra guitars.”

Van Halen didn’t grasp this obvious lie and pointed to Pat Smear, shouting, “Well, then let me play the Mexican’s guitar. What is he, is he Mexican? Is he black?” Kurt couldn’t believe his ears. “Eddie went into this racist, homophobic banter, typical redneck,” observed Dave Markey. “It was surreal.” Kurt was furious, but finally came up with a worthy verbal response: “Actually, you can jam,” he promised. “You can go onstage after our encore. Just go up there and solo by yourself!” Kurt stormed off.

As 1993 ended Kurt wrote several reflections on the significance of the passing year. He composed a letter to the Advocate thanking them for running his interview and listing his accomplishments: “It was a fruitful year. Nirvana finished another album (of which we are quite proud, although we took shit from people who claimed—before its release—that we were gonna commit ‘commercial suicide’). My daughter, Frances, a cherubic joy, taught me to be more tolerant of all humanity.”

He also composed an unsent letter to Tobi Vail. Tobi was still hoping to complete their oft-talked-about recording project, and this convinced Kurt—still hurting from her original snub—that she was only interested in him to further her career. He wrote her a bitter letter: “Make them pay while you’re still beautiful, while they watch you break, and they make you burn.” Referring to In Utero, he declared: “Every song on this record is not about you. No, I am not your boyfriend. No, I don’t write songs about you, except for ‘Lounge Act,’ which I do not play, except when my wife is not around.” Behind Kurt’s wrath was the terrible wound he still felt from her rejection. These weren’t his only stinging words for Tobi: In another unsent screed he blasted her, Calvin, and Olympia:

I made about five million dollars last year and I’m not giving a red cent to that elitist, little fuck Calvin Johnson. No way! I’ve collaborated with one of my idols, William Burroughs and I couldn’t feel cooler. I moved away to L.A. for a year and came back to find that three of my best friends have become full blown heroine addicts. I’ve learned to hate riot grrrl, a movement in which I was a witness to its very initial inception because I fucked the girl who put out the first grrrl-style fanzine and now she is exploiting the fact that she fucked me. Not in a huge way, but enough to feel exploited. But that’s okay because I chose to let corporate white men exploit me a few years ago and I love it. It feels good. And I’m not gonna donate a single fucking dollar to the fucking needy indie fascist regime. They can starve. Let them eat vinyl. Every crumb for himself. I’ll be able to sell my untalented, very ungenius ass for years based on my cult status.

In early January, Kurt and Courtney moved to their new house at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard East in ritzy Denny-Blaine, one of Seattle’s oldest and most exclusive neighborhoods. Their home was just up the hill from the lake in an area of luxurious waterfront estates and stately turn-of-the-century mansions. The house across the street had a “no parking” sign in French, while their next-door neighbor was Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks. Though Peter Buck of R.E.M. owned a house a block away, he and the Cobains were the exceptions in the neighborhood, which was occupied by old money scions, society matrons, and the sorts of people who have public buildings named after them.

Their home had been built in 1902 by Elbert Blaine—who the neighborhood was named for—and he saved the finest and largest piece of land for himself: It was nearly three quarters of an acre and lushly landscaped with rhododendrons, Japanese maples, dogwoods, hemlock, and magnolia trees. It was a stunning property, though it had the odd feature of being directly next to a small city park, which made it less private than many of the district’s homes.

The house itself was a 7,800-square-foot, three-story, five-fireplace, five-bedroom monolith. With gables and gray shake shingles, it looked better suited to the coast of Maine, where it might have served as a vacation compound for a former president. As with most large, old houses, it was drafty, though the kitchen was certainly cozy—it had been extensively remodeled and featured a Traulson stainless-steel refrigerator, a Thermador oven, and oak flooring. The main floor contained a living room, dining room, kitchen, and a library that became a bedroom for the nanny Cali. The second floor had a bedroom for Frances, two guest bedrooms, and a master suite, with its own private bathroom, that accorded views of the lake. The top floor consisted of a large, unheated attic, while the basement had another bedroom and several cavernous, dimly lit storage rooms. The Cobains paid $1,130,000 for the home; their mortgage with Chase Manhattan was $1,000,000, with monthly payments of $7,000 and taxes of $10,000 a year. To the rear of the house was a separate structure, which held a greenhouse and garage. Kurt’s Valiant—which once had served as his only home—soon found a place in the garage.

Each family member found a small corner of the house to call their own: The north yard became Frances’s playground, complete with a jungle-gym; Courtney’s collection of teacups went on display in the kitchen, while her assortment of lingerie filled an entire closet in the bedroom; and the basement became the depository for all of Kurt’s gold record awards—they weren’t exhibited, just stacked. In an alcove on the main floor, a fully dressed mannequin stood, like some strange corpse-like sentinel. Kurt didn’t like large spaces, and his favorite part of the house was the closet off the master bedroom, where he would play guitar.

Soon Kurt found other places to hide away. He had a month break before the In Utero tour was to head to Europe, and he appeared to make a conscious decision to spend as much of that respite as possible taking drugs with Dylan. Their relationship went deeper than their mutual addictions: Kurt truly loved Dylan, and was closer to him than any friend in his life other than Jesse Reed. Dylan was also one of the few of Kurt’s friends who was welcome in the Lake Washington house—Courtney couldn’t very well ban him, since when she occasionally fell off the wagon, Dylan was her main drug connection. There were almost-comic scenes when Dylan served as a runner for both husband and wife: Kurt would call looking for drugs, while on call-waiting Courtney would be seeking intoxicants of her own, and each requested he not tell the other spouse.

By 1994 their nanny Cali was also heavily into cocaine. They kept him on the payroll since he was essentially family at this point, but turned most supervision of Frances over to other caregivers and talked to Jackie Farry about her coming back. Cali still did most of the shop-ping—buying Totino’s mini frozen pizzas for Kurt and Marie Callender pies for Courtney—since on the rare occasions the Cobains went to the store by themselves, they struggled with this task. Larry Reid had the occasion to be behind Kurt and Courtney in Rogers Thriftway Grocery that January: “They were throwing this stuff in their basket, but there was no rhyme or reason to what they were buying. It was weird shit, like relish, ketchup, and stuff like that. It was as if you went blind and went to the store and just threw stuff in your basket.”

When Courtney attempted to stop drug dealers from coming over, Kurt employed friends to stash deliveries in the bushes. Kurt’s use of drugs had expanded over the course of his addiction: If he couldn’t find heroin, he’d inject cocaine or methamphetamine, or use prescription narcotics, like Percodan, bought on the street. If all other sources were dry, he’d take massive amounts of benzodiazepines, in the form of Valium or other tranquilizers; these cut down on his heroin withdrawal symptoms. Any attempt to stop drugs from coming into 171 Lake Washington Boulevard had as much success as a plumber trying to shore up a pipe that was being riddled with bullet holes: As soon as one leak was fixed, another sprang forth.

And in the midst of these daily traumas, Nirvana continued on, planning the next tour and scheduling rehearsals, though Kurt infrequently showed. The band had been offered the headlining slot on the 1994 Lollapalooza Festival. Everyone in Kurt’s life, from his managers to the rest of the band, thought Nirvana should embrace the opportunity, but Kurt balked at more touring. His reticence infuriated Courtney, who felt he should do the tour to shore up their financial future. Most discussions over this or other opportunities led to screaming and shouting matches between them.

Wendy called Kurt during the last week in January to announce her own ten-year shouting match with Pat O’Connor was finally over— they had divorced. Kurt, while sorry to hear of her grief, felt glee hearing his one-time challenger for his mother’s attention had finally been ousted. But he also heard news that saddened him: His beloved grandmother Iris had been suffering heart problems, and was going into the hospital in Seattle for tests and treatment.

Leland called Kurt once Iris was in the hospital in Seattle. Kurt bought $100 worth of orchids and apprehensively ventured into Swedish Hospital. It was hard for him to see Iris so frail; she had been one of the only stable forces throughout his childhood, and the idea of her death scared him worse than his own. He sat with her for hours. While he was there the bedside phone rang; it was his father. Hearing Don’s voice, Kurt motioned he was going outside. But Iris, even in her frail state, grabbed his arm and handed him the phone. No matter how much he wanted to avoid his father, he couldn’t turn down the request of a dying woman.

Kurt and Don chatted for the first time since their dreadful encounter at the Seattle concert. Most of the conversation was about Iris—the doctors predicted she would pull through her current illness but she had irreversible heart disease. Yet something in their short exchange seemed to break down a barrier—perhaps it was that Kurt heard some of the same fear in Don’s voice that he felt. Before Kurt hung up, he gave his father his home phone number and asked his dad to call. “We’ll have to get together soon,” Kurt said as he put the phone down, and looked at his grandmother, who was smiling. “I know a lot of that stuff is from my mother,” Kurt told Iris and Leland. “I now know a lot of it was bullshit.”

By January 1994 Leland’s personality had dramatically changed—it pained Kurt to see Leland so humbled and scared. Though Leland had suffered many losses—stretching back to the early death of his father and the suicides of his brothers—the illness of his wife of 49 years seemed to be the hardest to bear. Kurt invited his grandfather to spend the night at his house, and when the two Cobain men arrived, Courtney was walking around in a slip. This was usual attire for a performer who made undergarments a fashion statement, but the old-fashioned Leland found it disturbing: “She had no pants on; it sure as hell wasn’t ladylike.” Leland ran into Cali in the living room, and was shocked when Kurt informed him this long-haired, stoned-looking young man was one of Frances’s nannies.

Courtney left for a meeting, so Kurt treated his grandfather to his favorite restaurant: the International House of Pancakes. Kurt recommended I-Hop’s roast beef, which they both ordered. As they ate, Kurt examined the itinerary for his upcoming European tour. The band was scheduled to play 38 shows in sixteen nations over a period of less than two months. While it wasn’t as grueling as the “Heavier Than Heaven” tour with Tad, it felt more fatiguing to Kurt. He had intentionally asked for a halfway break, during which he hoped to see Europe as a tourist with Courtney and Frances. Kurt told Leland that when he returned, he wanted to plan a fishing trip. During their dinner, Kurt was interrupted on three occasions by other patrons asking for autographs. “He signed them and asked what they wanted him to say,” observed Leland. “But he told me he didn’t like doing it.”

On the way back to the house, Kurt asked to drive Leland’s Ford truck, and he told his grandfather he wanted to buy a similar model. That month he’d already been out looking at cars, and had purchased a black Lexus. Jennifer Adamson, one of Cali’s girlfriends, remembered Kurt stopping by her apartment to show it off: “Courtney wanted to buy it but Kurt thought it was too fancy, and he didn’t like the color. They ended up taking it back.” Courtney later explained in an Internet posting: “We went out one day and bought a really spendy black car, drove it around, got totally stared at, and felt mortified like we were sellouts—so we returned it within eighteen hours of buying it.”

The last week of January Nirvana had a recording session at Robert Lang Studios in northern Seattle. The first day, despite repeated phone calls, Kurt failed to show. Courtney had already gone overseas with Hole, and no one answered the phone in the Cobain house. Novoselic and Grohl used the time to work on songs Dave had written. Kurt also failed to appear the second day, but on the third, a Sunday, he arrived, making no mention of why he’d missed the previous sessions. No one questioned him: The group had long ago lost its democracy, and Krist and Dave had resigned themselves to waiting, thinking it a miracle to have any participation from Kurt.

On that third day they worked for a full ten hours, and despite low expectations, laid down tracks for eleven songs. During the morning, a black kitten walked into the studio. This arrival, who looked a bit like Kurt’s old childhood pet Puff, lightened Kurt considerably. The band cut several songs written by Grohl (which later would end up re-recorded by the Foo Fighters), and on these, Kurt played drums. One song of Kurt’s they recorded was titled “Skid-marks,” referring to underwear stains; Kurt had never escaped his obsession with fecal matter. Another was called “Butterfly,” but this, like most of the new songs, was without lyrics and not completely formed.

One singular Kurt composition was completed with vocals, and it stands as one of the high-water marks in his entire canon. He later titled it “You Know You’re Right,” but the only time it was played live— Chicago on October 23, 1993—he had called it “On the Mountain.” Musically, it featured the same soft/hard dynamics of “Heart-Shaped Box,” with quiet verses followed by a loud chorus of Kurt’s screams. “We bombed it together fast,” recalled Novoselic. “Kurt had the riff, and brought it in, and we put it down. We Nirvana-ized it.”

Lyrically, the verses were tightly crafted, with a haunting, tormented chorus of “You know you’re right.” The first verse was a list of declarations beginning with, “I would never bother you / I would never promise to / If I say that word again / I would move away from here.” One couplet—that could only come from Kurt Cobain—went: “I am walking in the piss / Always knew it would come to this.” The second verse shifts to statements about a woman—“She just wants to love herself”—and closes with two lines that have to be sarcastic: “Things have never been so swell / And I have never been so well.” The plaintive wail in the chorus couldn’t be clearer: “Pain,” he cried, stretching the word out for almost ten seconds, giving it four syllables, and leaving an impression of inescapable torment.

Near the end of the session, Kurt looked for the black cat, but it had vanished. It was early evening when they finished, and the band celebrated by going out to dinner. Kurt seemed elated and told Robert Lang he wanted to book more time when they returned from Europe.

The next day Kurt phoned his father. They talked for over an hour, the longest conversation between the two Cobain men in over a decade. They discussed Iris and her prognosis—the doctors had sent her back to Montesano—and their respective families. Don said he wanted to see Frances, and Kurt proudly recited all the latest things she could say and do. As for their own strained relationship, they avoided reviewing their disappointments in each other, but Don was able to utter the words that many times earlier had eluded him. “I love you Kurt,” he told his son. “I love you too, Dad,” Kurt replied. At the end of the conversation, Kurt invited his father to come see his new house when he returned from tour. When Don hung up, it was one of the few times Jenny Cobain had ever seen her usually stoic husband weeping.

Two days later Kurt flew to France. The first show had Nirvana scheduled to play a variety show. Kurt came up with a solution that allowed him to save face: They purchased black pinstripe suits—he called them their “Knack outfits.” When the show began, they performed straight-ahead versions of three songs, but dressed in their attire it had the same effect as a comedy skit. In Paris, the band did a photo session with photographer Youri Lenquette; one of the pictures showed Kurt jokingly putting a gun to his head. Even this early in the tour, those close to him noticed a change in Kurt. “He was a mess at that point,” Shelli Novoselic recalled. “It was sad. He was just so worn out.” Kurt traveled in a separate tour bus from Novoselic and Grohl, but Shelli thought their relationship seemed better: “It wasn’t as tense as the previous tour, but maybe it all had just become normal.”

The next shows were in Portugal and Madrid. By Spain—only three dates into a 38-date tour—Kurt was already talking about cancelling. He phoned Courtney in a rage. “He hated everything, everybody,” Love told David Fricke. “Hated, hated, hated....He was in Madrid, and he’d walked through the audience. The kids were smoking heroin off tinfoil, and going, ‘Kurt! Smack!’ and giving him the thumbs up. He called me crying....He did not want to be a junkie icon.”

He also did not want to split with Courtney, but their increasing fights over the phone—mostly about his drug use—plus the separation caused by the tour, made him fearful of this outcome. He had wanted her on the road with him, but she was finishing post-production on her album. Kurt went to Jeff Mason and asked what would happen if he cancelled the tour: Mason informed him that because of past cancellations, they would be liable for damages from any missed shows, unless there was illness. Kurt fixated on this point, and in the tour bus the next day, kept joking that since the insurance only covered illness, if he was dead, they’d still have to play.

Though Kurt was heartbroken at seeing European teenagers equate him with drug abuse, the anxiety that overcame him did in fact spring from his addiction. In Seattle he knew where to find heroin, and it knew how to find him. In Europe, even if he found a drug connection, he was terrified of being arrested at a border crossing. Instead Kurt employed the services of a London physician who was well known for his liberal prescribing of legal but powerful narcotics. Kurt had prescriptions for tranquilizers and morphine, and he used both to cut the pains of his withdrawal. When he ran into trouble on tour, all it took was one phone call to this physician, who immediately wrote out prescriptions without question, and international couriers were used to ferry these to Kurt.

On February 20, a travel day, Kurt turned 27. John Silva jokingly gave him a carton of cigarettes as a present. Four days later, while in Milan, Kurt and Courtney celebrated their second anniversary, but they did so apart: She was still in London doing press for her album. They did talk on the phone and planned to celebrate when they reunited a week later.

By February 25, their second of two nights in Milan, something had shifted in Kurt. He no longer just seemed depressed—there was a defeatism about him. He came to Krist that day and said he wanted to cancel the tour. “He gave me some bullshit, absurd reason for why he wanted to blow it off,” Novoselic recalled. Kurt complained about his stomach, though Krist had heard this protest hundreds of times by now. Krist asked why he’d agreed to the tour in the first place, and reminded Kurt a cancellation would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. “There was something going on with him in his personal life that was really troubling him,” Krist observed. “There was some kind of situation.” But Kurt didn’t share any specifics with Krist—he had long ago stopped being intimate with his old friend.

Kurt didn’t cancel the tour that night, but the only reason he didn’t, Novoselic theorized, was because the next date was in Slovenia, where many of Krist’s relatives would attend. “He hung on there for me,” Krist recalled. “But I think his mind was made up.” During their three days in Slovenia the rest of the band toured the countryside, but Kurt stayed in his room. Novoselic was reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and he explained the plot to Kurt, thinking it would distract him: “It’s about this guy in a Gulag, who still makes the most of his day.” Kurt’s only response was, “God, and he wants to live! Why would you try to live?”

When the band arrived in Munich for two scheduled shows at Terminal Eins, starting March 1, Kurt complained he felt ill. He uncharacteristically phoned his 52-year-old cousin Art Cobain back in Aberdeen, waking him up in the middle of the night. Art hadn’t seen Kurt in almost two decades, and they weren’t close, but he was glad to listen. “He was getting really fed up with his way of life,” Art told People. Art invited Kurt to the upcoming Cobain family reunion when he returned from Europe.

Everyone who saw Kurt that day reported a sense of desperation and panic to his every action. Adding to his woes was the venue they were playing: It was an abandoned airport terminal turned into a club, and had horrid acoustics. At soundcheck, Kurt asked Jeff Mason for an advance on his per diem, and announced, “I’ll be back for the show.” Mason was surprised Kurt was leaving, considering how loudly he’d complained about feeling ill, and he inquired where he was bound. “I’m going to the train station,” Kurt answered. Everyone on the tour knew what this meant; Kurt might as well have announced, “I’m going to buy drugs.”

When he returned several hours later, Kurt’s mood was no better. Backstage he phoned Courtney and their conversation ended in a fight, as had all their talks over the past week. Kurt then called Rosemary Carroll and told her he wanted a divorce. When he put down the phone, he stood on the side of the stage and watched the opening act. Kurt picked all Nirvana’s opening bands, and for this leg of the tour he had selected the Melvins. “This was what I was looking for,” he’d written in his journal back in 1983, when he’d first seen this band and they had transformed his life. In many ways, he loved the Melvins more than he loved Nirvana—they had meant salvation at a time when he needed to be saved. It had been only eleven years since that fateful day in the parking lot of the Montesano Thriftway, but so much had changed in his life. Yet in Munich, their show only made him feel nostalgic.

When the Melvins finished, Kurt marched into their dressing room and unleashed a long list of problems to Buzz Osborne. Buzz had never seen Kurt so distraught, not even when Kurt had been kicked out of Wendy’s house back in high school. Kurt announced he was going to break up the band, fire his management, and divorce Courtney. Before he walked onstage, Kurt announced to Buzz, “I should just be doing this solo.” “In retrospect,” Buzz observed, “he was talking about his entire life.”

Seventy minutes later, Nirvana’s show was over, prematurely ended by Kurt. It had been a standard set, but, strangely, had included two covers by the Cars—“My Best Friend’s Girl,” and “Moving in Stereo”—and after this latter tune, Kurt walked offstage. Backstage, Kurt grabbed his agent, Don Muller, who happened to be at the show, and announced, “That’s it. Cancel the next gig.” There were only two shows before their scheduled break, which Muller arranged to postpone.

Kurt saw a doctor the next morning who signed a slip—required for their insurance—stating that he was too ill to perform. The physician recommended he take two months off. Despite the diagnosis, Novoselic thought it all an act: “He was just too burned out.” Krist, and several members of the crew, flew back to Seattle, planning on returning for the next leg of the tour on March 11. Kurt headed to Rome, where he was to meet up with Courtney and Frances.

On March 3 Kurt checked into room 541 in Rome’s five-star Hotel Excelsior. Courtney and Frances were slated to arrive later that night. During the day, Kurt explored the city with Pat Smear, visiting tourist attractions, but mostly gathering props for what he imagined would be a romantic reunion—he and Courtney had been apart for 26 days, the longest span of their relationship. “He’d gone to the Vatican and stolen some candlesticks, big ones,” Courtney recalled. “He also kicked off a piece of the Colosseum for me.” Additionally, he’d purchased a dozen red roses, some lingerie, rosary beads from the Vatican, and a pair of three-carat diamond earrings. He also sent a bellboy out to fill a prescription for Rohypnol, a tranquilizer that can aid heroin withdrawal.

Love did not arrive until much later than expected—she had been in London during the day doing press for her upcoming album. At one of those interviews, Courtney had taken a Rohypnol in front of the writer. “I know this is a controlled substance,” she toldSelect. “I got it from my doctor; it’s like Valium.” Courtney was seeing the same London doctor as Kurt. When Courtney and Frances finally arrived in Rome, the family, their nannies, and Smear had a warm reunion, and ordered champagne to celebrate—Kurt didn’t drink any. After a while, Cali and a second nanny took Frances to her room, and Smear left. Finally alone, Courtney and Kurt made out, but she was exhausted from traveling, and the Rohypnol put her to sleep. Kurt had wanted to make love, she later reported, but she was too exhausted. “Even if I wasn’t in the mood,” she told David Fricke, “I should have just laid there for him. All he needed was to get laid.”

At six in the morning, she awoke and found him on the floor, pale as a ghost, with blood coming out of one nostril. He was fully dressed, wearing his brown corduroy coat, and there was a wad of $1,000 in cash in his right hand. Courtney had seen Kurt close to death from heroin overdoses on more than a dozen occasions, but this wasn’t a heroin overdose. Instead she found a three-page note clutched in the tight, cold ball of his left hand.

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