The Last Time I Met Kurt Cobain, Part 2
Miss the opening set? Read part one here.
The last time I saw Kurt Cobain was also the last time I met Kurt Cobain.
I was living in Seattle at the time and was playing a band called “Naugahyde.” We were an awful band at the ass end of the food chain in the Seattle music scene, competing for the crumbs with the rest of the bottom feeders, playing every dead-end Monday night at joints like Mad Dog’s, The Off Ramp, and The Ditto Tavern. The scene was bloated at that point. Every sideburned, long-haired, big-belt buckle band from Topeka to Tampa had moved to town to try and cash in on the label feeding frenzy that occurred in the wake of Nirvana and others, but most of them missed the boat. What was left were hundreds of bands competing for Tuesday night slots at crappy clubs, usually playing only for the bar staff, the other bands, and any unfortunate girlfriends who chose to endure the evening. The Colorbox, a club in Pioneer Square, sold a T-shirt that summed it up well:
“Your hair’s too long, and so is your set.”
I had just finished rehearsing with my band and we were on our way home. Patrick, our drummer, was giving Ken and me a lift. Ken wanted to stop at the store on the way home to pick up some food. He was a hefty guy and liked to nurse the habit, and store stops were routine.
So we stopped off at the old Safeway store on Broadway on Capitol Hill in, on route to the Madrona duplex that I shared with Ken and his girlfriend. It was after 1 A.M. and the store appeared to be empty. As I strolled in I adjusted my eyes to the fluorescent brightness. The Musak system played The Beatles or Abba or Tchaikovsky. I noticed some people in the back of the store, running around and acting strangely, but we were on Capitol Hill, a lint trap for freaks in the Pacific Northwest, so I really thought nothing of it.
Ken, Patrick, and I walked down an aisle, on our way to the frozen foods section. Ken had a hankering for some ham-and-cheese Hot Pockets — his favorite. Before we reached to the end of the aisle, a man pushing a shopping cart entirely filled with toilet paper came around the corner, running into and startling Patrick. The man was Kurt Cobain. The three of us briefly took him in. He took us in. We then continued on our way, acting the part of cool band dudes who weren’t going to make a bother just because the world’s biggest current rock star was stocking up on a year’s supply of ass-wipe.
Ken got his two-liter soda and Hot Pockets and we made our way to the cash register. Just then, a short woman wearing a scarf over her head approached. She was with two friends. From their dopey grins and mad eyes, it was obvious that they were really high. And something else was obvious: The woman was Courtney Love.
“Hey — do you know that Kurt Cobain is back there?” she said to me.
“Yeah, we know,” I said, soliciting nods from my buddies.
“Listen…” she said. “I’ll give you five dollars if you go back there and ask him if he is the lead singer of Alice in Chains.”
I paused to think about it. Part of me wanted to talk to Cobain and part of me didn’t want to bug him, but now his own wife was encouraging me to go bother him. Maybe this was some sort of inside joke between them that would, in some inexplicable way, ingratiate me to him. I also was dead broke and the thought of five bucks considerably brightened my night. I could get a beer. Moreover, it just seemed to intriguing to pass up.
“Okay,” I said.
“You really got to ask him if he’s the lead singer of Alice in Chains, okay?”
“All right,” I said.
“Meet me in the produce section when you’re done.”
So I took a deep breath and walked back to the aisle where I had last seen him. He was still there, examining the ingredients listed on a can of oven cleaner.
“Hey,” I said.
He turned to me.
“Are you the lead singer of Alice in Chains?”
He looked at me with his massive blue eyes, sad blue eyes, eyes that for a moment seemed to absorb all of the sadness in the world.
“What’s your name?” he replied, softly.
My heart was galloping. I was beginning to sweat. I could clearly hear my own breathing. I was star struck. I also felt like I was doing something horribly, horribly wrong.
“Adolph,” I manage to stammer.
I bolted immediately, eager to get as far away from him as possible. I felt a sticky sense of shame.
As arranged, I met up with Courtney Love in the produce section, and she made me re-enact the encounter, to her utter amusement. Her eyes were aflame with a sense of evil glee, beaming out from her wrinkly, scagged-out babushka face. Her lack of makeup revealed cruel realities inflicted by a life of punk rock and hard drugs. She was more than satisfied with my performance and handed me my five bucks.
I bought a forty-ounce bottle of Rainier and two cans of Rosarita refried beans.
Two months later Kurt Cobain was dead, having blown his own head off with a shotgun. Just as I wasn’t surprised when he became famous, I wasn’t surprised when he ended his own life. I had looked into his eyes and knew immediately that this was a deeply troubled man.
My question is this: How many other schmucks did Courtney Love pay to screw with Kurt Cobain’s head?
There are some people who believe that she had him killed, that Cobain was actually murdered. I don’t believe that for a moment. She didn’t have to have anyone else do the job, when no one was more capable of it than Kurt himself. The one thing I am sure of is that she helped drive him to it. This is a certainty.
There’s an irony here as well. Layne Staley, the actual lead singer of Alice In Chains, was found dead in his house a few years ago, finally succumbing to his legendary heroin habit. It was reported that he had lost all of his teeth and hair. The body lay for two weeks before it was discovered. So not only did Cobain meet a nasty end, but so did his Safeway double.
I’ve told this story for years, but this is the first time I’ve written it down. It’s always made me feel a little dirty that I, in a tiny way, had a hand in Cobain’s demise. But that’s really true for all of us, isn’t it? We embraced him too strongly. We idolized him and built him up and at some point he couldn’t live up to it, or he felt like a fraud, or he despised the whole game of being a rock star.
In the end, his reasons for killing himself don‘t really matter. What matters is the music he left behind, which, despite its acceptance by the mainstream, has always been cool, and will be whatever word we use to replace “cool” when it’s no longer useful.