Kurt Cobain Saw No Way Out Of His Depression Spiral
By Andrew Magnotta @AndrewMagnotta
March 19, 2019
Kurt Cobain always wanted to have a family.
It was one of many things he grew up without, and one of the few things being the biggest rockstar in the world couldn't get him.
In a way, being the voice of a generation may have cost Cobain his chance at fatherhood.
On part 2 of Disgraceland's "Kurt Cobain And Courtney Love: No Direction Home" documentary podcast, host Jake Brennan explores Courtney Love's unconventional upbringing, rise to stardom and toxic romance with her husband.
No one walked the line of being purely punk rock and a total rock star like Love did. She was ferocious and fearless both on and off stage, militantly feminist and never sugar coated anything in the press. Her band, Hole, was the first female-fronted band to be the subject of a major label bidding war, and she was a star before Hole's first album even arrived.
Love was mold-breaking, explicit and her shock-and-awe interviews were like fodder to the rock press. But like her husband, Love also struggled with a drug habit. It was par for the course in rock 'n' roll at the time, but it was less intriguing when she was a mother-to-be.
Love had a nasty habit of bragging about her drug use. It never got her into much trouble, until she accidentally revealed to Vanity Fair that she went on a heroin binge in New York City while she was pregnant with Frances Bean. Vanity Fair corroborated the story with more than 20 unnamed industry sources, and when it was published, Cobain and Love's life together was never the same.
"The press revolted," Brennan says. "No more f---ing around; the safety of a kid was at risk. Articles popped up everywhere condemning the rockstar couple's behavior. Kurt and Courtney went into a war-like posture and denied everything. [They] claimed Vanity Fair misquoted them, made the story up to sell magazines. Vanity Fair stood by their writer, Lynn Hirschberg."
But Love's statements and the resulting reports had more serious consequences than her public image. Los Angeles Children Services opened and investigation into the couple and Frances Bean was taken from her parents' custody as soon as she was born and given temporarily to Love's sister.
The new parents weren't allowed to visit their newborn alone until several months of drug tests convinced authorities that the two were on the right track. But Cobain never recovered from the episode.
"The pain was familiar, as was the shame, and Kurt would never recover from it," Brennan continues.
Not long after Frances was returned to her parents' custody, Cobain resumed his drug use. He also began recording Nirvana's In Utero and touring again.
Leaving his wife and new baby to get back on the road proved a nearly impossible transition for Cobain. He constantly worried that Love was cheating on him and canceled the last two dates of the In Utero tour while he contemplated divorce.
Cobain flew to Rome to meet Love and little Frances Bean. Together again with his family, his jealousy only intensified.
It was in Rome that Kurt Cobain tried suicide for the first time.
"With the hotel room dark and quiet, and his wife and baby sound asleep, Kurt Cobain wrote a letter. 'My doctor says that like Hamlet, I need to choose life or death.' He put the pen down and shook 60 Rohypnols out of an amber bottle. He stuffed them into his mouth and downed them with the last of the champagne. He then picked up the pen and wrote, 'I'm choosing death.'"
Listen to Part 2 via the player above or on iHeartRadio.
The Rome incident was reported in the press as an "accidental overdose," but Love had the note; she knew what it really was.
After returning to Seattle, Love staged and intervention for Cobain. He then flew to L.A., where he was to check into L.A. Exodus Center for treatment. First, he made a pit stop, buying a shotgun and some shells from a nearby sporting goods store.
After three days in rehab, Cobain bought a plane ticket and jumped the wall at Exodus. He boarded the plane and was seated next to Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan — of all people, another junkie rock star from Seattle. McKagan saw Cobain as a kindred spirit, even though Cobain and Love considered McKagan's band mate, Axl Rose, a sworn enemy.
"Heroin didn't come up, but it was on both of their minds," Brennan says. "Duff knew Kurt was down. Seated next to him, his depression was palpable. Upon landing, Duff decided to invite Kurt to come hang, maybe lift his spirits, but by the time he got around to asking, Kurt was in his limo and off in search of oblivion."
Cobain didn't like staying at his new million-dollar house without Love and the baby. He preferred a Seattle hotel, where it was easier to procure heroin.
After a few days in Seattle, wandering in and out of bars and oblivion, Kurt went home, looking for his gun and the box of shells.
Brennan notes that Cobain had a long fascination with suicide.
"In his journals as a boy, he'd written suicide notes to his imaginary friend. In his band's lyrics, he teased out the concept over and over again. In Utero was rife with not so subtle hints."
Cobain got home and found the box of shells. He contemplated the heroin's insidious affect on his life. He'd flirted with getting clean many times, but on the other side of sobriety, all he could see was depression — crippling pain, crumbling relationships and his decaying love of art and music.
"He took the suicide note he had penned earlier that morning and placed it away from the mess he was about to make. He brought towels for the blood, for whoever would find him."
He shot up one last time, put the shotgun barrel to the roof of his mouth and found oblivion.
Photo: Getty Images