"Nearly two decades after the death of Kurt Cobain, a friend and fellow musician not only continues to mourn his suicide, but also rages against the culture that he holds responsible. These 52 'letters' . . . combine the subject matter of the Byrds' 'So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star' with the fury of Allen Ginsberg's Howl. . . A catharsis for the writer and perhaps for the reader as well."
"A touching and enlightening collection of prose poems addressed to [Erlandson's] departed friend."
The San Francisco Bay Guardian
"Erlandson finally comes to terms with his loss in 52 prose-poem letters ostensibly addressed to Cobain in which he straightforwardly confronts his inner demons while offering personal reflections on food, drug abuse, death, and self-sabotage." Booklist
"The reverberations of Kurt's suicide last to this day, and have touched the lives of many. Dozens of people could have written their own version of this bracingly candid book; Eric Erlandson has written one, filled with rage and love, landmined with detail, that can stand for them all."
Michael Azerrad, author of Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana
"Eric was the spirit-boy in the Nirvana/Hole dynamic. Quiet, bemused, intelligent, and curiously intuitive to the power of hugging the devil, to say we will all be okay . . . Eric expresses how enchanting Kurt was, how the whole scene was, with his thoughtful, radical adult/prose love. Bring on the future, darling." Thurston Moore, musician
"Eric. He was always there: supportive, observing, in the thick of it. Hidden in plain sight . . . Without him, I can't imagine Seattle or L.A. or a dozen other places. This book is beautiful, brutal, brief. Happy-sad eloquence. Boy Scouts playing with the complimentary cologne in the heart of the ghost town. Listen to the man. He knows."
Everett True, author of Nirvana: The Biography
Letters to Kurt is an anguished, angry, and tender meditation on the octane and ether of rock and roll and its many moons: sex, drugs, suicide, fame, and rage. It's part Dream Songs, part Bukowski, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, and the Clash. Rants, reflections, and gunshot fill these fifty-two prose poems. They are raw, funny, sad, and searching. This will make a beautiful book for anyone who loved Nirvana and Hole and the time and place when their music changed everything. Ultimately, it's an elegy for Kurt and the "suicide idols" who tragically fail to find salvation in their amazing music.
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About the Author
Eric Erlandson was born and raised in San Pedro, California. He is best known as cofounder, songwriter, and lead guitarist of the alternative rock band Hole, which he formed with Courtney Love. Their albums Pretty on the Inside, Live Through This, and Celebrity Skin achieved international recognition and success. Live Through This was named one of the top 100 albums of all time by Time magazine. Since the breakup of the band in 2002, Erlandson has been involved in a number of musical and literary projects. He has a BS in Economics from Loyola Marymount University and practices Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. He currently lives in Los Angeles.
Read an Excerpt
Letters to Kurt
By Eric Erlandson
AKASHIC BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Eric Erlandson
All right reserved.
IntroductionTwenty years ago today, I met Kurt Cobain. My girlfriend and bandmate at the time, Courtney Love, and I were introduced to him in the parking lot after a Butthole Surfers show at the Hollywood Palladium. Around three or four a.m. that same night, the phone rang as Courtney and I were just about to fall asleep in our small basement room under a house in the hills near Universal Studios. Kurt was drunk and had been goaded by an English journalist friend to call Courtney. After she hung up the phone we had ourselves a chuckle. We had kept our relationship secret. Courtney did not want our band to lose its sex appeal. She believed that couple bands were too unavailable. The fact was, for more than a year, we had shared a deep and powerful, if codependent, bond. But after that night, cracks began to appear: great change was on the horizon.
During our first U.S. tour that summer, Courtney began having an affair with Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins. We broke up-not an easy feat while touring in a van and playing night after night together. Among many conflicted feelings, I was also relieved to finally be set free from our ever more volatile relationship. Our band was on the verge of success, so we sludged on as friends and partners. Then, on September 17, 1991, we released our debut album, Pretty on the Inside, and toured in support of it. A week later, Kurt's band Nirvana released Nevermind. The world would never be the same.
Within a month, Courtney and Kurt were dating, soon to be elected "first couple of grunge." Their relationship was dragged under the magnifying glass of the media as the pressures of fame gathered around them. I fell into a sort of friend/caretaker role early on, which lasted throughout the tumultuous years of their marriage. I was present when their daughter was born. I chaperoned Kurt, at Courtney's behest, to help shield and comfort him during a Nirvana performance in the UK at the height of his fame and most fragile. I listened to him work on music and lent an ear to his frustrations. But there was always something stopping us from becoming really close: my loyalty to Courtney, along with my self-protective tendency and, perhaps, subconscious jealousy. Damn, how I wished I could write and sing like him! The way he married fearless punk rage with a melodic emotional vulnerability and made it look so simple. He truly was the voice of his generation. Yet, I saw firsthand the toll it took on his soul.
The rollercoaster came to a screeching halt one April morning in 1994 when Kurt was found dead after committing suicide. Our breakthrough album, entitled Live Through This, was released, ironically, just four days after Kurt's death. Two months later, Kristen Pfaff, my ex-girlfriend and Hole's bass player at the time, was found dead of a heroin overdose. The following March, I lost my dad as well. Over the next six years, I was carried by the winds of success and all the attendant drama. There were albums to make, shows to play; I never properly grieved or processed all that loss. By the year 2000, my relationship with Courtney had disintegrated, and the band eventually dissolved. After settling a lawsuit initiated by Courtney with our record label, I set off on my journey into the unknown.
A couple of years ago, a kid who called himself Kyle Cobain showed up early for one of my weekly Buddhist meetings. He was about to turn 27. The Anonymouses weren't working for him and he was stuck inside an existentialist tunnel looking for a way out. He spoke of his friendship with Elliott Smith, a red flag if there ever was one. Suicide idols. I tried to help him the best I could, but I hadn't come to terms with suicide, what causes it, how it happens, and why so many people around me have chosen it as a way out. A few months later, Kyle killed himself. He was the last in a too-long string of friends who had taken that route, following in the footsteps of a growing list of self-destructed heroes. We've numbed ourselves to pain and no longer seek a proper understanding of the cycle of life and death. No wonder more and more people seem to be choosing to end their lives.
At a writing workshop, I was introduced to Jim Harrison's book Letters to Yesenin, a gripping and desperate correspondence in the form of daily prose poems to a Russian poet who had committed suicide back in the 1920s. I began writing prose poem letters to Kurt as a way of exploring all I'd been through, my experience of life as it is now. My inner demons, personal means of self-sabotage, musings on death, suicide, masculine/feminine roles, food, sex, addiction, the financial crisis, global disturbances in the world, society's ever-increasing greed, anger, delusion, the movement in art toward style over substance, the mass disconnect between body and mind, and various current events all come into play. I'm talking to myself really. But I found Kurt to be the perfect muse. He was someone whom I knew briefly, yet loved and admired immensely, a friend whom I wanted so badly to help, yet in the end failed to understand.
I see these letters as songs, fifty or so grooves from my brain's tape deck to you. A fifty-two-card pickup, presented in the order in which they came. In no way do I intend to glorify or romanticize Kurt's chosen way out, nor make light of it. Nor do I mean to demonize Courtney. Though my frustration comes through, these letters did not arise from vengeance. On the contrary, I thought if I could sort out my struggles and disappointments, face my demons, become more aware of the ways in which I attempt to escape this troubled world, maybe I would be in a position to help others. There is no way out, of course. But there is a way in, back to our true selves, our connection to the earth, the universe, to each other.
Twenty years later and I feel ready to embark on a new journey. The previous one has been beautiful, heartbreaking, and hilarious. Like a friend of mine once said, "Real life is way more fucked up than you could ever imagine." Who knows, if we open the mouth of the dead inside each one of us, we may just find a new reason to live.
Eric Erlandson Los Angeles, California
Excerpted from Letters to Kurt by Eric Erlandson Copyright © 2012 by Eric Erlandson. Excerpted by permission of AKASHIC BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Letters to Kurt is about a boy who is musing over the suicide of another. Not really. Perhaps written with good intentions, it's actually a coded document about lost love, where the author finally confronts the deceased rock hero who took his girlfriend away.For the last several years, Eric Erlandson has reexamined the consequences of that fateful day when Love left him for Nirvana. That event is the crux of the book. For it was at that moment when his life became redefined, and anger began to set in.As a result, his book is filled with resentful puns, a sequence of stream of consciousness elegies, cut-ups of the west coast's Sub-Pop culture, sentences stuck together as if they were bumper-to-bumper car stickers. A grunge grudge.Cripes, he now has me doing it too.Basically, Erlandson gets sacked by a girl, and his grief begets a book because he's unable to let the past just fade away.
This was an interesting read if you're a fan of experimental writing styles à la Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Sylvia Plath. The sentences are a blend of raw emotions, dream-like apparitions, pop culture, and a reflective look at the past. This book of experimental prose poetry dips into themes of depression, suicide, and trust issues. While reading this book I had to have a pen in my hand so I could underline all of the quotes that really popped out at me.If you enjoyed reading William S. Burroughs' "My Education: A Book of Dreams" or Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" you would probably enjoy "Letters to Kurt."
As one of the few to live through the 90's with any working memory of the early years and not have a massive love/hate relationship with Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, or Hole, I was curious as to whether this book would do anything for me.Yeah, it turns out that's not really an issue for the book. Most of it is written in stream of consciousness form, which is the easiest way of dancing around the elephant in the room. The book is entitled 'Letters to Kurt' and I'd imagine that a good chunk of the people likely to actually buy the book will be poring over the pages looking for obvious Kurt mentions. Good luck with that. He haunts certain passages more thoroughly than others, and I'd wager he's far more obvious to the obsessive types, but this isn't really a cohesive train of thought type of project. There's an almost palpable fear of saying too much about him, so instead we have spectacular overshares on just about anything else that crossed the Eric Erlandson's mind as he was writing.Sometimes this works and you're left with oddly beautiful phrases spun out of nothing at all. Other times you're left wishing desperately for an editor to hold back information that no one should hear, possibly ever, and certainly never without expressly asking. I didn't find the book an easy read at all, which is unusual since the book is divided into very short chapters/letters. Several times I wanted to just give up and pass the book along to someone else, anyone else, just to rid myself of it... and then along would come a letter, or just a phrase that was touching, or achingly lovely, so I read to find others, starting the cycle anew.I'm not sure how much of this simply comes down to this not being my sort of thing, though, and I feel that should be mentioned as well.
Erlandson, Eric. Letters to Kurt. New York: Akashic, 2012.I was wrong about this book. I previously said I thought I could read it in a weekend. What I was really thinking was that I could read it in an hour. I was oh so wrong. Very wrong. On both accounts. Here's how it really went: I could read it for 15-20 minutes and then had to walk away. Words blended and sentences started to sound the same. I lost my place among the pages often. Letters became redundant if I read too much. How do I describe this book accurately? Here are the words I jotted down while reading this on a Sunday morning, coffee balanced on knee, propped up in bed: Clever. Cliche. Rambling. Private. Joking. Culture. Pop. Jealousy. Sexy. Rude. And finally, a sentence. "I'm feeling left out." Even if you were parked in front of every media outlet in the 1990s you will still miss some of the reference Erlandson makes. I wavered between thinking this was a glorified writing assignment, "write for ten minutes straight" and feeling it was an outpouring of grief and rage in the form of stream of consciousness prose. It babbles and barks. There is bite. It's sad and strangely beautiful. But, as I said earlier it is not something to devour in one sitting. You will get indigestion, for sure. Bite small. Chew slowly. Push the book away often and everything will taste better in the end.
When I saw that Letters to Kurt, by Eric Erlandson, was a collection of prose-poems, I didn't expect to like it very much. I like poetry in general. I love some, hate some, and regard some with indifference. Stream-of-consciousness prose-poetry rarely falls into the former category. Too often it seems forced, pretentious, self-satisfied, or some some combination thereof. After reading the introduction and a few of the "letters," I actually found myself enjoying the book.It is no great work of literature. It is not even great poetry, although Erlandson does display some clever or effective wordplay here and there. What it is, or seems to be, is honest. By honest, I mean that it seems to be a direct translation of Erlandson's emotions and thoughts to the printed page. What we are reading is what he has been feeling, or so at least it seems. That is what makes me like the book. He seems to have written it mainly for himself, and it feels real and candid. It's a pretty good read anyway, with some of the best prose-poetry I've read. (Still not great, but not awful.)It's rather short, too. There are fifty-two pieces in all, one for each card in the deck. I wouldn't recommend reading the whole thing in one sitting, as it starts to wear on you after a bit, but you certainly could. If you happen to come across it in a bookstore or library, it's worth a peek.
I love Hole and really admire anyone who could cowrite all of those great songs, especially from the pissed-off punk of Live Through This & the lighter but maybe even angrier Celebrity Skin. So, Bravo Eric Erlandson the songwriter/guitarist. Sadly, this book is by the less talented Eric Erlandson the writer, a person who seems to have a lot of ideas but no strong guide to give them form. Akashic, the publisher, did him no favors by allowing this book into print at this stage. There are things here that should never have made it into an adult's final draft of anything. For instance, raw yogurt upsets Erlandson's stomach, seitan makes him constipated (as do a long list of other foods), and Erlandson has hugged someone hard enough to be "at the risk of pooping" (111). Fascinating as all this might be to Erlandson's gastroenterologist, as his reader I'm not just uninterested but left wondering at the poverty of a mind that goes on and on about such things. Oh, also, he lets us in on ejaculating on some woman's stomach and giving another woman (the same woman?) three orgasms in one morning "by accident" (45). Yeah, I don't get that last one either.The more interesting parts of Letters to Kurt are just uncomfortable. He trashes Courtney Love almost obsessively. She's too easy a target and the things he says seem more in place in a Kitty Kelley biography. Some of his musings on Kurt are interesting, many unintelligible. Once he verges on beautiful: "I found a picture of you back when your saddest days were the happy days of my life" (122). Unfortunately much of the rest of the book is written like this: "My definite chief aim in life is to give a lecture at Harvard on the female anatomy as it relates to the benefits of adding nicotine to ice cream" (33). Here's a longer sample: "No, I didn't forget to turn out the lights. Maybe 'cause she's a missionary and I'm anal. Her post-partum to my pre-verbal. Keep confusing the tush for the bush. Spare ribs" (65). If Akashic had any integrity, they would have assigned Erlandson an experienced editor, recommended he heavily workshop these pieces, and wait for a polished manuscript. What they published instead is just sad.
A collection of loose prose or perhaps ramblings from Eric Erlandson that is rather dreary and dark and left me feeling mostly sad. I also found myself profoundly blessed that I have not had to experience the obvious pain this man has been through. It is truly soul-ripping and a bit difficult to read due to the almost no format writing. It skips around and leaves you confused and I think that if you were not a die-hard ('scuse the unintended pun) fan of these bands or genre, you would have a tough time following the stream of anger and grief. I was a little disappointed, I guess I was (shamefully) looking for a clearer picture of Kurt and Courtneys dirty laundry. You will not find that here.
Some of these poems were very good some I didnt like as much but the book was ok overall