Never Fade Away is Dave Thompson's inside look at the life of one of the most thought-provoking men of all time - Kurt Cobain. Examining an artisitic genius who was light years ahead of his time, this is an unfailing account of Nirvana's rise and Cobain eventual descent.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Dave Thompson is also the author of Depeche Mode, Go Phish, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Read an Excerpt
Never Fade Away
The Kurt Cobain Story
By Dave Thompson
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1994 Dave Thompson
All rights reserved.
The first reports were vague, a dull rumor which percolated out into post-rush hour Seattle traffic. The body of a young man, an apparent suicide, had just been discovered in the Seattle home of Kurt Cobain.
The cause of death seemed to have been a shotgun blast to the head; initial reports suggested that the body had lain there for at least a day before it was discovered by a visiting electrician; and there was the distinct possibility that the body, clad in jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and black sneakers, was Cobain's. That, in a nutshell, was what the city had to go on.
But in many ways, it was enough. The body was discovered at 8:40 A.M.; fifty minutes later, local radio station KXRX was broadcasting the news. By 10 A.M., it seemed as though every phone in the city was ringing, as disbelieving fans called their friends to check their ears. Have you heard? Is it true? What else do you know? Then, once it was certain that nobody knew more than anyone else, people fell back on the radio and their wits. It was going to be a very long day.
The drama which shattered Seattle out of its early morning stupor formally hit the headlines on April 8th, 1994. But in painful actuality, it had been unfolding a month by then, ever since Kurt Cobain ingested a theoretically lethal combination of champagne and the drug Riapnol, then collapsed on an Italian hotel room floor.
For a few moments then, too, a good proportion of the western world held its breath, and by the time CNN announced, erroneously of course, that the singer had died, people were already expecting the worst.
The first statements from Nirvana's management, Gold Mountain, were frustratingly vague. The Seattle Times simply quoted Gold Mountain spokeswoman Janet Billig's explanation that Kurt had been prescribed pain killers after Nirvana's recently completed European tour, for the stomach pains which had plagued him most of his life. A combination of these drugs and alcohol then produced what she called "complications".
A more thorough, if still incomplete, explanation was released later in the day: "Kurt Cobain slipped into a coma at 6 A.M. European Standard Time. ... The coma was induced by a combination of the flu and fatigue, on top of prescription painkillers and champagne. While Cobain has not awoken, he shows significant signs, said his doctors." Billig later added, "the vital signs came back, and he's opened his eyes. I don't know if he's talking lucidly, but he's moving his hands. His wife — singer Courtney Love — and daughter [18-month-old Frances Bean] are with him."
Still, there were gaps in the story, gaps which a number of reporters felt might be filled in Seattle. An "insider [at People] contacted The Rocket, the city's own private music paper, and informed them that 'editors were already marking off the turf: "if he dies, it's the cover, if he remains in a coma it's three pages, if he's up and walking soon, it's half a page."'"
Kurt was still unconscious when the conversation took place — it's "nice", the Rocket's Johnny Renton deadpanned, "to know how the press sets its standards of integrity, isn't it?"
But that sense of cynicism affected a lot of people, this time, as well. Another false alarm; we've heard it all before.
Because Cobain was known to have had a heroin problem, reporters and fans from around the world assumed a heroin overdose was being covered up, rather than investigating what turned out to have been a suicide attempt.
Later it was clear that Rome really had been just a reprieve — and an unintentional reprieve at that. Kurt had meant to kill himself on that occasion, too, as the note he reportedly left for Courtney proved.
Returning home to Seattle from his Italian misadventure, Kurt lost very little time in finding his way back into the city's narcotic underbelly. It is not, after all, as though he had far to look.
Heroin in Seattle, says Courtney, is "like apples in the orchard. It's falling off the ... trees." Amazed by the ease with which the drug could be purchased around the city, she continued, "The Seattle police won't do anything about it. I asked them, 'don't you get embarrassed when you (hear) that Seattle is famous for grunge, cappuccino and heroin?'"
Chris Novoselic, Nirvana's six foot seven inch bass player, was quick to hit back — Kurt had been Courtney's husband, but he had been his friend as well, and he was convinced that the drug was only part of the story, and an insignificant fraction at that.
"Just blaming [Kurt's death] on smack is stupid. People have been taking smack for a hundred years. You can get [it] in any town. [And] smack was just a small part of his life." No, he did not have any answers yet ... but neither did anybody else.
Or maybe they did. Seattle might once have been voted America's most liveable city, but in the popular mind, it's also the most die-able. Two of America's most notorious serial murderers, Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer, operated in the immediate vicinity, but even before them, Seattle was known for its darkness, a dense spiritual darkness which enveloped all that it touched. Was it mere coincidence that when director David Lynch conceived the cult TV series Twin Peaks, it was the Northwest in which he chose to house its demented denizens?
Or that when the rock'n'roll tourist arrives in town for the first time, it's Death, not Life, which will haunt his itinerary. It matters not that the city has a tenacious grip on America's rock'n'roll sensibilities. Seattle has little to show for its efforts, nevertheless.
True, there is the Sub Pop shop, a few doors down from the Moore Theater, where you can purchase souvenirs of the label that shaped a nation's taste and sold a million boots for Doc Martin; and the Edgewater Inn, where Led Zeppelin allegedly entertained a redhead with a sand shark; and Sand Point Way, where sculptor Doug Hollis' Sound Garden stands howling to the winds.
But there is no Whiskey a-Go-Go, with three decades of history; no CBGBs, the birthplace of Punk; no Route 66 or 128. In other words, while Seattle bristles with rock'n'roll footnotes, there are very few firm chapter headings. What it does have are final paragraphs.
In Renton, to the south of the city limits, Greenwood Memorial Park houses the mortal remains of Jimi Hendrix, the guitarist who changed the face of modern rock'n'roll. On First Avenue, downtown, a wall outside the Vogue has been given over to graffiti and the soul of Andrew Wood, the voice of Mother Love Bone.
Stefanie Sargent, guitarist with 7 Year Bitch, died in Seattle in 1992; so did the Gits' Mia Zapata, savagely murdered just twelve short months later. The darkness which inspired Twin Peaks, which so permeates the Pacific Northwest that even local residents, who should be used to it, have reluctlantly adopted the phrase "Northwest noir"; that darkness has a special attraction for rock'n'roll, and though those deaths are totally unconnected, they are united in the psyche of the city.
And now there's another site to add to the tour books, set back from the street and shrouded in greenery, a low wall topped by impenetrable bushes, isolated in the way that only a million-dollar home can be. 171 Lake Washington Boulevard, which the Cobains bought four months earlier, and where he ended his life.
Kurt made no secret about his use of drugs, although friends insisted that he was off them as often as on, and even smack was medicinal, rather than fun. In his battle against those chronic stomach agonies, heroin was the only drug he knew of which not only alleviated the physical pain, but also blotted out the mental anguish he suffered.
Over the years, the term "reluctant superstar" has been so overdone, that today, it's all but meaningless. All one needs to do, it seems, is curse out a few photographers, then turn up late for an interview, and suddenly it's being splashed everywhere. It's become particularly popular in the last decade or so, all the more so because show-business has been desperately trying to demystify itself for just as long.
"Stars" are no longer untouchable deities, abseiling down the face of Mount Olympus to bestow their blessings on a meek and servile public. These days, they're folk just like you and me, with problems and toothaches like us, and the superstar excesses which we once endured, the drink and drugs and the multiple marriages, are not excesses any longer. These days, they're weaknesses, and instead of swooning at our idols' feet, today we're expected to pat them on the head. Like, "it must be so tough for you, and I should be so unlucky," because really, idols should not be demystified; they should be left in sacred sanctuaries to sparkle and to shine.
Tabloid sales might disagree, but the psychology behind them sure doesn't. People need celebrities who they can look up to, and though they voraciously devour their problems, it's because they're celebrities, that those problems matter. Dust the stardust from the superstars and what have you got? Mrs. Higgins down the road, complaining of her bunions; Mr. Potter at the bus stop, groaning when it rains. Remember when your parents would say, as you played the latest Sex Pistols record, "They don't write them like they used to do?" Give it another couple of years, then look at the bands who your kids are listening to. "They don't make them like they used to do, either."
Kurt Cobain certainly wasn't "made like they used to" be made, although on paper, he had all the hallmarks. In the brief three years since Nirvana exploded out of nowhere (in the wider sense, nowhere, although they'd already been together for five years by then), Cobain has been compared to most, if not all, of Rock's greatest stars.
John Lennon? Who else wrote such achingly personal songs?
Elvis Presley? Who else had so electrifying an effect on an apparently moribund market?
Johnny Rotten? Ditto, but with an extra, in-built, marketable cuddliness. You might impale yourself on those piercing blue eyes, but when you got up close, and listened to that low, warm, voice, one moment so serious, the next, breaking out with an infectious half-giggle, it was impossible to walk away from Kurt Cobain not believing that you'd just met your very best friend. So what if the next time, he ignored you? That first time was yours, and no one could take it away from you.
Then, when the news came of his death, it hit you even harder, because you'd never be able to repeat that moment, not even in your own mind, because even your dreams are haunted by the details the tabloids forgot to put in, like the mess that the shotgun must have made of his head, and the state of his mind as he did it. A reluctant superstar? At times, Kurt Cobain was a reluctant human being. His fame was simply the arsenic-tainted icing on a very rotten cake.
In the note he left alongside his body, Kurt confessed "I haven't felt the excitement of ... creating music along with really writing something for so many years now." His enthusiasm came in spurts — the week before Nirvana played their first show in three months at the 1992 New Music Seminar in New York, Kurt could scarcely control his excitement at the prospect of putting together a short acoustic set. He'd got the songs, and they weren't all screaming Punk Rock. "I think people will be surprised."
Instead, they were horrified. Four songs tacked to the end of a blistering show in a sweat-drenched Roseland, and the crowd was booing like it was Dylan at Newport. "Play some rock'n'roll!" Later mobs were more restrained, and by the time Nirvana treated MTV to an hour of the stuff, people were actually suggesting that the next Nirvana album should follow the pattern unerringly. But by then, maybe, Kurt had already lost interest. He was a rock'n'roller now. Would he ever be allowed to become something else? Not in this lifetime.
Hopelessly adrift within the demands of his own career, Kurt was reaching out, but no one could quite grasp him. In early March, as he prepared for the final concerts of his life, Kurt telephoned his cousin, Art Cobain, from Germany. No real reason, just to chat. But there was one thing he said which stuck with Art. "He said he was getting really fed up with his way of life," Art told People magazine. And that phrase again, "he really seemed to be reaching out." Unfortunately, the only solace Art could give, was to invite Kurt to a forthcoming Cobain family reunion. He hadn't seen his cousin since childhood — he would never see him again.
Kurt's final words, the last things he would ever write in his neat, but childlike scrawl, were addressed to his family, but aimed at the world.
"Sometimes I feel I should have a punch-in clock before I walk out on stage," Kurt wrote. He pleaded that he had done "everything in my power to appreciate it,
... but it's not enough." Then Kurt confessed that he was "too sensitive," because he needed"to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasm I once had as a child...."
And the worst crime he could think of would be "to put people off by faking it, by pretending ... I am having 100% fun."
To which his wife, Courtney Love, her voice shattered by emotion, but still intent on delivering his message to the thousands of fans gathered at a memorial service in Seattle, responded, "No Kurt, the worst crime I can think of is for you to just continue being a rock star when you fucking hate it. Just fucking stop!"
That was the message behind the meeting of friends, family and bandmates which Courtney convened within weeks of the couple's arrival back in Seattle, and just days after Kurt barricaded himself into a bathroom at the couple's Seattle home, threatening to kill himself, and this time, he'd get it right. He had a gun with him.
Courtney flew to the phone and called 911, but by the time the police arrived, the crisis had apparently already been averted. Kurt was still in the bathroom, but he was adamant that he wasn't suicidal — he was just hiding from his wife.
The police were convinced, after questioning Courtney, but they did not leave empty-handed — they also gathered up a .38 caliber Taurus revolver; a .380 Taurus handgun; a Beretta .380 semi-automatic handgun; and a Colt AR15 semi-automatic rifle. Several of the guns had only just been returned to the Cobains following an altercation the previous summer — a remarkable arsenal for a man who had gone on record time and again expressing his dislike of firearms.
"I don't believe in them," he told Alternative Press in 1991, "but ... I still think people have a right to own them." Journalist Susan Rees reported that "guns are mentioned in at least three songs [on Nevermind]."
That was Friday, March 18th; that weekend, Courtney and Nirvana bassist Chris Novoselic led the delegation of friends and family who intended confronting Kurt over his continued drug use — and delivering the simple message, shape up or ship out. As Tammi Blevins, a Gold Mountain spokeswoman, explained, "people close to him definitely did not want him on drugs."
Steve Chatoff, head of the Steps chemical dependency and mental health facility north of L.A., was intended to moderate the Intervention — if everything had gone according to plan, Chatoff would have returned to California with Kurt by his side. But it didn't. Someone reportedly warned Kurt what was going on, and that particular meeting was cancelled.
"There was no sense in my going after that," Chatoff told reporters. "You ... need the element of surprise, to break through denial." And as another family friend told the L.A. Times' Robert Hilburn, "Kurt is so much in denial about a drug problem that it's unbelievable."
The Intervention went ahead regardless, a week later at Kurt and Courtney's home in Seattle's exclusive Madrona district. It was strictly informal, simply a gathering of the ten or so people who cared most about Kurt, who just wanted to sit down with him for a while and talk ... Courtney and Chris; Danny Goldberg, now head of Atlantic Records; Pat Smear, the guitarist who had been working with Nirvana on and off since the previous fall; Dylan Carlson, one of Kurt's closest friends....
"I told him, 'you've got to be a good daddy,'" Courtney said afterwards. "'We've got to be good parents.'"
But Kurt wasn't interested. He would sit there for a while, quiet and seemingly acquiescent, his gaze passing from faces to his feet, but he didn't give a damn, not even when he heard that Gold Mountain had added their weight to the warning, reportedly by informing him that he would be dropped from their roster if he didn't clean up. Instead, he told Smear that they had work to do, and went down to the basement to rehearse a new song.
Excerpted from Never Fade Away by Dave Thompson. Copyright © 1994 Dave Thompson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is pretty much correct on everything that happened in Kurt's life. One of the best I've read about my bubby in a while. Courtney took my beloved cousin away from me! READ 'Love and Death' by Max Wallace and Ian Halperin.
Good but I wish that the book wouldn't make Courtney love as a hero or a victim because she wasn't
He was a living legend that decided to end his radical alteration of the music scene early. He ended his life as a revolutionary ¿god,¿ to some he was ¿god,¿ to others he was just known as Kurt Cobain. In Never Fade Away: The Kurt Cobain Story by Dave Thompson he is portrayed as an unstable, unpredictable, but an intelligent young man. The book starts out describing Kurt¿s tragic death in his Seattle home. It then goes into a little bit of explanation of the media¿s responses to the rumor of his death. It describes his background and a little bit about his wife, Courtney Love, and his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. Next, the book moves into Kurt¿s rough childhood. It includes interviews with people who knew Kurt in his childhood, they all said that he was so extremely gifted, and smart. He was a very happy young child, but his life started to fall apart when his parents got divorced. The book crawls into his harsh life as an angst-ridden teen. It then explains the start of Nirvana. It begins with the rawness of the Seattle grunge scene and it travels to big arenas. The story is explained in a very raw and truthful manor. Overall, the book was very informative to someone who didn¿t know the full story. Even if you know nothing about the tragic story of Kurt, this is a great book to invest you valuable time in. I enjoyed reading the book and it was a definite page-turner. The way that the direct quotes from Kurt and people who knew him are embedded into the text is really quite genius. I love the way the book goes way further into the story and describes every detail of his life. At times while reading the book, I felt like I was living it with Kurt, which is compelling, raw, and not to mention a little bit scary. The book captures the crude spirit of rock & roll the way we know and love it. I recommend this book for anyone who wants the Cobain story in a truthful way. I wouldn¿t recommend it for anyone who can¿t handle the rough reality of life, or for someone who can¿t handle anything crude. All in all, this book was extremely great, compelling, canny, and just downright forthright. It is a great investment for anyone willing to read about the tragic story of Kurt Cobain.
This is one of the first books I've read about Kurt and probably the best. It was raw, real and amazing, just like Kurt. You got a lot of insite to his life outside the overly done fame. It is a door to the life of the infamous, depressing, thought provoking man who was lightyears ahead of his time. Its a 'must have' for Nirvana fans who want to step inside the hellish dream, that is Kurt Cobain.
i have read many books on kurt and seen many television documanteries, but this one tops it all. kurt was my god and when he died, a part of me died with him. this book brought it all back.
Never Fade Away is probably the best book about Kurt Cobain yet! I'd recommend it to anybody
this book was interesting and has so much need info.nirvana was a great band.too bad they arent here anymore..
anything bout kurt is raw and gut wrenching... he was an amazing person and this was an amazing book.
this book makes you feel ur with kurt and by his side.. just READ IT!?!
An Informative yet interesting book
this book is awesome ~ heavier than heaven is so much better and it provides a hell of a lot more information.
It's great. Why have am I only the 9th person to review this book?!
if you don't know much about kurt cobain or nirvana this book is interesting and to the point. I have a wide knowledge of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana so I found it a quick to the point book... still quite interesting but nothing I didn't know and couldn't find a million websites on.
anything on the life of kurt cobain gets my reading. he was a role model to me, and i wish he was still alive. this book says it all.
It's very rare to find a book this inspirering based on so many facts, that doesnt force a certian opinion on you. Even people not particularly interesterd in the Kurt Cobain story could get something from this book.
it as a good book. it had a lot of good info on kurt. it goes back to his and all the way to the end of his great life. the only bad thing is that it has a lot of info on there reocrd lable and the bands that got him started and stuff like that.