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Eric Erlandson 'Letters to Kurt' Book Excerpt: Hole Guitarist on His Relationships With Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love
- Posted on Apr 4th 2012 4:00PM by Spinner
Twenty 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.
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.
Los Angeles, California