(Update, May 5 – Courtney Love has confirmed, via Cobain biographer Charles R. Cross in the Seattle Times, that she wrote the letter in 1991.)
(Update, 6:20 p.m. – The mysterious crop job of the note has been addressed with a full scan of the note, via grunge authority/journo Mark Yarm’s Tumblr. The note had been cropped in its original release, seemingly either by Seattle PD or CBS News, who broke the news. The last sentence reads: “Will you promise to fuck her at least once a week OK.” Now it really seems like something Courtney Love wrote in jest (except maybe that last part))
Kurt Cobain’s suicide will not die. This week, as we’re still coming off Cobain’s 20th deathiversary and Nirvana’s Rock Hall Induction, the Seattle Police Department released their detective’s full re-examination of his suicide file, which came to the same conclusion. This re-examination, which featured 34 newly released photos from the death scene, revealed a scan of a note found in Cobain’s wallet when his body was found in the greenhouse of his Seattle home on April 8, 1994.
The note, written on stationery from San Francisco’s Phoenix Hotel, reads:
“Do you Kurt Cobain take Courtney Michelle Love to be your lawfully shredded wife even when she’s a bitch with zits and siphoning all yr money for doping and whoring…”
Immediately the Internet — from CBS, which broke the news and at least had the professionalism to qualify its conclusion that Cobain was the author with the word “presumably,” to Gawker sites to nearly every music blog — decided that Cobain had penned the note. From there, the peanut gallery and Cobain death conspiracy theorists alike ran with the idea that this small note insinuated something new about Kurt’s life and death. Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles went on a full-fledged, Love-debasing Twitter rant about it:
“That note that the Seattle cops revealed that Kurt wrote, re: C Love? #OMO [“One Man’s Opinion”] it says everything we always knew. Also, I think it proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Courtney either, A ) had Kurt killed, or B ) forged fake “suicide note,” ditched real. I also want to go on the record saying that Kurt absolutely 100% wrote the songs on ’Live Through This,’ ala BIG writing ’Hardcore’ lyrics.”
Not so fast.
There’s nothing here that would lead us to believe that Kurt himself penned the note. Frankly, I think the handwriting in it looks as much like Courtney’s handwriting as it does Kurt’s. Take a look.
Kurt’s handwriting (via his Journals collection):
Courtney’s handwriting (via an auction):
So, whose handwriting is it? We asked a handwriting expert for his opinion, but he said working from poor-quality scans would prove inconclusive. It’s not in any way certain that it’s Kurt’s, in other words — and yet, everyone takes one look at it and assumes that it is. But for anyone who actually knows anything about Cobain, something feels off here. This is not earnest Kurt, who referred to Love as “a goddess of a wife who sweats with ambition and empathy,” asked for her to “please keep going,” and said he’d “be at her altar” in in his suicide note. This is not feminist Kurt, who asked sexist fans to stop listening to Nirvana. This isn’t the language he’d use to communicate something genuinely cruel, and “Courtney Michelle Love” isn’t even his wife’s real name (it’s Courtney Michelle Harrison). So how serious can it be?
No matter who wrote the note, the idea that one line on a piece of hotel stationery illuminates anything is silly. This wasn’t some plea Cobain left at the suicide scene to show the world how horrible Courtney Love was. It was a funny, self-aware jab at both the institution of marriage and the public’s criticisms of his wife, which he kept in his wallet.
Pop culture has collectively searched for answers regarding Cobain’s suicide for 20 years now. I would venture to say that, more than any other celebrity death, Cobain’s has had the most ink spilled over it. Lurking behind some of it is the persistent notion that Love played a role. The Seattle Police Department has ruled Cobain’s death an apparent suicide multiple times, but people like Tom Grant, the private investigator hired by Love when Kurt fled rehab days before his death, leave the door open a crack.
Certainly it does not help that Love’s mistakes are pointed out continually; among hated rock ‘n’ roll wives, she’s right up there with Yoko Ono. We’ve seen her accused of failure as a mother, as a human, as an artist, and as the keeper of Kurt’s legacy. We’ve seen her be downright nasty to Dave Grohl (then make up publicly) and outright reckless with her loved ones. She’s been called every name imaginable, and was even back when Kurt was still alive. And she feeds into this by refusing to hide the negative parts of herself — something most celebrities try to sweep under the rug. As for the note itself, Courtney herself has consistently referenced her teenage whore past and her torture relationship to beauty ideals in her lyrics on Hole songs. Both she and Cobain were, at times, relatively open about their drug usage; it’s why Frances Bean was taken away from them briefly after her birth.
But Love is also self-deprecating and funny — in her lyrics, in interviews. It’s just as easy to believe that she could have written this about herself, in reference to her own insecurities and/or what had been said about her by others. The idea that Courtney and Kurt would make fun of her haters seems more than plausible. They were an “us vs. the world” kind of couple, both well aware that the world perceived them as Gen X’s Sid and Nancy.
When we read the words on this scribbled page and choose to believe that Kurt not only wrote them but meant them in all seriousness, we’re siding against Courtney Love yet again, and it smacks of both misogyny and confirmation bias. Give her some credit, and get a sense of humor.