We were less than a week away from delivering the color separations of AP 71 to our printer when we got word Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain had died. Everyone in the office was quite floored: We had gotten the first cover story with the band at the beginning of the promotional cycle for In Utero months prior [AP 63], and we were looking forward to seeing how Nirvana were going to deal with the attendant hype and scrutiny that always follows people who usher great cultural change. Sadly, that particular chapter in the band’s mythology never got that far.
In AP’s first and only “stop the presses” moment, the decision was made to bump Sonic Youth off the cover of AP in lieu of paying tribute to Cobain. Veteran music journalist Dave Thompson was living in Seattle at the time and he turned in this story as he was witnessing the city’s great sadness. The cover tagline, “Even In His Youth,” references the B-side of the original U.S. single of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” While we did beat all of the other monthly mags to the newsstand that month, that accomplishment didn’t do anything to assuage the great void Cobain’s death left in both underground culture and the hearts of music fans worldwide. —Jason Pettigrew, editor in chief
Kurt Cobain: Nobody Waved Goodbye
STORY: Jo-Ann Greene & Dave Thompson
This article originally ran in AP 71 (May ’94) and was filed shortly after the discovery of Kurt Cobain’s body; as such, some information contained in the story has since been ruled inaccurate. The story has been reprinted verbatim below with very minimal changes to grammar and structure to best convey the atmosphere immediately surrounding Cobain’s death.
The emotions ranged from stunned to stupid. Questioned about his own mother’s death, John Lennon once said that part of you is sad, but another part laughs and says, “I’m glad it wasn’t me.” And while it’s cliché to say no one was laughing in Seattle during the second weekend of April, it’s also a lit. The Kurt Cobain jokes started before the body was even identified. Human nature would not allow otherwise.
Human nature, though, is a funny thing. On one hand we were shocked, unable to believe what had happened, but on the other we couldn’t wait for what happened next. Local television station KING 5 had been bringing up toxicology reports since the story began, unable or unwilling to believe that the “King of the Junkies” took any way out which didn’t involve a fistful of pills.
Death should start a dating agency. Within hours of the story showing up on TV, Kurt’s “friends” were on there too. But where were they when he needed them?
First, the facts as they stood 72 hours after the body was found, 12 hours before this issue went to print. On Friday morning, April 8, a contracted electrician arrived at Cobain’s Seattle home. There was no answer, although a TV was on inside. Gary Smith began work, following wires along the garage to the upstairs apartment which, at one time, had been the home of the Cobain family’s former nanny. Looking in the window, he saw a knocked-over plant and what he originally thought was a mannequin. It was only when he saw the blood that he realized he was wrong. It was about 8:40 a.m. Kurt Cobain was dead.
Smith called the police who, after breaking through a locked door, discovered that Cobain had died of a single shotgun wound to the head. A suicide note lay nearby, along with a piece of the singer’s ID. It wasn’t enough for an official identification—early reports said only that the body of a man in his twenties had been found. But nobody had any doubt whose it was.
Smith’s boss called local rock station KXRX, who initially ignored the report. It took a second call to convince them; the station broke the news of Cobain’s death to Seattle. Meanwhile, the police were unable to locate Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, who was believed to be in Los Angeles, preparing for her band Hole’s tour. Eventually, the official identification was made through Cobain’s fingerprints.
In Seattle, as in the rest of the country, the immediate question was why? We’ll never know the entire answer to that question, but the chronology of events throughout the last month made it clear that Cobain was in deep emotional trouble.
Although the publicity machine had gone into overdrive after Cobain’s overdose in Rome, in Seattle it was common knowledge within the music community that it was no accident. As one insider succinctly put it, “There’s no way you accidentally take 50 sedatives.” In fact, it wasn’t. Sources now say he left a suicide note.
Returning home from his Roman misadventure, Cobain quickly resumed his drug usage (reportedly back to heroin), frightening all who knew him. Finally, Love called in Cobain’s friends, family, the band, as well as representatives from Geffen Records and Gold Mountain (Nirvana’s management) to arrange a drug intervention. Gold Mountain threatened to drop Cobain if he didn’t clean up. The threats and pleas apparently worked. Cobain promised to go into rehabilitation. >>>