In 1994 Kurt Cobain faked his own suicide. 22 years later he’s ending his self-imposed exile.
An hour after walking in, Martin and I exit the lobby of the building. It has stopped raining.
Kurt left the office first, along with his bodyguard, riding down in the elevator having affixed a ski hat and fake okie-beard onto his face. The beard looked truly ridiculous. Mostly he just looked like a crazy person. But then I suppose it’s an effective enough disguise as it’s not like any paparazzi are on the lookout for a dead dude.
“What the fuck!” I say once we’re clear of the building and standing on the expansive sidewalk along Westwood Boulevard. There isn’t another pedestrian in sight. “This is just… it’s just fucking insane, dude!” It’s been a full hour since we discovered Kurt Cobain is alive and I still can’t believe it. I mean I believe it, but…
“You know, in general I’ve always thought human beings were just too fucking disorganized and selfish for conspiracy theories to have any truth to them. But then something like this happens. . . ” Martin says, not necessarily to me. “Maybe all that stuff you read on the Internet, maybe it’s real. Maybe we never really made it to the moon! Maybe 9-11 really was an inside job… Kurt Cobain. Alive and making music!”
“Keep your voice down!” I hiss at him. There’s nobody within earshot but you never know. Especially now. Every basic assumption I’ve had about life has been smashed.
And then like flipping a switch, Martin’s face goes slack. “So, I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Wait. Shouldn’t we go somewhere. . . and you know. . .talk about all this? I mean. . .”
“No. I don’t think so… What’s to discuss, really?” Martin asks. Suddenly he seems profoundly German. “He’s alive and we are going help him do what he needs to do. It will be nice to make some money as well.”
“Who gives a crap about the money, dude! He’s a fucking legend man, do you have any idea what this is going to mean to people? What this means to me?”
“That aspect of the situation is not within my purview. I am being hired to do a job.” He says robotically.
His reaction is killing me. “Martin! This is crazy, man. Can you imagine what it must have taken to pull off something like this off?” I say. “I mean not being able to talk to anyone… anyone at all. Your family… It’s just insane!”
“Yes,” He says. I think he’s said all he’s going to say but then he adds, “It is, as you say, insane, but it is what it is. I say just go home, have a beer, eat some food and try to forget about all of this.”
“First of all, dude, I’m sober. But, forget about it? Are you serious?” I can’t believe what I’m hearing.”
“Yes. Till tomorrow anyway.”
“Ok…” I say, shaking my head.
I want to tell someone! Literally millions of people… well maybe not millions… yes, millions… well, who knows how many, but a lot of people would be fucking THRILLED to know this news! But who can I tell?
I realize the answer is nobody. I’m under NDA. I could be sued for millions of dollars if I so much as breathe a word of this. I can’t tell anyone. I guess I better get used to the feeling.
“Bro… It’s out of our hands.” Martin holds his hands up as he backs away from me. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Relax. Get some rest.” He turns and walks toward the garage entrance. Hearing him say ‘bro’ is comic. It so doesn’t fit his buttoned up personality. I wonder how a guy like Martin came to be editing a punk rock zine in the first place. It’s fucking strange.
I wonder if Kurt would ever be caught dead saying ‘bro.’ I doubt it. Maybe, he’d say it ironically. It occurs to me, just might learn the answer to that question in the coming days. How many times in the past have I asked myself whether “would Kurt like this?” or “would Kurt be down with that?” Now, instead of being an exercise in futility, I might just learn the answers. I walk back to my car and begin the slow ride across the city towards home.
Tomorrow I’ll ask Kurt to call me “bro” and see what he says.
Friday morning is a gloriously sunny day. LA glows like few other places after a little rain and today the air is uncharacteristically clear and fresh smelling. Green overtaking brown as the landscape’s dominant color palate.
Today we are to meet Kurt at an address in the Hollywood Hills. I assume it’s where he lives.
It take me an extra half hour or so to get out of the house, as I wasn’t able to fall asleep till quite late, which in turn made it that much harder to rouse to my alarm. I was still pretty wound up at bedtime. It certainly didn’t help that my wife wouldn’t stop begging me to tell her what I’d been doing on the other side of town. She found my blanket assertion that, “it’s a secret and I can’t tell you or we’ll get sued,” completely unsatisfying. Although I can’t say I blame her.
I’ve been up in the hills before, but the street address off Mulholland is just the beginning. I locate it and then drive my Accord up a narrow driveway around a couple of switchbacks before coming to a mini-asphalt roundabout where two substantial gates block further progress. Each has intercom in front of it, and block driveways that head in separate directions. Neither gate has a number on it. Nobody mentioned anything about a gate, never mind two, so I’m forced to consider which intercom I should buzz.
I open the car door and step out to inspect the intercom system more closely when a motor kicks in and the gate to my left begins to open. I look up and spot a plastic or glass sphere atop a nearby pole. Duh, of course I’m being watched. I get back in the car and follow the driveway a couple of hundred yards further. A not particularly grandiose midcentury modern style home comes into view. Considerable attention has been paid to integrating the house into the landscape. Given all the hoops I had to jump to get up here however, I expected something bigger. I pass a closed garage door and jag around an understated fountain and park next to a silver Prius with a Black Flag symbol stuck on the bumper. It’s gotta be Martin’s. You don’t get more punk rock than a black flag sticker on a 2012 Prius. Or maybe it’s Kurt’s. Who knows.
The bigger question is, if it is Martin’s car, why is he here so early? Is he trying to angle me out of this relationship?
The dude from yesterday, John, the-MMA-fighter-looking-dude comes walking down the path from the house.
“Mr. Lapkus, welcome,” He says. He’s wearing a short-sleeve polo today and I can clearly see the tattoo sleeves covering his toned arms.
“Thanks,” I say. “Call me Jonas, please.” God, I hate being called mister. “Nice place.”
“Thanks, it suits our needs. Let’s head to the back house, this way. Martin’s already here.” He stands at the head of a pathway beckoning me forward.
A flash of anger comes over me. What is Martin up to?
“So do you live here?” I ask.
“I do. I stick close to Kurt. I take care of most of his interactions with the outside world, anything that comes up, day-to-day, you know?”
He leads me down path through a garden and past a pool area. We make for another structure sitting in the shade of some mature and very pretty Eucalyptus trees.
“And how long have you been here?” I ask, as we walk.
“You mean at the house? Or with Kurt?”
He reaches the door to the guesthouse, opens it and holds it for me, giving me a weird half smile. “A long time now,” he says. The look he gives me makes me think there’s something going on with this guy. But then, maybe I’m being paranoid.
I step in. Kurt sits at a desk on the far side of the room. John stays in the doorway and gives a slight wave to Kurt. A cute brown longhaired Terrier sits up in his doggie bed and gives my arrival a semi-interested woof.
“Huddle, quiet!” Kurt says. “Hey, Jonas! Glad you could make it. Come on in,” he beckons from his desk. “Have a seat. You want something to drink or anything?” His manner is so much higher energy than yesterday, like he’s in a really, really good mood. It’s kind of strange.
I shake Kurt’s hand and sit next to Martin on the couch. “Nah, I’m good, thanks.”
Kurt nods at John in the doorway who shuts the door behind us. The dog settles with a sigh. He’s a cute dog. He’s older, not a puppy with a cool, calming vibe.
“Wait a second! Huddle, isn’t that? I know that name,” I can’t quite put it together. “Howling wolf? Was that his first name or something?”
“Ha! Close. No, it was Leadbelly.”
“Aw shit. I knew it was something like that.”
“Huddle William Ledbetter,” Kurt beams.
“I should have known,” I say.
There are a number of what look like Kurt’s Basquiat-esque paintings framed and hung up on the wall. Besides that, I’d describe the room as spare. There are a couple of bookshelves, a few plants and speakers on stands in each of the corners. On the bookshelf closest to me, I immediately recognize the paperback edition of “Infinite Jest,” and a copy of “Helter Skelter.” I can read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” on the spine of another tome and I spot the familiar design of “Please Kill Me.” amongst many other books. There’s a framed “Mission of Burma” show flyer on a nearby wall.
“Sorry for all the formality yesterday,” Kurt says. “Unfortunately, it’s kind of necessary, I guess.”
“So, now that we are lawyer free, what’s the plan?” Martin asks with his characteristic brusque-ness.
I’m so annoyed with Martin. “Dude, can we just chill out for a second? I literally just sat down.” I would say more, go farther but I don’t want to admonish Martin too much in front of Kurt. I feel like I’ve walked in on a conversation already in progress. Which pisses me off.
“Nah, it’s cool, man. It’s cool. I’ll explain,” Kurt says, sensing my annoyance. “Jonas is right, though. We aren’t in a hurry, Martin. We can hang. I mean it’s been 20 years already so a few minutes more won’t change the equation.”
I appreciate him intuiting my annoyance and taking the time to diffuse Martin.
“Cool,” Martin says, doing his best impersonation of a relaxed person. This in turn makes me check my own anxiety as well. I’m in danger of appearing uncool.
“Basically, I think I’ve stayed away long enough. You know… from the world,” Kurt says.
“Wow,” I say. “This is all just a lot to take in. Did you intend to come back sooner? Never come back? What were you thinking? What was the plan?”
“It’s not that simple. I mean, back then I really did intend to die. That O.D. in Rome? That was the real deal. I didn’t think I was coming back from that. But somehow in spite of myself, Consuelo talked me into this crazy plan of his… I mean, thank God.”
“Jesus. And here we are 20 years later,” I say.
“Yup. The no-plan plan,” Kurt chuckles.
“But… Could you have imagined how things would have turned out? That things would look the way they do, now?”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean you are fucking deity, dude. The records have aged so well. They’re more beloved now than when they came out.”
“That’s not true!” Kurt protests. “You’re exaggerating.”
“I’m not, man. You may be too modest to admit it, but a lot of people are gonna fucking flip when they find this shit out.”
“He’s right. They will,” Martin chimes.
“I know. They will.” Kurt kind of hangs his head. “You know what they say, ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder.’”
“It’s more than that. And you have to know it. The music. It means a lot to people.” I actually can’t tell if he really doesn’t know how beloved he is or if he’s just being modest.
“Well, no matter what I do, there is just no way that I’m not going to disappoint people.”
“This is true,” Martin says.
I shake my head. Martin is just clueless. “Okay. So what if you disappoint people? You can’t please everybody.”
Kurt looks up. “Yeah, I know, but…”
I’ve gotten way out in front of myself. Probably like every other mega-Nirvana fan I feel like I know Kurt intimately. I need to remember that in reality, I know nothing about this man.
“Wait a minute. I’m sorry. We’re getting off track,” I say. “Let’s figure this out. First things first. What’s all this Foo Fighters business? Let’s start there.”
“Dude, Dave Grohl is totally out of control. I’ll never get an opportunity like this again. He thinks I’m dead and I want to scare the living shit out of that clown.”
I can’t help but laugh. Apparently Martin can’t either, because before we know it the dog is sitting up and looking at us like we are maniacs. All three of us are laughing like we are at a cartoon villain symposium.
You can read part 4 of this ongoing serial fiction, here.