The Fallout Of The Burnout

Kurt Cobain's body was discovered at his Seattle home, about 5,000 people gathered under a slate-gray Seattle sky for a candlelight vigil. The distraught crowd filled the air with profane chants, burned their flannel shirts and fought with police. They also listened to a tape made by Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, in which she read from his suicide note: "I haven't felt the excitement in listening to as well as creating music ... for so many years now ... I don't have the passion any more. So remember, it's better to burn out than fade away." Love punctuated her reading with sobbing, recrimination and obscenities, exclaiming, "He's such an asshole. I want all of you to say 'asshole' really loud." She got what she asked for.

That discomfiting moment foreshadowed the revelations that poured forth in the days that followed. The circumstances of Cobain's short life and last days were as sordid as they were sad. Last month's "accidental drug overdose" in Rome and the official claims that Cobain was OK were both complete fiction. His marriage to Love may or may not have been in trouble, but almost no one denies that his infatuation with drugs was the great love of his life.

Cobain struggled with his addiction for years, repeatedly assuring friends that he was clean, that he was going into rehab, that his drug use was under control. But as his band Nirvana became more successful, the lawyers, agents and record-company executives who knew of Cobain's problem were loath to intercede. "He was a druggie," concedes one such acquaintance. "But you can't go around giving urine tests to artistic geniuses who are paying you money."

The suicide attempt in Rome changed all that. Officially, the word was that Cobain went into a coma by foolishly mixing champagne and painkillers. But as one friend now says, "You don't take 50 pills by accident." 'Fen days before he died, Cobain's wife and a group of friends pleaded with him to get help. In late March he entered a detox program in L.A. After a couple of days, he "jumped the fence," in Love's words. He was said to be in the Seattle area with a shotgun. His wife was distraught. "He never, ever disappeared like that," she told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in a telephone inter-view last week. "He always called me."

On Thursday, April 7, two days after a medical examiner says Cobain shot himself and the day before his body was found, police say Love herself was taken to a hospital in L.A. for a drug overdose and was charged with possession of a controlled substance. (Love denies overdosing, or possessing heroin.) Released on $10,000 bail, she checked herself into a rehab center, but left soon after a friend called the next day with news of Cobain's death. The couple's 20-month-old daughter, Frances Bean, is at home in Seattle, with Love, Cobain's mother and a nanny.

Few stars were ever more uneasy with fame than Cobain, but even in death the singer couldn't fight success. Nirvana's latest album, "in Utero," sold 40,000 copies in the week ending April 10, up from 18,000 the week before. "Nevermind," the 1991 megahit that made mainstream stars of the band, almost tripled its weekly sales to 20,000 copies.

The brightest spot in the fallout over Cobain's death lies in the reaction of his fans. While there was one apparent copycat suicide, by a 28-year-old man who attended the candlelight vigil and then went home and shot himself, most of Cobain's fans seem to have mourned him without endorsing his suicide. Some spoke predictably of having lost their voice, their poet of disenfranchisement. But radio call-in shows and the Internet were equally besieged by ornery fans who refused to see their idol twisted into a generational icon, a kind of hip deity.

Cobain, who once sang "I'd rather be dead than cool," couldn't help but approve of student Lamont Granquist, who wrote on the Internet: "KC wasn't Lennon or Hendrix and he shouldn't be made into the 'easy way out' poster child ... Arguably he shouldn't really be made into the depression and divorce survivor poster child either ... I do think that there is room for viewing KC as a human being." With such admirers tending his memory, Cobain stands to fare better in the next life than he ever did in this one.