Kurt Cobain’s Handwritten Suicide Note (1994), With Parts Movingly Read by Courtney Love


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Many peo­ple I grew up with had at one time or anoth­er a ver­sion of the crazy uncle of rock and roll Neil Young’s lyric at the ready, like an old man’s YOLO: “Bet­ter to burn out / than to fade away,” but most of us let go of our super­fi­cial embrace of the sen­ti­ment near the end of high school, real­iz­ing that too many of our heroes were dead or dying, and that we want­ed to live. Sad­ly this was not the case for Kurt Cobain, who quot­ed Young’s line in his sui­cide note. Cobain died at age twen­ty-sev­en, but at the emo­tion­al age of a frag­ile, self-absorbed teenag­er, stunt­ed by his addic­tion to hero­in and a preter­nat­ur­al shy­ness he could not over­come. I was a senior in high school and although not much of a fan, I remem­ber recoil­ing in hor­ror from the almost reli­gious devo­tion paid to Cobain after his sui­cide (not to men­tion the mar­ket­ing). The per­ver­si­ty of the Kurt Cobain death cult lay pre­cise­ly in the fact that his sta­tus as an icon at the end forced him deep­er into a kind of shad­ow life. Cobain was con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly an anti-rock star who was some­how made to believe he was sup­posed to be Fred­die Mer­cury.

Cobain men­tions Mer­cury in his hand­writ­ten sui­cide note (top). It’s a dis­turb­ing text, dis­joint­ed but cogent, swing­ing wild­ly in tone but in theme most­ly a note of painful, awk­ward self-con­scious­ness, addressed not to his wife or daugh­ter, but to his child­hood imag­i­nary friend, “Bod­dah.” The “man­ic roar of the crowds,” Cobain writes, “doesn’t affect me the way in which it did for Fred­die Mer­cury,” whose “rel­ish in the love and ado­ra­tion” Cobain “total­ly admire[s].” He com­plains that per­form­ing feels like punch­ing a clock, calls him­self a “nar­cis­sist” and “too sen­si­tive”: “The sad lit­tle, sen­si­tive, unap­pre­cia­tive, Pisces.” Only lat­er does he men­tion his daugh­ter Frances, and only at the end by name, in a post­script that reads:

Frances and Court­ney, I’ll be at your altar.
Please keep going Court­ney,
for Frances
for her life which will be so much hap­pi­er
with­out me. 

Read a full tran­script of the let­ter on red­dit. Court­ney has indeed kept going, though accused of cash­ing in on Kurt’s lega­cy, and even of plan­ning his death in a num­ber of con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries (many involv­ing that post­script). Above, you can hear her mourn­ing Cobain with fans and read­ing his final note. It’s dif­fi­cult lis­ten­ing, with­out a doubt. What­ev­er any­one inclines to think about the cir­cum­stances of Cobain’s death, there’s no ques­tion he was burned out—deeply depressed and heav­i­ly addicted—and get­ting on stage night after night didn’t help. Neil Young wrote of Cobain’s death in his recent auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Wag­ing Heavy Peace. “I, coin­ci­den­tal­ly, had been try­ing to reach him. I want­ed to talk to him. Tell him only to play when he felt like it.” Despite pre­vi­ous­ly avoid­ing the ques­tion, Young admits that was haunt­ed by Cobain’s ref­er­ence to the burn out, fade away lyric from “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue).” Like many peo­ple, it’s hard for me to hear that song and not think of Cobain’s far too lit­er­al embod­i­ment of the words.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Nirvana’s Home Videos: An Inti­mate Look at the Band’s Life Away From the Spot­light (1988)

Kurt Cobain’s Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track From ‘Smells Like Teen Spir­it,’ 1991

Pat­ti Smith’s Cov­er of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” Strips the Song Down to its Heart

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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