Ask anyone who shot John F. Kennedy and you never know what kind of response you will get. One school of thought has it that the mafia was behind his assassination. Some observers think it was Fidel Castro, while others will point to the CIA. A lot of people still believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

On the other hand, most people have a pretty quick response when you ask their opinion of who offed Kurt Cobain, the Nirvana frontman and archetype of grunge who died of a shotgun blast to the skull in April 1994. Virtually everyone feels that Cobain’s opportunistic / psychopathic / abusive wife Courtney Love was in one way or another responsible for this musician’s untimely and unfortunate demise.

Wait, are you still buying into the official verdict that Cobain’s death was a suicide, the inevitable end of years and years of drug use and unremitting psychological pain? Guess again if you are accepting this easy explanation. A new book “Love & Death” offers plenty of compelling evidence that the bullet which ended his life at age 27 was fired by someone else.

The authors of this book, Max Wallace and Ian Halperin, penned “Who Killed Kurt Cobain” in 1998 and also put together a companion documentary film. In their own modest words, these two are “generally considered the foremost journalistic authorities” on this topic. Their new book brings to light a number of suspicious points about the supposed suicide, including the following:

* According to the official reports, Cobain had locked himself inside the greenhouse of his Lake Washington mansion, propped a stool against the door, then shot himself. However, the authors reveal that the stool was located elsewhere in the room when the body was found and that the door had a lock that could be pulled shut from the outside by someone leaving this space.

* Toxicology tests conducted as part of the autopsy found more than three times the accepted maximum lethal dosage level of heroin in Cobain’s body at the time of his death. Even an addict such as he would have immediately lost consciousness with this extreme dosage, leading to speculation that he was unknowingly given a pure dose of heroin, then was shot after he passed out.

* As opposed to the stereotypical image of a tortured genius, Cobain had found a new source of passion in his life: his new daughter Frances Bean. Bandmates say he remained largely drug free during Nirvana’s last tour. To this end, evidence suggests that his supposed overdose in Rome shortly before his death may have simply been a botched murder attempt by Courtney.

Beyond these assertions, the real meat of “Love & Death” is provided by transcripts of audio tapes belonging to Tom Grant, a private detective based in LA. Grant was initially hired by Courtney to find Kurt, but eventually came to realize that he was being duped. These tapes give substance to the theory that she staged his death to look like a suicide after learning that he planned to file for divorce.

Unfortunately, the authors do not gain access to all of the audio: “[The tapes] represent more than 30 hours of conversation relating to the Cobain case. To our disappointment, however, the tapes containing what Grant considers the most crucial evidence in support of his murder theory are still off-limits. They will be turned over to the FBI, Grant tells us, if the case is re-opened.”

Big bummer. Real big bummer. While the book does a pretty good job of uncovering many loose ends with this case, the inability to access all these tapes makes the whole thing a bit of a farce. Without this knockout punch, “Love and Death” comes across as a work in progress, a travelogue about an ongoing investigation as opposed to the definitive text on this subject.

Moreover, Wallace and Halperin eventually begin to display some of the comically bizarre behavior heretofore reserved for Courtney. Eventually they come across a man who might have carried out Cobain’s murder. They promise this reluctant suspect that his statements about the death are “off the record,” but then they print the entire conversation in their book. This is why people trust journalists so much.

Worse still, after chapters and chapters of documenting Love’s probable involvement with the crime (including ties to the Seattle Police Department and the coroner that may have compromised the official investigation of the case), the authors develop very cold feet. On page 281 they write, “We did not hear a single iota of evidence on these tapes directly implicating her in Kurt’s death.”

Gee, maybe we don’t know who killed Cobain after all. Barring a confession by the guilty party, perhaps this is one of those events that we’ll never fully understand. Perhaps the case is more like JFK’s killing than initially thought. I’ve always figured the CIA was responsible for that one. Hell, maybe they got involved with killing Kurt also.

Love & Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain (2004)
by Max Wallace and Ian Halperin

Publisher: Atria Books
Format: 294 pages, Hardcover
ISBN: 0743484835

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