Twenty-five years ago this week, Kurt Cobain took his own life. The tragedy felt earth-shaking to Gen X music fans who connected strongly to Nirvana’s melodically blasting songs of angst and alienation. All too clearly, Cobain sang from the heart.
Strung-out and despondent, the 27-year-old rocker shot himself in the head, with a newly purchased rifle, on April 5, 1994. He pulled the trigger in a pool-house behind the Seattle home that had been recently purchased with wife Courtney Love. Cobain’s bloodied body was discovered by an electrician who had no idea of the rock star’s notoriety.
Danny Goldberg rode along with Cobain while Nirvana enjoyed a meteoric rise, beginning in 1991. As related in his book “Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain” (Ecco), out Tuesday, Goldberg loved Cobain, who, in turn, viewed Goldberg as a father figure. Goldberg managed the band from 1990 until ‘92 and the pair stayed close ‘til the end. “I felt connected to Kurt and considered him a friend,” Goldberg told The Post. “You work with a lot of people and that happens only occasionally.”
Danny Goldberg’s new book is out Tuesday.ECCO
Though Goldberg may have been close to Cobain, he was not initially privy to his client’s inner demons. They became overwhelmingly apparent in January 1992. That was when Goldberg flew to New York to attend Nirvana’s first “Saturday Night Live” appearance.
It was a huge event, following the release of “Nevermind,” Nirvana’s debut chart-topping album. “I got to the hotel and faxes of two articles awaited me,” recalled Goldberg who currently owns a management company called Gold Village Entertainment. “They both referred to Kurt’s drug problem.” One described a sallow-skinned Cobain nodding out, with eyelids closing on dilated pupils. “There was a tremendous shock and disappointment. When I got to ‘SNL,’ it was clear that Kurt was stoned. [His heroin use] went from being a rumor to something we were convinced was true.”
The presence of a father figure failed to quell Cobain’s druggy appetite. Later in 1992, a then-pregnant Love shockingly told Vanity Fair, “We went down to Alphabet City … and copped some dope. Then we got high and went to ‘SNL.’”
By the next year, things had only deteriorated. Back in New York for a follow-up appearance on “SNL,” Nirvana was staying at Omni Berkshire Place Hotel on East 52nd Street. Photographer Jesse Frohman had been assigned to shoot the group for a cover story in London Observer Sunday Magazine. In preparation, he set up a series of elaborate photos on the streets of Manhattan and in Central Park. Frohman walked into the hotel at 11 a.m., the agreed upon meeting time. He received an unpleasant surprise. “Nirvana’s manager told me I had to shoot them in the basement of the hotel,” said Frohman. “It was ‘take it or leave it.’”
While waiting three-and-a-half hours for Cobain to appear, Frohman turned the basement into a makeshift studio, complete with lights and a white seamless backdrop. “Kurt showed up with his head hanging down as if his body was on a hanger,” Frohman continued. “He wanted to know if I had a bucket. I asked why he needed a bucket. He told him that he might need to puke. Kurt was definitely high and a friend later told me that he had OD’ed the day before [apparently, he came out of it and did not require hospitalization]. I thought I had a disaster on my hands” — wearing a hunting cap and bug-eye sunglasses, Cobain smoked, drooled, spat water and probably revealed more of himself than he intended — “but it turned out to be an authentic record and one of the all-time great rock ‘n’ roll photo shoots.” Images from the session were compiled for a book entitled “Kurt Cobain: The Last Session.”
Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain with baby Francis Bean in 1993.FilmMagic
Problems plaguing Cobain neared a crescendo on the night of March 3, 1994. The most incandescent rock star of the day, he was convalescing in a Rome hotel room, trying to recover from a sore throat that necessitated Nirvana canceling its European tour. Love was with him; the couple enjoyed room-service dinner and a bottle of vintage champagne before dozing off. Near dawn the next morning, Love found her husband on the floor and unconscious.
Later claiming that he downed “50 f—ing [Rohypnol] pills,” Love has maintained that the OD was no accident. She believes it was a suicide attempt and has claimed that a note suggested as much.
By the time she placed a panicky call to Goldberg, her lank-haired husband was comatose at Umberto Polyclinic Hospital in Rome. “Obviously, I was freaked out,” said Goldberg, who steeled himself for Kurt’s death. “Courtney was devastated. She and I prayed on the phone. Then I hung up and prayed that he would survive and be safe and come out of it.”
He did, and there was hope that the star would be scared straight.
Back in the US, following an unsuccessful stab at rehab — after a single day at Exodus clinic in Los Angeles, Cobain jumped a six-foot wall and escaped — Cobain convinced a so-called friend to buy him a rifle. “If I knew about that, I would have said it was a pretty terrible idea,” said Goldberg. “Drug problems and guns are a bad combination. Being prone to depression is not great for guns either.”
Goldberg’s final in-person encounter with Cobain was at a last-ditch Seattle intervention that went from bad to worse. Arriving midday, Goldberg encountered a clutch of close friends at the house where Kurt and Courtney lived with their 1-and-a-half-year-old daughter Frances Bean. Cobain sat on the floor alongside a fellow drug user — “When you’re a junky, you get junky friends,” Goldberg said — and they both appeared to be out of it on smack. “It was awkward and not at all comfortable to show up for something like this in someone’s home.”
Danny Goldberg and Kurt Cobain at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards.FilmMagic, Inc
Friends begged Cobain to get off of drugs and Cobain felt “ganged up on.” Things hit a nadir when Janet Billig, one of Nirvana’s managers, took matters into her own hands. “She went upstairs and began throwing away Kurt’s drugs [flushing them down the toilet],” said Goldberg, describing Cobain as feeling “violated” and Billig as being “mortified” upon discovery. “The moment was heartbreaking. But Janet was just throwing away things she thought were toxic. She meant well. He was upset. I wondered how to get through the next 30 seconds.”
Over the immediate short term, Goldberg managed. But, soon after, when Cobain lofted the idea of being a lifetime junky and using William S. Burroughs as a role model for his ongoing plan, Goldberg realized that he would rather be home in LA with his wife and daughter. He left for the airport and hoped for the best.
The best never came. Within a week, Cobain died at his own hand. Besides five albums worth of great music, Goldberg has mementos from his rocker friend. One is a photo of them taken backstage at th MTV Video Music Awards. Both men look happy and exude affection with arms around each other. “I think about Kurt every day since he died,” said Goldberg. “I look at pictures of us together, see Kurt smiling and smile back.”