Letters To Kurt by Eric Erlandson

Published on April 8th, 2012 in: Book Reviews, Books, Music, Reviews |

By Emily Carney

letters to kurt 1

Whether you liked Nirvana or not, if you grew up in the 1990s, your cultural map was dotted with the band’s landmark accomplishments. I vividly remember the debut of Nevermind in 1991, the Sassy magazine with Kurtney on the cover (Kurt Cobain had pink hair and he and Courtney Love both looked like elegant street urchins), the band’s MTV Unplugged, Kurt’s first horrifying suicide attempt in Rome (my best friend told me about it the morning it happened at the bus stop—we had just turned 16), and the world premiere of Hole’s “Miss World” video about a week later.

Then April 8, 1994 swung by. Along with it, the awful news of Kurt Cobain’s suicide by gun. My best friend again called my house after school and told me authorities thought they’d found Kurt’s body in his house. Of course, that nomenclature is never good. Even though I was not a super-fan, I was genuinely saddened by the awful manner of Kurt’s demise. The grief was only exacerbated two months later by the overdose death of Hole’s bassist, the beautiful, gifted Kristen Pfaff. It felt, genuinely, like all of my era’s talents were being plucked off, one by one.

The following year, we were treated to Courtney Love’s on-stage meltdowns and random fights with people (remember the ones with Kathleen Hanna?) around the world. I was a huge Hole fan and was mortified by the scope of her grief. It’s hard to say, as an adult, how I would handle a similar situation, but seeing her tear-streaked, makeup-smeared face in magazines, looking like a tragic Kabuki figure, week upon week, was downright surreal.

Eric Erlandson, Hole’s guitarist, captures the ethos and resonance from this period in his book, entitled Letters to Kurt. The dark days of 1994 left its mark upon Eric—Pfaff was, for a time, his girlfriend and he had a close friendship with Cobain. This book is more of a history of moods than linear, chronologically arranged “letters” and reads more like a Richard Brautigan novel. That being said, it’s a great reminder of the triumph and tragedies of my youth in the 1990s. On a sadder note, the back of the book contains a condolences section to anyone who has experienced suicide and resources for those who are still suffering.

Erlandson, in the book’s introduction, sums up his feelings of “subconscious jealousy” when Courtney Love (his former girlfriend) takes up with Kurt: “Damn, how I wished I could write and sing like him!” However, he admits to where the road would eventually lead: “Yet, I saw firsthand the toll it took on his soul.” He makes it clear that he’s not out to “demonize” his former bandmate, Courtney, despite their sometimes-messy relationship. The book stands as a fever chart documenting the heights of rage and sadness and the lows of anger and acceptance—basically, the legacy of any suicide. Erlandson has created a stream-of-consciousness work of unusual beauty and lingering sadness.

Letters to Kurt is now available in hardcover from Akashic Books’ website.

Book events:

Sun., April 8, 6:00pm
Basilica Hudson
110 Front Street.
*Event will feature reading from Letters to Kurt, film screening of Hit So Hard, followed by Q&A, and music with Eric, Patty Schemel, and Melissa Auf der Maur.

Tues., April 10, 7:00pm
Books on the Square
471 Angell Street

Wed., April 11, 7:00pm
Clinton Book Shop
12 E. Main Street

Mon., April 16, 6:00pm
Newbury Comics, Harvard Square
36 JFK St.

Sat., April 21, 11:30am – 12:00pm
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
USC Campus booth #84

Sat., April 21, 4:00pm – 4:45pm
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
USC Campus booth #176

Mon., April 23, 8:00pm
Largo at the Coronet
366 North La Cienega Boulevard

Wed., April 25, 7:30
2476 Telegraph Road
*Event will include acoustic music by Eric Erlandson

Thurs., April 26, 7:00pm
City Lights
261 Columbus Ave.

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