Letter From A Fan


From The Washington Post (April 9, 1994)

by Douglas Coupland

Dear Kurt,

I was in Seattle, March 4, 1994, when I heard the news - that you were in Rome - that you drank too much champagne, took too many sedatives, Rohypnol, had the flu. Whatever. You were in a coma. I once lived in Italy in 1984, and I remember that the pharmacists there dispense downers like they were Pez. So the news sounded believable.

Representatives of David Geffen's record company kept giving out the same story over the wires - semi-news: Kurt Cobain has opened his eyes - Kurt squeezed his hand in response to his name. But nobody in Seattle felt as if they knew any real news. Either one is in a coma or one is not in a coma.

Apocrypha and half-truths breezed through the city. In the end it was always the same: No, Kurt's still in coma ... we think. Reuter admitted that previous reports of your being out of the coma were incorrect.

Everyone's reflexive response was to make a joke about it all, but in the end we couldn't. Somehow I guess there's a 33 1/3 record inside of us and it would have felt like we were scratching the needle across it; we jettisoned irony. We made jokes instead about record companies and about Italian ambulances and about hospital food, but never about you. The radio station played your songs over and over, always with the same news story - no news.

Around 3 o'clock I had to drive from downtown along Interstate 5 to Kent, past the Kingdome, where I once went to see Paul McCartney and Wings back in the 1970s. And just then the radio played your song "Dumb," and I saw a clump of cherry trees that had been tricked by an early spring into blooming, and I started to cry.

It had been raining in Seattle for weeks.

The day you went into your coma was the first day the sky had even considered clearing up. It was one of those can't-make-up-its-mind days. Storm clouds brooded over Elliot Bay and Lake Washington, yet it was also sunny - or kind of over the Boeing fields and south toward Tacoma. The sky over Seattle became the city's heart that day - it felt as though the sky were trying to decide whether to shine or forget.

In Kent, I drove past a hotel project that had failed, and its tar-papered walls had unraveled like mummy's cloth and were flapping in the wind - like a hotel covered in bandages; it had no windows. In the middle of a plowed field I saw a rhododendron in bloom. Pink.

The radio still had no news. Along Interstate 5 the arbutus trees rustled in the wind, and the undersides of their leaves - the sides that gather oxygen - were flashing sage-colored against the freeway's embankment. And I remembered being younger and visiting Seattle from Vancouver - my most compelling memory of that city was of a half-completed freeway that led off into nowhere.

And I kept thinking of some of the fields I had just seen, now barely turning to green, and how these fields reminded me of fears I had when I was younger - fears that nature might simply decide not to wake up one year. Nature would open her eyes, go back to sleep and never return.

I drove up to the University district, where the students were in a sort of fog. The guy at the counter at the record shop didn't know anything. I began seeing only symbols that fit the situation: I saw a young woman standing on a corner in a floral dress and army boots taking Polaroids of nothing; on Denny Way I saw a bike courier pulling an empty bike alongside him; back at the hotel I lost a pair of $ 9 sunglasses through a hole in my pocket-glasses I had always liked because they made the sky seem bluer than it really is.

On KIRO-TV, on the 6:30 news broadcast, they showed the ambulance taking you away to the American Hospital.


You, this child of here, of newness, lost in the oldest of cities. It seemed cruel.

Later that night there was still no real news. But at least it seemed as though you were out of your coma. But then a new dread emerged, one so bad that we couldn't even talk about it directly, as though the words would give the dread life of its own - the dread that you might emerge from your coma ... brain- dead. So instead my friends and I talked about the weather. We tried to establish whether in fact the sky that day had been sunny or rainy. It was such a close call that nobody could say for sure. Night had fallen before it could be made conclusive, before we could be totally sure that the sun had won.

You were apparently fine the next day. At the hospital you asked for a strawberry milkshake when you woke up. You were not brain-dead. Or so it seemed. And the world went on.

But I also remember noting that I never saw a picture of you after that day not even a shot of you leaving Europe, leaving the past - or a shot of you flashing the peace sign for the press. Then yesterday I heard Nirvana had pulled out of the Lollapalooza Tour. And I figured something was up.

And now you're dead.

I was in San Francisco, driving up 101 past Candlestick Park when the news came over the radio, LIVE-105 -- the news that you had shot yourself.

A few minutes later I was in the city and I pulled the car over and tried to figure out what I felt.

And this is what I felt: I felt I had never asked you to make me care about you, but it happened - against the hype, against the odds - and now you are in my imagination forever.

And I figure you're in Heaven too. But how, exactly, does it help you now to know that you, too, as it is said, were once adored?