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Kurt Cobain Conspiracy

By Simon Strong

It is the duty of the intellectuals to commit suicide as a class.

On 20 February 1967, Kurt Donald Cobain was born to humble means at Grays Harbor Community Hospital, Aberdeen, Washington. By the time he died, victim of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head on 5 April 1994, he was a millionaire and widely acknowledged as the most important musical icon of his generation. As is customary nowadays, a number of conspiracies have been conceived by and for a grieving consumer base. In this article I will survey the more interesting of these hypotheses, operating from the viewpoint that plausibility is a poor substitute for truth.

I have chosen to exclude from this survey any theories which implicate Cobain’s wife, singer/actress Courtney Love. If true, they would lower Cobain’s suicide to the status of a domestic incident, tragic but of considerably diminished interest; and if false, they would be in the poorest of taste.1


The earliest and best overview of the first generation of speculations appeared mere weeks after Cobain’s death, penned by English writer Stewart Home and entitled No More Rock ‘n’ Roll2, this seminal article is reprinted here in its entirety:

You’ve read the Kurt Cobain obituaries, now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the ridiculous rumours circulating about the dead rock star. Personally, I think it’s absurd to suggest the singer’s suicide was faked. However, various cranks are claiming Cobain was gunned down by a hitman, possibly a member of the Mafia, who’d supposedly gone after Nirvana because the band refused to pay protection money.

Another version of the faked suicide story has Cobain alive and enjoying a break from the limelight. According to rumour, the singer has been popping up everywhere between Rio and Paris. London sightings include nights out at the Disobey Club, the Exploding Cinema and even the Hackney Homeless Festival. Most ludicrously of all, one fan claims to have clocked the rocker shopping at the Kwik Save supermarket in Canning Town.

A more believable theory about Cobain’s death suggests he was the victim of a CIA mind control experiment. An individual claiming to represent "a private network of researchers" contacted me about this and arranged a meeting in the Temple Church on Fleet Street. Once I’d settled in a pew, a very nervous young man seated himself beside me. According to my contact, the CIA is deeply concerned about the subversive influence of popular music on young people that’s why "they murdered Brian Jones, John Lennon and Jim Morisson".

What’s been worrying the spooks lately is the sway black radicalism has gained over the minds of white teenagers, to counter this "they’ve been pushing Nation of Islam style separatism among rappers’. Likewise, the white Grunge movement spearheaded by Nirvana was backed by the CIA because "they wanted to divide youngsters on racial lines, if black and white kids linked up, they’d pose a serious threat to the system. The whole point of Grunge is to instil in teenage a sense of hopelessness, to fill them with self-hate and prevent them changing the world."

Apparently, the CIA got hold of Cobain when he was still unknown, using drugs, hypnosis and medical torture, they broke his will and rebuilt his personality. "Most of the time he’d act relatively normal," I was told, "but all it took was a few key words spoken over the phone and Cobain would carry out deeds he’d been programmed to enact." My contact was convinced that the singer had been brainwashed into committing suicide at the peak of his success because the CIA figured this would reduce his potentially rebellious fans to complete despair. However, the conspiracy theorist admitted several of his fellow researchers thought Cobain had taken his own life as the only means of breaking free from the influence of his controllers. If this is the case, then the rock star is a hero rather than simply a victim, and his death provides grounds for a fresh outbreak of teenager rebellion.

Many of the central tenets of this piece were posited separately by San Franciscan punkster Jello Biafra, shortly before he was hospitalised by a severe beating, thus lending a happenstantial credibility to this version of events. It should go without saying that there is a third variant of the above theory which has Cobain being killed by anti-separatist radicals who had become aware of the plot. And a fourth which has him being killed by separatist factions, unaware of the plot and concerned about their reduced post-Grunge marketability. And a fifth which has him being killed by the Ku Klux Klan (or similar white supremacist organisation) who have sympathies with the black separatist agenda, and who were again unaware of the plot. And so on.


This hypothesis has its genesis in a statistical anomaly rather than in any actual evidence of a conscious conspiracy as such. It was conceived in response to the disproportionate number of entertainers who have collaborated in some capacity with English pop-icon David Bowie only to later suffer premature deaths, varying only in the degree of their hideosity. The more prominent of these include Bing Crosby, who made his last ever TV appearance with David Bowie (to promote their Little Drummer Boy single) as did Marc Bolan, who tripped as he left the stage, causing Bowie to jokingly comment to the effect of "carry him off in a box". Nico, for whom Bowie had written Heroes, died in a tragic bicycle mishap after reforming a life devoted predominantly to drug use and Freddy Mercury dueted with Bowie on Under Pressure, only to later to suffer an ignominiously public end.

The Bowie-Cobain connection arises from Cobain’s choice of encores on the final Nirvana tour. The band played their last ever concert was at Terminal Einz, Munich on Tuesday 1 March 1994, but it only lasted three songs before Cobain’s voice gave out and the gig ended prematurely. Their concert a week earlier at Roma Palaghiaccio had featured a cover of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World as the last song of the last encore. Many bootlegs of this gig are available but most omit this track, ostensibly because of time limitations; the disc in my possession3 clocks in at a mammoth 79:10, the last track lasting 3:21. There is obviously a more sinister interpretation.

The most questionably titled of these bootlegs must be Coma in Roma on the consistently excellent KTS label. This particular disc is now quite scarce since the coma in question was quickly overshadowed by Cobain’s suicide and the disc subsequently withdrawn and re-titled simply Roma. I should here repeat the enduring, though quite groundless, rumour that KTS (an acronym of "Kiss The Stone") is the bootleg label of the Italian Mafia. It may be coincidental that Italy has long possessed the most liberal copyright laws in the western world.


Fortunately "the Curse of Bowie" is generally non-commutative, in that it affects people aligning themselves with Bowie - whilst those with whom Bowie aligns himself with sometimes show no significant adverse effects. This is particularly fortunate in the case of best-selling author and counter-culture icon William Burroughs, for whom tragedy nevertheless appears to be a travelling companion.

William Burroughs

Cobain himself was an acknowledged fan of Burroughs’ oeuvre and first met with his hero in culture-space on a recording entitled The "Priest" they Called Him4. This EP is constructed from a reading by Burroughs (recorded at his home in Lawrence, Kansas on 25 September 1992) overdubbed with Cobain’s guitar accompaniment (recorded in November 1992, at Laundry Room Studios in Seattle). Cobain later faxed Burroughs asking if he would play a crucifixion victim in a video for Nirvana’s forthcoming Heart Shaped Box single. Burroughs declined but a meeting between the two was arranged and took place at Burroughs’ home in October 1993. In Christopher Sandford’s "warts are all" biography of Cobain5, Burroughs recalls the meeting thus:

Cobain was very shy, very polite, and obviously enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t awestruck at meeting him. There was something boyish about him, fragile and engagingly lost. He smoked cigarettes but didn’t drink. There were no drugs. I never showed him my gun collection.

Those unfamiliar with the Burroughs oeuvre may be forgiven for concluding that the emphasis of the denials "protesteth too much". But drugs and guns are central images in Burroughs’ work and world-view, as they are in Cobain’s. The desire to somehow ratify this co-incidence (sic) has led to some audacious speculation.


This offensive and outlandish scenario originates in a comic strip by Peter Pavement6 and supposes that (presumably under the influence of extremely potent mind-altering chemicals) Mr Burroughs was persuaded to re-enact the events which surrounded the accidental shooting-death of his wife, Joan Vollmer, in 1951. Unfortunately the reconstruction proved rather too precise and tragedy once more ensued. If nothing else this proposition is notable in its preference for insensitivity to the feelings of its subjects over the more common criteria such as motive and circumstance. It should be added that the strip is pretty funny though.

A peculiar isomorphism of this proposal may be found on the cover photo of their collaboration whereon Chris Novoselic (Nirvana’s bass player) poses as the "Priest", a Burroughs alter-ego, which would conceivably cast Cobain as the analogue of Burroughs’ dead wife were there any validity to the speculation of a Cobain/Novoselic relationship.


Eight months after Cobain’s death (i.e. in December 1994) a group calling itself Friends Understanding Kurt started circulating a press release which claimed that it was at the meeting with Burroughs that Cobain was introduced to the Dream Machine (sic), a trance-inducing device invented in the sixties by Burroughs’ associates Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville7. The document claimed (falsely) that there were a "string of suicides associated with the machine", and that it was "the catalyst in Kurt’s unbelievably tragic, untimely death". Burroughs had allegedly referred Cobain to David Woodard, a San Francisco businessman who sold machines for US$145.

FUK claim that Cobain ordered a machine but Love offered Woodard an equal amount of money not to deliver it, but to no avail. FUK further claim that Cobain was using the machine for up to 72 hours at a time and that it was found 20 feet from his body after his suicide. Given that a Dreamachine is a peculiar looking object (mainly due to its being the first object in history intended to be looked at with closed eyes) it seems quite bizarre that the Seattle police make no mention whatsoever of it in their report and that nothing resembling a Dreamachine appears in any of the photographs of the death-scene which have been published. These facts in themselves may be significant, however. Spokespeople on all sides, including Burroughs himself, have claimed to be unaware of the existence of Friends Understanding Kurt and it has been speculated that the Dreamachine connection may be a smokescreen originating from any of the previous suspects.


In concluding this article, I have no interest in discussing the relative merits or otherwise of the preceding theories here, or anywhere else for that matter. I am here to debunk nothing. Whether discussed above or not, each theory about the death expresses a particular agenda with the voice of that particular agenda. It is my belief that the most salient point of this survey is raised by the range of theories themselves, manyfold but of a curiously similar order. Their inter-relations imply a high degree of redundancy, so it may not be long before the permutations are exhausted and the true nature of this culture-spatial crisis is revealed.


1. Interested parties may pursue these lines of enquiry in Insight of [date] or ‘Who Killed Kurt Cobain?’ in High Times of April 1996

2. First published in issue 4 of Underground broadsheet of London and later collected in his highly recommended pamphlet Conspiracies, Cover-Ups & Diversions: a collection of lies, hoaxes and hidden truths. (Sabotage Editions, London, 1995) ISBN 0-9514417-2-8

3. Nirvana - The Final Fix (Chelsea Records, Luxembourg) CFC016. Since this is an unofficial release it is likely that the company details are untrue.

4. Burroughs, William S. & Cobain, Kurt - The "Priest" They Called Him (Tim/Kerr Records, Portland, Oregon, 1993) (CD TK92CD044, 10" one-sided vinyl TK9201044)

5. Sandford, Christopher - Kurt Cobain (Victor Gollancz, London, 1995) ISBN 0-575-05951-6

6. Pavement, Peter - Nevermind (Slab-o-Concrete, Hove, 1997)

7. I have been unable to locate a copy of this document and have consequently based my research on an interview with David Woodard which appeared in the issue of High Times mentioned above, and on a news story entitled Dream On carried in New Musical Express of 1st July 1995. The definitive book on Dreamachines is Flickers: of the Dreamachine, edited by Paul Cecil. (CodeX, Hove, 1997) ISBN 1-899598-03-0

Simon Strong’s debut novel A259 Multiplex Bomb "Outrage" was published in October 1995 and explores (amongst other things) the mysterious death of sixties pop-icon Jim Morrison. He has recently completed an erotic novel, code-named SEX ORG, and is now working on a factual book about the implications of Cobain’s death with respect to Time. He is currently seeking a sympathetic publisher and may be contacted c/o New Dawn.

The above article appeared in
New Dawn No. 41 (
March-April 1997)