back to the Black Table
               
  RAPE ME FOR THE PENNYROYAL TEAS.  
   
   
  The midtown hotel conference room is the least rock n' roll place on Earth. The tone-on-tone carpeting and upholstery (brown, this time), the accordion walls, the nomenclature (the press was summoned to the "Empire Room"), and the sound systems, apparently from  
 

Costco, all emit a low frequency that forestalls tempers from flaring, voices from being raised, or any sort of passion at all.

A little after noon on Monday, the press conference for "Love & Death," a "new and explosive investigation into The Murder of Kurt Cobain" started without any palpable sense of urgency. After all, it was a press conference. Later that afternoon, J. C. Penney announced it was selling off its drugstore chain, and if you had compared the two occasions, the rituals would have most been the same: the principals posed for photographers beforehand; then were introduced; then gave a short speech from behind a table -- speaking in very serious tones into microphones, and then took a few questions from a polite and

     
 

bored room of reporters.

The only difference was the press itself. Here, in the Hilton Times Square, those reporters unapologetically slouched in their chairs wearing denim jackets or vintage kicks with their khakis. Many of the men (and they were overwhelmingly male, these music journalists) had brought their faux Strokes haircuts to work that day, while the oldest man armed with a notebook present had the vestiges of his hair tied in a ponytail that had that porcine corkscrew shape. (He was the High Times correspondent present, it turned out.)

The authors, to their credit, hadn't tried so hard. Max Wallace and Ian Halperin were a pair of mildly successful reporters who had once won Rolling Stone's little renowned Award for Investigative Journalism together sometime in the misty era pre-dating grunge, then re-teamed in the aftermath of Cobain's suicide to construct a small journalistic cottage industry around his death. This was not their first book about Cobain; it was not even their first book about Cobain released on the anniversary of his death. Those honors belonged to "Who Killed Kurt Cobain?" an even-handed examination of his death that shot down conspiracy theories without ever answering the question posed by its title.

Now they were back, with more evidence and more expert testimony than ever, and this time they had an unequivocal verdict: Kurt was murdered, and Courtney Love did it. Unless she didn't of course. And even if she didn't, it doesn't mean he wasn't murdered. But if she didn't, then why has she been acting so crazy for the last ten years?

Courtney Killed Kurt, the Remix!

Regardless of whether or not Courtney did it -- and the authors took pains to emphasize that they had no solid proof that she did ("We looked for a smoking gun for eight years," but never found one, Wallace admitted at the conference) -- the portrait of her that emerges is familiar. In "Love & Death," Love is a psychotic, gold-digging paranoaic who may have been crazy as a fox.

While Wallace and Halperin admitted much of the evidence that appears in their new book was rehashed from their old one, they had a new trump card to play. The third man behind the table Monday was semi-retired private investigator Tom Grant, whom Love hired to

 
 

find Cobain after Kurt jumped the fence of his rehab clinic in Los Angeles on April 1, 1994, four days before his death. Grant later turned on Love, publicly declaring his suspicion that she had a hand in Cobain's death (and told documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield as much in his documentary Kurt & Courtney.)

Grant, it turns out, is a habitual taper of his phone calls, a fact Love didn't know. He teased Wallace and Halperin for years with the existence of 30 audiotapes containing his conversations with Love before finally sharing them last year. (Skeptics take note: Grant is apparently serious about wanting the Seattle Police Department to reopen Cobain's death as a homicide. Wallace vowed Monday

     
 

that Grant had no stake in the book.)

While Grant's tapes are no smoking gun either, Love damns herself to eternal suspicion with the paranoid fantasies she spins on them and the conspiratorial asides that contradict her later public statements.

Wallace and Halperin's theory, in a nutshell: Cobain wasn't suicidal in April 1994, nor in Rome three weeks earlier, when he "accidentally OD'd." According to Love's description of events after Cobain's death, he had first tried to kill himself then. She then checked him into rehab at the end of March. He was barely there two days before escaping and flying to Seattle. She has said she never saw him or spoke to him after his escape -- she said he tried to call her hotel, but could not get through -- and that she had had no idea of his whereabouts before the discovery of his body.

But this story begins to fall apart in the authors' hands. Cobain did call her hotel room on April 1; Peninsula Hotel phone records show he left a message with a phone number where he could be reached. He flew home to Seattle that night, and the next morning, a little after 6 a.m., he appeared in the bedroom of his daughter's male nanny, Michael "Cali" Dewitt." After a brief conversation, Cobain called a cab and left, never to be seen again, supposedly, before his suicide.

Love never told Grant any of this, despite the fact she ostensibly hired him to find her husband. According to the tapes, Love ranted to Grant that Cobain was on the verge of divorcing her; that Nirvana had already split up; that she would be unable to pay Grant if Cobain divorced her, and that she was sure Cobain had purchased a pair of plane tickets from Seattle to an unknown destination. She even offered to pay Grant extra to hire a hacker to break into Delta's reservation system to find out who Kurt was traveling with. She seemed to have a pretty good idea -- Caitlin Moore, a Seattle heroin dealer whom she seemed to be convinced Kurt was already sleeping with. While Cobain had dropped by the house once already, Love had Grant stake out Moore house instead of her own.

The logical progression from here is clear -- in order to protect her financial interests, she conspired with Cali to kill Cobain. Love had the power to invent her own alibi -- when she told the world later that Cobain had been suicidal all along, the world, of course, believed her. The idea that Cobain's final hit of heroin was so powerful it would have killed him instantly reappears here (how would he have lifted the gun and pulled the trigger after absorbing that much of the drug?) and the authors trot out the suspicions of Cobain's grandfather, Leland, and Frances Bean's godmother, Rosemary Carroll (an entertainment lawyer married to Cobain's manager) to obliquely suggest that Courtney had Kurt killed. It's their theory, and they're sticking to it.

Timing is Everything, the Only Thing.

One of the journalists present asked a question about the timing of the book's publication. It was an obvious question, and Wallace was

 
 

ready for it. "It would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise..." he started.

"Timing is everything," Grant interjected, then explained that they needed to piggyback on the residual publicity of Cobain's death if they had any hope of getting the book's message out.

From watching Wallace and Halperin at the press conference and reading between the lines of their bios, neither would appear to be a committed exploiter of the Cobain mythology.

They're nearly accidental journalists -- after winning their Rolling Stone awards (whatever those are, exactly), neither landed a real reporting job. Halperin became interested in Cobain's

     
 

suicide when his band State of Emergency was playing Seattle soon after Cobain's death. After shooting the shit with some of Kurt's friends one night ("No way was he suicidal, man!") Halperin decides he wants to start digging. He called Wallace, who was running an alternative rock radio station at the time, and the Woodward and Bernstein of the grunge scene is born. Their first story on the subject appeared in the not-so-prestigious Canadian Disk magazine, and their first book, Halperin admitted Monday, had been a bit of a rush job.

Between their first book and their second, both had enjoyed middling success with their journalism careers -- each had written books; Wallace landed a New York Times column for a while; Halperin was a regular on Court TV -- but one could tell that this was their story. They couldn't let go because of the time and energy they had already invested, and because Kurt was likely to be the best story they would ever have.

And in that way, they have much in common with his fans.