Kennedy Grey interview
Introduction: This is an interview with Kennedy Grey done in 1999.
Kennedy is a writer from Los Angeles, CA who is behind an organization called 'Rock Against Suicide'. He is currently putting a book together which will be compiled mostly of letters sent to a semi-official Nirvana Fan Club. This Fan Club is mentioned on the back cover of Nirvana's "Bleach" album ('4739 University Way' etc.) PLEASE do NOT send any letters to this address. It is not to an official Nirvana Fan Club and the remaining members of Nirvana are not presently affiliated with the address in any way. Letters sent to that address will thus not receive a reply. This interview contains much more information about the book, the fan letters, and 'Rock Against Suicide'. In the table on the right you can see scans of some of the fan letters sent to the club. The interview is copyright ©1999 The Internet Nirvana Fan Club and Kennedy Grey. Below I am "NFC", using this font color and Kennedy Grey is "Kennedy", using this font color.
NFC: Please tell us about the book project you're doing with the Nirvana fan mail.
Kennedy: The book is called "Dear Kurt: Letters to Nirvana". The book consists of a selection of letters written to the "official" Nirvana Fan Club in Seattle after Kurt's death and never before seen photos of Kurt and Nirvana. All of my proceeds from the book, 100% of them, are going toward funding Rock Against Suicide.
NFC: Do you think there are too many books on Nirvana and/or Kurt Cobain?
Kennedy: I hope not!
NFC: How did you come to possess the Nirvana fan mail?
Kennedy: This is where the story gets very weird. After Kurt's death, Nirvana mail from 1994 on was literally orphaned. I happened to get my business mail at the same "Mail Etc." business that Nirvana received this fan mail. I knew the owner of the Mail Etc. and after Kurt's death she asked me to locate and contact Krist, Dave or Courtney. It seems that no one was picking it up anymore or paying for the mailbox. The owner needed to get the vast body of Nirvana fan mail to the right person or she would be forced to throw it out. Shortly after, I ran into Krist in a Seattle restaurant. Despite telling him about the mail, it still went unclaimed for nearly another year. Since the mail was going to be thrown out--no one was paying for Mail Etc. to sort and keep it, and its proper home. Since that time, the Nirvana fan mail has been coming to my mail box at Mail Etc. and forwarded to wherever I'm living.
NFC: Where did the idea for a book of these letters come from?
Kennedy: Agreeing to adopt this large body of mail was not an impulsive decision on my part, but one tinged with a "destiny" feel. Kurt was found on April 8th, 1994--which was also my 30th birthday. That could have been just a sad coincidence if not for the fact that shortly after I adopted the letters, my fiancés brother jumped off the Deception Pass Bridge north of Seattle, killing himself. All these co-incidents added up to an epiphany: I felt that I was being called to take a stand against suicide. More specifically, youth-oriented, depression-related suicide. I personally feel that clues this big should not be ignored. For the last three years I've tried to figure out how to begin this organization. Being a freelance writer, I had no way to financially begin Rock Against Suicide without severely impacting my food/shelter equation. So I looked to the Nirvana fan mail as an answer. Since I have been writing for a living for about 10 years, agents I knew told me they thought that such a book might interest a publisher, and I could use the proceeds from the book to start Rock Against Suicide.
NFC: It seems like poetic justice - that if Kurt's death could help you form a cause, then letters written by fans affected by his death would create a funding source to begin an anti- suicide cause ...
Kennedy: Exactly. A book such as this would not only raise money to begin Rock Against Suicide, but also provide closure for Nirvana fans worldwide--bonding them together. Of course, everyone who buys the book will be made members of Rock Against Suicide.
NFC: Out of the many fan mails sent to the official Nirvana Fan Club, can you give an example of a letter that stands out in some way?
Kennedy: Out of about 100.000 letters (about 1/2 [of] the total letters), I have found about 300 that are interesting. Some are very very heartfelt and encouraging, some are very strange and bizarre. You'll have to buy the book to find the one YOU think is the most outstanding note. There were letters that made me laugh, made me cry and made me see that I am not the only person who felt loss and pain when Kurt chose to leave us. However, there was this one woman who wrote at least six times who said she wrote a bunch of songs such as "Heart-Shaped Box", and asked for strange amounts of royalties on it, with amounts like "389 dollars and fifty cents" and stuff. The amount changed with every letter. I was also contacted by this person on the internet claiming to "channel the spirit of Kurt" from the dead. When I wrote back asking her (?) for some answers to pretty general questions (i.e. "which street did you live on in Seattle when you died?") she couldn't answer, and so I ignored her after that. Then someone told me they saw that someone had posted some very unkind things about me on some radio station website, claiming that I was "ripping off Kurt's personal possessions so I could make money". It's no wonder its been so hard to find Krist with "fans" like these around!
NFC: Who else is helping you with the book?
Kennedy: I've been in touch with Krist but he seems incredibly busy with his own life right now, JAMPAC and making films. Kurt's cousin Beverly Cobain is interested in helping Rock Against Suicide and I've asked her to write the introduction to the book. Beverly just put out a book of her own on teen Suicide prevention.
One of Kurt's exclusive photographers, Charlie Hoselton, has agreed to get me some original photos for the book. Charlie did the Newsweek Magazine cover photo of Kurt after his death. Charlie has also hooked me up with MusiCares/NARAS, the organization that puts on the Grammy Award show. NARAS' MusiCares organization helps musicians in need of medical or psychological help and financial aid. I'm meeting with them down in LA in the coming month to discuss how I can integrate their message into RAS and vice versa. Rocket editor Charley Cross is writing what many insiders are calling the "definitive Kurt biography". Charley is helping me get some writing work for the Rocket in exchange for running Public Service ads for Rock Against Suicide. I'm also doing writing for Whole Life Times magazine in California now for that same purpose.
NFC: What exactly are the objectives of 'Rock Against Suicide' and how do you seek to accomplish these ?
Kennedy: Rock Against Suicide (RAS) was founded to raise awareness about the causes and prevention of suicide in young people. Though aimed at high school- and college-age people, RAS will be a source of information for anyone in need of information about suicide. The proceeds from the book will be enough to begin RAS. However, our main source of financial support will come from live concerts to raise money and spread the message on where to find help and information about suicide and suicide prevention. We're working on making contributions tax deductible right now.
NFC: What is your first advice to youngsters wanting to commit suicide?
Kennedy: Tell someone you care about what your feelings are. While your depression is very real, your mind came up with the idea for suicide, and the mind can be changed. The problems that are in your life can be solved without harming yourself. Tell someone you care about--and be honest. Sometimes that's all you need to feel better. Sometimes all you need is a relatively harmless medication that helps relieve those feelings that are keeping your soul very dark. One thing I did was to go to a cancer ward at a hospital. There are children who won't make it to age 10 in there who are smiling and living for the moment. That is the most encouraging thing I have seen that puts things in perspective. We are given the gift of life ... We must try and rise above the pain of being alive by doing greater things with that gift. Rock Against Suicide is my way of doing just that.
NFC: This 'official' Nirvana Fan Club you mentioned to me, do you have more information about it? Were Geffen and/or band members involved with it in any way?
Kennedy: From what I've gathered in backtracking, Krist's [ex]-wife Shelli Novoselic and Jason Everman, a one-time guitarist in Nirvana, were the people who signed up for the Mail Etc. box, and were initially supposed to deal with the mail and fulfillment for fan club stuff. Another guy named Nils Bernstein was also involved in it, I've been told. A company called VWC Talent Management Co. in Redmond, Washington was responsible for dealing with the mailbox fees and dealing with the fan club merchandise. I have copies of letters from Mail Etc.. from VWC explaining that they were no longer paying for the mailbox at Mail Etc. As far as I know, Gold Mountain and Geffen never were involved in it. Honestly, I don't think anything ever existed remotely close to an "official" fan club--which doesn't surprise me considering Kurt's feelings about "corporate rock". This surprises me because about 90 percent of the mail is people wanting stuff thinking Krist and Dave are just sitting there waiting for one piece of mail from some kid in Texas who wants a "guitar pick Kurt used". It's shocking how amazingly clueless many of these kids are - Kurt has been gone for five years and the letters are STILL coming from people who are asking for stuff! And out of the 100,000+ letters asking for something, probably three contained any money (foreign currency, usually). STOP WRITING!!!!
NFC: What was it like in the heart of the "Grunge" scene in the early 90's in Seattle and Olympia, WA? Was the situation "better" in the 80's?
Kennedy: First of all, the word "Grunge" was invented outside Seattle by the media and the record companies in order to package this "Seattle Sound" to sell records. Everyone tried to jump in - I knew about ten bands that moved to Seattle from thousands of miles away just to get signed by the frothing record labels soaking up any band signing anyone with an album's worth of music. But everyone in the Pacific Northwest kind of rolled their eyes and kept playing music the same as they did before Rolling Stone, MTV and the world rolled through the Northwest on the Latest Fad Tour Bus. Check out the movie "Hype" for the ultimate record of this time.
The most exciting time for me was in the late 80's when I was living in Olympia, Washington (60 miles south of Seattle). It seemed like there was something coming together, but I never in a million years thought it would turn out as big as it did. The Olympia scene had this "do-it-yourself" feel to it. Olympia is where it really began, in my eyes. I remember sitting in the Smithfield Cafe on 4th Avenue in Olympia sometime in 1988 and seeing Kurt, Jon Poneman from Sub Pop, Beck, Dale Crover (Melvins), Calvin Johnson (K Records Founder and Beat Happening rap superstar) Stuart Hallerman (Avast! Recording studio owner and Soundgarden live sound guy), Kim Thayil, Courtney Love, the girls from Sleater-Kinney, and a million other future rock stars who used to just hang out, smoke pot, and play punk music in this little rainy town with like two gas stations and about 10 coffee shops. It all seemed like make believe--you felt like it was so small, anyone could play and put a show together and get immediate attention. Bands like Young Pioneers, Heliotroupe, Factory Girls, Beat Happening, Green River, were starting up then, but Soundgarden was probably the one with the most spin at the time, and beginning to get attention around Seattle. But most of it seemed like a comical reaction to hair bands and corrupt 80's American pop-rock. I think if Seattle had the kind of scene LA had with the constant threat of the media being right there, "Grunge" would never have happened. It took a scene filled with kids with no chance of anything really huge happening for them to really let go of the pretention that comes with wanting to be famous. Nobody thought they could be, so nobody had anything to lose. And one ever thought it would explode like it did.
NFC: Do you play in a band yourself, or are you otherwise active in the music business ?
Kennedy: I have played drums all my life. My first band in college actually contained a current member of the band Phish (Page McConnell), who was the keyboardist. I played around Seattle in the mid 90's with a few forgettable bands (DadaVinci, Opallure) and had a recent stint as an advertising copywriter for music hardware manufacturer Mackie Designs outside Seattle, a company that makes live and recording audio gear such as mixers and speakers. Since then I have moved to Los Angeles and have been concentrating on beginning Rock Against Suicide and trying to find the people and the help to begin this organization.
NFC: Was Kurt Cobain, in your opinion, the artist of this decade as many magazines have proclaimed?
Kennedy: As far as "artistry" goes, I know of musicians who have better guitar skills, better voices--and don't do drugs. But I can't think of anyone with more sincerity. I'd rather say I would agree that Kurt is the most SIGNIFICANT music figure of the decade, for what Nirvana did to shake up the "corporate rock" record labels view of non-mainstream ("alternative"...yick) music. But I think "artistry" is subjective to the listener.
NFC: Did you ever see Nirvana live?
Kennedy: I saw them live at club shows around Seattle in the early 90's and in Olympia before that. At the time, (pre-Teen Spirit video), they were just fun as hell. I was just trying to stay alive in the mosh pit, so I don't recall as much the shows as the feelings of exhilaration at the shows. I remember seeing Kurt and going, "wow, when he sings, it's like he's a baby bird stretching it's neck out for food..."
NFC: Is it true you and Kurt have several eerie things in common?
Kennedy: Aside from Kurt's body being found on my 30th birthday, we both owned Fender Mustang's (mine was toothpaste blue), and there are pictures of Kurt from his childhood that are nearly identical to a what I looked like--down to the blue eyes and towheaded white hair. That photo spooks me when I look at it, considering how my life has been impacted by Kurt's life now. We both split our home towns early on after being beaten up in high school constantly by big dumb jock assholes; both played music as a way out; both of us were rock and roll runaways who disdained authority; both ended up in Olympia in the late 80's, and Seattle in the 90's - living about two miles apart with the same cloudy view of Bellevue, Washington across the Lake. I'm also guessing that both of us thought Aberdeen, Washington is probably the most boring, depressing place you can go.
Apparently there was a house party in Olympia at a place everyone called The Dog House, where I once lived. I had moved out but left some of my record albums there. The guy who I lived with at the house told me a few years ago that Kurt had come to the party and was playing my Meat Puppets albums. I wish I could have been there. To me, Kurt was just another lost kid like I was in the same café that I was writing my own songs. I'm sad that I never got to be closer to him than that.
NFC: Do you think Kurt would approve of Rock Against Suicide?
Kennedy: Good question. Nirvana did a benefit for Rock Against Depression shortly before Kurt's death, so I think he would have agreed with the cause. But since part of Kurt's disposition was to disdain big media, big attention, and the faceless beast of popular decision, he might say that because we are aiming our message at the media outlets like MTV and Rolling Stone, we are just going to reach the same idiots who still write to the Nirvana fan club and ask for posters. Special thanks to Kennedy Grey for doing this interview.
Click here to see a collage of some of the letters that were sent to the official Nirvana Fan Club. Courtesy of K. Grey.
Kennedy Grey of
Rock Against Suicide