Victoria Clarke and Britt Collins’ Nirvana book Flower Sniffin’, Kitty Pettin’, Baby Kissin’ Corporate Rock Whores might well have been the last word on Kurt Cobain’s grunge game-changers, but we’ll never know: the book never made it to publication. Despite its lack of, you know, actually existing, the tome remains infamous for being at the centre of one of the most controversial events in Nirvana lore, a string of intensely threatening answerphone messages that Cobain, and his partner, Hole's Courtney Love, left for UK-based writers Clarke and Collins.
It didn’t all happen out of the blue. Originally, Clarke and Collins had courted the band and their management’s approval to write their take on the trio’s meteoric rise. On the face of it, they were welcomed into the fold: they were given a list of handy contacts by the band’s UK press office, went out for dinner with the group’s management supremo John Silva and Clarke even got the green light to go out on tour with the band as they made their way across Europe in 1992, just as things were blowing up big. They were waved on through to the inner sanctum, granted AAA passes and use of backstage production offices. So far, so no sign of any need to leave threatening messages on people’s answerphones.
But then things started to go awry.
Clarke was told to leave the tour after asking Courtney Love for an interview, something that she was informed made Kurt Cobain very cross. If she thought he was mad then, she didn’t know the half of it. Still, the pair continued to gather information – nothing sinister in that, at the end of all this, after all, they had to write a bleedin’ book. The problem was that Cobain and Love were becoming increasingly irked about where Clarke and Collins were digging – interviewing Love’s ex-boyfriends, for example, and, most provocatively, speaking to Vanity Fair writer Lynn Hirschberg. For the Cobains, this was an act of warfare – Hirschberg had previously written an article suggesting Love had taken heroin whilst pregnant, something that could’ve resulted in their baby being taken away from them.
The Cobains begin to speculate wildly about what was going to be in this book, and then came the flurry of frothy-mouthed messages. Clarke was at home in bed ill when Courtney Love called and left her a message that can be summed up with the introductory welcome: “We will use every dollar we have and every bit of our power to basically fuck you up.”
The next night, Kurt got involved. His delivery became more drowsy and concerning over a series of calls, but the essential message stayed the same. To listen to them is to hear one of the iconic figures of 20th century culture in disturbingly threatening form, at one point even intimating he could have them killed.
“I have a lot of things to say to you, you parasitic little cunts," the first message began. "if anything comes out in this book hurts my wife, I’ll fucking hurt you. I don’t care if this is a recorded message, I’m at the end of my ropes…
"I suppose I could throw out a few thousand dollars to have you snuffed out, but maybe I’ll try the legal way first.”
Message three stated: "At this point you're probably aware that I don't give a flying fuck if you have this on tape, or if you use it in a court of law..."
To put it mildly, it’s deeply unsavoury behaviour from Cobain. If you’ve read Charles R. Cross’s book Heavier Than Heaven – a Nirvana memoir that did actually make it to publication – you’ll know that the final year of his life did not capture Kurt Cobain at his best and this has to go down as near the very bottom of the well.
In the end, it was the legal route that did Clarke and Collins – apparently Nirvana’s management filed a lawsuit to stop their book ever coming out. The damage was done, though. Nirvana had ushered in a brave new world and it had gone sour. From here, Kurt Cobain was on a path from which he couldn’t be saved.