"Her expression seems to say, if you even try to take this child from me, I will kill you": Family Values is a beautiful, tender and moving document of the love shared by Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and their most precious creation

Guzman, aka husband-and-wife photographers Constance Hansen and Russell Peacock, share intimate never-before-published portraits of Kurt, Courtney and baby Frances Bean

Family Values book
(Image: © powerHouse Books)

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On April 12, 1994, just one week after Kurt Cobain died by suicide in his family home in Seattle, Washington, Nirvana's record label, DGC, released Live Through This, the major label debut by his wife Courtney Love's band, Hole. One of the greatest albums of the decade, listened to in the immediate aftermath of Cobain's death, Hole's second album was almost too raw and painful and beautiful to absorb at the time, lyric after lyric seemingly more poignant, gut-wrenchingly honest and heartbreaking when reframed in the light of the events which preceded it. 

Family Values: Kurt, Courtney & Frances Bean is a reminder of the human tragedy behind the headlines. The book is a collection of around 90 photographs, the vast majority of them previously unpublished, shot by photographic team Guzman, aka aka husband-and-wife photographers Constance Hansen and Russell Peacock, at the Hollywood Heights, Los Angeles home shared by 25-year-old Cobain, 27-year-old Love and their one-month-old baby daughter Frances Bean, on September 23, 1992 for the December '92 issue of US music magazine Spin

Given that Cobain and Love were still seething about the September '92 issue of Vanity Fair magazine publishing a profile on them that they viewed as an inflammatory hatchet job (the article, titled Strange Love, featured the strap-line 'Are Courtney Love, lead diva of the postpunk band Hole, and her husband, Nirvana heartthrob Kurt Cobain, the grunge John and Yoko? Or the next Sid and Nancy?' and included lines such as 'Courtney is now regarded as a train-wreck personality: she may be awful, but you can’t take your eyes off her') it may seem surprising that they were agreeable to allowing any media representatives into their new parental nest, but they clearly had greater faith and trust in Spin. And as ever-insightful Nirvana biographer Michael Azerrad reveals in the intro to Family Values, Cobain and Love were on a "charm offensive" at the time, concerned that the Vanity Fair story's revelations about their drug use might set alarm bells ringing for social services in California.

Recalling the day of the shoot in Family Values, Guzman write "recognizing the intense scrutiny that had been swirling about Kurt and Courtney at that time, we knew we would be photographing them not so much as two famous rock musicians, but as a family." The results are the most intimate photos ever taken of the couple, and their baby, most taken in their bedroom, with Cobain in his pyjamas, Love looking demure, and the proud parents tenderly holding their adorable offspring as often as possible. 

Kurt, Courtney, Frances Bean

(Image credit: Guzman LLC / powerHouse Books)

As Azerrad writes, "Here was a young mom and dad who patiently fed their baby, crashed out on various horizontal surfaces from normal parental exhaustion, and contentedly cuddled with their child, just like parents all over the world have done ever since there have been parents. These are extraordinary people doing a most ordinary thing."

Given how intense life was around Nirvana and Hole at the time - you could barely pick up an issue of any music magazine at the time without coverage of every single move that Cobain and Love made - it's the very ordinary, prosaic nature of the shoot which makes these photos of the most talked-about musicians of the time so disarming and so special. Writing about one image, in which Love, wearing only her underwear, is pictured with her child clasped to her chest, Azerrad notes, "she’s not using Frances as a shield; in fact, quite the opposite: her expression seems to say, if you even try to take this child from me, I will kill you."

In a recent poignant instagram post, acknowledging her loss and paying tribute to her father, Frances Bean Cobain wrote, "I wish I could've known my Dad." It's impossible for any of us to grasp the full extent of the pressures which were applied to the family at the time, as the world tried to make a sense of a cultural revolution no-one had anticipated, but Family Values serves as a timely reminder that, beyond the lurid headlines and rock star iconography, behind the music, here were real people trying to maintain a sense of normalcy at the eye of a whirlwind of insanity.

"As these very moving photographs demonstrate," Michael Azerrad notes, "there is only one true family value, and that is love."

Family Values: Kurt, Courtney & Frances Bean is published today, April 9, via powerHouse Books and is available to purchase here.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.