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Inspired in spirit by the last days of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, writer/director Gus Van Sant evokes the inner turmoil that engulfs a brilliant but troubled musician in the final hours of his life. Michael Pitt (The Dreamers) plays Blake, an introspective artist wrestling with fame and isolation. Expanding on the elliptical style of his Palme d'Or-winning Elephant, Van Sant layers images and sounds to articulate an emotional landscape, creating a dynamic work about a soul in transition. Co-starring Asia Argento, Harmony Korine, Lukas Haas and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth.

 Last Days

I remember that Kurt Cobain, when introduced to me, looked at me as if I wasn’t nodding to him and saying hello. He just stared at me like a kid will do when watching a television. He had short blond hair in a kind of bowl cut. It was summer of 1991, and an Oregon activist group and myself had contacted his manager, Danny Goldberg, to help us with a fundraiser in Los Angeles, to battle a particularly vicious anti-gay initiative in Oregon, proposition 9, that would have made it illegal to be out as a gay or lesbian teacher in public schools or as any kind of state worker, which would have meant politicians, road workers, police, etc. Courtney Love had been particularly big on helping the issue, which Danny told us when we first met him, and he wanted to get as many people involved as he could. And we organized the fundraiser with Tom Arnold and Rosanne Barr’s help at the home of my agent John Burnam in tony Bel Air California.

The night before the actual event, we were invited to the home of Danny Goldberg, and it was an occasion to meet Kurt and Courtney, who showed up late as we were eating dinner with Bob Guccione Jr, who ran Spin magazine, and Rosemary Caroll, Danny’s wife, and D-J Haanraadts, my boyfriend. Kurt sat a couple of places away from me and just stared down the table, in a very odd way. I started to guess that maybe he had just gotten out of a rehab, because of his short haircut, and his wide eyed stare, which was particularly open and fresh and innocent, which can happen when people just get out. I remember him sitting there not saying anything, but the presence in the room was tilted all of a sudden, like the big rock star had entered and was sitting at the end of the table not saying anything. The others were perhaps used to it, I wasn’t. Courtney, on the other hand, was very talkative.

Then, later we were all sitting in the back yard smoking, and Courtney was reading from a rock and roll magazine, and doing a kind of stand up routine, dissing the quotes from the magazine, referring to long standing backstage arguments between rock performers in the northwest music scene, people I didn’t know. The thing that I noticed the most was Kurt. He was laughing hard at Courtney’s routine. And we started to laugh along partly because Kurt was laughing—and sometimes he would add a few comments along with Courtney. They were really into this magazine article. I pretty much just listened and started to realize that I was really fascinated by Kurt. And at the same time, realizing some of this fascination was probably what drew everyone to him. He had a lot of unexpected charisma. It was also a time for me when I didn’t really know his music so much, mostly just the legend, and the rock star image.

Other bands in the northwest whose music I did know were Greg Sage, Napalm Beach, and Poison Idea. Napalm Beach was the band that had the most “grunge” sound, Sam Henry was the band leader, and it was a sound that we used to call Penitentiary Rock in the mid-eighties.

When we left Danny Goldberg’s house Kurt and Courtney got into a very small red Toyota rental car. Kurt was driving. They turned and said “We’re down here in L.A., we don’t know how long we’re going to be here. We don’t have any friends.”

D-J and I said, “We’ll be your friends. Come to the fundraiser tomorrow, there will be people that you probably know. Danny and Rosemary will be there.”

They said okay, but they never showed up to the fundraiser. Kurt later volunteered to play a concert to raise money for “no on 9” the next month in Portland, which he did with Nirvana. But that night was the one and only time that I saw Kurt, when he and Courtney drove away in their red Toyota.