This month marked the 18th anniversary of the passing of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. A sudden and unexpected tragedy that has come to signify the end of the “alternative rock” movement’s golden era.
The event carried additional weight for guitarist Eric Erlandson (Hole, solo artist), Cobain’s close friend, confidant, musical collaborator, and sometimes trusted “watch-over.” Erlandson is finally confronting and coming to terms with the event that changed his life and the music world forever with a collection of 52 prose poems titled Letters to Kurt. TheSunsetStrip.com recently spoke with Erlandson to discuss his poetic collection, Buddhism, book tours, Hole and his favorite Sunset Strip memories.
So why this book? Why now?
I was going through a rough patch when I discovered Jim Harrison's book, Letters to Yesenin, his prose poems to a Russian poet who committed suicide back in the 1920s. [The poems] touched my heart and took me to corners inside myself that I had been resisting, avoiding, unresolved stuff.
I tried writing my own prose poem letters to various muses, all the while avoiding the obvious one. But as soon as I allowed Kurt to stand in for all the suicides and tragic deaths in my life, a strange and powerful voice emerged in my journal. In a sense, I didn't choose to write this book; it chose me. I opened myself up, became a conduit for whatever voices needing to be heard or expressed through me. This is the art that happened.
Today, I was listening to a lecture by Jorge Luis Borges, and he said, "Art happens every time we read a poem." I agree with that sentiment. Poetry is important and still matters.
Why now? Because now is the winter of my discontent. Or is it the spring of my life? I don't know, maybe the time's right for a little "fuck off and live!" I suppose I've allowed this slop to simmer long enough.
With the release of this collection of letters/poems, do you feel like you’ve finally achieved a measure of closure and catharsis? Is there a greater overarching message you would like readers to take away from this book?
Catharsis is not only a purging but also brings clarity. By writing this book, by living it, I am reclaiming my past, present and future. I knew that a shift, some sort of transformation, had to happen in order for it to feel complete a release so that I could move on with my life and my art. When you write, you reveal the state of your mind/heart. And the past comes back to get you. I don't know what lies ahead, but it feels good to finally face my past and allow it to breathe.
Without getting too new age hippy-dippy, airy fairy about it all, I would love for these letters to encourage people to look at the causes they are making in their lives; to think about where they are checking out, losing themselves, fragmenting; to think about life and death; to put the still stigmatic topic of suicide on the table, so that we can come to a proper understanding of it, learn how to help our friends and family members who are struggling, those losing sight of life's preciousness. We allow ourselves to be bombarded by such negativity these days, and the unfortunate message that says life is disposable, meaningless, empty. That it's ok to take life; it's not.
The general public may not have been aware of your close personal relationship to Kurt. What are some of your fondest memories of your time spent together?
He was hilarious. Like a lot of musicians I know, [he was] a true comedian.
I loved when he went into his Donald Duck voice. Check out the new movie, Hit So Hard, which is about Hole drummer Patty Schemel's life. There's some great footage where Kurt is playing with Frances and talking in his quack voice.
How/why do you think you have been able to survive and thrive, when so many of those around you have fallen victim to the perils of drug addiction and depression?
I was lucky to have been handed Buddhism at the same time I was handed my first syringe full of heroin. I had an anchor that kept me grounded and secure in the midst of all that craziness and self-destruction. I came from a solid family; that always helps. But ultimately, I believe it's down to your karma, the causes you've made which influence your desires and your life path.
I'm not proud of all the choices I've made, but I am grateful that I've had the discipline and perseverance to overcome many, many obstacles. I continue to choose life daily, and that makes all the difference.
Being a practicing Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist, what does Buddhism teach us about depression and the destruction of life/self?
I don't claim to be a Buddhist scholar or expert, but it's my understanding that life is precious and should never be taken by one's own hand or by that of others. No exceptions.
There are ways to raise your life condition, tools to grab hold of when you are depressed. That being said, it's difficult to seek solutions when you're already in that tunnel. So, we must have compassion for those going through difficult patches in their lives and try to guide them back to their heart, their true self. Buddhism teaches us to master our own minds and not allow our minds to master us. Not easy, but a worthy goal.
In conjunction with this book tour, you’ve been doing some performances with your former band mates. Any serious talks of a Hole reunion? What’s your current relationship like with Courtney Love?
No reunion talks at this time. I'm more excited about writing and recording my new music and performing.I plan to do a soundtrack to the book and incorporate music into my book events. Patty [Schemel], Melissa [Auf der Maur] and I played with Courtney a few nights ago in Brooklyn — truly a Friday the 13th if there ever was one! A lucky day, a special moment, now gone. Good hugs remain in the “Bermuda Triangle of Love.”
This interview being for TheSunsetStrip.com — any memorable stories about past shows or time spent carousing on The Strip?
Many of my all time favorite shows were on The Strip. I once played Gazzari's “Battle of The Bands” and won! New Wave bikers doing Thunder’s prog and Doors schtick. Yikes! I'm sure glad there were no iPhones back then!
In the ’80s I saw Jim Thirlwell (Foetus) at The Roxy singing to backing tracks while he hung his arms around real pig heads hanging on chains from the ceiling. He was swinging a baseball bat and during the entire show the audience kept creeping backwards expecting pig guts to go flying all over the place.
I got spit on outside The Rainbow once. Oh wait, no I did the spitting... Sorry about that James. The stupid shit you do as an angry young man. I was lucky to witness the Celebrity Skin show at the Whisky where they were dressed as characters from Wizard of Oz. I met Ozzy early in the morning outside the Sunset Marquis once. Does that count?
What’s next for you? What projects—music, or otherwise are you currently working on?
I'm working on ideas for the soundtrack to Letters to Kurt, which will be 52 pieces of original instrumental music. And I hope to do more art, music, writing projects along the way, and play shows everywhere! I miss it so much. And I'm sure there will be more stories in book form somewhere down the line. I hope to release gems from the Hole archives at some point, too.
Tomorrow, April 21, catch musician turned author Eric Erlandson at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (on the USC campus), where he will sign copies of his new poetic page turner, Letters to Kurt, at the Book Soup booth (#176). Visit www.booksoup.com for the full schedule of author meet and greets.
--Brent X Mendoza, @brentXmendoza