Eric Erlandson, one-time guitar player and songwriter for Hole, has written a torrentous book, Letters to Kurt, addressed to the virtual presence of his close friend and occasional rival, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.
Driving and listening to another fascinating self-help audio book. Nothin’ like Six Stinkin’ Hats to make your drive-by commute a quantum weep for all existence. I put on the WHITE one. The morgue sheet. A blank slate. Just the facts. Where you lay heir apparent with self-inflicted wound head. NO witnesses, ‘cept for me and the whole damn world. Your left hand on the barrel of a Remington 20-gauge resting between your legs, pointed at your chin. A spent shell-casing. A wallet for identification. You stabbed your spiel into a pile of dirt with your pen. Like all good martyrs you wrote in RED. Burning records like a fireman on fire. Melting down your punk rock past. Tchotchkes for the toilet, turds for the mantle. Hey, put that hose away, man. Pout it out, gloom it or gloat it before you just plain blow it. Life’s butt a joke. A hypodermical hoot. You’re supposed to laugh at the punch lines, not kick and cry in your birthday suit, eating away at your cancer in the blood of your BLACK.
Tightly wound and lovingly wrought, the book is also surprisingly cohesive and readable. Eric Erlandson, a key player in the West coast grunge scene of the early 1990s, turns out to be an eager and explosive wordsmith with a musical sense of affect and a sandpaper-scream narrative voice that clearly echoes the sound of his famous era. Brimming over with punk rock emotion and sardonic pop-culture consciousness, brazenly punning between morbid memories and primal screams, Erlandson’s book recalls not only a lost friend but an entire state of mind.
Like the pop phenomenon of ’90s grunge itself, this book contains thick layers from several generations. Erlandson, born in 1963, came of age during the waning hippie years of the late 60s and early 70s, and the biggest apparent influence in this book is not punk style but rather the writers that I myself remember growing up with during these years: the unhinged maximalists of the Vietnam War era: William S. Burroughs, Tom Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut, Paul Krassner, Terry Southern, Ed Sanders, Edward Abbey, Hunter S. Thompson. In a few places, this Buddhist-trained guitar player preaches ecology and calm awareness (this book seems to want to deliver a spiritual message to its readers), only to swing back into the familiar anarchic messy overdrive of modern American confusion:
Animals were killed in the making of this book. Now here come the activists but you and I could give a duck. I pull off to the side of the road to cry when I see the clear cut carnage outside Aberdeen. Somebody just doing their job. While I’m doing mine — on paper. Reams of paper and the bystander death of birds and animals and bugs. If you come back as one of your beloved pines, will you be cut down like you cut yourself down all these years ago? … I fight the truth to which you resigned yourself, truth only from the neck up. I humble myself before life’s little humiliations can sneak into my in-box. Accept all things hoisted upon me: Evil, Viking, Vacuum, Clown, Puppet, Pearl, Servant, Master, Ghoul, Faker, Nice. The good ship lollipop gag reflex. I hope I can live up to your reputation, without the scurvy or the scabies.
The sensation of extreme generational clutter is the whole point — it’s the clutter inside our minds. Reaching further back than the counter-culture influences of the Summer of Love, Erlandson also channels great literary transgressives like Arthur Rimbaud, always in search of that legendary dereglement …
I went to see Dinosaur Jr. and forgot to wear earplugs on purpose hoping the noise damage might help my writing.
Sometimes he just drops a small sentence that hints softly at the layers of sadness Kurt Cobain left behind when he killed himself.
I saw somebody’s daughter today.
The book ends with a haunting poem that spells out the words “HELLO SAD PERSON … IS THE PATH WARM”, apparently a phrase with special meaning to suicide hotline workers.
I was a Hole fan back in the days, though I barely remember Eric Erlandson’s presence in the mostly-girl band at all. After reading this book, I watched a live video of my favorite Hole song, “Violet”, which reminded me what a dynamic and expressive singer Courtney Love was. The video also shows how hard on the ego it must have been for Eric to share space in a rock band with Courtney Love, because he is barely seen in this entire video (he’s the blond guy briefly glimpsed on stage right.)
This writer spent many years in the shadows of others — but the shadows are not a bad place for a writer to live.