Saturday 21 September 2019

Frances Bean Cobain: 'I feel like I have a deep spiritual understanding that most people probably don’t'

The only child of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, Frances Bean Cobain, opens up to Barry Egan about her evolution, having no memories of her father, and how she has always accepted death after her exposure to it from a very early age when her father took his own life when she was just 20 months old

Frances Bean Cobain poses at the opening of 'Growing Up Kurt' exhibition at the museum of Style Icons in Newbridge. Photo: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Frances Bean Cobain poses at the opening of 'Growing Up Kurt' exhibition at the museum of Style Icons in Newbridge. Photo: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Frances Bean Cobain with her mother Courtney Love pictured in Hollywood in 2005
Kurt Cobain, 1993
Kurt's sister Kim and mother Wendy with Frances at the exhibition Growing Up Kurt Cobain at the Museum of Style Icons at Newbridge Silverware. Photo. Robbie Reynolds
American writer Henry Miller

Earlier this year, in an extraordinary post on her Instagram account, she told the world: “I thought I would start this post by sharing a pure moment in Oahu [Hawaii] surrounded by nature & love. This moment is a representation of who I am on February 13th, 2018. It feels significant here and now because it’s my 2nd sober birthday. It’s an interesting and kaleidoscopic decision to share my feelings about something so intimate in a public forum...

“It is an everyday battle to be in attendance for all the painful, bazaar [sic], uncomfortable, tragic, f**ked up things that have ever happened or will ever happen. Self-destruction, toxic consumption, deliverance from pain is a lot easier to adhere to. Undeniably for myself and those around me, choosing to be present is the best decision I have ever made.

“How we treat our bodies directly correlates to how we treat our souls. It’s all interconnected. It has to be. So I’m gonna take today to celebrate my vibrant health and the abundance of happiness, gratitude, awareness, compassion, empathy, strength, fear, loss, wisdom, peace and the myriad of other messy emotions I feel constantly. They inform who I am, what my intentions are, who I want to be and they force me to acknowledge my boundaries/limitations...

“As cheesy and cornball as it sounds life does get better, if you want it to.”

Frances Bean Cobain with her mother Courtney Love pictured in Hollywood in 2005
Frances Bean Cobain with her mother Courtney Love pictured in Hollywood in 2005

In truth, even the thought of life getting better for Frances Bean Cobain was a complicated and difficult process because she started, in literally, such a bad place in life.

Her problems began when she was in the womb, before she was born on August 18, 1992 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles. And they only got worse from there.

Frances’s mother, Hole singer Courtney Love, took heroin while she was pregnant with her. Frances’s father, Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, had a lethal level of heroin in his system following his autopsy. She was 20 months old when he took his life on April 8, 1994 with a gun at the family home in Seattle; next to his dead body a box containing a spoon and what looked like needles was found.

The last time Frances saw her dad was when she was taken to visit him at a rehab facility in Los Angeles on April 1, just a week before his suicide that shocked the world and shattered her life.

Of the latter tragedy, Frances said in 2015: “Kurt got to the point where he eventually had to sacrifice every bit of who he was to his art, because the world demanded it of him. I think that was one of the main triggers as to why he felt he didn’t want to be here and everyone would be happier without him. In reality, if he had lived, I would have had a dad. And that would have been an incredible experience.”

The only child of Kurt and Courtney, Frances, in 1992, barely a few weeks old, was removed by child welfare officers from her parents’ home for a short time after the publication of a controversial Vanity Fair article, published in September, 1992, that alleged Love had used drugs during her pregnancy. Kurt wrote the song Rape Me about the experience:

Kurt Cobain, 1993
Kurt Cobain, 1993

My favourite inside source

I’ll kiss your open sores

I appreciate your concern

You’re gonna sink and burn

Rape me

Rape me, my friend

Kurt's sister Kim and mother Wendy with Frances at the exhibition Growing Up Kurt Cobain at the Museum of Style Icons at Newbridge Silverware. Photo. Robbie Reynolds
Kurt's sister Kim and mother Wendy with Frances at the exhibition Growing Up Kurt Cobain at the Museum of Style Icons at Newbridge Silverware. Photo. Robbie Reynolds

Be that as it may, the Vanity Fair article was nothing short of damning. “We went on a binge,” Love allegedly told journalist Lynn Hirschberg, referring to the time in January, 1992, when Kurt and his band Nirvana were in New York to appear on a TV show. “We did a lot of drugs. We got pills and then we went down to Alphabet City and Kurt wore a hat, I wore a hat, and we copped some dope. Then we got high and went to Saturday Night Live. After that, I did heroin for a couple of months.” (Kurt and Courtney maintained that their words were taken out of context. She said she quit using heroin as soon as she discovered she was pregnant.)

“It was horrible,” a business associate who was travelling with them at the time told Hirschberg. “Courtney was pregnant and she was shooting up. Kurt was throwing up on people in the cab. They were both out of it.”

Vanity Fair also alleged that after their New York binge, it “was suggested to Courtney that she have an abortion. She refused and, reportedly, had a battery of tests that indicated the foetus was fine”.

What wasn’t fine — and was disturbing to watch — was the footage in the 2015 documentary Montage of Heck — which Frances was executive producer of, although she says now that she was in a bad place at the time — that shows Kurt smacked-out on heroin and nodding off during his one-year-old (if even that) daughter’s first haircut.

“Kurt, you don’t want your daughter to see you behaving like this, on drugs,” Love berates at him, in their filthy drug den of a home.

“I’m not on drugs!” Kurt protests. “I’m tired.”

Now an all-grown-up and beautiful woman with eyes that make her the spit of her oul’ fella, Frances seems to have finally come out the other side of an apocalyptic storm. Sitting in the offices of the Newbridge Silverware Museum of Style Icons (for the opening of Growing Up Kurt Cobain, an exhibition dedicated to the late legend, and featuring some of his personal belongings) and in the company of Kurt’s mum and sister,  Frances is witty and compelling and easy to warm to. Understandably, I am not allowed to ask her about the death of her dad. So the conversation is a bit awkward at first. I say to her that I was reading her late dad’s Journals — a collection of his private writings and drawings published in 2002 — before I left the house to meet her in Kildare.

“I don’t look through his journals. It feels too intimate,” she says. “I am really regretful that my mom put those out there. I know it was her way of trying to contribute his personal thoughts and I know that people really want to know that. I can’t imagine being dead and having people know my intimate thoughts. What an invasion of privacy, I don’t think it is merited especially since in his art he decided not to put out that thinking. It is a different thing to get to know him through his art, a deliberate public extension of himself,” she says.

“As an artist you sign an unspoken contract putting your art into the custody of everybody else. That’s the deal with being an artist. I really enjoy his art but I find it is a lot harder to connect to his private journals. It feels like an invasion of privacy to me. And I don’t know if he would have wanted people reading all those personal, deep, dark thoughts.”

I say that some of the scenes in Montage of Heck were quite harrowing — especially Frances as a baby with her father in no fit state to be with a baby...

“That movie ended up being not what I wanted it to be,” she says. “The first half of the movie is really beautiful; the second half, we all ended up hating Kurt. We were all like, ‘You whiny little b***h. What is wrong with you?’ That wasn’t reflective of what we were trying to convey.

“I regret working with that man,” Kurt’s mother Wendy says in reference to Montage of Heck director Brett Morgen. “I don’t regret working with him,” counters Frances. “I regret not being in a headspace to be more involved. I was on a lot of drugs. I was not present. I was not capable of having authentic input.”

Which bits would she have left out of the movie? Frances, as a baby, with her dad high?

“I know they were real. I know about it, but I don’t know how necessary it was for the entire world to know about it.”

What are Frances’s first memories from her childhood?

“I think my first memory is being three, and we had a faux fur foam chair with a face on it. It was Cherry from Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I had an Elmo doll and I wrapped it in a blanket and I was playing baby. I was using the chair as a crib for the baby. That’s my first memory. I don’t have any memories of my dad. But that is the first memory of my whole life.”


I ask Wendy what is her first memory of Frances?  “They [Courtney and Frances] were living in California and they came up to Washington State and I met her in a hotel!” she laughs. “And I just melted. This precious little girl with huge eyes. Adorable.”

“She was one of the cutest babies I’d ever seen,” says her aunt Kim.

Rock royalty (Frances’s godfather is REM’s Michael Stipe, her godmother is Drew Barrymore), Frances, who performed as Rizzo in school productions of Grease, allegedly turned down the role of Bella in Twilight without auditioning when she was 13. According to her mother’s account to Howard Stern: “She was like, ‘That’s a sexist, Mormon piece of s**t!” She was also allegedly offered, and declined, the lead in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland.

Frances gave her first interview, to Teen Vogue, in September, 2005.  Three years later, her mother Courtney put on an RIP Childhood party to mark Frances’s 16th birthday.

She worked as an intern in the New York offices of Rolling Stone from June to August 2008, despite her net worth being $450m. That same year she modelled, in Harper’s Bazaar magazine, a series of fantasy outfits based on characters from Evita, Grease and Beauty and the Beast. Frances has said that she has fantasies about drawing and writing her own comic book cookbook one day.

In July, 2010 in LA, she unveiled a collection of artwork titled Sc*mf**k under the alias Fiddle Tim. Last year, she was the face of Marc Jacobs’s Spring/Summer 2017 campaign.

In March of this year, Frances  exhibited one of her paintings in LA, with some of the proceeds going to ‘Everytown for Gun Safety’, a movement which advocates for gun control. It was lost on no one, surely, that her dad died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. (In 2014, Frances reacted to Lana Del Rey’s sub-moronic, “I wish I was dead already” post on Twitter by berating the singer for idealising the deaths of young artists.) 

Frances said her interest in art started in eighth grade at school when she “became a shi**y emo kid” and “started listening to a lot of My Chemical Romance”.

In terms of her own romance, Frances married musician Isaiah Silva on June 29, 2014. But 21 months later, the marriage was over — and the fallout continues. And how. In a manner her home town of La La land would be proud. In a civil suit against Courtney Love, Silva claims Cobain gave him one of Kurt’s more famous guitars in January, 2014 as an engagement gift ahead of their wedding. Courtney Love has publicly denied this, saying her daughter meant to do no such thing and that the guitar was “not [Silva’s] to take”. In the civil lawsuit against Love and her business manager Sam Lutfi and several others, Frances’s ex-husband alleges a conspiracy to assault, kidnap, and attempt to murder him — all over the controversial and contested ownership of the guitar Kurt Cobain played at Nirvana’s epochal 1993 MTV Unplugged appearance. 

Last week in Kildare, Frances described herself as “complex, wise, empathetic”. She doesn’t believe in “negotiating” her boundaries. People tend to like her, she says, “because I’m pretty authentic. I am the worse liar I know. If I don’t like you I have no capacity to pretend to. I will have to remove myself because it is not furthering my spiritual education”.

How is the spiritual education going at 25?

“Man! I feel like an 108-year-old monk sometimes!” laughs young Ms Frances Bean Cobain; named Bean because Kurt thought she looked like a kidney bean on the ultrasound; and Frances after Frances McKee from The Vaselines (or after Frances Farmer the actress from the 1940s who railed against the system and ended up in a mental institution; Courtney married Kurt in one of Farmer’s old dresses with “dry rot on it”.

Kurt wrote a song called Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle.) “I feel that often times I connect deeply with people with old souls. This is my 150th time in the human experience! I’m not doing it again, though!” she laughs. “I feel like I have a deep spiritual understanding that most people probably don’t.”

Where does she feel that came from? “It probably has something to do with an early onset exposure to death, and being very accepting of that. I’m not fearful of that at all.”

I ask Frances how long did it take her to accept death? “I’ve always been accepting of death,” she says, matter of factly. “When I had animals when I was little I would get very sad, but I always understood that it [death] was a very natural part of life. And in a way I am sort of grateful for it because recently I had to put my dog down,” she explains. “My boyfriend... my ex-boyfriend...” she corrects herself, “he had a very emotional attachment to the dog. He took it a lot harder than I did, because I recognise that it was a natural thing, and he was suffering and holding on to his pain was selfish. And I recognised in my ex-boyfriend that he was having a harder time than I was, even though it wasn’t his dog. It was my dog!”

That wasn’t the reason you broke up? “No! No! No!”

The dog dies and I leave? I tease.

“No! No! No!” she laughs. “So I feel I have an awareness of that [death].”

Not many people would disagree with Saint Frances of Seattle.

‘Growing Up Kurt Cobain’ at the Newbridge Museum of Style Icons runs until September 30

Read more: 'Who Courtney knew was a very different person to who they intimately knew' - Frances Bean on Kurt Cobain exhibition curated by his mother and sister

Brought to book

One of Frances’s favourite books is Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (pictured below). “It is pure salacious poetry. I really connect to how grotesque Miller can be, but also how poetic he is in his grotesqueness. When I was 18, I just loved it.”

Do she also love the books of Miller’s muse, Anais Nin?

GettyImages_Henry Miller.jpg
American writer Henry Miller

“I have a library in my bedroom at home and I have three books by her that I’m going to read,” she says.

“I devour books. I will probably write a book of poems one day. I love the manipulation of the English language with words. Organised, abstract chaos, I like to call it!”

Not unlike a certain person’s lyrics...

“You know what? I probably do have an innate influence from that onset exposure. He was such an amazing lyricist I relate more to his lyrics than to his music.”

Does she have a favourite lyric by her dad? “The least poetic lyric, ‘I wish I was like you, easily amused’ [from All Apologies from Nirvana’s 1993 In Utero album]. Selfishly, I feel an emotional tie to that. It’s about me. I also like the line, ‘You’ve taught me everything without a poison apple’ [from Drain You from Nirvana’s Nevermind album of 1991]… you know, that imagery!”

Why does that resonate with Frances?

“It is the evocation of Snow White but it has nothing to do with Snow White and has everything, I feel, to do with toxicity, and drugs, probably.”

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