It was somehow not that problematic.
Image by Dan Ozzi
A Kurt Cobain-themed haunted house can go in a variety of directions: from the extremely distasteful to the mildly distasteful to the deeply disturbing.
When I first heard about the event, I ran down a list of scenarios that could possibly be played out inside. The darkest thoughts I had centered on the scene of Cobain’s suicide in the greenhouse and various scenes from Montage of Heck. I was really, really hoping that William Kaminski, the conceptual artist behind the project, wouldn’t incorporate any Dave Grohl material.
On October 2, 2015 I attended Live Through This: Kurt Cobain Haunted Heck in a weird industrial part of LA in a bizarre sort of no-man’s land between Lincoln Heights and Cypress Park. It was only announced on social media, with the description as the following:
For 3 NIGHTS ONLY, descend into a live and immersive grunge hell that will electrify the complex and disturbing role that deceased Kurt Cobain continues to play in our collective pop consciousness. The structure of the haunted house is adopted to fill with the nightmarish specters of a dark and evil alternative history of the tragic icon. Through a long interactive maze the audience encounters blood-curdling scenes brought to life by a cast of over 20 performers.
As we wandered around trying to find the entrance, we started talking to a group of about 15 other lost souls who were similarly confused (we had all shown up about ten minutes before the posted start time of 9 PM, expecting a long line). “This seems like the type of haunted house where you might go in and they actually kill you,” said one 20-something, and the rest of us nodded in agreement. A van—always inherently the creepiest type of vehicle—was parked across the street. “Krist Novoselic is inside of that van,” my friend Luke joked, “waiting to jump out at us!”
We eventually found the correct entrance, a table was set up to take our five dollar entry fee and we were also offered cold cans of Budweiser for one dollar. A group of four people ahead of us who did not look a day over 19 were a bit too excited about this free beer.
As we walked toward the entrance, a girl wearing a tiara in reference to the cover of Hole’s Live Through This welcomed us. After making it through an extremely long pitch-black hallway, a cracked open door revealed the first scene: Kurt sitting on a toilet in a bathroom, hunched forward, making vomiting noises. As we turned the corner, we realized we would have to walk right in front of Kurt—this was one of the scariest moments of the night, because the vibes of the haunted house hadn’t really been established yet and I fully expected Kurt to either reach out and grab us or stand up and projectile vomit on us. Neither of those actions happened, and he just sort of sat there as we walked past, entering another room that had Courtney Love in a closet, she was yelling at Kurt on the toilet, saying stuff like “You’re a fucking junkie!”
Around the corner, a man who was clearly supposed to be El Duce was leering at the girls in front of us, saying questionable stuff like, “I’m gonna get you, girl.” If you’re reading this, you probably already know that El Duce is a key character in almost every conspiracy theory about Courtney Love murdering Cobain: He’s the guy that Love allegedly offered 50,000 dollars to off Cobain. He was featured in Nick Broomfield’s 1998 documentary film Kurt & Courtney (which I remember seeing, in the theater) in which he claims that he turned down Love’s offer but referred her to his friend “Alan.” A train killed El Duce two days after filming his interview with Broomfield in Los Angeles, with no witnesses.
The next room was a loose interpretation of a scene from Montage of Heck involving Cobain losing his virginity to an “illiterate” girl—the room was set up like Cobain’s teenage bedroom (possibly a factual error since in Heck the deed took place at the girl’s house, not Cobain’s) complete with a Daniel Johnston Hi, How Are You poster, and Kurt trying to put the moves on the girl on the bed. It’s important to note that this scene in particular was one that King Buzzo of the Melvins recently called out as “total bullshit” in his takedown of Heck, writing “that’s too good a story to have gone this long without me hearing about it.” It’s a fair point, but to Kaminski’s credit, the description of Live Through This was “a live and immersive grunge hell that will electrify the complex and disturbing role that deceased Kurt Cobain continues to play in our collective pop consciousness.”
The next room was lined in silver and featured Kurt and Courtney dancing drunkenly to some random dance music. As we entered the room, they turned to us, holding a baby doll and said, “Do you want to hold it?” Again, another loose reference to Montage of Heck, which includes several uncomfortable scenes of Kurt and Courtney being too fucked up on heroin to take proper care of their child.
The following room was one of the most imaginative, because it was staged in a way to suggest it was a nightmare Cobain may have had after his death. In the middle of the room, lit in dark red hues, was a bed with Courtney lying seductively, dressed only in a negligee, with three Billy Corgan lookalikes (complete with ZERO T-shirts) circling around her menacingly. The last room would also stage a possible post-mortem “worst nightmare” of Cobain’s, but first there was another room that was the most meta. In this space, Kurt sat on a chair with several men dressed in all black circling around him saying stuff like “kill the junkie” and coming up to the haunted house guests and saying things like “you’re a pussy” directly in your face. The final room featured Frances Bean Cobain as an Iggy Azalea-style rapper (“My dad was in Nirvana”) hanging out with a sleazy DJ type character in Juggalo facepaint.
The demented DJ
The haunted house featured absolutely no Nirvana music (or Hole, or Foo Fighters, just to clear that up) and I felt there were a few things that weren’t included that kind of surprised me, like the skinny Santa Jesus character from the “Heart-Shaped Box” video, the anarchy cheerleaders from the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, the fetuses from the In Utero art, Gus Van Sant in general, guitars being smashed, men in dresses, or the number 27.
Surprisingly, there was no reference to the suicide scene at the greenhouse—but that scene would’ve been nearly impossible to do in a tasteful manner. Instead, it focused on Cobain’s rich mythology in pop culture, and I can imagine the event could be replicated all over the country without any duplicate scenes. Haunted Houses are big business, especially in Southern California, so it’s somewhat surprising that, after a quick Google search, I could find no past evidence of a Kurt Cobain or Nirvana-themed Haunted House ever taking place previously—this doesn’t mean that no one else has ever put one together, but it does mean if it did happen, it left no internet footprints. Now that the idea is out in the world, I’d imagine this might become “a thing”—that is, unless Courtney’s lawyers shut it down.
Daniel Gill attended a Nirvana show while on crutches on November 26, 1993. Follow him on Twitter.