'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?' Is a Novel About a Teenager Who Dates the Spirit of Kurt Cobain
So we talked to author Lynn Crosbie about what the heck she was thinking when she wrote it.
A book showed up on my doorstep a few months back: an advance copy of English professor Lynn Crosbie's new novel Where Did You Sleep Last Night? The Montreal-born writer has published many works of short fiction and poetry—Pearl, Queen Rat, Dorothy L'Armour, Life Is About Losing Everything, and the controversial murder story Paul's Case, to list a few—but the cover (and title) of her latest work was instantly intriguing. Featuring an illustration of Cobain in women's sunglasses and a hunting hat—an image from one of Cobain's last official shoots (read our interview with photographer Jesse Frohman here)—it left me questioning: was Crosbie rewriting history in her own words? What the hell was this?
Turns out Where Did You Sleep Last Night? is the story of Evelyn Gray, a loner, heroin-addicted high school student who ends up in the hospital and starts a romantic, co-dependent relationship with a beautiful man named Celine Black, who just happens to be Kurt Cobain reincarnated. Crosbie says the book started as a young adult novel, but quickly changed shape, morphing into a tale based on the Hole song "Malibu." Isolating the lyric: "Oh, come on be alive again / Don't lay down and die," Crosbie wrote almost 400 pages of imagined slash fiction and lucid dreams with the 90s most infamous rock 'n' roll couple as inspiration.
"This book," writes Crosbie. "Is for all the girls and women who have written stories like mine, all very different, and all the same in that they never ask why he's alive again, or how."
Timing-wise, Crosbie's novel is making its debut at an oddly apt moment: Where Did You Sleep Last Night? comes out the same week as the first ever, much anticipated, authorized documentary, Kurt Cobain: A Montage of Heck. I called Crosbie to talk about the book, her purpose, Cobain's ongoing cultural impact, and the letters she and Courtney used to exchange back in 1992.
Noisey: What made you want to write Where Did You Sleep Last Night? and how did you get away with it?
Lynn: I mean, have I gotten away with it? That’s the thing, I don’t know. It’s not out yet. I was going to write a cool young adult novel about a suicidal girl who loves Kurt, but there was was already a young adult novel set in Portland where Eddie Vedder shows up as a kind of Buddhist God figure. Plus I’d already thought about heroin and fucking by the third page, so it was already warped. Because I’m also a professor, I’ve been teaching creative writing for years, and I’ve always said that the bravest thing you can do is be sincere instead of cynical and sarcastic. I vowed to actually be sincere. This is how that kind of young, agonic, addict love is. So, I’m just going to write [the book], and probably get busted, and get criticized for being corny.
To me the book feels like a lucid dream.
Well, that’s kind of what the book is. It’s like a lucid dream or magic realism. I don’t love labels for writing and that’s always made me more of a cult writer than a conventional writer, but it doesn’t matter. It’s poetry, prose, memoir, I don’t know, call it what you want.
It’s an interesting time for your book to come out because the Nirvana documentary is coming out in the theaters and on HBO as well.
Which was weird, because I knew it was coming out this year, but I didn’t know the timing was that dead on. I’m torn as to when to watch this movie! [Laughs.] It has the same image of him, as did a big beautiful book of photographs that came out last year about him, so everyone seems to be tractor beaming onto that image. I think it’s because he’s so hunted in that shot to the point of even growing a beard to hide his face, he doesn’t want anything left of himself. It’s like pure Sylvia Plath theater at that point, he defaced himself completely. It’s such a striking image. But yeah, I like the timing of that, I remember Frances Cobain saying “people seem to think my dad was fanatical” or something. It’s interesting because he’s not just a sweet, messy Jesus baby in my book either. He’s more of blood and guts, and has a temper and is very sexual, obviously.
Do you ever think the obsession with Kurt Cobain will stop?
No, I don’t. [Laughs.] That’s why these murder conspiracies rage on, because people can’t let go. Even just the destruction of his beauty, and you pile onto that the destruction of his art and then all the art that could’ve come, and then the tragedy as the years go by of Courtney left alone, and his child especially left alone. That image of him so young and perfect is ingrained in everyone. I mean they’re still pushing Jim Morrison’s beauty. I saw a documentary on him on YouTube that had just come out. I think Jim would be about 72-years-old by now, you know?
What I think helps keep the spirit of Kurt alive is the fact that the internet provides a means of new exposure for his past, for example, those pictures of Kurt and Courtney's apartment on Fairfax surfaced not long ago. Then, the fascination is rekindled.
Kurt is a Guitar Hero for God’s sake, so he becomes more alive in the digital world more real than he’s ever been in his life. He was a recluse. He was photographed a fair amount, but he was still reclusive and didn’t like it. But that beauty, it’s like a deep trope. Lord Byron predates photographs, and there’s a couple paintings of him, but his beauty was so legendary and his charisma and such, girls all over Europe were in love with him, mothers were throwing their daughters at him to marry, and I think Kurt has that quality. An inimitable charisma that outlasts the human body. And you tie in all the Byron aspects of his tragedy: the beauty, the nobility, the genius and it’s that incredible, perfect storm.
Both characters are on heroin during the entire book, which I think is a perfectly reflected in your style of writing. You pace the book like a dope high, flowing in and out.
You constantly question, “Did that just happen?” It’s not disquieting though, you’re not worried. When you do hallucinogenics, it’s a different state of how is it happening, more manic, and with junk nothing phases you.
I heard you wrote letters with Courtney when you were a teenager.
Yeah, it must have been in 1992 when the Vanity Fair piece came out. I’d owned Pretty on the Inside and a friend called me and said, “Oh, you have to read this thing about this bitch Courtney Love,” and I was like, “What? No, I like her.” I read the Vanity Fair piece and only liked her more. I was a bit naive about it and wrote her a letter telling her how much I loved her after reading it and she, of course, said not to count that Vanity Fair article as a representation of her. The infamous public shit storm between Kurt, Courtney, and journalist Lynn Hirschberg happened after that. I had found Courtney just because she was so smart, and she liked writers I liked. She was so smart in that piece: she read and was political. I sent her my poems and she wrote me letters back. That was pretty exciting for my teenage self. I assume those letters were written while she and Kurt were living in that infamous Fairfax apartment, probably laying in bed.
Do you think Courtney or Frances will read the book? Does that concern you?
Well, Frances was a big one because I didn’t want to implicate her in anyway because that would be incredibly unkind. I also thought it would be ridiculous not to mention her, so there’s one scene that references her and it’s very vague. I thought it would step too much into a personal life otherwise, so there’s a scene where he disappears and he meets a girl whose eyes look like his, and that’s when he’s gone to see her. I wanted to leave it at that. As to Courtney I thought, “Well I don’t know, she gets to be the Queen of Heaven" at the end, s… Plus, it’s everything flattering I think of her reflected in the character of Evelyn Gray: she’s tough, scary, beautiful, and powerful. She wants him to prevail so she’s the real guiding heroic force in the book. I don’t even know if Courtney would read it. She seems reluctant to keep pulling herself back to that part of her life.
Mish is the singer of White Lung and you can find her on Twitter.