Bev Cobain interview
Introduction: Here is an interview I did with Beverly Cobain who is Kurt Cobain's cousin.
Cobain will be the main subject of the interview but also discussed is Bev's terrific book "When Nothing Matters Anymore: A Survival Guide For Depressed Teens".
The interview was done over a few weeks in November and December 1999. Beverly has been a registered nurse since 1976. "For [several] years, she has practiced in alcohol / drug detoxification and treatment, and is an accredited psychiatric/mental health nurse." Her book is "her way of making sense of his [Kurt Cobain's] death and reaching out to teens who are sad, discouraged, or depressed." The book gives a host of survival tips and offers active help for people with feelings of depression. This interview goes into more detail about some aspects of the book and it talks about the tragic death of Kurt Cobain.
The interview is copyright ©1999 The Internet Nirvana Fan Club and Beverly Cobain. Below I am "NFC", using this font color, and Bev Cobain is "Beverly", using this font color.
NFC: Beverly, could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Beverly: Sure..... I've been a Registered Nurse for over 20 years, with credentials in psychiatric/mental health nursing for the past eight years. I'm single, with two sons, one of whom is Kurt's age. I grew up with Kurt's dad (which makes Kurt my second cousin), so by now you're probably thinking: "Wow! She's old!" But I'm not. I'm still 29, and am having more fun than ever, without anything to make me high, except life. NFC: What, apart from Kurt's tragic suicide, inspired you to write a book?
Beverly: Never in a million years did I ever expect to be an author. When Kurt killed himself (the third suicide in my family), kids from all over the world called me, just because my last name is Cobain, and because they wanted to talk about their feelings for Kurt, and to understand why he wanted to die. I came to realize that these kids related to Nirvana's music because the lyrics spoke to them about the parts of life they could relate to. Many of these kids were depressed, angry, felt rejected and hopeless. When I went out looking for a book to refer them to, one that might talk to them in words they might be willing to read, there wasn't one. So, long story short, I wrote one. NFC: As I asked Kennedy Grey recently - what would be your first advice to young people wanting to kill themselves?
Beverly: "Don't do it! Suicide isn't about wanting to die....... it's about not knowing how to live with all the pain and problems in your life. There are ways of resolving the problems without having to die over them. Please be willing to believe that there are adults who want to help you." NFC: Having the name 'Cobain', you must have been "forced" to be in the media's attention. Do you find this troublesome?
Beverly: I have to be honest.... having people pay attention to me was a kick at first. But it didn't take long to understand that awesome responsibility comes with the name. Sure, having the name has opened some doors for me in the area of suicide prevention and intervention.... which, really, has changed the direction of my life. But they were doors that needed to be opened by someone, and I take my work very seriously. I didn't write the book to get rich or famous. I love that the book is out there receiving honors and awards, because that means more people are reading it and learning how to deal with teen depression. I love traveling all over to educate people about the importance of understanding the phenomenon of suicide, and about knowing the signs and symptoms of depression and impending suicide. Yes, the name "Cobain" is useful in getting to people who would, perhaps, otherwise not be so interested in what I have to say. However.... I'm not unaware that the name will get people there, but what I say and do is what they take with them. NFC: As you said yourself, your book has received many honors and praise from readers. How important is this to you? Does this make it easier to "get through" to your target group?
Beverly: Does a cow eat grass? When someone is having trouble with depression, be it themselves, a child, a friend, there a several books, now, to choose from. Knowing that my book has been honored by the National Mental Health Association, the American Libraries Ass'n, the Voices of Youth Advocacy, and others, kind of takes the book out of the category of "written by a cousin of Cobain" to "written by someone who knows what she's talking about." Plus, it's very important to me to know people are actually using my book to help themselves and others. That's why I went through over years of really hard emotional and physical work to make it meaningful. NFC: You mentioned to me that you were a 'national speaker on depression and suicide'. Could you elaborate on this please?
Beverly: Before my book was finished, the State of Washington, as a part of their suicide prevention focus, chose 44 adults to train in a specific suicide intervention protocol. These 44 people (of whom I am one) were then certified, and required to train 30 people each, in 6 workshops within the next 6 months, in various areas of our state. When that requirement was satisfied, each of the trainers could then train anywhere there were people interested in learning how to recognize and intervene in suicidal behaviors. So, not only do I travel the U.S. (and hopefully the world), speaking to parents, teachers, counselors, physicians, nurses, etc., about how to recognize depression and impending suicide in kids (and adults), I also, with my co-trainer, teach active, intensive 2-day workshops in suicide intervention. In addition, I try to get some book signings in there, during which I talk about my book. NFC: Kurt's mom Wendy seems to have stayed completely away from the media. Do you think your book could help her getting easier through the terrible loss of her son?
Beverly: Wendy and I spoke shortly after Kurt's death, about how close she had become to Kurt during the last months of his life. Of course, parents are devastated by the loss of their children to suicide. I've never spoken to her again, and I have no idea whether she even knows I wrote a book, nor do I know if she's read it. NFC: What is your impression of Nirvana's music? Is it a band you listen to regularly?
Beverly: Again..... I have to be honest.... I probably would never have been drawn to Nirvana, had Kurt not been a part of the band. I have heard most of what they've done, and I have my favorite songs. I listen to all kinds of music, but I cry when I hear "All Apologies." Every time. It's like Kurt is apologizing for being alive. It really gets to me. I think their music is brilliant. NFC: Were (or are) you close to Krist, Dave ... or Courtney for that matter?
Beverly: Nope. Sometimes I get so frustrated, because those three people are in a place where they could really advocate for kids, and they won't do it. I'm not criticizing them...... I know people do what they're comfortable doing. It's just hard for me to be out there doing what I do, knowing that it would positively affect so many more kids if Krist and Dave would work, even minimally, with me. As far as Courtney goes, not that Kurt's suicide didn't affect Krist and Dave horrifically too, but as his wife, Courtney has so much healing to do. It's very difficult for people who have lost a loved one to suicide. It's never gone for them. And people don't know how to support them. I have the greatest sympathy for all three of them. And I wish I did know them. NFC: You grew up with Kurt's dad; what is he like?
Beverly: Don is a nice man... quiet, with a cute sense of humor. NFC: Do you think he and Wendy did an 'adequate' job when raising Kurt? Most Nirvana books make a big deal about his poor upbringing.
Beverly: I wouldn't presume to judge Don and Wendy's parenting skills. I wasn't around them while Kurt was growing up. I do know that kids whose parents are divorced are at higher risk for depression, especially if they feel abandoned and rejected. Most of us learn our parenting skills from our own parents, and there was a lot of alcohol use and abusive behaviors in both Don's original family, and in mine. NFC: Speaking of, in your book there is a paragraph saying "Family troubles often trigger depression or make it worse". It's no secret that there were troubles between Kurt's parents. Thus, do you believe that triggered Kurt's depression?
Beverly: I believe Kurt's depression stemmed from both the genetic vulnerability, and environmental factors. Not everyone with genetic factors becomes depressed, nor does everyone from an unhealthy environmental situation. But Kurt had both of those factors going against him..... too often a deadly combination. NFC: "Drugs and alcohol can't help you cope with your pain, make you feel better, and put you back in control of your life" - as we know, Kurt was a frequent user of drugs. Why do you think he kept doing drugs, when he must have realized that they didn't permanently help solving his emotional problems?
Beverly: The number one symptom of addiction is denial. Addicts can justify their use of drugs and alcohol when everything around them is falling apart. When addicts are in as much emotional pain as Kurt obviously was, they will do anything to ease the pain, even when they know it won't permanently resolve their problems, because they don't believe they can do the alternative, which is to live through the pain. NFC: As 'Paul' in the book also mentions, a lot of people got seriously depressed or otherwise deeply hurt when Kurt died - some even followed him directly by committing suicide.
Beverly: First of all, it's true that many of Kurt's fans grieved his suicide and didn't know how to think about it. Some of Kurt's fans were depressed before he died, and were at higher risk for suicide following Kurt's death, but there is only one documented "copy cat" suicide..... which is phenomenal! I believe one of the reasons grieving fans didn't choose suicide as an option, is that much of the media coverage focused on Kurt's fans and their grief, showing how they were dealing with their feelings.... supporting each other, talking with each other, hugging and crying, attending candle-light vigils. These were all done openly, and kids got to see that they were not the only people feeling shocked and saddened; that it was okay to let others know about their feelings of loss and desperation. Also, when Courtney read parts of Kurt's letter publicly, expressing her anger at him, and naming other options he could have chosen, I think that gave people permission to direct some of their grief toward having anger, which after all, is a part of the grief process. NFC: What is your advice to Nirvana fans wanting to kill themselves or otherwise give up on life, because their idol passed away?
Beverly: To anyone who is thinking of giving up on life for any reason, I ask you to be willing to believe that all the problems that seem impossible to solve at this moment can be solved. Absolutely..... maybe not today, and maybe not by you alone.... and you only need to do one thing! Gather up all your courage, put away your fear for awhile, and go tell a caring adult how you feel, or what you are thinking of doing. If you don't think any adults care about you, then go tell someone who you think SHOULD care about you. I suggest telling a teacher, principal, coach, mother of a friend, an aunt or grandmother, minister, someone at a crisis line, someone in any mental health agency, nurse, therapist, or go to any hospital emergency room and tell them Bev Cobain suggested you talk to them. They won't know who Bev Cobain is, but it'll give you a way to start the conversation. NFC: A lot of people suffering from depression express their feelings by writing poems and lyrics. Is Kurt a classic example of this? Many would argue that several 'hints' of his suicidal state was in his lyrics.
Beverly: Yes. Kurt is a classic example of a depressed and suicidal individual trying to tell others how he's feeling, in order to get help. He went further than just giving "hints." Many of you probably saw the t-shirt he wore publicly several times, on which he had written, "I hate myself and I want to die." Clues don't get much more clear than that. My favorite Nirvana song is "All Apologies", in which I believe Kurt was apologizing for just being alive. At age thirteen, Kurt painted a watercolor, which I saw at his grandfather's house during the time I was writing my book. The painting touched my heart and I nearly cried. Here was an example of how Kurt must have felt as a young teen..... a scene of a lighthouse against a darkening sky, surrounded by jagged rocks and an angry sea. The picture cried out, "Help!" to me, and I knew I had to use it on the cover of my book. NFC: In your book you have chosen various stories from young people telling their stories about depression. You must have listened to hundreds of these stories ... wasn't it difficult to choose which ones to include with your book?
Beverly: Even though I interviewed dozens of teens for my book, it wasn't all that difficult to choose the stories I wanted to include. I had some fairly specific parameters within which I wanted the stories to fall: The teen;
Even with these strict guidelines, I was surprised at the number of teens and parents who trusted me to do the right things. Another factor that I felt was important was to have the kids represent as many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds as I possibly could.
Beverly: Many of his fans say a lot of the same things to me. They want to know how well I knew him, and if I've met Courtney (no). The boys and some of the girls say they have a guitar and can play some of the Nirvana songs. Most all of the people I talk to want to know more about suicide and why Kurt killed himself. One story I really liked was from a couple I met at the park in Seattle, adjacent to Kurt's home. This was a year after his suicide, while people continued to heal by gathering at the park to talk with each other. This young couple from California, who had been heavily into drugs and alcohol (and Nirvana) prior to Kurt's death, told me they never wanted to feel so bad again that suicide might be considered an option for them. They felt the best way to honor Kurt's life was to live their lives well. They had not had a drink or used any drugs since the year before. I still get goose bumps when I tell this story. NFC: Do you plan on writing more books in the future about depression, suicide or other related subjects?
Beverly: When I believe I have something more to say that will help people, especially kids, live their lives better, I may write about it. Right now, there are soooooo many people out there who haven't a clue how to tell when someone is depressed or suicidal, and what to do about it if they know, that I, and others in this field, have a lot of teaching to do. I work a little on a mental health unit still, but most of my work is done on the road, speaking nationally about depression and suicide, and training adults and kids how to notice when someone is giving clues to impending suicide, and how to safely intervene. They're intensive 2-day workshops, and they're dynamite. I just finished two trainings in Alaska, and it was an amazing experience. NFC: In the 'Author Q&A' from your publishing company the question "What could someone have done to help him? [Kurt Cobain]" What would be your answer to this?
Beverly: This is my least favorite question, because it hurts so much to think about it. So much could have been done that might have helped Kurt. Obviously, the help might have come much earlier in his life, but we didn't know as much about depression in children, when Kurt was a child, as we do now. Additionally, the stresses under which he lived as a child probably lent a lot toward his depression. What he did as a youngster to soothe feelings of helplessness and low self esteem (anger outbursts, drug/alcohol use, moving from place to place, allowing others to mistreat him), are the same behaviors he used as a depressed adult, and they didn't work for him as an adult, either. His lifestyle was a part of his celebrity, and I think that kept people from helping him. People revered him, thought of him as an icon. Everyone wanted to be a part of the "King's" entourage, and no one would tell him that he was naked, so to speak. Of course, it was Kurt who made the decision to end his life, but he made that decision with a sick brain. When someone is depressed, and using drugs on top of that depression, they aren't able to think clearly and they certainly don't use good judgement. Depression is a medical illness of the brain for which there is effective treatment, but when the depressed person is as severely affected as Kurt obviously was, they are often incapable of believing there is help available. They tend to believe they are worthless and helpless and that their situation is hopeless. These same feelings and beliefs are experienced by millions of Americans, over 30,000 of whom kill themselves each year. According to the letter Kurt left behind, he experienced feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness for weeks, perhaps months, before he died. In order for Kurt to have been helped, the people around him would have to have understood the clues he was giving (drinking/drugging, anger outbursts, obsession with guns, the lyrics of his music.... to name a few), what those clues were saying (I'm suffering and I need help), and what to do with that information (help him get help). NFC: Kurt, yourself, and several others in your immediate family have suffered from depression and suicide. Where do you think this 'Cobain curse' comes from?
Beverly: We know that depression has a genetic component, and, so, tends to run in families, the same way that other medical disorders such as diabetes, and heart disease do; however, there are other factors besides genes involved in depression. In other words, one can be depressed even if it doesn't run in their family. Undiagnosed depression usually leads to the use of other means, by the depressed individual, of seeking relief. One of those means is substance abuse, which, of course, worsens the depression, and often leads to suicidal behaviors. Depression is fully treatable, especially if diagnosed early on. Unfortunately, the Cobains are only one of millions of families on whom depression and suicidal behaviors have had a terrible impact. I believe the "curse" of depression is that over 80% of depressed people do not seek treatment. Of the 20% who do seek treatment, 80% do not remain in compliance with their treatment. Three of the solutions are: education, education, and education. NFC: You seem to be a supporter of the Internet as you mention a slew of websites in your book. Do you believe the net is a good place to get help, if you are depressed or suicidal? Can it help save lives?
Beverly: I believe the internet is great as a resource for finding out where to *go* to find out if you're depressed, what to read that will help you learn more about the subject of depression, and to learn what agencies are available that offer help for the depressed individual. I would be cautious of using chat rooms as the sole resource for learning about depression and its treatment. Better, in my opinion, to be evaluated by a professional with expertise in your own age group, who can make a definitive diagnosis, and offer the appropriate treatment for you as an individual. I think depression chat rooms can be a helpful place to share experiences and ideas with others who may be depressed and receiving treatment, but I can't support non-professionals giving or taking advice from each other about such a serious medical illness, unless it includes discussing what you've "heard" with your physician or therapist before acting on it. Doesn't that just make sense? A huge thanks to Beverly Cobain for doing this interview. You can get her book from Amazon here. The illustrations used from the book were made by Jeff Tolbert. The photo of Bev Cobain was by Jane Whitney. Check out the December 24 1999 issue of Parade Magazine, which features an interview with her. Also, CNN online hosted a chat session with her in November 1998; get transcript for that here.
- Beverly Cobain, R.N.,C. -
'When Nothing Matters Anymore'
"Survival Tip: Take a break"
"Survival Tip: Eat good food"
"Survival Tip: Feed your spirit"
Kurt's mother Wendy
with Courtney Love
Don Cobain, Kurt's father
Dave Grohl, Frances Bean and Kurt Cobain at the MTV VMA's