"What does it feel like to have Kurt's blood pumping through your veins?": The Incredibly Strange World of Grampa Cobain's Fan Mail

Smells like senior spirit: Grampa Cobain
Smells like senior spirit: Grampa Cobain
Peter Mumford

Meet Leland Cobain.

Our sister publication the Seattle Weekly has an amazing feature by Connor Christofferson on the incredibly strange world of the obsessive fan mail sent to this day to Kurt's grandfather, who lives in a trailer decorated with the Nirvana frontman's mementos and memorabilia.

The whole thing is worth reading, but here are some highlights:

The letters come from places as far away as Australia and Italy and as close as Seattle, but the sentiments are nearly identical. Each writer explains their deep, personal connection to Kurt and the music he made. They're sometimes obsessive and needy, asking Leland to send something Kurt once owned. But mostly they just want information: What was Kurt like as a kid? What does it feel like to have Kurt's blood pumping through your veins? Can I come visit you? The answer to the last question is always yes.

Leland Cobain has his famous grandson's sky-blue eyes and wry smile. His salt-and-pepper hair is cropped short and his sturdy frame gives way to a round Buddha belly. At 86, the patriarch of the Cobain family is less ambulatory than he'd like, and his hearing is nearly shot. He spends his days inside a cluttered double-wide trailer in the small community of Montesano, roughly 10 miles east of Aberdeen, where Kurt grew up. The trailer, which Leland shares with a son and a yappy little dog, is a mini-Graceland of Kurt Cobain memorabilia.

Becky Reed, a 31-year-old Nirvana fanatic from rural Pennsylvania, found Leland's address online, and has spent the past couple of years trading letters with the elder Cobain. [...] Reed's initial motivation for writing was simply to profess her love for Kurt's music, but as time went by the letters drifted from the topic of Nirvana and began to resemble something more akin to the correspondence of a girl and her elderly grandpa. Instead of gushing about the importance of "Heart-Shaped Box" or asking for stories about Kurt as a teen, Reed's recent letters are more likely to ask if Leland is eating right and getting enough sleep. "I see it in his eyes. His eyes are hauntingly like Kurt's," Reed said via e-mail. "It was more of a fan thing at first, but now that we've talked and met, it's more like he's part of my family."

Every year hundreds of devotees travel from around the world simply to breathe the air and touch the soil that Kurt once inhabited. They show up outside the house where he died to smoke pot, cry, and hold mini-vigils for their fallen hero. They wander aimlessly around Aberdeen, eating where Kurt ate, buying flannels where Kurt did. And they show up at Leland's doorstep, hoping to capture something, anything, that will make them feel closer to their idol. [WCS Ed's note: Do NOT let these people anywhere near the gun section of the local Wal-Mart!]

Another woman, from England, was so obsessed with Kurt that she abandoned a successful career as a court stenographer and moved to Montesano for three months to be closer to Kurt's spirit.


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