I almost chocked on my tea when I stumbled on this new piece on Salon: ‘Courtney didn’t kill Kurt: The twisted misogyny behind suicide conspiracy theories’… the title sounded already bad enough but when I looked at the author, William Todd Schultz, I was floored. But after all, I should not have, I know the guy and he is a first class opportunist, a patronizing professor, the pompous type who thinks he is an authority on everything.
I had an encounter with Mr. Schultz, when he gave a lecture about his book ‘Torment Saint’ about Elliott Smith at Skylight books in 2013 It didn’t go very well, at least for him, because I dared to ask him a few questions. For example I asked him if he had talked to Elliott’s family to write the book. Of course, he contacted Gary Smith, Elliott’s father, but Gary refused to participate in the book, and Schultz was more than embarrassed by my question. How can you write a biography without the family participation? I also made it clear I wasn’t impressed by his ‘brilliant’ demonstration that Elliott had committed suicide, which made him very angry as he came back to the tired and weak argument ‘there is not a friend that I have interviewed who doesn’t think it was a suicide!’
When I saw this article on Salon, my blood boiled! How dare he once again give his patronizing opinion about the death of two musicians? Why is he considering himself as the authority on the subject when the police (and i am only talking about Elliott) could not conclude? How dare he link their deaths once again – as if it was his own idea! He just gave me the impression he was jumping on the occasion because Kurt Cobain is in the news again, thanks to Brett Morgan’s ‘Montage of Heck’. Schultz is the opportunistic type.
The tiresome theory in this piece is that, blaming Courtney Love for the death of Kurt Cobain and Jennifer Chiba for the death of Elliott Smith is pure misogyny. I know this language,… people who express their skepticism are just ‘murder conspiracy theorists’ or ‘murder monomaniacs’ and he goes on and on, throwing in the text a few references to Greek mythology to make it sound more intellectual, insulting the skeptics, the ‘psychotic children’, with savant words like thanatophilia (necrophilia). What other disgusting vision could have come from a man who has built a career on writing about dead people’s sad lives (he also wrote about Diane Arbus and Sylvia Plath who committed suicide).
I am really tired of any condescending attitude. I am not sure what pushed him to write this article, but I have a few ideas, and the most probable one could be that he feels he is losing the battle, the skeptic rows are growing, we are not ‘a handful of fans’ anymore, as he said before, and he needs to justify himself one more time, he feels the need to reiterate his tiresome argument, because his book is not selling anymore? And what are his arguments? That we are misogynistic because this only happens for women! Sure in the reverse situation, when a woman allegedly commits suicide we would never dare to be suspicious of the guy? Never! ‘Look I have 2 examples, Love and Chiba, so I built my case’, he proclaims. And this is totally simplistic, for example is there the same ‘conspiracy theory’ around the death of Robin Williams, who recently committed suicide, and who was by any means a hero and a clown? Of course not because there is no reason to have one.
Schultz wants to give lessons when nothing in his article states any fact. We, the skeptics, are just presented as lunatics when we are the rational ones, analyzing facts after facts, when he is the one relying on speculations
I will only talk briefly about Cobain’s case because I am not an expert,,, but just a few words: despising and suspecting Courtney Love of wrong doing has nothing to do with misogyny, the woman is plain awful, and very capable of violence. she punched Kathleen Hanna in the face, ran after Mary Lou Lord –‘‘She chased me down the entire side of the Palladium on the fire escape in her bare feet screaming the whole way “I’m gonna kill you” – People are still scared of her, because she is a crazy person, ask Kim Gordon. It’s a fact and Schultz totally ignores that. Can we be accused of Germano-phobia if we hate Hitler? Did I just compare Courtney Love to Hitler? Yes, sort of, but after all it is at least as valid as Brett Morgen comparing people who have expressed legitimate doubts to ‘Holocaust deniers’… These two remind me of people who use the race card to get away for murder.
But Schultz has shown only a mild interest in Cobain’s case before, he is an Elliott Smith specialist, after all he wrote an entire book about him. And I am interested too. In his book, Schultz thought he demonstrated that Elliott killed himself, discarding a lot of stuff, futile things called facts, while pretending a twisted view, proclaiming for example there is a consensus among his friends about his death: everyone thinks he committed suicide? Really? Almost 2 years ago, I made a list of friends who have expressed doubt, and it is a long one, from Larry Crane to Aaron Sperske, Steve Drodz, Mark Flanagan, Robert Schnapf, Autumn de Wilde, who reiterated her doubts after the screening of Heaven Adores You’ in Los Angeles two weeks ago by saying ‘We don’t know what happened to Elliott this day’. I don’t say these people believed it was a murder but they have at least said they don’t know what happened. And there’s also poet Nelson Garry, college mate Serena Williams and of course drug counselor Jerry Schnoenkopf who told me he believed it was a murder. So I wonder whether Schultz would tell these people face to face that they are murder monomaniacs? He did not talk to them, exception of Schoenkopf, who gets a footnote somewhere in the book but no exposure at all, because he probably told Schultz something he did not want to hear.
And there is Jennifer Chiba, who is described in his book as a person ‘in a position to understand Elliott’s psychology’, a caring and gentle person ‘managing day-to-day needs for nutrition’, a brave and dedicated woman who ‘thought she could save him’… bla bla bla.
In 2012, a woman named Abigail, who had known Chiba very well, contacted me and she talked to me about her character for hours. She was extremely passionate about her subject and she told me an impressive list of things that could make change anyone’s mind about the gentle Jennifer Chiba that Liam Gowing has described as ‘someone who would not hurt a fly’,
Abigail, who had known Chiba since her Warlocks days, described her as a very manipulative person (an adjective I have heard from other people), she also said that Elliott wanted to leave Chiba because she was very bossy and he didn’t want her to be his manager. In the lawsuit that Chiba filed against the estate in 2004, she pretended she and Elliott had made an oral agreement for her to be his ‘manager and agent for the purposes of arranging [his] booking and scheduling [his] appearances for musical performances’, which means she had not given up on the idea. Should I remind everyone that she lost the lawsuit and was lying on many points of her declaration? Abigail even thought that some of the fighting was precisely about this. Abigail also said that Chiba was used to threaten her boyfriends with sentences like ‘if you leave me I will try to kill myself again’, which may explain a few things that happened that awful day… all this is hearsay you are gonna say, but isn’t it the case for everything printed in Schultz’s book? I have Abigail’s conversation on tape, as Jerry Schoenkopf’s, so it is as valid as anything you can read in his book.
Elliott wanted to leave her, I heard it from at least 4 different sources now, but facts like this one are ignored in Schultz’s book because he had decided that Elliott killed himself since the beginning. He just wanted to retain things that support his thesis and disregarded the rest. In his book, he also never mentions the lawsuit, or the fact she left the country almost right away after the incident or the fact that she went to Elliott’s studio around midnight, just two nights after Elliott died and filled the trunk of a jeep with the help of two guys… no these details would have made his main source look really bad I suppose
So why would we have doubt about what happened? Let’s see, on one side (Schultz’s side) we have the words of Jennifer Chiba, not the most reliable person in the world, and Elliott’s history with depression as well as the vague suicide note, if it is really one. So basically we only have vague assumptions, speculation and doubtful witness. On the other side (conspiracy theorists’ side) we have statistics, less than 2% of people commit suicide by stabbing (and I am not even considering all the other strange elements which make of Elliott’s case a statistical oddity) versus stabbing being the leading method of homicide during domestic violence. So why should we have any doubt indeed?
“I was shocked at some of the mishaps in terms of forensics, autopsies, police reporting — so many mistakes. Mark Rothko’s and Elliott Smith’s names were misspelled on police reports. And there were no hesitation marks on Elliott Smith’s chest when he stabbed himself. He didn’t pull his clothing away, as the norm would be if you were going to stab yourself. The Post-It his girlfriend found seemed like an afterthought. I didn’t read anything that said that they had the handwriting analyzed, as they did with Kurt Cobain. Look at DJ AM, which could be a clear accidental overdose, but you never really know. I think sometimes we’re very quick, because we’re such a celebrity-culture, whoreish nation. We’re very quick to make these assumptions.(…)I don’t know if we’ll ever know the full story about Kurt Cobain or Elliott Smith,’ writes Alix Strauss, author of ‘Death Becomes Them’, and she is totally right, we are so quick to make assumptions and we are so willing to conclude based on partial information and bias books. Jennifer Chiba said to Schultz that ‘Elliott romanticized and envied Cobain’s suicide’… At least three persons who knew him well told me it was absolutely ridiculous, but may be it doesn’t even matter to him. Looking for the truth in cases like these goes way beyond gender discrimination, and it is the only thing that matters.
Originally published on Rock NYC (May 20 2015)