Hole’s Erlandson On Cobain, Rock, KXLU

Eric Erlandson ’86 performs and signs copies of his book “Letters to Kurt” at Skylight Books in March 2012 in Los Angeles.

Eric Erlandson ’86 graduated from LMU with a bachelor’s degree in economics and later became a co-founder and lead guitarist of Hole, one of the seminal alternative rock bands of the ’90s. A close friend of Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, Erlandson wrote “Letters to Kurt,” a 2012 book that consists of letters to his friend written some 20 years after Cobain’s suicide. He was interviewed by Aaron Smith.

Describe the process of writing a book that is such a personal meditation on a rock icon.
Like Hell with moments of rapture. Or, the Haunted Mansion with a few trips to Space Mountain. I struggled until I had created a small world, and grappled over the decision of whether or not to risk being sued. I placed my life under a microscope, and all the scars of my past appeared, along with some free-floating’ bed bugs. I worked hard at opening my arteries to whatever blood wanted to come.

How do you feel about it now?
I’m happy with it. It’s a strange book. Not the rock memoir people have come to expect. The topic of suicide is a buzz kill, but it’s a terribly common problem that should be brought to the public’s attention. My hope is the book helps someone somewhere reflect on where they are checking out, and become more aware of the signs, to begin figuring out solutions that go beyond therapy and medication.

Before Erlandson the writer, there was the guitarist. When did you start?
At the age of 13, after hearing a lawnmower outside my window — or was it a leaf blower? I thought it sounded beautiful. I ran to the kitchen where my mom was making Tuna Helper and shouted, “Mom! I’m gonna’ be a rock star!” She slipped some Ritalin into my noodles and thought the matter solved. But I saved up for a leaf blower and began practicing in the garage, which drove dad nuts.

Who is your favorite guitarist today?
My favorite guitarist now is any girl that picks up a guitar and allows her soul to ring true during this age of mass distraction. She gets my vote. We need more female musicians eager to explore new sounds, rather than mimic oh-so-tired male posturing.

You studied economics at LMU — a long way from lead guitar for Hole.
I was working full time at a record store and didn’t have much time for reading. Economics gave me the most flexibility in terms of free electives. If I had to do it again, I’d probably be an English major.

What about KXLU?
Without KXLU, I would’ve never heard most of the music that inspired me. KXLU was my main source for all things weird, under the radar, or even cool old stuff I missed along the way. When Hole released our first single in 1990, I gave it to a couple of KXLU jocks. They didn’t like it, so we had to go to KROQ’s Rodney Bingenheimer to get a buzz going. I love that: KXLU was too cool to play Hole! L.A. radio’s a wasteland. KXLU is the only true punk station around. So many great DJs: Agent Ava, Stella, Adam Bomb, Justin Thyme, Father Dan. And I love many of the newbies. I still listen whenever I get in the car, and I always hear some new band I would otherwise never know about. KXLU has consistently blown my mind for 30 years and counting.

(Photo by Araya Diaz/WireImage)


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