Eric Erlandson is the guitarist and one of the founding members of the rock band Hole. He has recently written a book titled, Letters to Kurt. We talk with him about his new book, music, suicide and inspiration.
Interview by Emma Kathan.
City: Los Angeles
Photo: Planet Swan
Your book Letters to Kurt was inspired at least in part by the suicides and deaths of several people you knew and how it affected you, is that right?
I was reading Jim Harrison’s brilliant and emotionally wrenching book, Letters to Yesenin, which he wrote in the early 70s to a Russian poet who committed suicide in the 20s. Harrison never knew Yesenin, so there was this distance and fanciful aspect to his letters. But I liked how he blurred time and kept pulling the past into his present. I got inspired to write my own letters, but I resisted writing to Kurt, for obvious reasons. I tried people I had never met. Important figures in history. But eventually I gave in and began using Kurt as a sort of muse, and a different voice appeared. I’ve had a few friends do the awful deed, so by talking to Kurt I was able to broach the subject on a wider level, and begin exploring my feelings about death and suicide.
Can you tell us, have you personally fought with suicidal urges and if so, how have you overcome them? If not, what has given you strength to keep going?
I’ve had my bad days. Ever more so after writing this book! I sure opened a can of worms. It’s like the universe responded by saying, ‘Oh, you think you’ve figured it all out, huh? Well try this buddy!’ Don’t ever write a book unless you’re ready to have your life implode.
Yea, well I guess opening yourself up to your demons for the sake of your idea of art is never that easy. How do you go into the ethers, explore the shadows, the cosmos, like some mystic, musical shaman, while keeping your feet rooted on the ground? Doing the dishes, taking out the trash. You know, If you allow the darkness in your heart to consume you, it will. You have to have an anchor. I was lucky to have found Buddhism early on, and that has been my anchor through all the deaths, delusions, and drugs. My practice continues to carry me through whatever obstacles that arise. I’ve come to learn that you don’t necessarily have to suffer as an artist, but you do have to suffer in order to be human. It’s a part of life. If you avoid it you’ll only make matters worse. And there won’t be much growth happening. But that doesn’t mean you have to wallow in it either. The tortured, suffering artist thing is nonsense.
What advice would you give to someone who is going through dark times and can’t seem to find a light at the end of the tunnel?
Understanding what all suicides have in common, which Thomas Joiner laid out in his book, Myths about Suicide, helps. According to his theory, to be able to go against one’s survival instinct usually involves three characteristics:
1. a sense of isolation, and disconnection from others;
2. a failed belongingness, and feeling like a burden to others; and
3. desensitization to violence and decreased fear of pain.
We’re all mentally ill, to some degree. You kind of have to be in order to have been born into this muddy world. If you’re going through a hard time, this could be a learning phase, in which you’re trying to push yourself too hard, or comparing yourself to others, attempting to achieve outer world stuff. It may be a call to do some inner work. Or, maybe you’ve lost all perspective, and the Self has becoming disproportionally important. In any event, it’s crucial to understand that suicide is NOT the solution. Life is extremely precious. We never know what our future lives will bring. To think that this is all there is, is a big mistake. There are billions upon billions of life forms in the universe. We were born as humans at this time due to our karma. Our will to survive is extremely strong. The most important thing is the present moment. Taking a life, whether someone’s own or another, is an extremely negative cause, which will result in negative effects. The law of cause and effect is absolute. I know it sounds trite, but we truly are all connected. So, if even one person, due to whatever reason, commits suicide, it affects us all. This is why belief systems are so important. If a person believes that they’ll go to heaven after this life, or they’ll receive 72 virgin brides as reward for their martyrdom, then this belief will affect how they behave, and what causes they make on a daily basis. And, killing yourself does not necessarily end the pain. It may actually be the birth of a new living hell.
I wish I knew twenty years ago what I know now about suicide. I hope everyone reading this takes the time to do some research and become less afraid to talk about it. The more we’re aware of its causes, the more lives will be saved. There’s no way you can have ‘tried everything.’ There’s always something we can do when a loved one enters that tunnel, something that can help them change course. And medication is not necessarily the answer. It can actually make matters worse. There’s no magic pill for everybody. The important thing is to never give up on a person, even when it looks dismal.
The only thing I can say is, try to become aware when you are starting to slip into apathy and isolation. Try to notice when your friends or family are. Awareness is key. And then take action.
There’s so much more research that needs to be done on the role of nutrition, diet, exercise, relationships, programming in childhood, in regard to mental health. I believe in the power of nature to heal. We are so disconnected from nature these days that it’s no wonder people are feeling lost and confused.
Do you believe in reincarnation? If so, what is your take on it?
I believe in the simultaneous workings of internal and external causes that cause the advent of all living beings in this world, as opposed to a God or some supreme being that creates life. It’s been said that at the moment of death, the raindrops of our lives will return to the universe and the rainbow will disappear. The consciousness of the universe will hold all the karma we created before our death. This world is based on the Law of Causality, internal cause and external cause uniting, and with that unification an individual appears as a new life. Meaning, when the external conditions are ripe, due to our particular karma, we will be born again. Though, I don’t believe that each individual will be reborn as the same individual in the next life. This all gets rather deep. Can we just talk about rainbows now?
Do you think anything happens to souls who have committed suicide that would be different then souls who have died naturally?
Taking one’s own life, or another’s, is still murder, which brings with it effects. I have no clue as to what they are. I don’t believe in eternal hell. There’s always a way out of suffering. I do believe that taking a life comes from unconsciousness, a lack of awareness, lacking insight into the true nature of life and one’s mission here.
Have you had any experiences with reincarnation that you remember personally? If so, can you describe some feelings or remembrances you’ve had of your own past lives, and, if not, would you ever be interested in doing past life regression?
Not interested. It’s impossible to know all of our lives (unless you’re a Buddha, of course). All that past life regression stuff takes your focus away from the present moment, the causes you’re making now. That’s what’s important. Not that you were some princess in another life and so that’s why you like white ponies and butter cakes and feel entitled to treat people disparagingly in this lifetime. People waste a lot of time and money on things that ultimately won’t bring them any closer to true happiness. I speak from experience, of course. It’s really disheartening to see how trendy occult practices have become, again. People don’t seem to be interested in researching the sources of the various teachings and practices they are dabbling in. And the internet is not helping: one big cauldron of misinformation and confusion.
What do you think is your main purpose here in this lifetime?
Ummm . . . to learn to work together with people so that we can make this world a better place in which to live? I mean it’s not always easy, but I do love helping people. Though, my desire to serve can be unhealthy at times, like when it comes from unresolved programming from childhood. But I’m working on that. Meow.
What do you think is the main purpose of most humans while we’re here?
Well, I hate to tell you this, but actually we’re being controlled by a reptilian race of supernatural skateboarder aliens who use their nano-technology to impregnate human women. It’s called ‘ball-bearings.’ Anyway, we’re their guinea pigs, and they’ve been spraying us with grease for years now, prepping us for our new role as red planet slaves. Apparently there’s a lot of dope skateboarding on Mars and we’re going to be used to build the ultimate skate park in outer space, a place where these unruly alien freaks can get their rocks off while listening to really bad heavy metal music and drinking beer and doing the same tricks over and over until something breaks. It’s kind of like the Egyptians and the pyramids. (And, if you believe that, please join my cult today. I could put your money to good use).
I don’t know if there is a main purpose for all of us. Maybe we each have our individual purposes? Maybe it’s simple. We’re here to eradicate our negative karma, to become indestructibly happy, and to help others do the same. Maybe that’s what that over-used and often misunderstood word LOVE is all about.
Did you always dream of being a musician or “rock star” when you were growing up?
Yea, I had the posters on my wall (he admits sheepishly). The dream began when I was thirteen years old. I cried a lot when I couldn’t make my fingers do a barre chord. Nearly smashed all my KISS records. I just wanted to be able to play. To be good. To be hotter than hell. But I played it safe. I went to school, got a degree in Economics. Kept my dream on the backburner. I had this funny professor in college, who looked a little like Woody Allen, who said something to the effect that if you want to make it in any given field give it two years and then reassess where you’re at. If it doesn’t look like you’ve made progress, then it may be time to change course. And ,so that’s what I did. I moved to Hollywood, worked in an florescent-lit office at Capitol Records, and gave myself 2 years to see if I could get anywhere playing music. Within 2 years we released the first Hole single and were headed out on a west coast tour. Many fortunate circumstances started happening with the band after I began practicing Buddhism. And then came the tragedies. I finally got behind that green door, where I was able to take part in some of the excesses, but also glimpse the ghastly and disturbing realities of fame.
Photo: Beth Schore / Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls Los Angeles
How did it feel when you did achieve success at music? Did you feel accomplished or were you more of the temperament of not thinking you were “there” yet?
You know, it’s like Superman, that hero mentality, like ‘I could’ve done more.’ I never felt satisfied enough to be able to relax. Too much left undone, unrealized. It was no coincidence that I formed a band with someone who didn’t believe in me, or my capabilities. I was often too weak, too unsure of myself to present my ideas. But I felt lucky we made it as far as we did. We set out to be a big, big band—Guns n’ Roses big. I mean, why not? At the time we started, that was what we were up against. The hair-metal boys club. We didn’t have the hits or the tits, or the right hairspray. I’m just not that sure of the impact Hole had at this point. Maybe that’s due to its now soiled legacy. Where’s the Depends when ya need ’em?
What are some things that you feel passionately about besides music?
Actually, I’m not all that passionate about music. So much of it’s a load of recycled crap these days. I like some of what I hear. But none of it blows my mind, makes me cry, or even makes me piss myself. I want danger. Where’s the danger in a friggin’ iPhone? I want truth. Give me danger, give me truth. I don’t care what avenue, what angle, what medium. I just need to feel the truth of it. Otherwise, I’m off, yawning in the corner, playing with my zipper, looking at legs. Actually, I do feel passionately about legs. And arms. And hands. And necks. And kisses. And candy. And hair. Healthy candy and hair. And then there’s Writing, and Wanking. Art. Film. Literature. Food. The usual escapist bullshit. Now you know why I practice Buddhism. Such a moody snit, I am.
Where do you most often find beauty and inspiration?
Elysian park. Atop a desert mountain. A creek near Sedona. The South Yuba river. Road trips. Eagle trips. Death trips. Succulents. The faces of strangers. Did I mention legs?
What have you currently been working on?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Isn’t there enough garbage in the world? I’m working hard at getting back to that state of being where I can once again enjoy playing just for the sake of playing. And . . . I’m preparing myself for an outpouring of truth.
Any closing words?
Death of a reunion
(the red balloon)
Published 2012 – Akashic Books