Richard Lee's Wild Ride Through Nirvana Fictions
Eight-plus years after the "mysterious" death of Kurt Cobain, Richard Lee is still producing his hour-long public access television show, "Now See It Person to Person," which appears every Friday night at 11:30 p.m. Lee insists that the Nirvana frontman was murdered, and that widow Courtney Love made a highly improbable collaboration with Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic--and who knows who else?--to kill Cobain on April 8, 1994. And he will stop at nothing to prove his theories.
If you have ever been in Seattle among a random crowd of people downtown--or at a book reading, a city council hearing, or even the Wallingford QFC--when a scruffy, pale, sweater-wearing, ponytailed guy with a camcorder and an irritatingly pedantic voice starts shouting and accusing whoever is in front of him of being a goon or a fascist, then you've seen Lee, a self-described "top political reporter," hard at work, uncovering the clues that will eventually break the Cobain case wide open. If you spot him, stick around, but remember to keep your distance. Soon enough, you'll see him sulk off to a corner and smugly pontificate into his camcorder. Whenever he does this, he inevitably holds the lens at such a weird angle that the most prominent feature he captures is his own nose hair.
As conspiracy theorists go, Richard Lee is a rank amateur. Not only does he consistently fail to produce enough half-baked crumbs of evidence that might make him sound credible, but his show often isn't about Cobain at all--it's about Richard Lee being Richard Lee. The other Cobain conspiracy theorists, in fact, won't have anything to do with him. "[Lee] has never been considered a serious member of [our] community. He's more of an embarrassment," says Melissa, a San Francisco resident who runs www.kcobainwasmurdered.cjb.net. Melissa referred me to www.cobaincase.com for the best alternative theory on Cobain's death. (Lee was invited to respond to this and other issues, but after several e-mail exchanges it was clear that he did not want to be part of an article for The Stranger.)
If you're not being hounded by Lee, you may become utterly fascinated by him; his style is wholly unique and quite absorbing. Lee's victims don't find him so amusing, however. His most notorious run-ins involve Novoselic, who, unlike Love and Grohl, decided to stay in Seattle after Cobain's death. Hoping to single-handedly force an on-street confession, Lee harassed the musician from 1994 to 2000--for six straight years--before Novoselic sought the courts for relief. Novoselic was particularly offended when Lee wrote a letter to his mother. The Nirvana bassist got what he asked for, though--a five-year anti-harassment order against Lee. Lee is still free to exercise his First Amendment rights to videotape Novoselic in public, but now he must stay at least 100 feet away from Novoselic while he does so.
But Novoselic is merely at the top of an exhaustive list of people that Lee has antagonized. He has also riled county health board members, county medical examiners, police officers, Real Change vendors and editors, music lobbyist David Meinert, county elections officials, Seattle City Council members, the security guards of countless institutions, and writer Charles Cross, to name a few. Without irony, Lee once even disrupted a speech given by visiting conspiriologist Oliver Stone.
Seeing Lee try his hand at litigation, Cinnamon Stephens, Novoselic's attorney, said, was "really interesting."
"I've never seen anybody manage to pick a fight with every single clerk throughout the entire appellate process," she explained.
Despite his personality, Lee, who represented himself, won a number of continuances and deadline extensions, effectively dragging the case on for 18 months. Novoselic had won from the get-go, but Lee appealed all the way to the state supreme court.
As a hyperactive belligerent, Lee is Seattle's antihero; his best shows occur when he encounters polite Seattleites who aren't familiar with his reputation. Last year, during Lee's quixotic mayoral bid, he created havoc at an Allied Arts candidate forum when he was accidentally invited as a candidate. Wearing a purple dress and standing on a table, Lee demanded answers about Cobain's death, videotaping himself and the horrified audience all the while.
Lee once boasted, "[My show] is at the center of the psychology of the entire city." Not quite. His show does not sit at the center, but it does inadvertently reveal what the center is.
If you haven't watched a Richard Lee show, tune in at least once. At the very least, you'll see what he looks like. That way, if you see him bearing down on you on the sidewalk, you'll know to run away. And don't worry about how you look on camera; Lee will always find a way to make himself look worse.