ON A WARM night last June, Kristen Pfaff sat down to write in her daily journal. It had been a tumultuous year for the 27-year-old musician from Amherst who was living in Seattle.
Pfaff had dedicated her life to rock music and was on the threshold of stardom with the band Hole. Despite that achievement, she carried some heavy burdens. She longed to get back to Minneapolis, where she had attended college and was part of a vibrant music scene.
She hated Seattle. It was there that she had experimented with drugs. It was there that Kurt Cobain, husband of Hole's lead singer, Courtney Love, had been plagued by heroin and rock stardom and killed himself.
Pfaff had been in Seattle for nearly a year, but left in March 1994. She returned in April for Cobain's funeral. In June, she went back a final time to get her belongings.
Earlier, she told a reporter from the University of Minnesota newspaper what she had told the members of Hole: "Look, if you want me to be happy and sane, I just need to get back home."
Home was on her mind as Pfaff sat in her apartment on June 11 and wrote in her journal. Outside, her U-Haul trailer was packed for a trip to the Midwest. On this night, however, Pfaff was thinking about more than music or record sales or a cross country drive; she was dedicating herself to survival. "I'll write it on my sleeve," she would say in her journal, "I know how to live."
Five days later, Pfaff was dead.
Seattle authorities listed the probable cause of death as "acute opiate intoxication," due to heroin.
Until now, Janet Pfaff, Kristen's mother, has not commented on her daughter's death. "There has been enough printed about her death," said Mrs. Pfaff, who lives in Amherst. "I want the focus to be on her life."
Her daughter will be inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame at the Buffalo Music Awards ceremony on Oct. 19 in Blind Mellons.
"Kristen was a star, not in some media sick way but in a way that I felt gratitude in knowing her," Love wrote to Mrs. Pfaff. "She was impressionable and extremely sensitive to her surroundings; she was also intensely pragmatic, which was why I didn't worry that much (about her). Kristen was like an oak tree, so strong but so frail."
Norm Pfaff, Kristen's father who lives in Denver, said he was proud of his daughter; he called her "the kind of kid who could do anything she set her mind to do."
Sometimes, such talent and expectations exact a heavy toll. "My sister faced the burden of overwhelming potential," said Jason Pfaff, 19.
Mrs. Pfaff is gratified at Kristen's Hall of Fame induction and wants people to know her daughter was an intelligent and talented woman. Kristen won a scholarship to Sacred Heart Academy, where she was an honor student. She also earned a scholarship to Boston College and was an honor student there and at the University of Minnesota.
In Minnesota, Pfaff became consumed by the new movement in rock music. She taught herself to play bass guitar and hit her stride playing in a loud and cutting-edge band, Janitor Joe.
Janitor Joe signed a deal with Amphetamine Reptile Records. Early in 1993, Janitor Joe played a gig in Los Angeles, and Eric Erlandson, guitar player for Hole, was in the crowd. Erlandson was impressed by Pfaff's style and invited her to join Hole for a week-long tour in Europe.
Hole was an aggressive, tight band with pop overtones and Pfaff's bass made the group that much better. Geffen Records promised to give the band's new album, "Live Through This," a major push but Cobain killed himself four days before the album was released. Such turmoil and tragedy was just part of a year in Seattle that changed Pfaff.
"I was so naive. . . . I know a lot more now . . . about the (music) business and what it does to people," she told the Minnesota Daily a month after Cobain's death. "I mean, Kurt is the primary example. He broke my heart, you know."
Mrs. Pfaff remembers that period. "After Kurt committed suicide, Kristen and I talked every day by phone," she said. "She was devastated by his death. I asked her please to come back home, to get out of Seattle."
Mrs. Pfaff had rushed to Seattle in February over what she labeled an "incident" that hospitalized Kristen. The mother stresses her daughter was not a regular drug user or an addict.
"In this brief time in her life, for the first time, Kristen had a fling with drugs," Mrs. Pfaff said. "I think it was peer pressure. I think it was part of a music scene in Seattle where drug use is glamorized and emphasized.
"What bothers me so much is the way this has been sensationalized about Kristen. All this happened in the last year of her life. She did have problems in the last year, but what about her other 26 years? The media missed the fact of what an accomplished musician she was, what a good person she was and all the good things she did."
In May, Kristen Pfaff went on a brief tour of Europe with Janitor Joe. Friends say she enjoyed playing with her old band and was happy. The tour ended in early June.
"She was in good spirits and I'll never understand why this happened," Mrs. Pfaff says, sitting in her kitchen. Outside, it's a cloudy fall afternoon with a chill in the air. Mrs. Pfaff walks out to the back patio, where she has planted a garden in honor of her late daughter. It is in full bloom with yellow and crimson flowers.
"It's the first time I ever planted anything like this, and I'm amazed it turned out so well," she says with a smile.
There have been few smiles for Mrs. Pfaff in the past three months. One of the hardest moments came when Kristen's U-Haul arrived shortly after her funeral.
"We had to unpack it," Mrs. Pfaff said. "I had to take out the pillows and my daughter's teddy bear and everything else she packed. It was very hard."
Mrs. Pfaff hopes her speaking out will help others. "I guess I'd tell kids to be careful, try to make wise choices and trust God to supply all their needs, even when the world lets them down.
"I would tell parents to stay close to their children and teach them about love and forgiveness. I told Kristen to be careful; there are so many temptations out there. She told me, 'Mom, I can handle it.' "
Mrs. Pfaff doesn't blame music for the tragedy. "I don't want to blame rock 'n' roll for what happened to Kristen. This isn't just another story about a rock star who bites the dust on drugs.
"Kristen was not a wild kid. She was an honor student who cared about music and the world around her. She commanded respect. She was very proud, had a radiant personality and was brilliant. The way she died doesn't make sense to me, but her life was an inspiration to me and the people who knew her."
Jason Pfaff, who plays drums in a local band, Rainbow Girls, was one of those inspired by his sister. "Kristen was open-minded about music, even before she began playing in a band," he said.
"There was a lot more to her than music. She was an activist who wanted to change things in a positive way. When she joined Hole, it wasn't about fame or money, she did it because she believed in the music."
Kristen Pfaff's friends and associates offer similar accolades.
"Even in her weakest and lowest moments I saw a strength in Kristen that was so pure and undeniable," said Elizabeth Davis, Kristen's former roommate in Seattle. "I will always think of her as a strong woman.
"She was an inspiration to me . . . (with) her lust for life, her energy, her desire. . . . Kristen was not about drugs (but) unfortunately, she had people around her who did drugs and romanticized drugs. . . . I think it was the only time she let herself be free of the discipline she imposed on herself. It is so (hard), being a strong woman."
Mrs. Pfaff is still trying to put everything that has happened in perspective. She is a devout Christian who says: "I know one day I will see my daughter again. If I didn't have that hope, I don't know what I would do."
And though her words are tinged with sadness, there is joy for Mrs. Pfaff when she thinks about Kristen. "I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful daughter in every way."