Jeff Gordinier
July 08, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Just before he committed suicide, Kurt Cobain placed a note in a nearby potted plant. The missive — part of which was read by Courtney Love at her husband’s vigil — instantly became pop-culture folklore, even though Seattle police say they kept it under wraps. ”We have never released the suicide note to anyone in the media,” says police spokeswoman Vinette Tichi. ”The medical examiner has a copy, which they have not given out, and the family has a copy.”

How, then, did the full contents of the note find their way into the hands of two young T-shirt vendors in southern Washington State? The budding entrepreneurs at Grunge Enterprises aren’t saying — but that’s where their discretion ends. Grocery checker Tim Fairfield, 21, and waiter Joe Taylor, 20, have run national magazine ads for $20 ”memorial T-shirts” bearing a silk-screened version of what appears to be Cobain’s handwritten farewell. They started selling them on a street corner in Vancouver, Wash., a few weeks ago, and ”a lot of people were going, ‘That’s gross — you’re trying to make money off someone’s death,”’ says Fairfield. ”Actually, I am trying to make money, but that note is meant for those fans.”

The pair has sold about 200 of the souvenirs, even though Fairfield admits he never got the green light from Cobain’s widow, Love. ”I didn’t ask permission,” he says. ”I just printed it. That’s the part that makes me go, ‘Uh-oh, what’s going to happen?”’ Apart from raising questions of taste, the business approach has its drawbacks. ”If I could copyright it, I could sell a ton of these shirts,” he explains. ”But I’m not gonna call Courtney and say, ‘Hey…”’

As for Grunge Enterprises’ next endeavor? ”I want to get an O.J. Simpson shirt printed up,” Fairfield says. ”You could sell the crap out of those.”

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