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Kristen Pfaff

Kristen Pfaff in her mid-20s
Background information
Born May 26, 1967(1967-05-26)
Buffalo, New York
Origin Minneapolis, Minnesota
Died June 16, 1994 (aged 27)
Seattle, Washington
Genres Alternative rock
Punk rock
Noise rock
Occupations Musician
Instruments Bass guitar
Years active 1992-1994
Associated acts Janitor Joe

Kristen Marie Pfaff (May 26, 1967 - June 16, 1994) was an American bass guitarist, best known for her work with Hole.


Early life and career

Pfaff was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, attending Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart. She spent a short time in Europe and briefly attended Boston College before ultimately finishing at the University of Minnesota. She studied classical piano and cello. While living in Minneapolis, Minnesota following her graduation, Pfaff taught herself to play bass guitar. She, guitarist/vocalist Joachim Breuer (formerly of Minneapolis band the Bastards) and drummer Matt Entsminger formed the band Janitor Joe.

Janitor Joe

The band's first single, Hmong, was released on the nascent OXO records imprint in 1992,[1] and popular local label Amphetamine Reptile Records picked up the band later that year, releasing the Bullethead single on picture disc, and following up in 1993 with the Boyfriend 7-inch and the debut album Big Metal Birds. One Janitor Joe track, Under The Knife, can also be found on an OXO records 4-track EP, released in 1993.

Janitor Joe were becoming a staple of the Minneapolis sound, influenced by the Pacific Northwest's early grunge sound and by the sharper, faster DC post-hardcore scene, as well as the stop-start distortion of the Butthole Surfers, Shellac and others on the Touch and Go label. Pfaff's playing style was central to Janitor Joe's relentless assault both live and on record, and she and Breuer both contributed songs to Big Metal Birds: "Both operate within easy reach of the line separating punishment and reward: Pfaff's contributions (the surly "Boys in Blue") tend to be slightly more spacious, while Breuer's ("One Eye," for instance) stipulate that drummer Matt Entsminger maintain perpetual motion", wrote David Sprague of Trouser Press.[2]

The growing Minneapolis scene was beginning to attract music press attention in 1993. Amphetamine Reptile released a tour single, Stinker, and Janitor Joe began to tour nationally. It was on one such tour in California that year that Pfaff was scouted by Eric Erlandson and Courtney Love of Hole, who were at the time looking for a new bassist. Love invited Pfaff to play with Hole; Pfaff declined and returned to Minneapolis, but Erlandson and Love continued to pursue her.


Pfaff, initially reluctant to leave Minneapolis and join Hole, reconsidered after advice from her father, Norman: "From a professional point of view, there was no decision", he later told Seattle Weekly, "because they're already on Geffen Records and already have this huge following in England... if you're wanting to move up the ladder, that's the way to go." Following international critical acclaim for their first, independent album, Pretty On The Inside, Hole had generated a great deal of major-label interest, eventually signing an eight-album deal with Geffen Records for a reported $3 million.

In 1993, Pfaff moved to Seattle, Washington, to work with the other members of Hole on Live Through This, the major-label follow-up to Pretty On The Inside. The band's new line-up - Love, Erlandson, Pfaff and Patty Schemel on drums - entered the studio in early 1993 to begin rehearsals. "That's when we took off," Eric Erlandson said of Pfaff joining. "All of a sudden we became a real band."

Seattle and after

Pfaff's time in Seattle was a creatively rich period, and she formed close friendships with Eric Erlandson, Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain. While working on the platinum selling album Live Through This, Pfaff and Erlandson dated, and stayed together for most of 1993, remaining close even after splitting up. All was not well, however; while living in Washington's 'heroin capital', Pfaff developed a problem with drug use. "Everybody was doing it. Everyone, everyone. All our friends were junkies. It was ridiculous. Everybody in this town did dope", said Love of this period in the Seattle music scene. By most accounts, Pfaff's own drug use was relatively moderate: "Kristen...dabbled in drugs before she was in our band, in Minneapolis, but it was very light", Erlandson told Craig Marks of Spin. "She moved to Seattle and felt disconnected from everything, and she made friends, drug connections, which I told her not to do. The only way you can survive in this town is if you don't make those connections."[3]

Pfaff entered rehab for heroin addiction in the winter of 1993, and took a sabbatical from Hole in spring 1994, to tour with Janitor Joe. "She went on tour... and when she came back from that, she was clean", says Erlandson. Soon after her return, her friend Kurt Cobain commited suicide in April 1994. In the wake of Cobain's death, Pfaff decided to leave Hole and Seattle, and return to Minneapolis to rejoin Janitor Joe permanently.


Kristen Pfaff's grave site. Section 6, Lot 45 of Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, NY

Around 9:30am on June 16, 1994, Pfaff was found dead in her apartment by Paul Erickson, a friend with whom she had planned to leave for Minneapolis that day. On the floor there was a bag containing syringes and heroin paraphernalia. Sometime overnight, Pfaff had died from a heroin overdose.

Her father, Norman Pfaff, described her as “bright, personable, wonderful...very, very talented, smart, and she always seemed to be in control of her circumstances. Last night she wasn’t,”[4]

In the book Love & Death, released April 2004, Kristen Pfaff's mother, Janet Pfaff, states she has never accepted the official story regarding her daughter's death. Janet was interviewed by authors Wallace and Halperin in August 2003. [5]

Kristen Pfaff was buried in Section 6, Lot 45 of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York.

Posthumous achievements

A local Minneapolis radio station, University of Minnesota's KUOM, had started a yearly $1,000 Memorial Scholarship in her name. The award is earmarked for "individuals active in the arts in the pursuit of their educational goals." Portions from the proceeds of Hole's album sales have gone to the Kristen Pfaff Memorial Fund.

On October 20, 1994, Janet Pfaff, Kristen's mother, accepted induction on her daughter's behalf into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. "I'm proud to accept this award for Kristen and I know she would be happy to receive it," Mrs. Pfaff said. "It's sad because Kristen wasn't here herself to enjoy the moment. You work so hard in the business to make it at the national level, and that's what Kristen did. I just wish she was here to enjoy it, and see how her hometown feels about her."[6]

After a period of mourning, Hole recruited Canadian bassist Melissa Auf der Maur and dedicated their first show of an extensive touring period to Pfaff.


  1. ^ Free, J.. "In Memorium: Kristin Pfaff". The New Puritan Review. Retrieved 2008-10-20.  
  2. ^ Sprague, David. " Joe". Trouser Press. Retrieved 2008-10-20.  
  3. ^ - Articles & Interviews - Endless love
  4. ^ Friday, June 17th, 1994 edition of the Seattle Times
  5. ^ Love & Death See Chapter 10, page 231
  6. ^ Buffalo News, October 20, 1994

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