Kurt Donald Cobain (pronounced /koʊˈbeɪn/, /kəˈbeɪn/; February 20, 1967 – c. April 5, 1994) was an American singer-songwriter and musician, best known as the lead singer and guitarist of the rock band Nirvana.
With the lead single "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from Nirvana's second album Nevermind (1991), Nirvana entered into the mainstream, popularizing a subgenre of alternative rock called grunge. Other Seattle grunge bands such as Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden also gained wider audiences, and as a result, alternative rock became a dominant genre on radio and music television in the United States during the early-to-middle 1990s. Nirvana was considered the "flagship band of Generation X", and frontman Cobain found himself anointed by the media as the generation's "spokesman." Cobain was uncomfortable with the attention he received, and placed his focus on the band's music, believing the band's message and artistic vision to have been misinterpreted by the public, challenging the band's audience with its third studio album In Utero (1993).
During the last years of his life, Cobain struggled with heroin addiction, illness and depression, his fame and public image, as well as the professional and lifelong personal pressures surrounding himself and his wife, musician Courtney Love. On April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle, the victim of what was officially ruled a suicide by a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head. The circumstances of his death have sometimes become a topic of fascination and debate. Since their debut, Nirvana, with Cobain as a songwriter, sold over twenty-five million albums in the United States alone, and over fifty million worldwide.
Kurt Donald Cobain was born on February 20, 1967, at Grays Harbor Hospital in Aberdeen, Washington, to waitress Wendy Elizabeth Fradenburg and automotive mechanic Donald Leland Cobain. His father was of Irish and French ancestry, and his mother, was of Irish, German and English ancestry. Cobain had one younger sister named Kimberly, born on April 24, 1970.
Despite being raised by working-class parents, his family had a musical background. His maternal uncle Chuck Fradenburg starred in a band called The Beachcombers, his Aunt Mari Earle played guitar and performed in bands throughout Grays Harbor County, and his great-uncle Delbert had a career as an Irish tenor; making an appearance in the 1930 film King of Jazz. Cobain's talent as an artist was evident from an early age. His bedroom was described as having taken on the appearance of an art studio, where he would accurately draw his favorite characters from films and cartoons such as Aquaman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Disney characters like Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and Pluto. Cobain began developing an interest in music early in his life. According to his Aunt Mari, he began singing at two years old. At age four, Cobain began singing and playing the piano, writing a song about their trip to a local park. He would listen to artists like the Ramones and sing songs like Arlo Guthrie's "Motorcyle Song," The Beatles' "Hey Jude,"Terry Jacks' "Seasons in the Sun" and the theme song to The Monkees television show at a young age.
A photograph of Cobain from his second grade school yearbook; the picture was handed out at his memorial service.His parents divorced when he was eight years old, an event which he later said had a profound effect on his life. His mother noted that his personality changed dramatically - Cobain became more defiant and withdrawn. In a 1993 interview, he elaborated:
"I remember feeling ashamed, for some reason. I was ashamed of my parents. I couldn't face some of my friends at school anymore, because I desperately wanted to have the classic, you know, typical family. Mother, father. I wanted that security, so I resented my parents for quite a few years because of that."
After one year of living with his mother following the divorce, Cobain moved to Montesano, Washington to live with his father. Three years later, however, his youthful rebellion became too overwhelming for his father, and he was placed in the
care of his differing family and friends.
While living with the born-again Christian family of his friend Jesse Reed, Cobain became a devout Christian and regularly attended church services. Cobain later renounced Christianity during early adolescence, engaging in what would be described as "anti-God" rants. The song "Lithium" is about his experience while living with the Reed family. Religion would still play an important part in Cobain's personal life and beliefs, as he often used Christian imagery in his work and maintained a constant interest in Jainism and Buddhist philosophy. The band name Nirvana was taken from the Buddhist concept, which Cobain described as "freedom from pain, suffering and the external world," which paralleled with the punk rock ethic and ideology. Cobain would regard himself as both a Buddhist and a Jain during different points of his life, including through watching late night television documentaries on both subjects.
Despite not being interested in sports, he was enrolled in the junior high school wrestling team at the insistence of his father. Despite being skilled, he despised the experience because of the ridicule he endured from his teammates and coach, and allowed himself to be pinned in order to spite his father. His father later enlisted him in a little league baseball team, where Cobain would intentionally strike out to avoid having to play. Cobain was more interested in art instead. He often drew during school classes, including objects associated with human anatomy. When given a caricature assignment for an art course, Cobain drew a posing Michael Jackson. When his art teacher told him the caricature would be inappropriate to be displayed in a school hallway, Cobain drew an unflattering sketch of then-President Ronald Reagan.
Cobain befriended a homosexual student at school, sometimes suffering bullying from homophobic students who concluded that Cobain was gay. In a 1993 interview with The Advocate, Cobain claimed that he was "gay in spirit" and "probably could be bisexual." He also stated that he used to spray paint "God Is Gay" on pickup trucks in the Aberdeen area. However, Aberdeen police records show that the phrase for which he was arrested was actually "Ain't got no how watchamacallit". One of his personal journals states, "I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes."
As attributed to numerous of Cobain's classmates and family members, the first concert he attended was Sammy Hagar and Quarterflash at the Seattle Center Coliseum in 1983. Cobain, however, claimed his first attended concert to be the Melvins - an experience of which he wrote prolifically in his Journals. As a teenager living in Montesano, Cobain eventually found escape through the thriving Pacific Northwest punk scene, going to punk rock shows in Seattle. Eventually, Cobain began frequenting the practice space of fellow Montesano musicians the Melvins.
During the second semester of his sophomore year, Cobain began living with his mother in Aberdeen. Two weeks prior to graduation, he dropped out of Aberdeen High School after realizing that he did not have enough credits to graduate. His mother gave him a choice: find employment or leave. After one week, Cobain found his clothes and other belongings packed away in boxes. Bannished from his mother's home, Cobain often stayed at friends' houses and sneaked into his mother's basement occasionally. Cobain claimed that during periods while homeless, he lived under a bridge over the Wishkah River, an experience that inspired the Nevermind track "Something in the Way". However, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic said, "He hung out there, but you couldn't live on those muddy banks, with the tides coming up and down. That was his own revisionism."
In late 1986, for the first time, Cobain moved into an apartment and paid his rent by working at a Polynesian coastal resort approximately 20 miles north from Aberdeen. During this period, he was traveling more frequently to Olympia, Washington, to observe rock concerts. During his visits to Olympia, Cobain formed a relationship with Tracy Marander, who reportedly was the subject of the song "About a Girl", and is listed in the photo credits on the album Bleach.
After she had separated from him, Cobain began dating Tobi Vail, an influential DIY punk zinester of the riot grrrl band Bikini Kill. After meeting Vail, Cobain vomited due to being so overwhelmed with anxiety through his infatuation with her. This would inspire the lyric; "Love you so much it makes me sick," which would appear in the song "Aneurysm". While Cobain would regard Vail as his female counterpart, his relationship with her waned: Cobain desired the maternal comfort of a traditional relationship which Vail regarded as sexist within a countercultural punk rock community. People whom dated Vail would be described by her friend Alice Wheeler as "fashion accessories." They would spend most of their time as a couple discussing political and philosophical issues. Cobain's experience of his relationship with Vail would inspire the lyrical content of numerous of the songs on Nevermind. When discussing topics such as anarchism and punk rock with friend Kathleen Hanna, she once spraypainted "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit" on his apartment wall. Teen Spirit being the name of a deodorant Vail would wear, that Hanna joked Cobain smelled like. Cobain however was unaware of this, and would interpret the slogan as having a revolutionary meaning, inspiring the title to the song "Smells Like Teen Spirit".
For his 14th birthday, Cobain's uncle gave him the option of a guitar or a bicycle as a gift - Cobain chose the guitar. He started by learning a few covers, including "Louie Louie" and The Cars' "My Best Friend's Girl", and soon began working on his own songs. During high school, Cobain rarely found anyone with whom he could play music. While hanging out at the Melvins' practice space, he met Krist Novoselic, a fellow devotee of punk rock. Novoselic's mother owned a hair salon and Cobain and Novoselic would occasionally practice in the upstairs room. A few years later, Cobain tried to convince Novoselic to form a band with him by lending him a copy of a home demo recorded by Cobain's earlier band, Fecal Matter. After months of asking, Novoselic finally agreed to join Cobain, forming the beginnings of Nirvana.
Early touring saw Cobain disenchanted, due to the band being unable to draw substantial crowds and difficulty in sustaining themselves. During their first few years playing together, Novoselic and Cobain were hosts to a rotating list of drummers. Eventually, the band settled on Chad Channing, with whom Nirvana recorded the album Bleach, released on Sub Pop Records in 1989. Cobain, however, became dissatisfied with Channing's style, leading the band to seek out a replacement and eventually settling on Dave Grohl. With Grohl, the band found their greatest success via their 1991 major-label debut, Nevermind.
Cobain struggled to reconcile the massive success of Nirvana with his underground roots. He also felt persecuted by the media, comparing himself to Frances Farmer. Then he harbored resentment for people who claimed to be fans of the band but who did not acknowledge or misinterpreted the band's social and political views. A vocal opponent of sexism, racism and homophobia, he was publicly proud that Nirvana had played at a gay rights benefit supporting No-on-Nine in Oregon in 1992, in opposition to Ballot Measure Nine, that if passed would have prohibited schools in the state acknowledging or positively accepting LGBT rights and welfare.
Cobain was a vocal supporter of the pro-choice movement, and had been involved in Rock for Choice from the campaign inception by L7. He received death threats from a small number of anti-abortion activists for doing so, with one activist threatening that Cobain would be shot as soon as he stepped on stage. The liner notes from Incesticide declared "if any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us-leave us the fuck alone! Don't come to our shows and don't buy our records". An article from his posthumously released Journals declares that social liberation could be made possible only through the eradication of sexism.
Marriage and birth of Frances Bean Cobain
Courtney Love first saw Cobain perform in 1989 at a show in Portland, Oregon; they talked briefly after the show and Love developed a crush on him. Cobain was already aware of Love through her role in the 1987 film Straight to Hell. According to journalist Everett True, the pair were formally introduced at an L7 and Butthole Surfers concert in Los Angeles in May 1991. In the weeks that followed, after learning from Dave Grohl that she and Cobain shared mutual interests, Love began pursuing Cobain. In the fall of 1991 the two were often together and bonded through drug use.
Around the time of Nirvana's 1992 performance on Saturday Night Live, Love discovered that she was pregnant with Cobain's child. On February 24, 1992, a few days after the conclusion of Nirvana's Pacific Rim tour, Cobain and Love were married on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. Cobain attended the ceremony wearing his pajamas, and Love wore a dress that had once belonged to Frances Farmer. Weeks later, Cobain noted "In the last couple months I've gotten engaged and my attitude has changed drastically," in an interview with Sassy magazine. "I can't believe how much happier I am. At times I even forget that I'm in a band, I'm so blinded by love. I know that sounds embarrassing, but it's true. I could give up the band right now. It doesn't matter, but I'm under contract."
Frances Bean Cobain and custody battle
On August 18, the couple's daughter Frances Bean Cobain was born.
In a 1992 article in Vanity Fair, Love admitted to using heroin while unknowingly pregnant. Love claimed that Vanity Fair had misquoted her, but the event created controversy for the couple. While Cobain and Love's romance had always been a media attraction, they found themselves hounded by tabloid reporters after the article was published, many wanting to know if Frances was addicted to drugs at birth. The Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services took the Cobains to court, claiming that the couple's drug usage made them unfit parents. Two-week-old Frances Bean Cobain was ordered by the judge to be taken from their custody and placed with Courtney's sister Jamie for several weeks, after which the couple obtained custody in an exchange agreement to submit to urine tests and regular visits from a social worker. After months of legal wrangling, the couple were eventually granted full custody of their daughter.
Substance abuse and health
Throughout most of his life, Cobain suffered from chronic bronchitis and intense physical pain due to an undiagnosed chronic stomach condition. His first drug experience was with marijuana in 1980 at age 13, and he regularly used the drug during adulthood. Cobain also had a period of consuming "notable" amounts of LSD, as observed by Tracy Marander, and "really into getting fucked up: drugs, acid, any kind of drug", observed Krist Novoselic; Cobain was also prone to alcoholism and solvent abuse. Cobain's cousin Beverly, a nurse, claimed Cobain was diagnosed with with attention deficit disorder as a child, and bipolar disorder as an adult. She also brought attention to the history of suicide, mental illness and alcoholism in the Cobain family, noting two of her uncles who had committed suicide with guns.
Cobain's stomach condition was emotionally debilitating to him, and he intermittently tried to find its cause, usually at the insistence of Love. None of the many doctors he consulted were able to pinpoint the specific cause. He suffered from self consciousness and poor body image due to his low body weight, which was due to malnourishment caused by his stomach condition, or poor diet (as attributed by numerous doctors), or both.
Cobain's first experience with heroin occurred sometime in 1986, administered to him by a local drug dealer in Tacoma, Washington who had previously been supplying him with Percodan. He used heroin sporadically for several years, but, by the end of 1990, his use developed into a full-fledged addiction. Cobain claimed that he was "determined to get a habit" as a way to self-medicate his stomach condition. "It started with three days in a row of doing heroin and I don't have a stomach pain. That was such a relief," he related.
His heroin use began to affect the band's Nevermind supporting tour, Cobain passing out during photo shoots. One memorable example came the day of the band's 1992 performance on Saturday Night Live, where Nirvana had a shoot with photographer Michael Levine. Having shot up beforehand, Cobain nodded off several times during the shoot. Cobain divulged to biographer Michael Azerrad, "I mean, what are they supposed to do? They're not going to be able to tell me to stop. So I really didn't care. Obviously to them it was like practicing witchcraft or something. They didn't know anything about it so they thought that any second, I was going to die."
As the years progressed, Cobain's heroin addiction worsened. His first attempt at rehab was made in early 1992, not long after he and Love discovered they were going to become parents. Immediately after leaving rehab, Nirvana embarked on their Australian tour, with Cobain appearing pale and gaunt while suffering through withdrawals. Not long after returning home, Cobain's heroin use resumed.
Overdose and revival
Prior to a performance at the New Music Seminar in New York City in July 1993, Cobain suffered a heroin overdose. Rather than calling for an ambulance, Love injected Cobain with Narcan to bring him out of his unconscious state. Cobain proceeded to perform with Nirvana, giving the public no indication that anything out of the ordinary had taken place.
Following a tour stop at Terminal Eins in Munich, Germany, on March 1, 1994, Cobain was diagnosed with bronchitis and severe laryngitis. He flew to Rome the next day for medical treatment, and was joined there by his wife on March 3. The next morning, Love awoke to find that Cobain had overdosed on a combination of champagne and Rohypnol. Cobain was immediately rushed to the hospital, and spent the rest of the day unconscious. After five days in the hospital, Cobain was released and returned to Seattle. Love later stated that the incident was Cobain's first suicide attempt.
On March 18, Love phoned police to inform them that Cobain was suicidal and had locked himself in a room with a gun. Police arrived and confiscated several guns and a bottle of pills from Cobain, who insisted that he was not suicidal and had locked himself in the room to hide from Love. When questioned by police, Love said that Cobain had never mentioned that he was suicidal and that she had not seen him with a gun.
Love arranged an intervention concerning Cobain's drug use that took place on March 25. The ten people involved included musician friends, record company executives, and one of Cobain's closest friends, Dylan Carlson. The intervention was initially unsuccessful, with an angry Cobain insulting and heaping scorn on its participants and eventually locking himself in the upstairs bedroom. However, by the end of the day, Cobain had agreed to undergo a detox program. Cobain arrived at the Exodus Recovery Center in Los Angeles, California on March 30. The staff at the facility were unaware of Cobain's history of depression and prior attempts at suicide. When visited by friends, there was no indication to them that Cobain was in any negative or suicidal state of mind. He spent the day talking to counselors about his drug abuse and personal problems, and happily played with his visiting daughter Frances, the last she would ever see of her father. The following night, Cobain walked outside to have a cigarette, then climbed over a six-foot-high fence to leave the facility (of which he joked of earlier in the day to be a stupid feat to attempt). He took a taxi to Los Angeles Airport and flew back to Seattle, on a flight where he sat next to Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses. Even after the prior animosity from Nirvana to Guns N' Roses, and Cobain's own personal animosity to Axl Rose, Cobain "seemed happy" to see McKagan. McKagan would later say that he knew from "all of my instincts that something was wrong." Over the course of April 2 and April 3, Cobain was spotted in various locations around Seattle, but most of his friends and family were unaware of his whereabouts. He was not seen on April 4. On April 3, Love contacted a private investigator, Tom Grant, and hired him to find Cobain. On April 7, amid rumors Nirvana was going to break up, the band pulled out of that year's Lollapalooza music festival.
On April 8, 1994, Cobain's body was discovered at his Lake Washington home by an electrician who had arrived to install a security system. Apart from a minor amount of blood coming out of Cobain's ear, the electrician reported seeing no visible signs of trauma, and initially believed that Cobain was asleep until he saw the shotgun pointing at his chin. A suicide note was found, addressed to Cobain's childhood imaginary friend "Boddah", that said in part, "I haven't felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music, along with really writing . . . for too many years now". A high concentration of heroin and traces of Valium were also found in his body. Cobain's body had been lying there for days; the coroner's report estimated Cobain to have died on April 5, 1994.
A public vigil was held for Cobain on April 10 at a park at Seattle Center which drew approximately seven thousand mourners. Prerecorded messages by Krist Novoselic and Courtney Love were played at the memorial. Love read portions of Cobain's suicide note to the crowd and broke down, crying and chastising Cobain. Near the end of the vigil, Love arrived at the park and distributed some of Cobain's clothing to those who still remained. Dave Grohl would say that the news of Cobain's death was "probably the worst thing that has happened to me in my life. I remember the day after that I woke up and I was heartbroken that he was gone. I just felt like, 'Okay, so I get to wake up today and have another day and he doesn't.'" While also believing that he knew that Cobain would die at an early age, saying that "sometimes you just can't save someone from themselves", and "in some ways, you kind of prepare yourself emotionally for that to be a reality."
In his Journals Cobain listed Raw Power by The Stooges as his favourite album of all time. Cobain also noted the influence of the Pixies, and commented that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" bore some similarities to their sound. In a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone he explained: "I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily that I should have been in that band— or at least a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard." Cobain told Melody Maker in 1992 that hearing Surfer Rosa for the first time convinced him to abandon his more Black Flag-influenced songwriting in favor of the "Iggy Pop / Aerosmith" type songwriting that appeared on Nevermind.
When given the opportunity to meet Pixies lead singer and guitarist Black Francis by Pixies manager Ken Goes, Cobain refused, being too subdued with nervosity and admiration of Francis to do so. Goes described Cobain as not "so much of a fan; He was a student of the band. He obviously had a massive amount of respect for what they were doing. He went on and on about it".
Neil Young's profound influence on Cobain and other grunge musicians has caused him to be labeled as "the Godfather of Grunge". Cobain quoted Young's song "Hey Hey, My My" in his suicide note, stating "It's better to burn out than to fade away". Young had reportedly made repeated attempts to contact Cobain prior to his death. The emotional impact of his death would influence Young to dedicate his 1994 album Sleeps with Angels to Cobain.
The Beatles were an early and important musical influence on Cobain. Cobain expressed a particular fondness for John Lennon, whom he called his "idol" in his journals. Cobain once related that he wrote "About a Girl" after spending three hours listening to Meet The Beatles!. He was heavily influenced by punk rock and hardcore punk, and often credited bands such as Black Flag, Big Black and the Sex Pistols for his artistic style and attitude. Cobain claimed that Sandinista! by The Clash was the first album he ever owned of the punk genre.
Cobain was a devoted champion of early alternative rock acts such as R.E.M. and Sonic Youth. His interest in the underground started when Buzz Osborne of the Melvins let him borrow a tape with songs by punk bands such as Black Flag, Flipper, and Millions of Dead Cops. He would often make reference to his favorite bands in interviews, often placing a greater importance on the eclectic range of bands and performers that influenced him than on his own music of which he dismissed the integrity and rigour of. The interviews and writings of Cobain were often littered with references to obscure performers like The Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub, Daniel Johnston, Young Marble Giants, The Wipers, Butthole Surfers, Captain Beefheart, The Pastels, Saccharine Trust, Fang, The Shaggs, Frightwig (whose t-shirt he wore during his MTV Unplugged performance), Shonen Knife, Half Japanese (whose t-shirt he was wearing when found dead), Tales of Terror, the Marine Girls, Swans, The Frogs, Big Black, Scratch Acid and Billy Childish. Where Sonic Youth had served to help Cobain and Nirvana gain wider success, Nirvana attempted to help other indie acts attain success. The band submitted the song "Oh, the Guilt" to a split single with Chicago's The Jesus Lizard, helping Nirvana's indie credibility while opening The Jesus Lizard to a wider audience.
While touring the United Kingdom, Cobain went into the Rough Trade Shop on Portobello Road, London in search of a new copy of The Raincoats by the band of the same name. Jude Crighton sent him round the corner to see Ana da Silva, a member of the band, at her cousin's antique shop. Cobain wrote passionately about this meeting in the liner notes of Incesticide. In late 1993 Rough Trade and DGC Records released the three albums by the band with liner notes by Cobain and Kim Gordon.
Even with Cobain's loyalism of promoting indie and underground artists while criticizing mainstream music, Nirvana's early style was influenced by many of the major rock bands of the 1970s, including Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Queen, and Kiss. In its early days, Nirvana made a habit of regularly playing cover songs by those bands, including Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song", "Dazed and Confused", "Heartbreaker", Black Sabbath's "Hand of Doom" and made a studio recording of Kiss' "Do You Love Me?". Cobain also talked about the influence of bands like The Knack, Boston, and The Bay City Rollers. As well as new wave bands such as Blondie and Devo, recording a of cover Devo's "Turnaround" and a faster tempoed version of "Polly" labelled "(New Wave) Polly", during their BBC sessions with John Peel, both of which would appear on Incesticide. And post-punk bands such as Killing Joke and Public Image Ltd. In his Journals, Cobain noted the similarity of the main riff of "Come As You Are" from Nevermind, to that of Killing Joke's song "Eighties". The band themselves would notice the similarity, and would controversially sue Cobain for plagiarizing the riff, even though Cobain and Nirvana would deny doing so at the time. The lawsuit was dropped after the death of Cobain. Dave Grohl would later play drums for the band on their self-titled album in 2003.
Nirvana's MTV Unplugged concert ended with a version of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night", a song popularized by blues artist Lead Belly, whom Cobain called his favorite performer. Cobain was offered a chance to buy his guitar from the Lead Belly estate for $500,000, although this figure may have been exaggerated, and personally asked David Geffen to buy the guitar for him. Critic Greil Marcus suggested that Cobain's "Polly" was a descendant of "Pretty Polly", a murder ballad that might have been a century old when Dock Boggs recorded it in 1927.
Cobain also made efforts to include his favorite performers in his musical endeavors. At the 1991 Reading Festival, Eugene Kelly of the Vaselines joined Nirvana onstage for a duet of "Molly's Lips", which Cobain would later proclaim to be one of the greatest moments of his life. In 1993, when he decided that he wanted a second guitarist to help him on stage, he recruited Pat Smear of the legendary L.A. punk band The Germs. When rehearsals of three Meat Puppets covers for Nirvana's 1993 performance for MTV Unplugged went awry, Cobain placed a call to the two lead members of the band, Curt and Cris Kirkwood, who ended up joining the band on stage to perform the songs. Cobain contributed guest vocals to his friend Dylan Carlson's drone metal band Earth, on a song entitled "Divine and Bright", which would appear on the band's 1995 album, Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars, re-released in 2001.
Shortly before his death, Cobain was planning to begin a writing and recording collaboration with his friend, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe. Stipe has stated that Cobain quit the project at the very last minute, with a chauffeur, plane ticket, studio and recording equipment arranged for him. Stipe has stated belief that Cobain's future work would have been "very quiet and acoustic, with lots of stringed instruments. It was going to be an amazing fucking record, and I’m a little bit angry at him for killing himself." R.E.M. would write and record the song "Let Me In" in tribute to Cobain, which would appear on the band's 1994 album, Monster. Stipe was later chosen as the godfather of Cobain's daughter Frances Bean.
Lyricial and artistic content
Dave Grohl would say Cobain believed that "Music comes first, lyrics come second", and that above all Cobain focused on the melodies of his songs. Cobain would complain when fans and rock journalists attempted to decipher his singing and extract meaning from his lyrics, writing "Why in the hell do journalists insist on coming up with a second-rate Freudian evaluation of my lyrics, when 90 percent of the time they've transcribed them incorrectly?" While Cobain would insist of the subjectivity and unimportance of his lyrics, he was known to labour and procrastinate in writing them, as well as changing their content and order during performances. Cobain would describe his lyrics himself as "a big pile of contradictions. They're split down the middle between very sincere opinions that I have and sarcastic opinions and feelings that I have and sarcastic and hopeful, humorous rebuttals toward cliché bohemian ideals that have been exhausted for years."
Cobain had originally wanted for Nevermind to be divided into two sides. A "Boy"-side, for the songs written about his the experiences of his early life and childhood, and a "Girl"-side, for the songs written about his dysfunctional relationship with Tobi Vail. Charles R. Cross would write "In the four months following their break-up, Kurt would write a half dozen of his most memorable songs, all of them about Tobi Vail". Though "Lithium" had been written before Cobain knew Vail, the lyrics of the song were changed to reference her. Cobain would say in an interview with Musician that "some of my very personal experiences, like breaking up with girlfriends and having bad relationships, feeling that death void that the person in the song is feeling–very lonely, sick." While Cobain would regard In Utero "for the most part very impersonal", he would on the album deal with the childhood divorce of his parents, his newfound name and the public image and perception of himself and Courtney Love on "Serve the Servants", his enamoured relationship with Love, conveyed through lyrical themes of pregnancy and the female anatomy on "Heart-Shaped Box". Cobain wrote "Rape Me" not only as objective discussion of rape, but a metaphorical protest against his treatment by the media. Along with drug addiction and abortion on "Pennyroyal Tea" and women's rights and the life of Frances Farmer on "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle".
Cobain was affected enough to write the song "Polly" from Nevermind, after reading a newspaper story of an incident in 1987, where a young girl was kidnapped after attending a punk rock show, then raped and tortured with a blowtorch. Only managing to escape after gaining the trust of her captor through flirting with him. After seeing Nirvana perform, Bob Dylan would cite "Polly" as the best of Nirvana's songs, and was quoted as saying about Cobain that, "the kid has heart". Patrick Süskind, whose novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer inspired Cobain to write the song "Scentless Apprentice" from In Utero. A historical horror novel about a perfumer's apprentice born with no body odor of his own but with a highly developed sense of smell, and who attempts to create the "ultimate perfume" by killing virgin women and taking their scent.
Cobain immersed himself in artistic projects throughout his life, just as much as he did in songwriting. The sentiments of his work followed the same subjects of his lyrics, often expressed through his own dark and macabre sense of humour; noted was his fascination with physiology, his own and rare medical conditions, and the human anatomy. Often unable to afford artistic resources, Cobain would improvise with materials, painting on board games and album sleeves, and painting with an array of substances, including his own bodily fluids. The artwork seen in his Journals would later draw acclaim as being of a high artistic standard. Numerous of Cobain's paintings, collages and sculptures would appear in the artwork of many of Nirvana's albums; as well as his artistic concepts which would feature notably in their music videos, the production and direction of which were acrimonious due to Cobain's artistic perfectionism of his visions.
Cobain would contribute backing guitar for a spoken word recording of beat poet William S. Burroughs' entitled "the "Priest" they called him". Cobain regarded Burroughs as a hero, and among his few possessions during Nirvana's European tour was a copy of Burroughs' Naked Lunch, purchased in a London bookstall. Ana Finel-Honigman, in her introduction to an interview with artist Stella Vine on the Saatchi Gallery website, described Vine's art as bitterly honest in the same way Cobain's songs were about "acid outrage over adult lies and injustice", Holden Caulfield's observations about "a world filled with phonies", and Sylvia Plath's poetry an "over-heated anger and bitterness at the world's betrayals".
The bench in Viretta Park has become a notable memorial to Cobain.
In 2005, a sign was put up in Aberdeen, Washington that reads "Welcome to Aberdeen - Come As You Are" as a tribute to Cobain.In the years following his death, Cobain has been remembered as one of the most iconic rock musicians in the history of alternative music. He was ranked by Rolling Stone as the 12th greatest guitarist and 45th greatest singer of all time, and by MTV as 7th in the "22 Greatest Voices in Music". In 2005, a sign was put up in Aberdeen, Washington that read "Welcome to Aberdeen — Come As You Are" as a tribute to Cobain. The sign was paid for and created by the Kurt Cobain Memorial Committee, a non-profit organization created in May 2004 to honor Cobain. The Committee also planned to create a Kurt Cobain Memorial Park and a youth center in Aberdeen.
As Cobain has no gravesite (he was cremated, with his ashes scattered into the Wishkah River in Washington), many Nirvana fans visit Viretta Park, near Cobain's former Lake Washington home, to pay tribute. On the anniversary of his death, fans gather in the park to celebrate his life and memory.
In mid-2006, Cobain took the place of Elvis Presley as the top-earning deceased celebrity, after the sale of the Nirvana song catalogue. Presley reclaimed the spot in 2007.
Controversy erupted in July 2009 when a monument to Cobain in Aberdeen along the Wishkah River included the quote "Drugs Are Bad For You ... They Will Fuck You Up." The city ultimately decided to sandblast the monument to say "F---", but fans immediately drew the letters back in. The monument and bridge have become popular places for fans to leave tributes.
Gus Van Sant based his 2005 movie Last Days on what might have happened in the final hours of Cobain's life. In January 2007, Courtney Love began to shop the biography Heavier Than Heaven to various movie studios in Hollywood to turn the book into an A-list feature film about Cobain and Nirvana. The video game Guitar Hero 5 features Cobain as a playable character. However, the inclusion of Cobain has met with controversy, with surviving bandmates Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl and wife Courtney Love expressing dismay at the ability to use Cobain with any song.
Books and films on Cobain
Prior to Cobain's death, writer Michael Azerrad published Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, a book that chronicled Nirvana's career from its beginning, as well as the personal histories of the band members. The book explored Cobain's drug addiction, as well as the countless controversies surrounding the band. After Cobain's death, Azerrad re-published the book to include a final chapter discussing the last year of Cobain's life. The book is notable for its involvement of the band members themselves, who gave interviews and personal information to Azerrad specifically for the book. In 2006, Azerrad's taped conversations with Cobain were transformed into a documentary about Cobain, titled Kurt Cobain About a Son. Though this film does not feature any music by Nirvana, it has songs by the artists that inspired Cobain.
In the 1998 documentary Kurt & Courtney, filmmaker Nick Broomfield investigated Tom Grant's claim that Cobain was actually murdered, and took a film crew to visit a number of people associated with Cobain and Love, including Love's father, Cobain's aunt, and one of the couple's former nannies. Broomfield also spoke to Mentors bandleader Eldon "El Duce" Hoke, who claimed that Love had offered him $50,000 to kill Cobain. Although Hoke claimed that he knew who killed Cobain, he failed to mention a name, and offered no evidence to support his assertion. Broomfield inadvertently captured Hoke's last interview, as he died days later, reportedly hit by a train while drunk. In the end, however, Broomfield felt he hadn't uncovered enough evidence to conclude the existence of a conspiracy. In a 1998 interview, Broomfield summed it up by saying,
"I think that he committed suicide. I don't think that there's a smoking gun. And I think there's only one way you can explain a lot of things around his death. Not that he was murdered, but that there was just a lack of caring for him. I just think that Courtney had moved on, and he was expendable."
Journalists Ian Halperin and Max Wallace took a similar path and attempted to investigate the conspiracy for themselves. Their initial work, the 1999 book Who Killed Kurt Cobain? argued that, while there wasn't enough evidence to prove a conspiracy, there was more than enough to demand that the case be reopened. A notable element of the book included their discussions with Grant, who had taped nearly every conversation that he had undertaken while he was in Love's employ. Over the next several years, Halperin and Wallace collaborated with Grant to write a second book, 2004's Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain.
In 2001, writer Charles R. Cross published a biography of Cobain titled Heavier Than Heaven. For the book, Cross conducted over 400 interviews, and was given access by Courtney Love to Cobain's journals, lyrics, and diaries. Cross' biography was met with criticism and controversy, including allegations of Cross accepting secondhand (and incorrect) information as fact. Friend Everett True, who derided the book as being inaccurate, omissive, and highly biased; he said Heavier than Heaven was "the Courtney-sanctioned version of history" or, alternatively, Cross's “Oh, I think I need to find the new Bruce Springsteen now” Kurt Cobain book. However, beyond the criticism, the book contained many details about Cobain and Nirvana's career that had otherwise gone unnoted. In 2002, a sampling of Cobain's writings was published as Journals. The book is 280 pages with a simple black cover; the pages are arranged somewhat chronologically (although Cobain generally did not date them). The journal pages are reproduced in color, and there is a section added at the back that has explanations and transcripts of some of the less legible pages. The writings begin in the late 1980s and were continued until his death. A paperback version of the book, released in 2003, included a handful of writings that were not offered in the initial release. In the journals, Cobain talked about the ups and downs of life on the road, made lists of what music he was enjoying, and often scribbled down lyric ideas for future reference. Upon its release, reviewers and fans were conflicted about the collection. Many were elated to be able to learn more about Cobain and read his inner thoughts in his own words, but were disturbed by what was viewed as an invasion of his privacy.
In 2003, Omnibus Press released Godspeed: The Kurt Cobain Graphic. It was written by Jim McCarthy and Barnaby Legg with illustrations by Flameboy. It depicts Cobain's life, but is not a factual biography. Rather, it uses artistic license to tell Cobain's story from his own point of view.
In 2009, ECW Press released a book titled Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music. It was written by Greg Prato, and features large portions about Nirvana and Kurt Cobain's life and death (including new interviews with bandmates and friends), as well as exploring the history of grunge in great detail. A picture of Cobain from the Bleach era is used for the book's front cover, and its title comes from a shirt that Cobain was once photographed wearing.
Azerrad, Michael. Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. Doubleday, 1994. ISBN 0-385-47199-8.
Burlingame, Jeff. Kurt Cobain: Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind. Enslow, 2006. ISBN 0-7660-2426-1
Cross, Charles. Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain. Hyperion, 2001. ISBN 0-7868-8402-9.
Summers, Kim. "Kurt Cobain". Allmusic. Accessed on May 9, 2005.
Kitts, Jeff, et al. Guitar World Presents Nirvana and the Grunge Revolution. Hal Leonard, 1998. ISBN 0-79-35900-6X.
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