Kurt Donald Cobain was the leader of Nirvana, the multi-platinum grunge band that redefined the sound of the nineties.
Cobain was born on the 20th of February 1967 in Hoquaim, a small town 140 kilometres south-west of Seattle. His mother was a cocktail waitress and his father was an auto mechanic. Cobain soon moved to nearby Aberdeen, a depressed and dying logging town.
Cobain was for most his childhood a sickly bronchitic child. Matters were made worse when Cobain’s parent’s divorced when he was seven and by his own account Cobain said he never felt loved or secure again. He became increasingly difficult, anti-social and withdrawn after his parent’s divorce. Cobain also said that his parent’s traumatic split fueled a lot of the anguish in Nirvana’s music.
After his parent’s divorce Cobain found himself shuttled back and forth between various relatives and at one stage homeless living under a bridge.
When Cobain was eleven he heard and was captivated by the Britain’s Sex Pistols and after their self-destruction Cobain and friend Krist Novoselic continued to listen to the wave of British bands including Joy Division the nihilistic post-punk band that some say Nirvana are directly descended from in form of mood, melody and lyrical quality.
Cobain’s artistry and iconoclastic attitude didn’t win many friends in high school and sometimes earned him beatings from “jocks” Cobain got even by spray painting “QUEER” on their pick-up trucks. By 1985 Aberdeen was dead and Cobain’s next stop was Olympia. Cobain formed and reformed a series of bands before Nirvana came to be in 1986. Nirvana was an uneasy alliance between Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and eventually drummer and multi-instrumentalist Dave Grohl
By 1988 Nirvana were doing shows and had demo tapes going around. In 1989 Nirvana recorded their rough-edged first album Bleach for local Seattle independent label Sub-Pop
In Britain Nirvana received a lot of recognition and in 1991 their contract was bought out by Geffen, they signed to the mega-label, the first non-mainstream band to do so. Two and a half years after Nirvana’s first C.D. Bleach was released they released Nevermind, a series of different, crunching, screaming songs that along with it’s first single Smells Like Teen Spirit would propel Nirvana to mainstream stardom.
Smells Like Teen Spirit became Nirvana’s most highly acclaimed and instantly recognizable song. Not many people can decipher it’s exact lyrics but Cobain used a seductive hookline to hook the listener. Nevermind went on to sell ten million copies and make a reported $550 million (US) leaving Nirvana overnight millionaires. Cobain was shocked at the reception of his highly personal and passionate music repeatedly telling reporters that none of the band ever, ever expected anything like this. It quickly became obvious that the obsessively sickly and sensitive 24yr old was not going to cope well with the rock’n roll lifestyle. “If there was a rock star 101 course, I’d really have like to take it,” Cobain once observed. Cobain fell into heroin in the early 90’s, he said he used it as a shield against the rigorous demands of touring and to stop the pain of stomach ulcers or an irritated bowel. Through the touring and pressure Cobain continued to write his very personal acutely focused lyrics.
Cobain was distressed to find out that what he wrote and how it was interpreted could quite often be miles apart. He was appalled when he found out that Polly a heavily ironic anti-rape song had been used as background music in a real gang-rape. He later appealed to fans on the Incesticide liner notes “If any of you don’t like gays or women or blacks, please leave us the fuck alone.” It was to no avail, Cobain found that as an overnight millionaire musician control was something he had very little of. Cobain also worried that his band had sold-out, that it was attracting the wrong kind of fans (i.e the type that used to beat him up.)
In February 1992 Cobain skipped off to Hawaii to marry the already pregnant Courtney Love. Later in the year Nirvana released Incesticide and in August Cobain had hospital treatment for heroin abuse. Shortly after Frances Bean Cobain was born. In early 1993 In Utero was released into the top spot on the music charts. In Utero was widely acclaimed by the music press and it contains some of Cobain’s most passionate work. In Utero was a lot more open than Nirvana’s previous albums. Songs like All Apologies and Heart Shaped Box detailed aspects of Cobain’s sometimes shaky marriage, other songs like Scentless Apprentice detailed the agonies and struggles of Cobain’s experiences.
Nirvana embarked on a support tour and recorded and filmed an “unplugged” (acoustic) performance for MTV in November of 1993. Nirvana’s choice to honour bands and people that had influenced them and Cobain’s passionate and intense vocals especially on “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”silenced many of their who had labeled Cobain talentless. Rumors circulated that the MTV Unplugged compilation would be Nirvana’s last album and the band were splitting up.
Cobain was a gun fanatic and always had several in his possession or in various forms of confiscation. In the northern winter of 1993-94 Nirvana embarked on an extensive European tour. Twenty concerts into the tour Cobain developed throat problems and their schedule was interrupted while he recovered. While recovering Cobain flew to Rome to join his wife who was also preparing to tour with her own band.
On March the 4th Cobain was rushed to hospital in a coma after an unsuccessful suicide bid in which he washed down about fifty prescription painkillers with champagne. The suicide bid was officially called an accident and was not even made known to close friends and associates. Several days later he returned to Seattle. Cobain’s wife, friends and managers convinced Cobain, who was still in deep distress to enter a detox program in L.A. According to a missing person’s report filed by his mother Cobain fled after only a few days of the program.
Cobain was cited in the Seattle area with a shotgun. Days later on the 5th of April he barricaded himself into the granny flat behind his mansion, put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. On Thursday April the 7th ~ two days after a medical examiner says Cobain shot himself and the day before his body was found police say Courtney Love herself was taken to hospital in L.A. for a drug overdose. Released on bail, Love checked herself into a rehab center but left soon after a friend called her the next day with news of Cobain’s death.
Cobain’s body was found when an electrician visiting the house to install a security system went round the back of the house when no one answered the front door and peered through windows. He thought he saw a mannequin sprawled on the floor until he noticed a splotch of blood by Cobain’s ear. When police broke down the door they found Cobain dead on the floor, a shotgun still pointed at his chin and on a nearby counter a suicide note written in red ink addressed to Love and the couples then 19 month old daughter Frances Bean.
The suicide note ended with the words “I love you, I love you.” Two days after Kurt Cobain’s body was found about 5,000 people gathered in Seattle for a candlelight vigil. the distraught crowd filled the air with profane chants, burnt their flannel shirts and fought with police. They also listened to a tape made by Cobain’s wife in which she read from his suicide note. Several distressed teenagers in the U.S. and Australia killed themselves. The mainstream media was lambasted for it’s lack of respect and understanding of youth culture.
We’ll Always Remember
Biography by Mick Ronson 1996
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