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increasingly difficult, anti-social and withdrawn after his parent's divorce.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
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
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.