Rock Through the Ages: Kurt Cobain 1967-1994

"If you die you're completely happy and your soul somewhere lives on. I'm not afraid of dying. Total peace after death, becoming someone else is the best hope I've got. -Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain smells like teen spiritKurt Cobain was an American singer, songwriter and musician. He was the lead singer and guitarist for the band Nirvana, whose melodic rock songs bridged punk with pop and sold millions of records in the early 1990s. The stripped-down, amped-up anthem "Smells Like Teen Spirit" made it to the top of the charts in 1991 and helped "grunge" rock put Seattle on the musical map. With the band's success, Kurt Cobain became a major national and international celebrity, an uncomfortable position for someone who claimed to be "ill at ease with fame and ill-equipped to handle the responsibility that accompanies success".

Kurt Donald Cobain was born on the 20th of February 1967 in Hoquaim, a small town about 85 miles south-west of Seattle. His mother, Wendy was a cocktail waitress and his father, Don was an auto mechanic. Cobain soon moved to nearby Aberdeen, a depressed and dying logging town. Cobain was a happy child until his parents divorced when he was eight. Cobain said, "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 a year spent living with his mother following the divorce, Cobain moved to Montesano, Washington to live with his father, but after a few years his youthful rebellion became too overwhelming and he found himself being shuffled between friends and family .Early on, Cobain showed an interest in art and music. He excelled at drawing, so much so that his talents were even apparent in kindergarten. He soon learned to play piano by ear and enjoyed a kiddie drum kit his parents had given him.  According to Kurt's Aunt Mari, "He was singing from the time he was two. He would sing Beatles songs like, 'Hey Jude.' He would do anything. You could just say, 'Hey Kurt, sing this!' and he would sing it. He had a lot of charisma from a very young age." When Kurt Cobain was eleven he heard and was captivated by 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.Kurt Cobain received his first guitar from his uncle at age 14, choosing it over a bicycle. He started learning a few covers, including AC/DC's "Back in Black" and The Cars' "My Best Friend's Girl", and soon began working on his own songs.

singer songwriter Kurt Cobain, NevermindKurt Cobain found escape from his unhappy home and school through the thriving Pacific Northwest punk scene, going to punk rock shows in Seattle. Cobain formed a lifelong friendship with fellow Montesano musicians The Melvins, whose music later heavily influenced Nirvana's sound. Cobain formed and reformed a series of  unsuccessful bands with varying names, including Fecal Matter. In 1988, Cobain was able to make some of his rock ambitions come true. He finally settled on the name Nirvana for the group. Nirvana was an uneasy alliance between Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. For the first few years of Nirvana, Novoselic and Cobain found themselves host to a rotating list of drummers. Eventually, the band settled on Chad Channing. Their first gig was a house party in 1987. This same year, Cobain started going out with Tracy Marander, his first serious girlfriend and two eventually began living together in Olympia. Although they struggled financially, the couple seemed to enjoy the rock and roll lifestyle. Cobain spent a lot of his time exploring different creative outlets, writing, painting, drawing, and making collages. Nirvana’s popularity in the Seattle music scene was growing, and they released their debut album, Bleach, in 1989. While it failed to make much of a splash, the recording showed signs of Kurt Cobain’s emerging talent as a songwriter, especially the ballad “About a Girl.”  Their signature sound, which included elements of punk and heavy metal, was also apparent on the album. Kurt Cobain felt mistreated by Sub Pop, believing that the company devoted more resources toward promoting other acts. Kurt also became dissatisfied with Channing's drumming style, and the band switched to Dave Grohl.

Nirvana released their second album, Nevermind, to rave reviews. "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 hook line to hook the listener. Their popularity grew after the group made appearances on MTV's Headbanger's Ball and NBC's Saturday Night Live. The success of the band was intimidating to Cobain, who liked the intimate setting of nightclubs; it was the money that guided them to do concerts and shows in the rock arena. Kurt Cobain struggled to reconcile the massive success of Nirvana with his underground roots. Kurt Cobain 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 completely missed the band's politics. Cobain was distressed to find out that what he wrote and how it was interpreted could quite often be miles apart.

Kurt Cobain had his first taste of heroin sometime late in 1990. For months, Cobain used the drug casually, but it did not take long for his use to become a full-fledged addiction. That same year, Cobain met his match in an edgy rocker named Courtney Love. While they were interested in each other, their relationship did not get off the ground until more than a year later. Courtney Love, was the lead singer and guitarist with Hole. Cobain and Love started a relationship that included letters, faxes, and numerous phone calls as the two were traveling with their respective bands. In February 1992 Cobain skipped off to Hawaii to marry the already pregnant Courtney Love. Their daughter, Frances Bean was born in August. The unusual middle name was given to her because Cobain thought she looked like a bean on the first sonogram he saw of her. Her namesake is Frances McKee of The Vaselines, of whom Cobain was a big fan. Both Cobain and Love were into drugs and often used together. They found themselves being investigated by social services after Love told Vanity Fair that she had taken heroin while pregnant. After a costly legal battle, Cobain and Love were able keep custody of their daughter. Always volatile, Cobain’s relationship with Love was becoming more strained. Their  physical fights often brought the police to their door. Nirvana's highly acclaimed album In Utero was released in September 1993 and went to the top of the album charts. Full of highly personal lyrics by Cobain about his many life struggles, the recording featured a fair amount of hostility toward people and situations that Kurt Cobain reviled.

Prior to a performance at the New Music Seminar in New York City in July of 1993, Kurt Cobain suffered a heroin overdose. Rather than calling for an ambulance, Love injected Cobain with illegally acquired Narcan to bring him out of his unconscious state. Cobain proceeded to perform with Nirvana on what later was recognized as one of their more memorable performances. The public was given no hint that anything out of the ordinary had taken place. On March 6, 1994, in Rome, Kurt Cobain overdosed again on a combination of champagne and Rohypnol. One week after a concert in Munich, Kurt Cobain was hospitalized in a coma. After waking up and leaving voluntarily, Kurt Cobain was reported missing and was found three days later in his house, dead of a gunshot wound. As a rock legend, Cobain reached a demise similar to that of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. The songs and albums of Cobain and Nirvana continue to influence and encourage many young musicians.
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Kurt Cobain
Musician
Kurt Cobain was an American singer, songwriter and musician. He was the lead singer and guitarist for the band Nirvana, whose melodic rock songs bridged punk with pop and sold millions of records in the early 1990s.