Kurt Cobain

Remembering Kurt Cobain 30 Years After His Death

Early Life

Kurt Cobain, born in Aberdeen, Washington on February 20th, 1967, ended his life on April 5th, 1994, yet his legacy lives on 30 years later. Even as a child, Cobain showed an early interest in music, often singing Beatles songs like ‘Hey Jude‘ with his family. The Beatles’ melodic lines and songwriting would become significant influences on his own work. However, his younger years were marked by his parents’ divorce; a transition from a happy child to an angsty teenager. His interest in playing guitar and punk rock music grew, and after receiving guitar lessons and witnessing The Melvins live, he realized that punk rock was his true calling.

Kurt Cobain
A Young Kurt Cobain

Fecal Matter and Nirvana

During this period, Cobain met Krist Novoselic, and together they formed the band initially known as The Sellouts. After several lineup changes and name variations, the band settled on Nirvana in 1988, with Cobain as the lead singer and guitarist, Novoselic on bass, and Chad Channing on drums. The band would go on to release three official albums: ‘Bleach‘ in 1989, ‘Nevermind‘ in 1991, and ‘In Utero‘ in 1993. The lineup evolved, replacing Chad Channing with Dave Grohl for ‘Nevermind‘ in 1990. Throughout their musical journey, Nirvana’s music was characterized by a quiet-loud song format, influenced by Pixies, and Cobain’s surreal and abstract songwriting. Their themes touched on teenage angst, religious imagery, nonsensical lyricism, sexual abuse and assault, and feminism.

Nirvana
Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl

Courtney and Frances

Sometime between 1989 and 1990, Kurt Cobain met Courtney Love and he was enamored with her. Courtney Love was the lead singer of the band Hole and they connected musically and spiritually. They married in Hawaii in 1992, with Cobain wearing pajamas and Love wearing a dress once belonging to Frances Farmer, an actress from the sixties. This unconventional wedding highlighted their indifference to extravagance, even amidst their fame and fortune. They welcomed their daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, named after Frances McKee of The Vaselines. Tragically, Cobain passed away when Frances was only a year old. Since then, Frances and Courtney have overseen his estate, ensuring his memory endures.

Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, and Frances Bean Cobain

Struggles with Fame and Addiction

The album that propelled Nirvana to stardom also propelled Cobain into a world of troubles and contradictions. He yearned to be the biggest band in the world, yet simultaneously resented the world for giving him so much attention. Despite playing the biggest shows and mingling with entertainment stars, his personal struggles were evident. For instance, after performing on Saturday Night Live in January 1992, Kurt nearly died from a drug overdose the next morning. His heroin use, alongside Courtney’s, was famously highlighted in a Vanity Fair article. He primarily attributed his drug abuse to unbearable stomach pains that hindered his ability to play guitar or stand upright. Ultimately, a combination of physical and mental pain, alongside his abandonment issues stemming from his parent’s divorce, led him down a tragic path.

Kurt Cobain

Legacy

Cobain developed relationships with musicians and bands such as The Melvins, Sonic Youth, and Bikini Kill, influencing and being influenced by them. His bond with Dave Grohl is particularly noteworthy, as Grohl went on to create another immensely successful band, Foo Fighters. During their brief time together, the two were close. They were flatmates and practiced extensively for album recordings and stadium shows. Dave began his songwriting process during the ‘Nevermind‘ sessions. He fondly remembers Kurt but has processed his grief through music. He continues with bands like Foo Fighters, Tenacious D, and Queens of the Stone Age.

Foo Fighters
Foo Fighters

Aside from personal connections, Cobain’s influence on pop culture and music is profound. Nirvana and Kurt Cobain merchandise can be found in major stores worldwide. The commercialisation of the band has been received in a number of ways. Some hate it and others find that it’s a way of getting new people to fall in love with the band. Weezer, Biffy Clyro, Thirty Seconds To Mars, and Bush have all been influenced by Nirvana.

In his journals, Cobain once wrote, ‘…women are the only future of rock and roll,’. His music would influence female acts like Lana Del Rey, who covered Nirvana’s song ‘Heart Shaped Box‘. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. The remaining members chose exclusively female acts to perform in Cobain’s honour. On stage were Joan Jett, Lorde, Kim Gordon, and St. Vincent, alongside Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear, echoing Cobain’s sentiments about the future of rock and roll.

Lorde, Joan Jett, St. Vincent, and Dave Grohl at Nirvana’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inauguration

Final Words

Cobain tragically died at the young age of 27. Joining the ranks of other musicians and celebrities in the infamous ’27 Club’. Kurt’s life and his enigmatic personality continue to captivate fans. Speculation abounds about what Nirvana might have become had Cobain lived. Some believe the band would have disbanded, while others think they might have transitioned to a softer sound. In an interview before his death, he expressed admiration for R.E.M. He had a desire to move towards a less aggressive sound, like theirs. The strain on his voice from constant howling in his music couldn’t be sustained.

As a devoted fan of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, his imperfections, complexities, and contradictions resonate with me and so many. His love for music, family, fans, and passion for life contrasted sharply with his struggles with physical and mental pain. He was a kind soul loved by many, leaving behind a legacy that ended far too soon. He reminded us how soon he was leaving by his statement in his suicide note. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.”

Listen to Nirvana’s iconic album ‘Nevermind‘ below. You can also find more anniversary pieces like this one here.

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