Kurt Donald Cobain (February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994) was
an American singer, songwriter, and musician. Born in Aberdeen,
Washington, Cobain formed the band
Krist Novoselic and
Aaron Burckhard in 1987 and established it as part of the Seattle
music scene which later became known as grunge. Nirvana's debut album
Bleach was released on the independent record label
Sub Pop in 1989.
After signing with major label DGC Records,
Nirvana found breakthrough
success with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from their second album
Nevermind (1991). Following the success of Nevermind,
labeled "the flagship band" of Generation X, and Cobain hailed as "the
spokesman of a generation". Cobain, however, was uncomfortable with
the label, believing his message and artistic vision had been
misinterpreted by the public, with his personal problems often subject
to media attention.
During the last years of his life, Cobain struggled with heroin
addiction, chronic health problems and depression. He also had
difficulty coping with his fame and public image, and the professional
and personal pressures surrounding himself and his wife, musician
Courtney Love. On April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead at his home in
Seattle; his death was ruled a suicide by a self-inflicted shotgun
wound to the head. The circumstances of his death at age 27 have
become a topic of public fascination and debate.
Since their debut, Nirvana, with Cobain as a songwriter, has sold over
25 million albums in the U.S., and over 75 million
worldwide. Cobain was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame in 2014, along with
Dave Grohl and
Novoselic, in their first year of eligibility.
1 Early life
3 Musical influences
5 Personal life
5.1 Relationships and family
7 Legacy and influence
7.1 Books and films on Cobain
8.2 Posthumous releases
11 External links
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Grays Harbor Hospital in Aberdeen, where Cobain was born
Cobain was born at Grays Harbor Hospital in Aberdeen, Washington,
the son of waitress Wendy Elizabeth (née Fradenburg; born 1948)
and automotive mechanic Donald Leland Cobain (born 1946). His parents
were married on July 31, 1965, in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. His ancestry
included Dutch, English, French, German, Irish, and
Scottish.:13:7 His Irish ancestors emigrated from
Carrickmore, County Tyrone in 1875.:7 Researchers found that they
were shoemakers, originally named "Cobane", who came from Inishatieve,
a townland within Carrickmore. They first settled in Cornwall,
Ontario, Canada, and then in Washington. Cobain himself believed
his family came from County Cork. His younger sister, Kimberly, was
born on April 24, 1970.
Cobain's family had a musical background. His maternal uncle, Chuck
Fradenburg, played 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. Kurt was described
as being a happy and excitable child, who also exhibited sensitivity
and care. His talent as an artist was evident from an early age, as he
would draw his favorite characters from films and cartoons, such as
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Creature from the Black Lagoon and Donald Duck, in his
bedroom.:11 This enthusiasm was encouraged by his grandmother,
Iris Cobain, who was a professional artist.
Cobain began developing an interest in music early in life. According
to his aunt Mari, he began singing at the age of two. At age four, he
started playing the piano and singing, writing a song about a trip to
a local park. He listened to artists like the Ramones and Electric
Light Orchestra (ELO), and, from a young age, would sing songs
like Arlo Guthrie's "Motorcycle Song", The Beatles' "Hey Jude", Terry
Jacks' "Seasons in the Sun", and the theme song to the television show
of the band The Monkees.:9
When Cobain was nine years old, his parents divorced.:20 He later
said that the divorce had a profound effect on his life, while his
mother noted that his personality changed dramatically; Cobain became
defiant and withdrawn.:17 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.
Cobain's parents both found new partners after the divorce. Although
his father had promised not to remarry, after meeting Jenny Westeby,
he did, to Kurt's dismay.:24 Cobain, his father, Westeby, and her
two children, Mindy and James, moved into a new household together.
Cobain liked Westeby at first, as she gave him the maternal attention
he desired.:25 In January 1979, Westeby gave birth to a boy, Chad
Cobain.:24 This new family, which Cobain insisted was not his real
one, was in stark contrast to the attention Cobain was used to
receiving as an only boy, and he soon began to express resentment
toward his stepmother.:24,25 Cobain's mother began dating a man who
was abusive. Cobain witnessed the domestic violence inflicted upon
her, with one incident resulting in her being hospitalized with a
broken arm.:25,26 Wendy steadfastly refused to press charges,
remaining completely committed to the relationship.:26
Cobain behaved insolently toward adults during this period of his
youth, and began bullying another boy at school. These behaviors
eventually caused his father and Westeby to take him to a therapist,
who concluded that he would benefit from a single family
environment.:26 Both sides of the family attempted to bring his
parents back together, but to no avail. On June 28, 1979, Cobain's
mother granted full custody to his father.:27 Cobain's teenage
rebellion quickly became overwhelming for his father, who placed his
son in the care of family and friends. While living with the
born-again Christian family of his friend Jesse Reed, he became a
devout Christian and regularly attended church services. He later
renounced Christianity, 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 remain an important part
of his personal life and beliefs.:22:196:69
Although uninterested in sports, Cobain was enrolled in a junior high
school wrestling team at the insistence of his father. He was a
skilled wrestler, but despised the experience. Because of the ridicule
he endured from his teammates and coach, he allowed himself to be
pinned in an attempt to sadden his father. Later, his father enlisted
him in a
Little League Baseball
Little League Baseball team, where Cobain would intentionally
strike out to avoid playing.:20–25 Cobain befriended a homosexual
student at school and suffered bullying from heterosexual students who
concluded that he was gay. In an interview, he said that he liked
being associated with a gay identity because he did not like people,
and when they thought he was gay they left him alone. He stated, "I
started being really proud of the fact that I was gay even though I
wasn't". His friend tried to kiss him and Cobain backed away,
explaining to his friend that he was not gay, but would remain friends
with him. 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. Police records show that Cobain was arrested for
spray painting the phrase "ain't got no how watchamacallit" on other
vehicles.:68 One of his personal journals states, "I am not gay,
although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes".
Cobain playing drums at an assembly at Montesano High School
Cobain would often draw during school classes as part of his enjoyment
of creating visual art. He would draw objects, including those
associated with the human anatomy. When given a caricature assignment
for an art course, Cobain drew Michael Jackson, but was told by the
teacher that the image was inappropriate for a school hallway. He then
drew an image of then-President
Ronald Reagan that was seen as
"unflattering".:41 As attested to by several of Cobain's classmates
and family members, the first concert he attended was
Sammy Hagar and
Quarterflash, held at the
Seattle Center Coliseum in 1983.:44
Cobain, however, claimed that the first concert he attended was the
Melvins, and he wrote prolifically in his journals of the
experience.:45 As a teenager living in Montesano, Washington,
Cobain eventually found escape through the thriving Pacific Northwest
punk scene, going to punk rock shows in Seattle.
During his second year in high school, Cobain began living with his
mother in Aberdeen. Two weeks prior to graduation, he dropped out of
Aberdeen High School, upon 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.:35 Feeling banished from his own mother's
home, Cobain stayed with friends, occasionally sneaking back into his
mother's basement.:37 Cobain also claimed that, during periods of
homelessness, he lived under a bridge over the Wishkah River,:37 an
experience that inspired the song "Something in the Way". However,
Nirvana bassist Novoselic later 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, Cobain moved into an apartment, paying his rent by
working at The Polynesian Resort, a Polynesian coastal resort
approximately 20 miles (32 km) north of Aberdeen.:43 During
this period, he was traveling frequently to Olympia, Washington, to go
to rock concerts.:46 During his visits to Olympia, Cobain formed a
relationship with Tracy Marander. The couple had a close relationship,
but one that was often strained with financial difficulties and
Cobain's absence when touring. Marander supported the couple by
working at the cafeteria of the Seattle–Tacoma International
Airport, often stealing food. During his time with Marander, Cobain
spent most of his time sleeping into the late evening, watching
television, and concentrating on art projects. Her insistence that he
get a job caused arguments that influenced Cobain to write "About a
Girl", which was featured on the
Nirvana album Bleach. Marander is
credited with having taken the cover photo for the album. She did not
become aware that "About a Girl" was written about her until years
Soon after his separation from Marander, Cobain began dating Tobi
Vail, an influential punk zinester of the riot grrrl band Bikini Kill
who embraced the
DIY ethos. After meeting Vail, Cobain vomited, as he
was so completely overwhelmed with anxiety caused by his infatuation
with her. This event would inspire the lyric "love you so much it
makes me sick", which appears in the song "Aneurysm".:152 While
Cobain would regard Vail as his female counterpart, his relationship
with her eventually waned. Cobain desired the maternal comfort of a
traditional relationship, which Vail regarded as sexist within a
countercultural punk rock community. Those who dated Vail would be
described by her friend Alice Wheeler as "fashion accessories".:153
Cobain and Vail spent most of their time together as a couple
discussing political and philosophical issues. In 1990, they
collaborated on a musical project called Bathtub is Real, in which
they both sang and played guitar and drums. They recorded their songs
on a four-track tape machine that belonged to Vail's father. In
Everett True's 2009 book Nirvana: The Biography, Vail is quoted as
[Kurt] would play the songs he was writing, I would play the songs I
was writing and we'd record them on my dad's four-track. Sometimes I'd
sing on the songs he was writing and play drums on them ... He was
really into the fact that I was creative and into music. I don't think
he'd ever played music with a girl before. He was super-inspiring and
fun to play with.
Slim Moon described their sound as "like the minimal quiet pop songs
that Olympia is known for. Both of them sang; it was really good".
Cobain's relationship with Vail would inspire the lyrical content of
many of the songs on Nevermind. Once, while he was discussing
anarchism and punk rock with friend Kathleen Hanna, another member of
Bikini Kill, Hanna spray-painted "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit" on
Cobain's apartment wall.
Teen Spirit was the name of a deodorant Vail
wore. Cobain, unaware of the deodorant's existence, interpreted the
slogan as having a revolutionary meaning, and it inspired the title of
Nirvana song "Smells Like Teen Spirit".
On his 14th birthday on February 20, 1981, Cobain's uncle offered him
either a bike or a used guitar—he chose the guitar. Soon, he was
trying to copy Led Zeppelin's power ballad, "Stairway to Heaven".
"Louie Louie", Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust", and The Cars' "My
Best Friend's Girl" were cover versions learnt by Cobain before he
began working on his own songs. Despite Kurt being right handed, he
played the guitar left handed.:22
During high school, Cobain rarely found anyone with whom he could play
music. While hanging out at the Melvins' practice space, he met
Novoselic, a fellow devotee of punk rock. Novoselic's mother owned a
hair salon, and the pair would occasionally practice in the upstairs
room of the salon. 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.:45
Religion appeared to remain significant to Cobain during this time, as
he often used Christian imagery in his work, and maintained a constant
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", a concept that
he aligned with the punk rock ethos and ideology.
Cobain was disenchanted after early touring, due to the band's
inability to draw substantial crowds and the difficulty of 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 find a new
drummer, and they eventually settled on Grohl. With Grohl, the band
found their greatest success through their
1991 major-label debut,
With Nevermind's lead single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit", Nirvana
entered the mainstream, popularizing a subgenre of alternative rock
called "grunge". Since their debut,
Nirvana has sold over
25 million albums in the United States (U.S.) alone, and over
75 million worldwide.
The success of
Nevermind provided numerous
Seattle bands, such as
Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, access to wider
audiences. As a result, alternative rock became a dominant genre on
radio and music television in the U.S. during the early-to-middle
Nirvana was considered the "flagship band of Generation X", and
frontman Cobain found himself reluctantly anointed by the media as the
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. He began to harbor resentment against
people who claimed to be fans of the band, yet refused to 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. The show was held in opposition to Ballot Measure
Nine, a ballot measure, that if passed, would have prohibited schools
in the state from acknowledging or positively accepting LGBT rights
Cobain was a vocal supporter of the pro-choice movement and Nirvana
was involved in L7's
Rock for Choice campaign. He received death
threats from a small number of anti-abortion activists for
participating in the pro-choice campaign, with one activist
threatening to shoot Cobain as soon as he stepped on a stage.:253
The Beatles were an early and lasting influence on Cobain; his aunt
Mari remembers him singing "Hey Jude" at the age of two.:9 "My
aunts would give me Beatles records", Cobain told
Jon Savage in 1993,
"so for the most part [I listened to] the Beatles [as a child], and if
I was lucky, I'd be able to buy a single". Cobain expressed a
particular fondness for John Lennon, whom he called his "idol" in his
posthumously-released journals, and he admitted that he wrote the
song "About a Girl", from
Nirvana 1989 debut album Bleach, after
spending three hours listening to Meet the Beatles!.:121
Cobain was also a fan of 1970s hard rock and heavy metal bands,
including Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Queen, and
Nirvana occasionally played cover songs by these bands,
including Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker", "Moby Dick" and "Immigrant
Song", Black Sabbath's "Hand of Doom", and Kiss' "Do You Love Me?",
and wrote the
Incesticide song "Aero Zeppelin" as a tribute to Led
Zeppelin and Aerosmith.
Punk rock proved to be a profound influence on a teenaged Cobain's
attitude and artistic style. His first punk rock album was Sandinista!
by The Clash,:169 but he became a bigger fan of a fellow 1970s
British punk band the Sex Pistols, describing them as "one million
times more important than the Clash" in his journals. He was
introduced to 1980s American hardcore bands like Black Flag, Bad
Millions of Dead Cops
Millions of Dead Cops and Flipper by Buzz Osborne, lead singer
and guitarist of the
Melvins and fellow Aberdeen native. Osborne
taught Cobain about Punk by loaning him records and old copies of the
Detroit-based magazine Creem. The
Melvins themselves were an
important early musical influence on Cobain, with their heavy, grungey
sound mimicked by
Nirvana on many songs from Bleach.
Cobain was also a fan of protopunk acts like the Stooges, whose 1973
Raw Power he listed as his favorite of all time in his
journals, and The Velvet Underground, whose 1968 song "Here She
Comes Now" the band covered both live and in the studio.
The 1980s American alternative rock band
Pixies were instrumental in
helping an adult Cobain develop his own songwriting style. In a 1992
interview with Melody Maker, Cobain said that hearing their 1988 debut
album, Surfer Rosa, "convinced him to abandon his more Black
Flag-influenced songwriting in favor of the Iggy Pop/Aerosmith–type
songwriting that appeared on Nevermind. In a 1993 interview with
Rolling Stone, he said that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was his attempt
at "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
Cobain's appreciation of early alternative rock bands also extended to
Sonic Youth and R.E.M., both of which the members of Nirvana
befriended and looked up to for advice. It was under recommendation
from Sonic Youth's
Kim Gordon that
Nirvana signed to DGC in
1990,:162 and both bands did a two-week tour of Europe in the
summer of 1991, as documented in the 1992 documentary, 1991: The Year
Punk Broke. In 1993, Cobain said of R.E.M.: "If I could write just a
couple of songs as good as what they've written... I don't know how
that band does what they do. God, they're the greatest. They've dealt
with their success like saints, and they keep delivering great
After attaining mainstream success, Cobain became a devoted champion
of lesser known indie bands, covering songs by The Vaselines, Meat
Wipers and Fang onstage and/ or in the studio, wearing Daniel
T-shirts during photo shoots, having the
K Records logo
tattooed on his forearm, and enlisting bands like Butthole Surfers,
Half Japanese along for the In Utero tour
in late 1993 and early 1994. Cobain even invited his favorite
musicians to perform with him: ex-Germs guitarist
Pat Smear joined the
band in 1993, and the
Meat Puppets appeared onstage during Nirvana's
MTV Unplugged appearance to perform three songs from their second
Meat Puppets II.
Nirvana's Unplugged set also included renditions of "The Man Who Sold
the World", by British rock musician David Bowie, and the American
folk song, "Where Did You Sleep Last Night", as adapted by the
American folk musician Lead Belly. Cobain introduced the latter by
Lead Belly his favorite performer, and in a 1993 interview
revealed he had been introduced to him from reading the American
author William S. Burroughs. "I remember [Burroughs] saying in an
interview, 'These new rock'n'roll kids should just throw away their
guitars and listen to something with real soul, like Leadbelly'",
Cobain said. "I'd never heard about Leadbelly before so I bought a
couple of records, and now he turns out to be my absolute favorite of
all time in music. I absolutely love it more than any rock'n'roll I
Nirvana's acoustic Unplugged set, which was released posthumously as
an album in 1994, may have provided a hint of Cobain's future musical
direction. The record has drawn comparisons to R.E.M.'s 1992 release,
Automatic for the People, and in 1993, Cobain himself predicted
that the next
Nirvana album would be "pretty ethereal, acoustic, like
R.E.M.'s last album".
"Yeah, he talked a lot about what direction he was heading in",
Cobain's friend, R.E.M.'s lead singer Michael Stipe, told
1994. "I mean, I know what the next
Nirvana recording was going to
sound like. It was going to be 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. He and I were
going to record a trial run of the album, a demo tape. It was all set
up. He had a plane ticket. He had a car picking him up. And at the
last minute he called and said, 'I can't come'". Stipe was chosen as
the godfather of Cobain and Courtney Love's daughter, Frances Bean
Fender Mustang Lake Placid Blue guitars played by Kurt Cobain
during the filming of the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit", shown
Seattle Experience Music Project
Grohl stated that Cobain believed that music comes first and lyrics
second. Cobain focused, foremost, on the melodies of his songs.
Cobain complained 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?".:182 While Cobain would insist on
the subjectivity and unimportance of his lyrics, he was known to labor
and procrastinate in writing them, often changing the content and
order of lyrics during performances.:177 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
Cobain originally wanted
Nevermind to be divided into two sides: a
"Boy" side, for the songs written about the experiences of his early
life and childhood, and a "Girl" side, for the songs written about his
dysfunctional relationship with Vail.:177
Charles R. Cross
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.:168–169 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", on the album he dealt with
his parents' divorce, his newfound fame and the public image and
perception of himself and
Courtney Love on "Serve the Servants", with
his enamored relationship with Love conveyed through lyrical themes of
pregnancy and the female anatomy on "Heart-Shaped Box". Cobain wrote
"Rape Me" not only as an objective discussion of rape, but a
metaphorical protest against his treatment by the media. He wrote
about fame, drug addiction and abortion on "Pennyroyal Tea", as well
as women's rights and the life of Seattle-born 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
14-year-old girl was kidnapped after attending a punk rock show then
raped and tortured with a blowtorch. She managed to escape after
gaining the trust of her captor,
Gerald Friend through flirting with
him.:136 After seeing
Bob Dylan would cite "Polly"
as the best of Nirvana's songs, and was quoted as saying about Cobain,
"the kid has heart".:137 Patrick Süskind's novel Perfume: The
Story of a Murderer inspired Cobain to write the song "Scentless
Apprentice" from In Utero. The book is 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 virginal women and taking their
Cobain immersed himself in artistic projects throughout his life, as
much so as he did in songwriting. The sentiments of his art work
followed the same subjects of his lyrics, often expressed through a
dark and macabre sense of humor. Noted was his fascination with
physiology, his own 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. Many of Cobain's paintings, collages, and
sculptures would appear in the artwork of Nirvana's albums, such as
the covers of
Incesticide and In Utero. His artistic concepts would
feature notably in Nirvana's music videos; the production and
direction of which were acrimonious due to the artistic perfectionism
of his visions.
Kurt Cobain's model of Fender Jaguar
Cobain would contribute backing guitar for a spoken word recording of
beat poet William S. Burroughs' entitled "The "Priest" They Called
Him".:301 Cobain regarded Burroughs as a hero. During Nirvana's
European tour Cobain kept a copy of Burroughs' Naked Lunch, purchased
from a London bookstall.:189–190 Cobain met with Burroughs at his
home in Lawrence, Kansas in October 1993. Burroughs expressed no
surprise at Cobain's death: "It wasn't an act of will for Kurt to kill
himself. As far as I was concerned, he was dead already".
Relationships and family
Love and Cobain met on January 12, 1990, in Portland's Satyricon
nightclub,:201 when they both still led ardent underground rock
bands. Love made advances, but Cobain was evasive. Early in their
interactions, Cobain broke off dates and ignored Love's advances
because he was unsure if he wanted a relationship. Cobain noted, "I
was determined to be a bachelor for a few months [...] But I knew that
I liked Courtney so much right away that it was a really hard struggle
to stay away from her for so many months".:172–173 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.:169
Cobain was already aware of Love through her role in the 1987 film
Straight to Hell. According to True, the pair were formally introduced
at an L7 and
Butthole Surfers concert in Los Angeles, U.S., in May
1991. In the weeks that followed, after learning from Grohl that
Cobain shared mutual interests with her, Love began pursuing Cobain.
In late 1991, the two were often together and bonded through drug
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. Love wore a satin and lace dress once owned by Frances Farmer,
and Cobain donned a Guatemalan purse and wore green pajamas, because
he had been "too lazy to put on a tux". Eight people were in
attendance at the ceremony, including Grohl.
In an interview with The Guardian, Love revealed the opposition to
their marriage from various people:
Kim Gordon [of Sonic Youth] sits me down and says, "If you marry him
your life is not going to happen, it will destroy your life". But I
said, "Whatever! I love him, and I want to be with him!" ... It wasn't
his fault. He wasn't trying to do that.
Love was already pregnant, and the couple's daughter Frances Bean
Cobain was born August 18, 1992. A sonogram of the couple's
as-yet-unborn baby was included in the artwork for Nirvana's single,
In a 1992 article in Vanity Fair, Love admitted to using heroin, not
knowing that she was pregnant; however, Love claimed that Vanity Fair
had misquoted her, :266 but the event created a media 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, stating that the
couple's drug usage made them unfit parents.:270
Love later claimed to have ceased heroin use upon learning of her
Throughout most of his life, Cobain suffered from chronic bronchitis
and intense physical pain due to an undiagnosed chronic stomach
condition.:66 His first drug experience was with marijuana in 1980,
at age 13. He regularly used the drug during adulthood.:76 Cobain
also had a period of consuming "notable" amounts of LSD, as observed
by Marander,:75 and was "really into getting fucked up: drugs,
acid, any kind of drug", observed Krist Novoselic; Cobain was also
prone to alcoholism and solvent abuse.:76 According to The
Telegraph, Cobain had depression. His cousin brought attention to
the family history of suicide, mental illness and alcoholism, noting
two of her uncles who had committed suicide with guns.
Cobain's first experience with heroin occurred sometime in 1986,
administered to him by a local drug dealer in
Tacoma, Washington who
had previously supplied him with oxycodone/aspirin.:41 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.:236
However, longtime friend
Buzz Osborne disputes this, saying that his
stomach pain was more likely caused by his heroin use, saying "He made
it up for sympathy and so he could use it as an excuse to stay loaded.
Of course he was vomiting — that's what people on heroin do, they
vomit. It's called "vomiting with a smile on your face".
His heroin use began to affect the band's
Nevermind supporting tour.
One such example came the day of the band's 1992 performance on
Saturday Night Live, where
Nirvana had a photographic session with
Michael Levine. Having taken heroin beforehand, Cobain fell asleep
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
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 naloxone 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
Main article: Suicide of Kurt Cobain
Cobain's suicide note (full transcription). The final phrase before
the valediction, "it's better to burn out than to fade away", is a
quote from the lyrics of Neil Young's song "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the
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, Courtney Love, on March 3, 1994. The next morning, Love
awoke to find that Cobain had overdosed on a combination of champagne
and Rohypnol. Cobain was immediately rushed to 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, 1994, Love phoned the
Seattle police informing 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.
Love arranged an intervention regarding Cobain's drug use on March 25,
1994. 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 on March 30, 1994. 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, happily playing with his daughter Frances.
These interactions were the last time Cobain saw his daughter.
The following night, Cobain walked outside to have a cigarette, and
climbed over a six-foot-high fence to leave the facility (which he had
joked earlier in the day would be a stupid feat to attempt). He took a
taxi to Los Angeles Airport and flew back to Seattle. On the flight,
he sat next to
Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses. Despite Cobain's own
personal animosity towards Guns N' Roses, and specifically Axl Rose,
Cobain "seemed happy" to see McKagan. McKagan later stated he knew
from "all of my instincts that something was wrong".:331 Most of
his close friends and family were unaware of his whereabouts. On April
2 and 3, Cobain was spotted in numerous locations around Seattle. On
April 3, Love contacted private investigator Tom Grant, and hired him
to find Cobain. Cobain was not seen the next day. On April 7, amid
Nirvana breaking up, the band pulled out of the 1994
Lollapalooza music festival.
Lake Washington Blvd East Seattle, Washington, the site of
On April 8, Cobain's body was discovered at his Lake Washington
Boulevard home by electrician Gary Smith 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 note was found, addressed to
Cobain's childhood imaginary friend Boddah, that stated that Cobain
had not "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 diazepam 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, 1994, at a park at
Seattle Center drawing approximately seven thousand mourners.:346
Prerecorded messages by Novoselic and Love were played at the
memorial. Love read portions of Cobain's suicide note to the crowd,
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.:350 Grohl would say that the news of Cobain's death
... 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".
He also believed that he knew 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". Dave Reed, who for a short time was Cobain's foster
father, said that "he had the desperation, not the courage, to be
himself. Once you do that, you can't go wrong, because you can't make
any mistakes when people love you for being yourself. But for Kurt, it
didn't matter that other people loved him; he simply didn't love
A final ceremony was arranged for Cobain, by his mother, on May 31,
1999, and was attended by both Love and Tracy Marander. As a Buddhist
monk chanted, daughter Frances Bean scattered Cobain's ashes into
McLane Creek in Olympia, the city where he "had found his true
Cobain's artistic endeavors and struggles with heroin addiction,
illness and depression, as well as the circumstances of his death have
become a frequent topic of fascination, debate, and controversy
throughout the world. According to a spokesperson for the Seattle
Police Department, the department receives at least one weekly
request, mostly through Twitter, to reopen the investigation,
resulting in the maintenance of the basic incident report on file.
Cobain is one of the well known members of the 27 Club.
In March 2014, the
Seattle police developed four rolls of film that
had been left in an evidence vault—a reason was not provided for why
the rolls were not developed earlier. According to the
the 35mm film photographs show the scene of Cobain's dead body more
clearly than previous Polaroid images taken by the police. Detective
Mike Ciesynski, a cold case investigator, was instructed to look at
the film because "it is 20 years later and it's a high media case".
Ciesynski stated that Cobain's death remains a suicide and that the
images would not have been released publicly. The photos in
question were later released, one by one, weeks before the 20th
anniversary of Cobain's death. One photo shows Cobain's arm, still
wearing the hospital bracelet from the drug rehab facility he checked
out of just a few days prior to returning to Seattle. Another photo
shows Cobain's foot resting next to a bag of shotgun shells, one of
which was used in his death.
Legacy and influence
A bench in Viretta Park, through tribute graffiti, has become an
improvised 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
Cobain has been remembered as one of the most iconic rock musicians in
the history of alternative music. In 2003,
David Fricke of Rolling
Stone ranked him the 12th greatest guitarist of all time. He was
later ranked the 73rd greatest guitarist and 45th greatest singer of
all time by the same magazine, and by
MTV as seventh in the
"22 Greatest Voices in Music". In 2006, he was placed at number
Hit Parader on their list of the "100 Greatest Metal Singers
of All Time".
Reflecting on Cobain's death over 10 years later, MSNBC's Eric Olsen
In the intervening decade, Cobain, a small, frail but handsome man in
life, has become an abstract
Generation X icon, viewed by many as the
"last real rock star" [..] a messiah and martyr whose every utterance
has been plundered and parsed.
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 planned to create a
Kurt Cobain Memorial Park and a youth
center in Aberdeen. Because Cobain was cremated and his remains
scattered into the
Wishkah River in Washington, many
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 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 the following year.
Controversy erupted in July 2009 when a monument to Cobain in Aberdeen
Wishkah River included the quote "... Drugs are bad for you.
They will fuck you up". The city ultimately decided to sandblast the
monument to replace the expletive with "f---", but fans
immediately drew the letters back in.
Billy Corgan of
The Smashing Pumpkins
The Smashing Pumpkins referred to Cobain as "the
Michael Jordan of our generation". He also stated that Cobain
opened the door for everyone in the 1990s alternative rock scene.
Lars Ulrich of
Metallica reflected on Cobain's influence stating that
Kurt Cobain you felt you were connecting to the real person, not
to a perception of who he was — you were not connecting to an image
or a manufactured cut-out. You felt that between you and him there was
nothing — it was heart-to-heart. There are very few people who have
Books and films on Cobain
Prior to Cobain's death, Azerrad published Come as You Are: The Story
of Nirvana, a book chronicling 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 republished the
book to include a final chapter discussing the last year of Cobain's
life. The book is notable, as it involved the band members themselves,
who provided 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. He
took a film crew to visit a number of people associated with Cobain
and Love; 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 Love offered him $50,000 to kill Cobain. Although
Hoke claimed 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. However, Broomfield felt he had not
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 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.
Broomfield's documentary was noted by
The New York Times
The New York Times to be a
rambling, largely speculative and circumstantial work, relying on
flimsy evidence as was his later documentary Biggie & Tupac.
Ian Halperin and
Max Wallace took a similar path and
attempted to investigate any possible conspiracy for themselves. Their
initial work, the 1999 book, Who Killed Kurt Cobain?, argued that,
while there was not 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
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, 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
Bruce Springsteen now"
Kurt Cobain book. However, beyond
the criticism, the book contained many details about Cobain and
Nirvana's career that would have otherwise been unnoted. Additionally,
in 2008, Cross published Cobain Unseen: Mosaic of an Artist, a
compilation of annotated photographs and creations and writings by
Cobain throughout his life and career.
In 2002, a sampling of Cobain's writings was published as Journals.
The book fills 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 with 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.
Gus Van Sant
Gus Van Sant loosely based his 2005 movie Last Days on the events in
the final days of Cobain's life, starring
Michael Pitt as Cobain. In
January 2007, Love began to shop the biography
Heavier Than Heaven
Heavier Than Heaven to
various movie studios in Hollywood to turn the book into an A-list
feature film about Cobain and Nirvana.
The inclusion of Cobain as a playable character in the 2009 video
game, Guitar Hero 5, upset Novoselic and Grohl, who expressed
their dismay at the ability of players to use Cobain with any song,
including those sung by female vocalists.
Also in 2009,
ECW Press released a book titled
Grunge is Dead: The
Oral History of
Seattle Rock Music. Written by Greg Prato, the book
explored the history of grunge in detail, touching upon
Cobain's life and death via interviews with former bandmates, friends,
and various grunge-era contemporaries. 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
In December 2012, during an
Art Basel exhibition in Miami, artist
Adarsha Benjamin presented her experimental short film, Kurt. On
April 10, 2014,
Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame. Grohl and Love accepted the accolade at the ceremony.
Brett Morgen film, entitled Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, premiered
Sundance Film Festival
Sundance Film Festival in January 2015, followed by
small-screen and cinema releases. Morgen said that documentary
"will be this generation's The Wall".
Soaked in Bleach is a 2015 American docudrama directed by Benjamin
Statler. The film details the events leading up to the death of Kurt
Cobain, as seen through the perspective of Tom Grant, the private
detective who was hired by
Courtney Love to find Cobain, her husband,
shortly before his death in 1994. It also explores the premise that
Cobain's death was not a suicide. The film stars Tyler Bryan as Cobain
Daniel Roebuck as Grant, with Sarah Scott portraying Courtney Love
August Emerson as Dylan Carlson.
Scratch It Out / Bikini Twilight (single, July 1989) (With The Go
The Winding Sheet
The Winding Sheet (album, 1990) (Cobain does background vocals on
"Down in the Dark" and guitar on "Where Did You Sleep Last Night")
(With Mark Lanegan).
Earth's demo (October 1990), lead vocals for song Divine Bright
Extraction and backing vocals for A Bureaucratic Desire For
Revenge. Cobain also sang lead vocals for a cover song Private
Affair (original by The Saints), but that was never released.
The "Priest" They Called Him, (EP, 1993) (Cobain does background
guitar noise) (With William S. Burroughs).
Houdini (album, 1993) (Cobain plays guitar on "Sky Pup" and percussion
on the song "Spread Eagle Beagle") (With the Melvins).
Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings (solo album) (2015)
"And I Love Her"/"Sappy" (7-inch vinyl) (2015)
Montage of Heck
Montage of Heck (DVD and Blu-ray) (2015)
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^ "Tim Walker: 'In Guitar Hero, a virtual
Kurt Cobain can appear on
stage with Bon Jovi'". The Independent. September 7, 2009. Retrieved
April 6, 2012.
^ Swash, Rosie (September 11, 2009). "
Kurt Cobain video game Guitar
Hero gives Love a bad name". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 6,
^ Prato, Greg. "
Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of
Music'". Toronto: ECW Press. Archived from the original on April 8,
2012. Retrieved April 8, 2012.
^ Prato, Greg (2009).
Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of
Music. Toronto: ECW Press. ISBN 1-55022877-3.
Grunge Is Dead' - An Interview with Greg Prato". UGO
Entertainment. April 29, 2009. Archived from the original on July 1,
2011. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
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Maker. Retrieved August 22, 2013. [permanent dead link]
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Courtney Love Says Nirvana's Rock Hall Induction Might Be 'Awkward'
– Video". Rolling Stone. February 12, 2014. Retrieved April 5,
Courtney Love Isn’t a Producer on
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Brett Morgen reveals first details of Kurt Cobain
documentary". Factmag.com. January 4, 2013. Retrieved December 5,
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Wikiquote has quotations related to: Kurt Cobain
Azerrad, Michael (1994). Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana.
Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-47199-8.
Burlingame, Jeff (2006). Kurt Cobain: Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind.
Enslow. ISBN 0-7660-2426-1.
Cross, Charles (2001). Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt
Cobain. Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-8402-9.
Cross, Charles (2008). Cobain Unseen. Little, Brown and Co.
Kitts, Jeff (1998). Guitar World Presents
Nirvana and the Grunge
Revolution. Hal Leonard. ISBN 0-7935-9006-X.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kurt Cobain.
Kurt Cobain at AllMusic
Kurt Cobain on IMDb
Kurt Cobain Equipment FAQ info on his guitars, amplifiers &
Official police reports into Cobain's death at The Smoking Gun
Alternative rock portal
MTV Unplugged in New York
From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah
Live at Reading
Sliver: The Best of the Box
With the Lights Out
Nevermind: The Singles
"Smells Like Teen Spirit"
"Come as You Are"
"All Apologies"/"Rape Me"
"About a Girl"
"You Know You're Right"
"On a Plain"
"All Apologies" (Unplugged)
"The Man Who Sold the World"
"Where Did You Sleep Last Night"
"Lake of Fire"
"Drain You" (live)
"Here She Comes Now/Venus in Furs"
"Puss/Oh, the Guilt"
"Do Re Mi"
"I Hate Myself and Want to Die"
"Something in the Way"
Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!
MTV Unplugged in New York
Live at Reading
Live at the Paramount
Live and Loud
Awards and nominations
"Smells Like Nirvana"
Frances Bean Cobain
Suicide of Kurt Cobain
12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief
Verse Chorus Verse
The No WTO Combo
Them Crooked Vultures
Queens of the Stone Age
Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana
Heavier Than Heaven
Letters to Kurt
Nevermind It's an Interview
The "Priest" They Called Him
Smells Like Bleach: A Punk Tribute to Nirvana
Newermind: A Tribute to Nirvana
In Utero, in Tribute, in Entirety
Doused in Mud, Soaked in Bleach
Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings
1991: The Year Punk Broke
Teen Spirit: The Tribute to Kurt Cobain
Kurt & Courtney
Nirvana – Nevermind
Nirvana – A Classic Album Under Review – In Utero
Kurt Cobain: About a Son
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Soaked in Bleach
Autopsy: The Last Hours of...Kurt Cobain
"Hold On to Me"
"You Know My Name"/"Wedding Day"
Dirty Blonde: The Diaries of Courtney Love
Not Bad for a Girl
Kurt & Courtney
The Return of Courtney Love
Hit So Hard
Montage of Heck
Faith No More
Babes in Toyland
24 Hours of Love
Frances Bean Cobain
The Endless Summer Tour
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