Kurt Donald Cobain (February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994) was the lead singer and guitarist of the grunge band Nirvana, which also included bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl.
Cobain was highly influential, popularizing what came to be known as grunge music - a style that evolved in part as a reaction against the perceived superficiality of 1980s stadium rock and over-the-top metal bands (Hair Metal) with preened images and elaborate stage shows. His best known song is "Smells Like Teen Spirit", which was often referred to by the media as an anthem for Generation X. Among other well known Cobain songs are "Lithium", "In Bloom", "Come As You Are", "Heart Shaped Box", "All Apologies", and the highly controversial "Rape Me".
Cobain was born in Grays Harbor Community Hospital, Aberdeen, Washington, USA and spent his early years in Hoquiam, Washington and Montesano, Washington, after his parents, Wendy and Donald, divorced. He moved to the Seattle area in 1985.
As a teenager with a chaotic home life growing up in small town Washington, Cobain took part in the thriving Pacific Northwest alternative culture, going to punk rock shows in Seattle and forming a lifelong friendship with fellow Montesano musicians The Melvins, whose music heavily influenced Nirvana's sound. He had a small "K" inside a shield tattooed on his forearm, the insignia of Olympia, Washington, label K Records, largely chosen for the coincidental ellipsis of his name.
At school Cobain didn't take much interest in academics or sports, mostly focusing on his art courses. He was an outspoken supporter of gay students at his school, sometimes suffering physically at the hands of homophobic students for his beliefs. (Although he once claimed in an interview with The Advocate that he was arrested for spray-painting a pro-gay slogan on a bank, Aberdeen police records show the phrase he was arrested for in 1985 was actually "Ain't got no how watchamacallit.")
It has been rumored that Cobain was gay or bisexual; however, Cobain himself said numerous times that he was heterosexual. In a February, 1991, interview with gay magazine The Advocate, Cobain admitted that he thought he was gay while in high school and stated, "I could be bisexual... If I wouldn't have found Courtney, I probably would have carried on with a bisexual lifestyle." In his journals he wrote that he was heterosexual, but wished he was gay just "to piss off homophobes". Riding on the success of the recently released video to "Teen Spirit" Nirvana appeared on Saturday Night Live in February 1992. At the end of the show when actors and guests thank the crowd and close the show, Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic french kissed as the credits rolled. The video was cut from the show in syndication and never aired again.
In his youth, Cobain spent a lot of time reading in the local library, discovering such literary figures as William S. Burroughs, whose cut-up technique Cobain later utilised to write lyrics for some of Nirvana's songs. Cobain also later recorded with Burroughs a spoken word/guitar improvisation piece called The Priest They Called Him, whose words were originally one of Burroughs' short stories out of The Exterminator. Other literary works which provide illumination on Cobain's philosophy also include Perfume, by Patrick Suskind, and the SCUM Manifesto, by Valerie Solanas.
Before dropping out of high school Cobain met fellow punk rock devotee Krist Novoselic, with whom he would later form what would become Nirvana. After 4 years of playing in the band, Nirvana exploded into the mainstream.
Cobain struggled to reconcile the massive success of his band with his underground roots. He also felt persecuted by people, especially the media, comparing himself to Frances Farmer, and harbored no small amount of resentment for people who claimed to be fans of the band but believed in nothing that Nirvana stood for or what it came from.
On Monday 24 February, 1992 at a ceremony on Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, Cobain married Courtney Love, lead singer of the band Hole. Later that year the two had a daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, born on 18 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.
Cobain was also a devoted champion of alternative rock acts. He would often make reference to his favourite bands in interviews, more often than not placing a greater importance on the bands that influenced him than on his own music. Making references to obscure performers like The Vaselines, Daniel Johnston, The Meat Puppets, Young Marble Giants and The Raincoats as well as sharing a split single with American rockers The Jesus Lizard, proved beneficial to both parties in that the bands found a larger audience and Cobain cemented his indie rock credibility. Both The Raincoats and The Vaselines records were reissued by Nirvana's record company Geffen Records and Curt and Kris Kirkwood from the Meat Puppets appeared with Nirvana on Nirvana's MTV Unplugged special, playing on three Meat Puppets covers. The set also featured cover versions of the aforementioned Vaselines as well as legendary bluesman Leadbelly.
Addiction and death
Throughout most of his adolescent life, Cobain had battled depression and pain due to a chronic stomach condition. Because of stomach problems he blamed on the stresses of performing, he self-medicated by use of heroin. This use developed into an addiction, which he battled until his death on April 5, 1994 at the age of 27. Cobain is widely believed and is legally recognized to have committed suicide with a shotgun his best friend Dylan Carlson bought for him. Dylan Carlson was rumored to be the inspiration for the song "In Bloom". Kurt Cobain's body was discovered three days later in his home by an electrician who he had commissioned to install security lighting. Toxicology experts have stated that even though Cobain's tolerance level was extremely high, the amount of heroin injected into his body would have been enough to kill him (225 mg, three times the lethal dosage for an addict, 75 times the lethal dosage for a non-user). His death triggered several copycat suicides, and the unclear circumstances surrounding it inspired a multitude of conspiracy theories stemming from the investigations of detective Tom Grant.
Grant was hired by Courtney Love following Cobain's disappearance from a hospital in which he was recovering from an apparent suicide attempt, and now claims Cobain was murdered by Love. Filmmaker Nick Broomfield made a documentary film on this theory entitled Kurt & Courtney.
Before he died, Cobain left a note that is considered by most to be a suicide note. The conspiracy theories allege that the suicide note was actually a letter he was writing about his intent to leave Nirvana, and the authenticity of the last four lines has been questioned by many handwriting experts. In the note, Cobain quoted a lyric from Neil Young's song "My My, Hey Hey": "It's better to burn out than to fade away." Cobain's use of the lyric had a profound impact on Young, who recorded portions of the Sleeps With Angels album in Cobain's memory. Ironically, Kurt and friends made a film tentatively titled The Horror Movies in which Kurt is seen slitting his throat and wrist with a fake knife. Kurt adressed the note to his imaginary friend from childhood, "Boddah". His mother told Kurt that Boddah was drafted to Vietnam along with Kurt's uncle in order to help Kurt's imagination. Kurt didn't buy it and thought he heard Boddah speaking to him through a tape recorder.
Kurt Cobain was cremated, with one third of his ashes scattered in a Buddhist temple in New York, another third in the Wishkah River, Washington State, and the rest in the possession of Courtney Love.
Many attribute some of Cobain's extraordinary abilities (and his suicide) to his being affected by bipolar disorder, commonly known as manic depression.
After Cobain's death
Writer Charles R. Cross published a biography of Cobain titled Heavier Than Heaven in 2001. A year later, a collection of Cobain's journal excerpts was released. Years after his passing, the musician continues to intrigue and inspire fans, most recently with the release of a new track "You Know You're Right" in the fall of 2002, along with a greatest hits album, called simply, Nirvana. The release of both had been held up by legal wrangling between Love, who didn't want the album to be released, and the remaining members of the band. After legal battles a Nirvana Box Set, "With The Lights Out" was released in 2004 including previously unreleased material. Kurt's bandmates went on to form new bands. Novoselic made an unsuccessful band called Sweet 75 , then formed an equally unsuccessful supergroup with ex-members of The Meat Puppets and Sublime by the name of Eyes Adrift, but Grohl went on to form the hugely successful Foo Fighters.
In 2005, a sign was put up in Aberdeen, Washington that reads "Welcome to Aberdeen- Come As You Are" as a tribute to Cobain.
The movie Last Days is based on Kurt. It is directed by Gus Van Sant and will be released in October 2005.