This is an attempt at a somewhat more complete biography of Kurt Cobain. Of course, no amount of writing can describe the complex, angst-ridden character better than his music. This is (and probably always will be) a work in progress. I will be adding things here and there as I remember or read more. Please treat this as such. So, all right, then... here goes...
"There's definitely some pieces in there that reflect on my personal life, but really, they aren't as personal as everybody thinks they are. I would like them to be more personal. The emotions, the songs themselves are personal. I can't do it - I've tried to write personally and it just doesn't seem to work. It would be too obvious. Some things that you could read in could fit into anyone's life that had any amount of pain at all. It's pretty cliche."
Kurt Donald Cobain was born on February 20, 1967 in Aberdeen, WA, about an hour or two southwest of Seattle. His parents were blue-collar workers - his father, Don, was an auto mechanic, his mother, Wendy, was a waitress; the family lived in nearby Hoquiam, WA. Hard times forced the family to move to Aberdeen, WA in 1969. Aberdeen ran by its logging industry. Unfortunately, it was also a dying town - in the late 60s and early 70s, the industry was dying out in Aberdeen and the once-prosperous town was drying up. Aberdeen lay in one of the few counties in Washington that were declining in population. It is somewhat appropriate in retrospect that Aberdeen was the town Cobain was born in - for nearly three-quarters of his life, he would see nothing else of the world. Kurt Cobain literally put Aberdeen on the map.
"Aberdeen was nothing but rednecks and guns and booze."
Kurt's father was 21 when he was born; his mother was 19. Don Cobain worked for Chevron and he lived in a fading town where money was tight. Wendy Cobain spent the entire day taking care of her baby. He was 3 years old when his sister Kimberley was born. All in all, it was a good childhood for young Kurt. He was a good student, artistically-inclined and well-liked.
Life would change dramatically for Kurt when he was 7. Don and Wendy would divorce and Kurt simply could not understand why. In his heart of hearts, Kurt hoped that one day his parents would get back together - but they never did. Don Cobain certainly wanted to, but Wendy was never interested. An anguished Kurt asked his father to promise he would never marry again and Don promised. Despite this, Don became interested in and married someone. Kurt never forgave his father for this cardinal sin - he had lied to him.
As time would go on, Kurt would become increasingly anti-social. He was constantly on a twisting carousel that took him from one relative's house to another's. At age 11, Cobain and his best friend Krist Novoselic would hear the Sex Pistols for the first time. Immediately, the two would fall in love with punk music. Punk was the one saving grace in Cobain's life at the time. By the time he hit high school, he was worse than ever. He was caught spray-painting "QUEER" on some jock's pick-up truck. In the end, he dropped out of high school altogether. It was around this time that Kurt would later claim he lived under a bridge in Aberdeen. This story is completely false - there is no way anyone could have lived under that bridge. His own words may help explain why he made the story up:
"I really haven't had that exciting of a life. There are a lot of things I wish I would have done, instead of just sitting around and complaining about having a boring life. So I pretty much like to make it up. I'd rather tell a story about somebody else."
In 1985, Kurt worked at one of his only "real" jobs - as a lifeguard in the local YMCA. It was also around this time that the first signs of his narcolepsy and bipolar disorder became noticable, though nobody thought much of them. 1985 was also the year Kurt decided he was done with Aberdeen - he and Krist would move to the thriving music scene in Olympia and form a band. Krist and Kurt were the only two stable members of the band they eventually christened Nirvana (after abandoning such gems as Tededfred, Stiff Woodies, Throat Oysters, and Bliss). They recorded the 1986 Fecal Matter demo tape and passed it around Olympia. By 1988, Nirvana recorded their debut album on Sub Pop records, Bleach.
The name fit in more ways than many imagined. Bleach is the substance used to clean off used needles when injecting heroin into the bloodstream. (This will also help explain some lyrics in "Come as You Are".) Drugs would begin to play an increasingly important role in Kurt's life. In 1991, Nirvana - now with drummer Dave Grohl - was sought out by Geffen Records and signed with a mainstream record company. This flew in the face of everything Kurt believed in.
At the time, Kurt was in a community where the punk ethos as used as a banner to "fight the man". Earlier, Kurt was seeing Tobi Vail, the drummer of the band Bikini Kill. She was critical in his view of punk music, pretty much single-handedly forming his opinions for him. She was so domineering, in fact, that Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill's lead singer, would say, "Kurt smells like Teen Spirit", a women's deodorant that Vail wore. Years later, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" would go on to be Nirvana's most famous song. Much like the story of Green Day (if you happen to know it), Nirvana - and Kurt - were considered to have stepped across a line that labelled them "sellouts". The intrinsic struggle inside Kurt with the decision - music for the sake of music or music for the sake of money - spiralled him into further drug use.
"Punk is musical freedom. It's saying, doing and playing what you want. In Webster's terms, 'nirvana' means freedom from pain, suffering and the external world, and that's pretty close to my definition of Punk Rock."
In late 1991, Nirvana released Nevermind, the album that would change the music world - and Cobain - forever. It was an instant hit. At the time of production, Kurt was seeing Courtney Love. By early 1992, Kurt and Courtney would be married. With a tremendously successful record, fueled by MTV's love affair with "Smells Like Teen Spirit", life couldn't be better. Or so many thought.
"My generation's apathy. I'm disgusted with it. I'm disgusted with my own apathy too, for being spineless and not always standing up against racism, sexism and all those other -isms the counterculture has been whining about for years."
Kurt hated his success. He hated the commercialization of his music. Case in point, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a song about the uncaring, shallow youth of Kurt's generation. To a man who felt so deeply about his lyrics, what bigger blow could there be when that song becomes part of pop music, embraced by the very people it pokes fun at? He would go on to say about In Utero:
"I should just rerecord this record and do the same thing we did last year because we sold out last year - there's no reason to try to redeem ourselves as artists at this point. I can't help myself- I'm just putting out a record that I would like to listen to at home. I never listen to Nevermind. I haven't listened to it since we put it out. That says something. I can't stand that kind of production and I don't listen to bands that have that kind of production, no matter how good their songs are. It just bothers me."
The Downward Spiral (with all due apologies to Trent Reznor)
Even the birth of Frances Bean Cobain would not pull Kurt out of his downward spiral. Kurt was simply incapable of handling his own success - it wasn't part of any equation he had ever seen or contemplated. Kurt was even more disturbed by what he considered the misinterpretations of his lyrics. When he found out that "Polly", a strongly anti-rape song was sung by two men as they raped a little girl, he lashed out in the liner notes of Incesticide:
"If any of you don't like gays or women or blacks, please leave us the fuck alone."
Despite the later successes of 1992's Incesticide and 1993's In Utero (called Kurt's best songwriting to date), Cobain grew worse. He became a heroin addict. In a famous appearance on SNL, the band members found Kurt had nearly OD'ed and killed himself. The producers were worried if he could perform or not - as it turns out, the band DID perform, and if you go back and look at the performance, you will see the haunted, stoned mask that Cobain is wearing. (The performance is on several "Best Of SNL" tapes, from what I hear.)
In addition to his inability to handle being an icon to the very people he despised, Cobain's marriage was on shaky ground. His later, emotionally-intense songs like "All Apologies" and the beautiful "Heart-Shaped Box" would point it out as clearly as anything. Kurt's music always reflected where he was in life.
On March 4, 1994, in the middle of Nirvana's '93-'94 European tour, Kurt was rushed to a hospital. He had attempted to overdose and commit suicide, consuming 50 painkillers washed down with champagne. The band and the touring company called it an accident and not even close friends and family were notified.
"At the end of the last couple of months when I was doing $400 worth every day, I was definitely noticing things about my memory and I knew that eventually my health would start getting a lot worse. It sounds like I don't regret it and I don't, but that's because I used it as a tool. I used it as a medication to get rid of a pain. And that's the biggest reason why I did it. In that sense, I don't regret it, but anybody else who's going to get addicted to drugs are obviously going to fuck up their lives eventually. If it doesn't take a year, it will be next year. I've seen it happen with every person that gets strung out. Drugs are bad for you. They will fuck you up."
Several days later, Kurt was back in Seattle. Courtney convinced him to join the detox program in Los Angeles. A few days later, she filed a missing person's report pretending to be his mother. Kurt had run away.
On April 5, just over a month after his initial suicide attempt, Kurt was spotted in Seattle with a shotgun. This didn't set off any bells because Kurt was a known gun aficionado.
Later, an electrician came to his house to install a security system. When no one answered the door, he looked in the window and saw what he thought was a mannequin on the floor. Then, he noticed the small splash of blood near the "mannequin's" ear. When police came, they found Kurt Cobain, 27, dead of a shotgun blast to his chin and a suicide note on a counter next to him. (See also: Kurt Cobain's suicide note)
Many people blame Kurt Cobain's death on Courtney Love. These theories range from the possible to the asinine. There are also some who claim even more implausible conspiracies. You can find plenty of that on the Internet if you look for it. I won't put those down here (for now, but I might at some later date).
Many people hold Kurt up as a hero for our generation. He would like nothing more than to not be such a person. Kurt Cobain's music, his genius, and his vision of who we are was a singular thing. Everytime I play one of my Nirvana CD's, I am stunned by the level of personal association I have with the songs. Kurt Cobain is not my hero - I respect him too much to make him into my hero. Dave Grohl would go on to form a band called the Foo Fighters and they have a song that some say is about Kurt Cobain - it is called, appropriately enough, "My Hero". I would like to end this node with the lyrics to "My Hero".
Too alarming now to talk about
Take your pictures down and shake it out
Truth or consequence, say it aloud
Use that evidence, race it around
There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
Don't the best of them bleed it out
While the rest of them peter out
Kudos, my hero leaving all the best
You know my hero; the one that's on
Almost all (if not all) quotes are from: http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Club/1631/quotes.html
Every other piece of knowledge I have is stuff I have picked up ever since I became interested in Kurt Cobain so I can't give you specific sources but I will discuss them. I am sure I got a lot of the story from recent copies of GuitarWorld and Spin (I don't have them on me). I have also read the first few chapters of Heavier than Heaven, a recent biography by Charles R. Cross. Again, I didn't really look up any of this information but those sources stand out in my mind.