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Kurt Cobain

 

           
There is nothing that catapults a celebrity to legendary status like an unexpected and much-publicized death. Such is the case for Kurt Cobain. His rapid ascension to rock god coupled with his charisma, song-writing ability and sudden demise add up to him having a cult-like following to this day. The Seattle based guitarist/singer/song writer has been the basis for more speculation, rumor and conspiracy theories than perhaps anyone outside of Elvis.
 
Cobain’s beginning was inauspicious enough; born in Aberdeen, Washington to two hard working parents Donald and Wendy Cobain. The defining moment of Cobain’s childhood happened in 1975 when his parents divorced. Eight year old Kurt was crushed and his personality was drastically altered as he became much more withdrawn and introspective. In a 1993 interview Kurt had this to say about the divorce of his parents, "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 the divorce Kurt spent a year living with his mother then a few years living with his father. He became increasingly rebellious and Kurt soon found himself being shuttled between family and friends for the majority of his teenage years. He dropped out of Aberdeen high school two weeks before his class’s graduation after realizing he didn’t have enough credits to graduate. His mother kicked him out of the house when Kurt refused to get a job resulting in him being homeless for most of the next year. In 1986 he moved into his own place and paid the rent by working at a coastal resort. In his free time he would drive up to Olympia, Washington and take in rock shows.
 
Kurt showed an affinity for music from a very early age. His mother can remember him singing Beatles tunes from the age of 2. When Kurt turned 14 his uncle asked him if he wanted a bicycle or a guitar. Kurt chose the guitar and soon was able to play covers of rock anthems like AC/DC “Back in Black”. In 1985 Cobain formed his first band. Named Fecal Matter, the band consisted of Kurt on guitar and vocals, Dale Crover on bass, and Greg Hokanson on drums. Hokanson soon left the band and Buzz Osborne joined the cast. The band recorded one demo tape before disbanding in 1986. Osborne and Crover became the founding members of a sledge-metal band called the Melvins. Cobain auditioned to be the guitarist for the Melvins but was rejected.
 
While hanging out at the Melvins practice space, Cobain met fellow guitarist and punk rock aficionado Krist Novoselic. The two formed an immediate connection and soon began jamming in the room above Novoselic’s mother’s hair salon. Cobain asked Novoselic to form a band with him but was initially rebuffed. It wasn’t until Krist listened to the demo tape Cobain had recorded with Fecal Matter that Novoselic consented to playing the bass in Cobain’s new band. The duo employed a rotating cast of drummers for the first few years of the band’s existence. The band also went through names every month or so: Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew, Ted Ed Fred. They eventually settled on Nirvana for a name and Chad Channing as the drummer.
 
Nirvana was now ready to cut its first album, Bleach. Bleach was recorded on a Seattle independent record label Sub Pop Records. The Melvins, 1980s punk rock, the Pixies and 1970s hard rock legends like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, heavily influenced it. Bleach was an underground success garnering play on college radio stations around the country. In April, 1990 Nirvana began working on a follow-up to Bleach. During these sessions Cobain grew disenchanted with his drummer; Channing was fired and the search for a new drummer began. Buzz Osborne introduced Cobain and Novoselic to Dave Grohl, who had been the drummer for hard rock band Scream before they broke up. Cobain and Novoselic auditioned Grohl who immediately made an impression on the two. Novoselic later said, “We knew in two minutes that he was the right drummer.”
 
Cobain became disillusioned with the limited distribution of Sub Pop Records and began searching for a major label deal. On the strength of the recommendation of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Nirvana got an offer from DGC Records in 1990. The band chose Butch Vig to work as the producer and went to his studio in Van Nuys, California to record. After the recording session the band and Vig set out to mix the album. This initial mixing was deemed unsatisfactory by the band. The project was behind schedule so Slayer mixer Andy Wallace was brought in to do the final mix. Nevermind was released in 1990 to little fanfare.
 
Unbeknownst to many record executives; music fans of the early 90s were fed up with the glam, arena and hair-metal rock they had been spoon-fed for the past decade. It was time for a new sound and image to pervade their collective consciousness. That new sound and image manifested itself in the powerful guitar riffs, raw emotion and “grungy” attire of Cobain and Nirvana. The first single off Nevermind, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” seemed to resonate with everyone who listened to it or saw the music video on MTV. The single propelled the album to unthinkable heights. By Christmas 1991 it was selling 400,000 copies a week. On January 11, 1992 Nevermind replaced Michael Jackson’s Dangerous as the number one record on the Billboard Top-100. When Nevermind hit the tope spot Billboard declared, “Nirvana is that rare band that has everything: critical acclaim, industry respect, pop radio appeal, and a rock-solid college/alternative base.”
 
In February, 1992 Cobain wed Hole lead singer Courtney Love. That year produced a couple of memorable concert sets including the band headlining at the Reading Festival in England and playing at the MTV Music Awards. In 1993 Nirvana went back into the studio to record their next album, In Utero. It debuted at number one in September, 1993. It was well received by critics but failed to achieve the same lofty success as Nevermind. In 1993 the band recorded a set for MTV Unplugged which became the last recording Nirvana and Kurt Cobain would make.
 
In 1994, while on tour in Europe, Cobain became comatose due to a reaction between the prescription drug Rohypnol and alcohol. His wife had to rush him to the hospital to have his stomach pumped. Love would later say that it was Kurt’s first attempt at taking his own life. Many involved with the incident, including the treating physician, have said they never thought it was a suicide attempt. Either way it was obvious Kurt’s drug use was spiraling out of control.
 
Cobain’s wife Love organized an intervention on March 25, 1994. He was reluctant at first but eventually his wife, band mates and close friends convinced Cobain to go to a rehab clinic. However, after only one day at the detox center, Cobain walked outside jumped the fence and took off. The following week he was spotted sporadically around Seattle but those close to him never knew for sure where he was. That is until April 8 when an electrician, hired by Love to install a security system, discovered Cobain’s body in his garage. He died of a seemingly self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head.
 
Much has been made about the circumstances surrounding Cobain’s death. Tom Grant, a private eye who was hired by Courtney Love to find Cobain after his escape from the rehab center, believes that Kurt did not commit suicide and instead was murdered. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Cobain’s long-time friend, also suspects foul play. The Seattle police department is satisfied that it is suicide so the case is likely to stay closed.
 
Nirvana’s musical influences are numerous and varied. Cobain was a devoted fan of the underground punk movement. Interviews with Kurt were often littered with references to obscure punk bands like The Vaselines, The Meat Puppets, Young Marble Giants, Flipper, Butthole Surfers, Captain Beefheart and the Raincoats.  In particular the Melvins, the band that once rejected him as a member, and the Pixies were big influences on Cobain. The Beatles were an influence on young Kurt. He especially had an affinity for John Lennon who he referred to as his idol. Despite Kurt’s worship of punk music Nevermind sounds much more like the major rock bands of the 70s: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. Nirvana habitually performed covers of songs by bands like  Zeppelin and KISS. After they released Nevermind, Nirvana used its considerable industry clout to promote obscure indie rock acts like The Jesus Lizard.  
 
For the short time he was in the public eye Kurt Cobain was the face and voice of teenage angst and rebellion. He single-handedly ushered in the era of grunge/alternative rock that was prevalent in the 90’s and in the process his band sold over 50 million albums worldwide. It is wretched irony that the same anger and despair he conveyed in his music, the emotion that made Nirvana world-famous, haunted his personal life and ultimately led to his demise. He died at the age of 27, coincidently the same age that rock legends Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison passed away. Cobain certainly belongs with these giants of popular culture as a story of tragic genius.  

  

     

Eddie Van Halen
Joe Satriani
Eric Johnson
Steve Vai
Paul Gilbert
Jimmy Page
Randy Rhoads
Kurt Cobain
Kirk Hammett
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Yngwie Malmsteen
Slash
Robert Johnson
Pete Townsend
Jerry Garcia
Bo Diddley
Jeff Beck
Duane Allman
Jimmy Hendrix
BB King
John Frusciante
Joe Perry
George Harrison
Santana
Chuck Berry
Eric Clapton
Dimebag Darrell
 
 
 
 
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