20 years on: the life of Kurt Cobain

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On the 8th April 1994, twenty years ago today, Kurt Cobain was found dead in his Seattle home with a shotgun pointing into his chin and a potentially lethal dose of heroin in his bloodstream. Believed to have died on the 5th, the death of the 27 year old was ruled without doubt as suicide. Around 7000 mourners went to a public candlelit vigil in the centre of Seattle, where parts of his suicide note were read out and some of his clothes were given to fans. Despite his death, the fame and success of his famous grunge band Nirvana and the frontman lives on, even for teenagers born after Cobain’s death. Fans still pay tribute to Cobain and gather on the anniversary of his death to celebrate his life.

Cobain said he had a relatively happy childhood until his parents divorced when he was eight years old. The traumatic split and the poverty he had endured in the struggling, working class logging town Aberdeen seems to be the cause of his manic depression and unhappiness in later life, even living in a car up until the overnight success of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. This influenced Cobain’s dark, brooding lyrics fuelled with angst that millions of fans would relate to, and his dark enigmatic performances sometimes featured a rasping voice: the pain he felt could truly be heard. Nirvana’s individual sound of grunge, raw punk and hard metal that featured dark lyrics drew in a huge crowd of fans, particularly when they released their second studio album Nevermind in 1991.

Drugs also had a large influence on Cobain’s life. Krist Novoselic, the bassist of Nirvana, described him as ‘really into getting fucked up: drugs, acid, any kind of drug’. Suffering from a chronic stomach condition, drugs were a release from the ongoing pain he felt and so he started smoking marijuana in 1980, aged 13, and taking heroin in 1986 which had developed into a fully fledged addiction by 1990. Band members remember times when they would find Cobain slumped in a corner after injecting heroin; it was like a safety-blanket for him. He himself explained that he happened to feel suicidal around the time of his fame and said in an interview ‘if I’m going to die I may as well take some drugs’. In the month before his death Cobain agreed to go on a drug detox programme, though by this point his drug abuse had become out of control.

kurt cobain familyEx-girlfriends of Cobain say that he had a hard time in relationships as he found it difficult to feel loved – he longed for the closeness and love he didn’t have with his parents, since his father remarried and started a new family and his mother, who was in an abusive relationship, forced him out of her house when he was a teenager. Cobain quickly became infatuated with women; when he met Tobi Vail from the band Bikini Kill, Cobain was said to have vomited as he was so completely overwhelmed with anxiety regarding his infatuation with her, inspiring the lyric ‘love you so much it makes me sick’ in the song ‘Aneurysm’. Cobain met his wife Courtney Love in 1990 and together they had a child, Francis Bean Cobain, in 1992.

When recordings started in 1988, Nirvana, and in particular Kurt Cobain, were suddenly catapulted into fame and success. Despite having already mapped out his career, the sudden success was overwhelming to Kurt. He didn’t like the pressure of the fame and the fact that it didn’t sort out the other issues in his life, while it annoyed him that people put too much meaning into the lyrics of the songs. Cobain just wanted his music to be heard. Cobain also resented how he couldn’t go anywhere unnoticed – particularly that he couldn’t just be part of the audience. He felt that he couldn’t live as a big rock star and so couldn’t lie to his fans by trying to be one.

come as you areDespite his rocky history there is no doubt that Kurt Cobain influenced millions of people through his music, from the first success of Nirvana to the present day. His iconic voice, ingenious riffs and thought provoking lyrics are continually popular and the meanings behind his words are still up for debate. The band Nirvana has captivated millions of people; they are one of the best-selling bands of all time, having sold over 75 million records worldwide. Their album Nevermind has sold over 30 million copies, making it one of the best-selling albums ever. As well as consistently being ranked as one of the best rock bands with some of the best music of all time, Nirvana has been awarded four Multi-Platinum, four Platinum, two Gold and one Silver certified albums in the UK. On 10th April this year Nirvana is set to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The iconic rock legend Kurt Cobain and the music he created will continue to live on more than 20 years after his death and the huge impact he has had on the rock genre will forever be remembered.

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