Kurt Donald Cobain (b. February 20, 1967) is an American musician. He was the frontman of the rock band Nirvana, serving as the band's guitarist, lead vocalist, and primary songwriter. Through his angst-fueled songwriting and anti-establishment persona, Cobain's compositions widened the thematic conventions of mainstream rock music. He is often heralded as a spokesman of Generation X and is considered to be one of the most influential musicians in the history of alternative rock.
Cobain formed the band Nirvana with Krist Novoselic and Aaron Burckhard in 1987 and established it as part of the Seattle music scene which later became known as grunge. After signing with major label DGC Records, Nirvana found global success with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from their critically acclaimed second album Nevermind (1991). Although Cobain was hailed as the voice of his generation following Nirvana's sudden success, he resented this, believing his message and artistic vision had been misinterpreted by the public. In addition to "Smells Like Teen Spirit", Cobain wrote many other notable songs for Nirvana, including "Come as You Are", "Lithium", "In Bloom", "Something in the Way", "Heart-Shaped Box", "All Apologies", "About a Girl", "Aneurysm" and "You Know You're Right".
Cobain was born at Grays Harbor Hospital in Aberdeen, Washington, on February 20, 1967, 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 in 1875.:7 Researchers found that they were shoemakers, originally surnamed "Cobane", who came from Inishatieve, a townland within Carrickmore. They first settled in Canada, where they lived in Cornwall, Ontario, before moving to Washington. Cobain himself mistakenly believed that his Irish ancestors 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 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 the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Donald Duck, in his bedroom.:11 He was encouraged by his grandmother, Iris Cobain, a professional artist.
Cobain developed an interest in music at a young age. 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 including 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 Monkees television show.:7
When Cobain was nine years old, his parents divorced.:20 He later said 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 said:
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 found new partners after the divorce. Although his father had promised not to remarry, he married Jenny Westeby, to Kurt's dismay.:24 Cobain, his father, Westeby, and her two children, Mindy and James, moved into a new household. 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 refused to press charges, remaining committed to the relationship.:26
Cobain behaved insolently toward adults during this period, and began bullying another boy at school. His father and Westeby took 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, 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 was described as "anti-God" rants. The song "Lithium" is about his experience while living with the Reed family. Religion remained 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 team, where Cobain would intentionally strike out to avoid playing.:20–25 Cobain befriended a gay student at school and was bullied by peers, 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 said, "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 remained friends with him. According to Cobain, 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.:68Cobain often drew during classes. He would draw objects, including those associated with the human anatomy.[further explanation needed] 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 Through art and electronics classes, Cobain met Roger "Buzz" Osborne, singer and guitarist of the Melvins, who became his friend and introduced him to punk rock and hardcore music.:35,36 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 live show he attended was the Melvins, which played a free concert outside the Thriftway supermarket where Osborne worked. Cobain wrote in his journals of this experience, as well as in interviews, singling out the impact it had on him.: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. Despite graduating Aberdeen High School, Cobain's relatively poor grades prevented him from obtaining a higher education. His mother gave him a choice: find employment or leave. Eventually Cobain landed a job working at the Aberdeen Kmart which he would work at until 1988. Around lunch breaks and on days when he wasn't working he would often visit a bridge at the Wishkah River the experiences would inspire the song "Something in the Way". His future bandmate Krist Novoselic later said, "Kurt once asked me if it was possible to live under the bridge. I told him you can definitely hang out there, but you would never be able to live on those muddy banks, with the tides coming up and down."
In late 1986, Cobain moved into an apartment with a co-worker from the Kmart Luka Evans the older brother of actress Riki Evans.:43 During this period, he traveled 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 relationship 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 Cobain wrote "About a Girl" about her until years later.:88–93:116–117:122:134–136:143:153
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, overwhelmed with anxiety caused by his infatuation with her. This event inspired the lyric "love you so much it makes me sick" in the song "Aneurysm".:152 While Cobain regarded Vail as his female counterpart, his relationship with her waned; he desired the maternal comfort of a traditional relationship, which Vail regarded as sexist within a countercultural punk rock community. Vail's lovers were described by her friend Alice Wheeler as "fashion accessories".:153 Cobain and Vail spent most of their time together 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 saying:
[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 inspired the lyrics of many of the songs on Nevermind. 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, interpreted the slogan as having a revolutionary meaning, and it inspired the title of the Nirvana song "Smells Like Teen Spirit".
Early musical projects
On his 14th birthday on February 20, 1981, Cobain's uncle offered him either a bike or a used guitar; Kurt chose the guitar. Soon, he was trying to play Led Zeppelin's song "Stairway to Heaven". He also learned how to play "Louie Louie", Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust", and the Cars' "My Best Friend's Girl", before he began working on his own songs. Cobain played left-handed, despite being forced to write right-handed.;22
In early 1985, Cobain formed Fecal Matter after graduating Aberdeen High School. One of "several joke bands" that arose from the circle of friends associated with the Melvins, it initially featured Cobain singing and playing guitar, Melvins drummer Dale Crover playing bass, and Greg Hokanson playing drums. They spent several months rehearsing original material and covers, including songs by The Ramones, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix. Fecal Matter disbanded in 1986, while the Melvins supported their debut EP, Six Songs.
During high school, Cobain rarely found anyone with whom he could play music. While hanging out at the Melvins' practice space, he met Krist Novoselic, a fellow devotee of punk rock. Novoselic's mother owned a hair salon, and the pair occasionally practiced 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 Fecal Matter.
Main article: Nirvana (band)
After months of asking, Novoselic finally agreed to join Cobain, forming the beginnings of Nirvana.;45 Religion appeared to remain a significant muse to Cobain during this time, as he often used Christian imagery in his work, and developed a budding interest in 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 and subsequently fired him which made the band in need of a new drummer. They eventually hired Dave Grohl who helped the band record their 1991 major-label debut, Nevermind. With Nevermind's lead single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit", Nirvana quickly entered the mainstream, popularizing a subgenre of alternative rock called "grunge". Since their debut, Nirvana has sold over 28 million albums in the United States 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 first half of the 1990s. Nirvana was considered the "flagship band of Generation X", and Cobain found himself reluctantly anointed by the media as the generation's "spokesman", though Cobain resented this, as he believed his message and artistic vision had been misinterpreted by the public.
Cobain struggled to reconcile the massive success of Nirvana with his underground roots and vision. He also felt persecuted by the media, comparing himself to Frances Farmer, whom he named a song after. 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 directed schools to teach that homosexuality was "abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse”. 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
Collaboration with other artists
In 1989, members of Nirvana and fellow American alternative rock band Screaming Trees formed a side project known as the Jury. The band featured Cobain on vocals and guitar, Mark Lanegan on vocals, Krist Novoselic on bass and Mark Pickerel on drums. Over two days of recording sessions, on August 20 and 28, 1989, the band recorded four songs also performed by Lead Belly; "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?", an instrumental version of "Grey Goose", "Ain't It a Shame" and "They Hung Him on a Cross"; the latter of which featured Cobain performing solo. Cobain was inspired to record the songs after receiving a copy of Lead Belly's Last Sessions from friend Slim Moon; after hearing it he "felt a connection to Leadbelly's almost physical expressions of longing and desire."
In 1992, Cobain contacted William S. Burroughs about a possible collaboration. Burroughs responded by sending him a recording of "The Junky's Christmas" (which he recorded in his studio in Lawrence, Kansas). Two months later at a studio in Seattle, Cobain added guitar backing based on "Silent Night" and "To Anacreon in Heaven". The two would meet shortly later in Lawrence, Kansas and produce "The "Priest" They Called Him", a spoken word version of "The Junky's Christmas".
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Legacy and influence
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Media on Cobain
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A Portrait of the Monarchs as Young Subjects (2026)
Kings That Never Were (2027)
The Obligatory Reconciliation of Extremes Presents: The Bourgeois Rulers (2028)
Hazy Vague Concept Album Album (2029)
Intentionally Formless Vision (2030)
Buddhist Peace Band in: Cleaning Material (2030)
Buddhist Peace Band in: The Submerged Youngling Generates Untold Riches (2031)
Buddhist Peace Band in: Nevermind the Bollocks Average Albums: Let's Make Everything a Story (2031)
Buddhist Peace Band in: Rejection of Complexity in a Complex Way (2032)
Buddhist Peace Band in: To Make Peace, We Must Go Forth and Parody (2032)
Buddhist Peace Band in: The Powerful Peace Band Parodies Itself Even Though It's Already a Parody (2033)
Buddhist Peace Band in: What The Hell Would a Reporter Say? (2033)
Beyond the Throne (2034)
Musical collaborations of Kurt Cobain
"Where Did You Sleep Last Night?"
In 1989, members of Nirvana and fellow band Screaming Trees formed a side project known as the Jury (a Lead Belly cover band)."Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" was later released on Mark Lanegan’s album, The Winding Sheet, in 1990. "Grey Goose", "Ain't It a Shame" and "They Hung Him on a Cross" were later released on Nirvana's B-sides collection, With the Lights Out, in 2004.
"Ain't It a Shame"
"They Hung Him on a Cross"
"Scratch It Out" / "Bikini Twilight"
The Go Team
The Winding Sheet
Background vocals on "Down in the Dark" and guitar on "Where Did You Sleep Last Night".
Lead vocals for song "Divine Bright Extraction" and backing vocals for "A Bureaucratic Desire For Revenge". Lead vocals for a cover song "Private Affair" (original by The Saints), but that was never released.
The "Priest" They Called Him
William S. Burroughs and Kurt Cobain
Background guitar noise.
Co-producer, Guitar on "Sky Pup" and percussion on "Spread Eagle Beagle".
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This page was last edited on 10 September 2036, at 05:01 (UTC).