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Kurt Cobain

Kurt Donald Cobain was born on 20 February 1967 at Grays Harbor Hospital, in Aberdeen, Washington, USA.  His younger sister, Kimberly, was born on 24 April 1970.  The Cobain’s ancestors were shoemakers who emigrated to the USA from Carrickmore, in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland in 1875 although his mother, Wendy, was a waitress and his father, Donald, was a car mechanic.

There was music in the family though, as his uncle Chuck was a member of a band called the Beachcombers and his aunt Mari Earle played the guitar and was a member of various local bands.  There was even an Irish tenor in their past who had a part in a 1930 movie called King of Jazz. 

It was obvious that Kurt had talent very early on, but it didn’t seem that it was going to be for music as he exhibited more of an interest in art as he took pleasure in drawing his favourite film and cartoon characters.  However, although his artistic skills were encouraged by his Aunt Mari, Kurt soon started to take an interest in music and at the age of only four, he wrote a song about a trip to the park and started to play the piano. 

When Kurt Cobain was nine years old, his parents, Wendy and Donald divorced which he later said had a huge effect on him, even going as far as to say he was ashamed of his parents.  His personality also changed, and the kind and caring child became withdrawn and defiant.  When his parents found new partners, Kurt became abusive and bullied another boy at school.  This all eventually got too much for his father who had sole custody of Kurt.  He handed him over to the care of friends and family, one of whom was a born-again Christian called Jesse Reed.  It was at this point that religion in one form or another became an important part of Kurt’s life. 

At school, Kurt became friends with Roger Osborne who was a singer and guitarist with the Melvins and who introduced him to punk rock and hard-core music.  According to Cobain, the first live music event he attended was when he attended a free concert put on by the Melvins at a local supermarket.  This had a profound impact on him, and he started attending punk rock shows in Seattle. 

On 20 February 1981, for his 14th birthday, Kurt Cobain was offered the choice of either a bike or a used guitar by his uncle.  He chose the guitar and immediately set about learning to play songs like Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and other songs by Queen and The Cars. 

He had also started to hang out with Krist Novoselic at school who was also into the punk rock scene and the pair would sometimes practice playing music together above the hair salon that Novoselic’s mother owned. 

During his second year at high school, Kurt lived with his mother but when he dropped out after realising that he wasn’t going to graduate, she gave him an ultimatum, get a job, or leave.  After a week he found himself homeless and spent some time living under a bridge over the Wishkah River. 

At around this time Kurt Cobain met Tracy Marander and the pair started a relationship.  She supported them both on the meagre wage she received at a cafeteria.  There were many arguments, mainly about money as she insisted that he get a job to help support them, but he would spend most of his time working on art projects.  His experience at this time resulted in him writing the song About a Girl which appears on Nirvana’s album Bleach. 

After Kurt Cobain and Tracy Marander split, he started seeing a riot grrrl punk called Tobi Vail who was a member of the band Bikini Kill.  They made music together, writing songs and recording them on Vail’s father’s four-track tape machine.  At one point another member of Bikini Kill sprayed the slogan Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit on the wall of Cobain’s apartment.  Cobain thought it was a great revolutionary slogan, not knowing that it referred to the Teen Spirit deodorant that Vail wore.  It nevertheless inspired the title of one of Nirvana’s most famous songs, Smells Like Teen Spirit. 

All through this period, Kurt Cobain had remained friends with Krist Novoselic and after months of trying to persuade him to form a band with him, Novoselic finally agreed.  This was the beginning of what became Nirvana.

Sometime around the end of the 1980s or the beginning of the 1990s, Kurt Cobain met Courtney Love and although he was adamant that he wanted to be a bachelor for a while, by late 1991 the pair were starting to spend a lot of time together, often bonding through a shared interest in drug use.  Kurt Cobain himself had regularly indulged in all sorts of drugs from the age of about 13.  He first used heroin in 1986 and by the end of 1990, he was already addicted.   

The first couple of years of Nirvana were not very rewarding. The band struggled to draw suitable crowds and they couldn’t settle on a regular drummer. Initially, they went with Chad Channing who recorded the album Bleach with Cobain and Novoselic, but eventually, he was fired as they weren’t happy with his style.  Eventually Dave Grohl was hired, and he featured on their 1991 album Nevermind. That album propelled Nirvana into the mainstream.  The lead single on the album, Smells Like Teen Spirit helped Nirvana sell 28 million copies of Nevermind in the United States alone, 75 million copies were sold worldwide.

However, this massive success didn’t sit well with Cobain who struggled with what he felt to be persecution by the media, and he resented the fans who didn’t seem to get the band’s political and social views.  Kurt Cobain was a vocal opponent of racism, homophobia and sexism and was a public supporter of pro-choice which led to him receiving death threats from a minority of anti-abortionist activists.  He once said that any people who were racist, homophobic, or sexist should do the band a favour and leave them alone and that they shouldn’t buy their music or go to their concerts.  Cobain was often quizzed about his sexuality and was quoted as saying that if it wasn’t for meeting and falling in love with Courtney Love, he probably would have had a bisexual lifestyle. 

On 24 February 1992 after Nirvana’s Pacific Rim tour had ended, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love were married.  The ceremony took place on Waikiki beach, Hawaii with eight people in attendance, one of whom was Dave Grohl.  On 18 August 1992, the couple’s daughter, Frances Bean Cobain was born.

Kurt Cobain’s first brush with death came when he accidentally overdosed after injecting heroin after Nirvana’s appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1992.  He was resuscitated by Courtney Love.  A similar thing happened again before Nirvana were due to perform at the New Music Seminar on 23 July 1993.  Instead of calling an ambulance, Courtney Love injected him with naloxone. Cobain regained consciousness and performed with the band as if nothing had happened. 

In early 1994 Kurt Cobain’s behaviour started to deteriorate and according to Courtney Love, he made his first suicide attempt when he overdosed on champagne and Rohypnol.  This time Love had no choice but to call an ambulance.  On 18 March the same year, she had to call the police because Cobain had locked himself in a room with a gun.  When the police arrived, they confiscated several guns and eventually talked him out of the room with Cobain insisting that he wasn’t suicidal. 

Eventually, Courtney Love arranged an intervention because of Cobain’s excessive drug use and he checked into the Exodus Recovery Centre on 30 March 1994.  He spent the night playing with his daughter and acting normally although the staff at the centre were not aware of his previous negative state of mind.  The following night he said he was going out for a cigarette and climbed a six-foot fence, took a taxi to the airport, and flew back to Seattle.  Over the next few days, he was spotted in various locations around Seattle although most of his friends and family didn’t have a clue where he was, with Courtney Love even hiring a private detective to find him. 

On 8 April, Kurt Cobain’s body was found by an electrician who had come to install a security system at Cobain’s Lake Washington Boulevard home.  Initially believing him to be asleep, he didn’t think anything was wrong until he saw the shotgun.  Large amounts of heroin and diazepam were also found in his system.  The coroner’s report estimated that Kurt Cobain had died on 5 April 1994. He was 27 years old.  Although a public vigil was held on 10 April 1994 which was attended by around 7000 mourners, a final ceremony was arranged by his mother on 31 May 1999 in Olympia, Washington.  Both Courtney Love and Tracy Marander attended, and Frances Bean Cobain scattered her father’s ashes into McLane Creek.

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