Kurt Cobain, His Life
Kurt Cobain was born to Donald and Wendy Cobain on February 20, 1967 in Aberdeen, Washington and spent his first six months living in the village of Hoquiam, Washington before the family moved to Aberdeen. He began developing an interest in music early in his life. According to his Aunt Mari, "He was singing from the time he was two. He would sing Beatles songs like 'Hey Jude'. He had a lot of charisma from a very young age."
Cobain's life changed at the age of seven when his parents divorced in 1975, an event which he later cited as having a profound impact on his life. His mother noted that his personality changed dramatically, with Cobain becoming more withdrawn. In a 1993 interview, Cobain 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." After a year spent living with his mother following the divorce, Cobain moved to Montesano, Washington to live with his father, but after a few years his youthful rebellion became too overwhelming and he found himself being shuffled between friends and family.
At school, Cobain took little interest in sports. At his father's insistence, Cobain joined the junior high wrestling team. While he was good at it, he despised it. Later, his father signed him up for a local baseball league, where Cobain would intentionally strike out to avoid having to play. Instead, Cobain focused on his art courses. He often drew during classes, including objects associated with human anatomy. Cobain was friends with a gay student at his school, sometimes suffering bullying at the hands of homophobic students. That friendship led some to believe that he himself was gay. In one of his personal journals, Cobain wrote, "I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes." In a 1993 interview with The Advocate, Cobain claimed that he used to spray paint "God is Gay" on pickup trucks around Aberdeen. Cobain also claimed he was arrested in 1985 for spray-painting "HOMO SEX RULES" on a bank. However, Aberdeen police records show that the phrase for which he was arrested was actually "Ain't got no how watchamacallit". As a teenager growing up in small-town Washington, Cobain eventually found escape through the thriving Pacific Northwest punk scene, going to punk rock shows in Seattle. Eventually, Cobain began frequenting the practice space of fellow Montesano musicians the Melvins.
In the middle of tenth grade, Cobain moved back to live with his mother in Aberdeen. Two weeks before his graduation, Cobain dropped out of high school after realizing that he did not have enough credits to graduate. His mother gave him a choice: either get a job or leave. After a week or so, Cobain found his clothes and other belongings packed away in boxes. Forced out of his mother's home, Cobain often stayed at friends' houses and sneaked into his mother's basement occasionally. Cobain later claimed that when he could not find anywhere else to stay, he lived under a bridge over the Wishkah River, an experience that inspired the Nevermind track "Something in the Way". However, Krist Novoselic claimed that Cobain never really lived there, saying, "He hung out there, but you couldn't live on those muddy banks, with the tides coming up and down. That was his own revisionism."
In late 1986, Cobain moved into the first house he lived in alone and paid his rent by working at a coastal resort twenty miles from Aberdeen. At the same time, Cobain was traveling more frequently to Olympia, Washington to check out rock shows. During his visits to Olympia, Cobain started a relationship with Tracy Marander.
For his 14th birthday, Cobain's uncle gave him the option of a guitar or a bicycle as a gift; Cobain chose the guitar. He started learning a few covers, including AC/DC's "Back in Black" and The Cars' "My Best Friend's Girl", and soon began working on his own songs.
In high school, Cobain rarely found anyone to jam with. 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 Cobain and Novoselic would occasionally practice in the upstairs room. 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 Cobain's earlier band, Fecal Matter. After months of asking, Novoselic finally agreed to join Cobain, forming the beginnings of Nirvana.
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, leading the band to seek out a replacement, eventually settling on Dave Grohl. With Grohl, the band found their greatest success via their 1991 major-label debut, Nevermind.
Cobain struggled to reconcile the massive success of Nirvana with his underground roots. He also felt persecuted by the media, comparing himself to Frances Farmer, and harbored resentment for people who claimed to be fans of the band but who completely missed the point of the band's message. One incident particularly distressing to Cobain involved two men who raped a woman while singing the Nirvana song "Polly". Cobain condemned the episode in the liner notes of the US release of the album Incesticide: "Last year, a girl was raped by two wastes of sperm and eggs while they sang the lyrics to our song 'Polly.' I have a hard time carrying on knowing there are plankton like that in our audience. Sorry to be so anally P.C. but that's the way I feel."
Courtney Love first saw Cobain perform in 1989 at a show in Portland, Oregon; the pair talked briefly after the show and Love developed a crush on him. According to journalist Everett True, the pair were formally introduced at an L7/Butthole Surfers concert in Los Angeles in May 1991. In the weeks that followed, after learning from Grohl that she and Cobain shared mutual crushes, Love began pursuing Cobain. After a few weeks of on-again, off-again courtship in the fall of 1991, the two found themselves together on a regular basis, often bonding through drug use.
Around the time of Nirvana's 1992 performance on Saturday Night Live, Love discovered that she was pregnant with Cobain's child. A few days after the conclusion of Nirvana's Pacific Rim tour, on Monday, February 24, 1992, Cobain married Love on Waikiki Beach, Hawaii. "In the last couple months I've gotten engaged and my attitude has changed drastically," Cobain said in an interview with Sassy magazine. "I can't believe how much happier I am. At times I even forget that I'm in a band, I'm so blinded by love. I know that sounds embarrassing, but it's true. I could give up the band right now. It doesn't matter, but I'm under contract." On August 18, the couple's daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, was born. The unusual middle name was given to her because Cobain thought she looked like a kidney bean on the first sonogram he saw of her. Her namesake is Frances McKee of British band The Vaselines and not Frances Farmer as is sometimes reported.
Love was somewhat unpopular with Nirvana fans; her harshest critics said she was merely using him as a vehicle to make herself famous. Critics who compared Cobain to John Lennon were also fond of comparing Love to Yoko Ono. Rumors persist that Cobain wrote most of the songs on the breakthrough album Live Through This of Love's band Hole, partially fueled by the 1996 appearance of a rough mix of "Asking for It" with Cobain singing backing vocals. However, there is no specific evidence to support the assertion.
At the same time, one song by Hole was discovered to be a song originally written by Nirvana. The song "Old Age" appeared as a B-side on the 1993 single for Beautiful Son, credited to Hole. Initially, there was no reason to believe it was anything other than a Hole-penned song. However, in 1998, a boombox recording of the song performed by Nirvana (with significantly different lyrics) was surfaced by Seattle newspaper The Stranger. In the article that accompanied the clip, Novoselic confirmed that the recording was made in 1991 and that "Old Age" was a Nirvana song, leading to more speculation about Cobain's involvement in Hole's catalog. Nirvana had even attempted to record "Old Age" during the sessions for Nevermind, but it was left incomplete as Cobain had yet to finish the lyrics and the band had run out of studio time. (The incomplete recording appeared on the 2004 compilation With the Lights Out, credited to Cobain.) As for Hole's version, guitarist Eric Erlandson noted that he believed Cobain wrote the music for the song, but that Love had written the lyrics for their version.
In a 1992 article in Vanity Fair, Love admitted to using heroin while (unknowingly) pregnant. Love claimed that Vanity Fair had misquoted her, but her admission created controversy for the couple. While Cobain and Love's romance had always been something of a media attraction, the couple found themselves hounded by tabloid reporters after the article was published, many wanting to know if Frances was addicted to drugs at birth. The Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services took the Cobains to court, claiming that the couple's drug usage made them unfit parents. Two-week-old Frances Bean Cobain was ordered by the judge to be taken from their custody and placed with Courtney's sister Jamie for several weeks, after which the couple obtained custody, but had to submit to urine tests and a regular visit from a social worker. After months of legal wrangling, the couple were eventually granted full custody of their daughter.
Throughout most of his life, Cobain battled chronic bronchitis and intense physical pain due to an undiagnosed chronic stomach condition. This last condition was especially debilitating to his emotional welfare, and he spent years trying to find its source. However, none of the doctors he consulted were able to pinpoint the specific cause, guessing that it was either a result of Cobain's childhood scoliosis or related to the stresses of performing.
His first drug experience was with marijuana in 1980 at age 14. Cobain's first experience with heroin occurred sometime in 1986, administered to him by a local drug dealer in Tacoma, Washington, who had previously been supplying him with Percodan. Cobain used heroin sporadically for several years, but, by the end of 1990, his use had developed into a full-fledged addiction. Cobain claimed that he was "determined to get a habit" as a way to self-medicate his stomach condition. Related Cobain, "It started with three days in a row of doing heroin and I don't have a stomach pain. That was such a relief."
His heroin use eventually began affecting the band's support of Nevermind, with Cobain passing out during photo shoots. One memorable example came the day of the band's 1992 performance on Saturday Night Live, where Nirvana had a shoot with photographer Michael Levine. Having shot up beforehand, Cobain nodded off several times during the shoot. Regarding the shoot, Cobain related to biographer Michael Azerrad, "I mean, what are they supposed to do? They're not going to be able to tell me to stop. So I really didn't care. Obviously to them it was like practicing witchcraft or something. They didn't know anything about it so they thought that any second, I was going to die." Cobain also overdosed on the same night, after performing on Saturday Night Live.
Cobain's heroin addiction worsened as the years progressed. Cobain made his first attempt at rehab in early 1992, not long after he and Love discovered they were going to become parents. Immediately after leaving rehab, Nirvana embarked on their Australian tour, with Cobain appearing pale and gaunt while suffering through withdrawals. Not long after returning home, Cobain's heroin use resurfaced.
Prior to a performance at the New Music Seminar in New York City in July 1993, Cobain suffered a heroin overdose. Rather than calling for an ambulance, Love injected Cobain with illegally acquired Narcan to bring him out of his unconscious state. Cobain proceeded to perform with Nirvana, giving the public no indication that anything out of the ordinary had taken place.