Kurt Cobain is probably one of the most charismatic singers ever. His alienation and sorrow turned his songs into anthems of the apathetic society he lived in; and those anthems made him an icon that is still remembered. In the ephemeral world of fame, few artists reach the glory, and Kurt Cobain and his band Nirvana achieved it after having released only three studio albums. What makes Kurt Cobain a timeless icon that still attracts thousands of people?
Kurt Donald Cobain was born in Aberdeen, Seattle, in 1967. Aberdeen was a small town in the state of Washington, a boring and grey town where children grew up with no dreams or big hopes. Kurt had a happy childhood, at least until his parents decided to divorce. When Kurt saw how the safety of a solid family faded away, he felt lost and guilty. That was the beginning of his road to the icon he would become later. After his parents ‘divorce Cobain started to seek safety in other things like religion (Christianity, Jainism or Buddhism), painting (especially human anatomy) or bullied classmates (he became close friends with a gay classmate, which would lead her classmates to think Kurt himself was gay). But his true passion was music.
After some unsuccessful tries in bands –like Fecal Matter- he formed Nirvana (which means “freedom from pain, suffering and the external world”) with bassist and classmate Kris Novoselic. Many drummers would come and go, until 1990 when Dave Grohl joined the band. They eventually managed to sign a contract with SubPop, and release their first studio album Bleach in 1989. SubPop was a very influential record label in Seattle, responsible of the fame of the “grunge” movement in the area. Kurt was never happy with the result, as he felt songs were weak and rushed and the record was constantly changed to fit the record label´s tastes. Still, album managed to receive positive reviews from music critics and sell 1,700,000 copies only in the US.
Disappointed about their own job, they decided to look for a bigger company and signed a contract with DGC records. They began to record a new album, which would eventually become a timeless masterpiece: Nevermind. The band was already popular in the Seattle music scenes, and the record label was expecting to sell at least 200,000 copies. But the lead single, Smells Like Teen Spirit, changed everything. It was released just as a promotional cut from the album, but it soon became the band´s signature tune. Suddenly a grunge song, expected to achieve moderate success in alternative radios, was being played by every TV channel and radio station all over the world. Its lyrics, which were confusing and often an apparent nonsense, soon became the anthem of the 90s. Kurt has refused to openly talk about the song´s meaning, but it has been iconized as a teen revolution song. With such a huge lead single, the album sold over 30,000,000 copies (way more than expected from the label). Nowadays Nevermind is still regarded as one of the best albums ever released, and the responsible of making alternative music jump into the mainstream.
After such a successful and legendary release, the follow-up album was expected with anxiety by fans and critics. But Kurt didn´t want to rush the release, and the label released Incesticide, b-side compilation to calm down the fans. The third studio album, In Utero, was released in September 1993. The record was a huge departure from Nevermind, and didn’t achieve its commercial success. Kurt hated the life he was living as a celebrity and an icon, and wanted to make listeners feel that despair and sorrow in the album (he even wanted to call the album I Hate Myself and I Want to Die). Critically the album achieved acclaim all over the world, with critics praising how different from Nevermind it sounded. In Utero has sold over 15 million copies worldwide and provided singles as popular as Rape Me or Heart-shaped Box.
Nirvana´s is still one of the most celebrated bands ever. Popular magazine Rolling Stone published a list of the 500 Greatest Songs Ever. Four Nirvana songs entered the ranking: All Apologies (#462), Come As You Are (#452), In Bloom (#415) and Smells Like Teen Spirit (#9). In the list of the 500 Greatest Albums Ever three Nirvana albums appear: In Utero (#435) , MTV Unplugged in New York (#313) and Nevermind(#17). In addition to that, Kurt Cobain ranks #73 in the 100 Greatest Guitarists Ever list and #45 in the Greatest Singers Ever list.
Unfortunately music wasn’t the only thing that made Kurt Cobain an icon. His charismatic personality and tortured artistry fascinated thousands of people around the world. His life also became a hot topic in journals and TV shows. Kurt married singer Courtney Love in 1992, and they both had their only children next year. Their relationship was always controversial, and many thought that they weren’t able to have a baby. Kurt was also known for his multiple addictions. He consumed drugs like marijuana and LSD during her teenage years, but heroine was his real addiction. He suffered an unknown stomach illness, and found in heroine the only effective solution to it. There were times when he tried to rehabilitate, but always went back to heroine. He committed suicide in April 1994, after escaping from a rehabilitation hospital. His death is full of mysteries and has led to numerous rumours and speculations.
I decided to write a post about Kurt Cobain because I genuinely believe that there isn´t, there wasn’t and there won’t be any other artist like him. His creativity-depressive and even perverse- and his abilities as a musician haven’t still met a rival.