Legendary grunge performer and frontman for Nirvana, Kurt Cobain was an extraordinary musician and artist. He sang, played guitar, wrote songs and was often the artistic mind behind the band’s album artwork and music videos.
Despite his love of music, Cobain struggled with the resulting fame and the public’s unrelenting attention to his personal life. He once explained that he “wanted to have the adoration of John Lennon but the anonymity of Ringo Starr.”
Kurt Cobain also had a dark sense of humor, deep thoughts and an interesting way with words. It’s easy to find lists of the things he said when he was still alive, but within the context of his own life, these timeless quotes will always strike a chord:
“My mother encouraged me to be artistic. It was written in a contract at an early age that I would be an artist.”
Cobain began singing at the age of two. By four he was playing the piano by ear and singing popular songs like “Hey Jude” by the Beatles and TV show theme song for the The Monkees. Later, when his parents divorced and he was sent to live with his father and stepmother he resented, music became his coping mechanism. He learned to play the guitar and for a time it helped him escape from his unhappiness.
Cobain also liked to draw and many of his later paintings, collages and sculptures would appear in the artwork of Nirvana’s albums.
In 1991, when the music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” premiered on MTV’s alternative music show 120 Minutes and Cobain saw himself on TV for the first time, he excitedly called his mom and couldn’t stop saying, “That’s me!”
“They laugh at me because I'm different; I laugh at them because they're all the same.”
As a kid, Cobain’s dad pushed him into wrestling and baseball, and while the budding musician was good at sports, he hated playing. So Cobain intentionally threw matches and struck out when he was up to bat at baseball games. It did little to endear him to his coaches, teammates and father.
In school, Cobain was ostracized and bullied by his peers for befriended a gay classmate. Cobain was also accused of being gay himself, but he didn’t see it as an insult. He liked being left alone and his pseudo homosexual identity helped him accomplish that.
Two weeks before graduation, Cobain dropped out of high school because he didn’t have enough credits, but he came back for a time and worked as a janitor.
“Punk is musical freedom. It's saying, doing and playing what you want. In Webster's terms, 'nirvana' means freedom from pain, suffering and the external world, and that's pretty close to my definition of Punk Rock.”
Shackled by depression, addiction, trouble with the media and childhood woes, Cobain turned to punk to for the emotional release of his anger and unhappiness. Ever since he was a child, he had been condemned by others for being who he was and not who they wanted him to be. Music helped him cope, allowed his voice to be heard and made him feel like himself. Aside from the joy he got from his wife and daughter, playing music brought him the closest to happiness.
“Drugs are a waste of time. They destroy your memory and your self-respect and everything that goes along with your self-esteem. They're no good at all.”
Most notably addicted to heroin, Cobain used drugs regularly in attempt to self-medicate his symptoms of depression and a chronic stomach condition. He began using marijuana at thirteen, had a period of using LSD and oxycodone. He also abused alcohol and solvents.
He knew the effects of his drug usage weren’t good and tried to get clean when his daughter was born in 1992, but he never did beat addiction.
“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.”
Since the take off of Nirvana, the band’s exploits and Cobain’s life were closely followed by the media and they were often criticized for their behavior.
Drawing on the experiences of his youth, the musician used his fame to advocate for who he believed were the misfits and outcasts of society, such as women, gays and other minorities. People claiming to be fans often misinterpreted the band’s social and political stances, which Cobain resented..
Furthermore, Cobain and his wife Courtney Love were hounded by gossip columns and the tabloids when she was misquoted by Vanity Fair for using heroin while pregnant. Before Courtney knew she was pregnant she used heroin but stopped using once she did.
But as a result of the bad press, social workers took their daughter Frances Bean away when she was born, but after months of legal battle, they eventually got full custody of her.
“If you die you're completely happy and your soul somewhere lives on. I'm not afraid of dying. Total peace after death, becoming someone else is the best hope I've got.”
Along with music, Kurt Cobain’s wife and daughter were the greatest loves of his life, and they brought him closer to happiness than anything or anyone ever could, but Kurt Cobain still suffered.
This quote is particularly sad considering that Cobain ultimately took his own life. In his suicide note, he wrote that he had not "felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music...for too many years now."
The famous musician lived his life wanting to reach nirvāṇa until the very end.
To learn more about Kurt Cobain’s rise to fame and the struggles that led to his tragic death, listen to the third episode of Remarkable Lives. Tragic Deaths, a Parcast Network podcast series. The episode is dedicated to the two loves of Cobain’s life, Courtney Love and Frances Cobain, and to all of the millions of fans world-wide.
Remarkable Lives.Tragic Deaths examines the lives and tragic deaths of people who changed history and influenced pop culture.