Kurt Cobain, one of music’s most treasured spirits, was born February 20, 1967 in Aberdeen, Washington. When he was seven his parents divorced, sending his life into an emotional tailspin. During his early teen years Cobain was defiantly rebellious and began acting out his anger over his splintered family life. At one point he purposely befriended a gay student because he “hated people” and knew they would leave him alone if they thought he was gay. He developed an affinity for art and often drew caricatures that were considered inappropriate for school. He also became interested in the punk rock scene of Seattle. Punk rock perfectly served Cobain’s angry, misanthropic disposition and a synergy was formed that miraculously tapped into his creative spirit and opened an artistic gateway to his soul. He eventually joined with high school friend, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Chad Channing to form Nirvana, “freedom from pain, suffering and the external world,” a name he felt conceptualized the message of punk rock. They released Bleach in 1989 but Cobain was dissatisfied with Channing’s style and after searching for a better fit they chose Dave Grohl. Nevermind was released in 1991 and Nirvana instantly became a worldwide sensation. The success of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” popularized the underground grunge scene and brought it squarely into the mainstream. Cobain unwittingly and involuntarily became the spokesperson for his generation. Never comfortable with that role, he felt persecuted by the media and misunderstood by the public who didn’t understand his true intentions. Proving his disdain for the misguided public attention, he revealed that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was “…trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily that I should have been in that band – or at least a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.” The 1993 release of In Utero, Cobain’s admitted attempt to move Nirvana away from the spotlight he disdained, was highlighted by songs like “Rape Me,” a direct jab at the media.
Cobain’s short life was relentlessly haunted by a malignant addiction to heroin. He overdosed twice but was able to recover. On November 18, 1993 Nirvana performed their MTV Unplugged concert at Sony music Studios in New York City. Cobain, under the strain of battling depression and heroin addiction, clashed with executives who disagreed with his choice to include the Meat Puppets, hoping instead for a bigger, more marketable name. Cobain insisted that the stage be decorated with stargazer lilies, black candles and a crystal chandelier which led the producer to ask the question “You mean like a funeral?” Cobain replied, “Exactly like a funeral.” The recording took the world by storm, marked by Cobain’s dramatic cover of the Appalachian American traditional classic “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?,” considered one of the great live performances of all time. During the final line, “I would shiver the whole night long,” Cobain so sharply jumps an octave while putting emphasis on the word “shiver” that band actually stops, and then, in chilling dramatic fashion, Cobain widely opens his piercing blue eyes as if unveiling his spirit and completes the line. The producers requested an encore but Cobain refused, arguing that he could never top the performance of that song. About five months after the Unplugged concert, Cobain was found dead, the victim of an apparent suicide. It came as a tremendous shock to the music world and the people who passionately loved his music. The Unplugged concert became a renewed source of fascination and was scoured for signs of Cobain’s dissatisfaction with life. Additionally, the stripped down songs became significantly more precious, not only for the riveting reason that the framework, the very engine of Nirvana’s creative process, was subtly exposed, but far more because it served as a final intimate look at a very human Kurt Cobain.