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Tribute: Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain was often described as the poet of his generation. As the lead singer/guitarist of Nirvana, he single-handedly ended a musical era dominated by big-haired, over-sexed males and fluff power pop. Cobain's music was essential Grunge, a movement he helped originate and popularize. But Kurt Cobain transcended the genre, and Rock music in general. Rolling Stone magazine named him the 12th best guitarist in history. Cobain could be loud, abrasive, raw and wrathful. But he was also capable of sweeping melodies and crafting the most haunting and beautifully-uncomfortable lyrics. His magnum opus, 1993's Unplugged in New York, recorded about five months before his death, is a collection of melancholy lullabies, beautifully-arranged works about pain, loss, and death. Kurt Cobain was not a mere musical trend, but a legitimately gifted musician. He was also the unhappiest man in the history of Rock & Roll.

Cobain made no secret of his heroin addiction, chronic stomach pain, or pervasive depression that plagued him since his parents' divorce when he was seven. He titled one of his songs, "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die," and in the #3 single, "Come As You Are," he swore he did not have a gun. Cobain sang on "Even in His Youth," "I've got nothing left to prove. If I die before I wake, hope I don't come back a slave (again)". (Many who believe in reincarnation state that suicides retrurn in their next lives as slaves.) Nirvana's Unplugged is a haunting collection of musical musings on alienation and death. It includes the songs "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam," "Come As You Are," "The Man Who Sold the World" ("We marked a million years -- I must have died alone, a long long time ago."), "Dumb", "Lake of Fire" ("Where do bad folks go when they die? They don't go to heaven where the angels fly, go to a lake of fire and fry..."), and "All Apologies" ("What else should I be? All apologies... Married, buried.") These are just a handful of the death and depression references he sprinkled throughout his work. Cobain wore his suicidal tendencies like a badge.

Kurt Cobain Unplugged

On 4 March 1994, Kurt Cobain was admitted to The American Hospital in Rome, in a coma. The media reported that Cobain had mixed Rohypnol (related to Valium) and champagne. It was deemed an accidental overdose, the product of mixing a sedative for sleep and celebratory champagne.

The overdose was in fact a suicide attempt, complete with a note. Sources close to Cobain claim he swallowed over 50 individually-wrapped pills. Journalist Mick Wall wrote, "When a bewildered and clearly unhappy Kurt was revived, his only thought was to get even. 'I believe firmly in revenge,' Kurt once said. He may have screwed up that first attempt at killing himself, but that didn't mean he thought he had in any way been saved. It merely underlined his determination to do the job properly next time."

On 18 March 1994, Cobain's wife, fellow rocker Courtney Love, called police to their home in Seattle. Apparently he had locked himself in a room with a gun and Love feared he was suicidal. Police confiscated three pistols, a rifle, and 25 boxes of ammunition. Love told a friend he suffered from "suicidal depression."

She had no idea.

Kurt Cobain

On Friday, 8 April 1994, at 8:40 AM, an electrician named Gary Smith arrived at the Cobain residence in Seattle to install a burglar alarm. "I saw this body lying there on the floor. At first I thought it was a mannequin. Then I noticed it had blood in the right ear. Then I saw the shotgun lying across his chest pointing up at his chin."

The body of Kurt Cobain lay on the floor of his garage, a 12-gauge shotgun pointed at his head. Laid out next to Cobain were a few personal effects, including his driver's license and a cigar box that he used to store his hypodermic syringes. On a shelf about 10 feet away, stuck into a potted plant by a pen, was his one page suicide note, written in red ink. (To view the suicide note; to actually read the note.) Cobain was 27.

Partial shot of Cobain dead in his garage

Coroners estimated Cobain had been dead for three days. He was wearing jeans, a light colored long-sleeved shirt, and sneakers. His face was so mutilated by the shotgun blast that they had to use fingerprints to identify him. Kurt & Courtney filmmaker, Nick Broomfield, stated ".... I think there's only one way you can explain a lot of things around his death. Not that he was murdered, but that there was just a lack of caring for him. I just think that Courtney had moved on, and he was expendable."

Cobain's body being removed from his garage space saver Cobain's body being removed from his garage

Several facts have led to speculation that he may have been murdered, including the position in which the shotgun was found (not consistent with a person shooting himself), the amount of heroin in his system (which would have made it difficult to fire the gun - or do much of anything else), and the fact that his credit card was used a few days after his death. Rumors also existed that Cobain was contemplating divorcing Courtney Love and this may have been a motivation for murder.

Mentors bandleader, Eldon "El Duce" Hoke (a questionable character), claimed that Love had offered him $50,000 to kill Cobain. Though Hoke claimed that he knew who killed Cobain, he never mentioned a name, and offered no evidence to support his assertion. On 17 April 1997, a paranoid and nervous Hoke showed up at his friend Drew Gallagher's home, asking where he could get a fake driver's license. Hoke stated, "People get buried in cornfields, people get lost in swamps," and he seemed in fear of his life. Supposedly Hoke informed Gallagher of who he was told had "killed Kurt Cobain". Hoke died mysteriously a few days later, reportedly hit by a train while he was drunk. Gallagher has thus far revealed nothing.

On Sunday 10 April, at 5pm, an outdoor memorial service was held in the Seattle Center's Flag Pavilion. Five thousand fans listened to a tape recording of Courtney Love reading the suicide note, peppered with Love's comments and expletives. During that vigil, there was a real memorial service held a few blocks away, at the Unity Church of Truth. Love, Kurt's sister Kim, and other family members attended. Love read from the Bible, and a portion of the suicide note. Michael Stipe of R.E.M. also spoke.

Reports vary as to the number of copy-cat suicides that occurred after Cobain's memorial.

Cobain was cremated. In July 1995, an article appeared in the Los Angeles Times, that Courtney was having a problem finding a resting-place for Kurt's ashes. No cemetery nearby would take him in, for fear of vandalism. Rumor has it that Love put some of the ashes in her teddy bear, and the rest were scattered in the Wishkah River and in a number of other places around Washington State.

Learn about Cobain's connection to the Curse of Buddy Holly.

Sign in Aberdeen, WA

The sign (above) welcoming visitors to Cobain's birthplace, Aberdeen, Washington, reads "Come As You Are." This was added in tribute to the musician. "Come As You Are " is the title of a hit off Nirvana's third album, Nevermind.

Nirvana

Nirvana: Dave Grohl, Cobain, and Krist Novselic.

Awards

American Music Award
1995, Favorite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Artist (also nominated in 1992, same category)
Brit Award
1993, Best International Newcomer
Grammy Award
1996, Best Alternative Music Performance for Unplugged in New York
(Nirvana had also been nominated for Grammy Awards in various categories in 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995.)
MTV Video Music Award
1992, Best Alternative Video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
(also nominated for Video of the Year and Viewer's Choice)
MTV Video Music Award
1992, Best New Artist
MTV Video Music Award
1993, Best Alternative Video for "In Bloom"
MTV Video Music Award
1994, Best Alternative Video for "Heart-Shaped Box"
MTV Video Music Award
1994, Best Art Direction for "Heart-Shaped Box"
(also nominated for Video of the Year, Best Cinematography, and Viewer's Choice)
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Inductee, 2014

Nirvana albums and selected songs

Bleach

Bleach. Studio album released in 1989.

"About A Girl"

"Love Buzz"

"Big Cheese"

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Nevermind

Nevermind. Studio album released in 1991. Over 30 million copies sold worldwide.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit"

"In Bloom"

"Come As You Are"

"Lithium"

"Polly"

"On a Plain"

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Incesticide

Incesticide. Compilation released in 1992.

"Dive"

"Sliver"

"Aneurysm"

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In Utero

In Utero. Studio album (1993).

"Heart-Shaped Box"

"Rape Me"

"Dumb"

"Pennyroyal Tea"

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Unplugged

Recording of Nirvana's 1993 Unplugged performance, released in November 1994.

"Jesus Doesn't Want Me For a Sunbeam"

"The Man Who Sold the World"

"Plateau"

"Lake of Fire"

"All Apologies"

"Where Did You Sleep Last Night"

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From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah

Live album released posthumously (1996).

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Other assorted singles

"I Hate Myself and I Want to Die" (Beavis and Butt-head Do America soundtrack)

"Even in His Youth" (B-side to "Smells Like Teen Spirit")

"D7" (unrelaesed)

"Marigolds" (unreleased)

"You Know You're Right" (released posthumously)

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