Music / Kurt Cobain

Kurt Donald Cobain (February 20, 1967 - April 5, 1994) was the lead vocalist and guitarist of Nirvana. Without any doubt the most important and influential rock star of The '90s. The monster success of Nevermind in 1991 launched Nirvana to the top of the charts and made Grunge and to a greater degree Alternative Rock fashionable. Angsty songs with Darker and Edgier lyrics and sounds suddenly got a chance to leave the underground and break to the mainstream.

As a teenager and twenty something he listened to a lot of Alternative Rock, Punk Rock, Proto Punk, Outsider Music, and regular rock bands to emulate their styles, and when Nirvana became the first of these bands to break to the mainstream, Cobain did everything he could to give his inspirations more attention in the press.

Sadly, he felt his overnight success was embarrassing. He always wanted to be famous, but within alternative rock, not in the mainstream where people could accuse him of "selling out". He tried to do everything to avoid such connotations, even going so far as to release an album meant to alienate the newer fanbase (which wound up having the opposite effect), but Cobain sank away further into drug addiction and depression until he finally offed himself. Much of the fan-base blames his widow, Courtney Love, though Kurt had already alluded and flirted with suicide all throughout his life, so it actually was pretty much foreshadowed.

After death, Cobain became a typical example of Dead Artists Are Better. His legend remains intact to this day and Nirvana's albums still get rediscovered by many new young rock bands. He even got respect from older rock stars such as Neil Young, David Bowie and Bob Dylan. He also had an Odd Friendship with writer William S. Burroughs.

For a list of albums featuring Cobain, see The Other Wiki (or just go to the Nirvana page).

A little public service announcement that we at TV Tropes would be very remiss not to make here: If you're feeling suicidal, please get help immediately. Talk to a loved one at the very least and let them know how you're feeling. There is help out there, no matter what you might believe.

Tropes relating to all things Kurt Cobain:

  • Accentuate the Negative: Many of Cobain's lyrics write about a Crapsack World and his personal hatred for machismo, homophobia and abuse of women.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Helped his favourite obscure Alternative Rock and Punk Rock bands (like The Vaselines) reach a larger audience. He also wrote down a Top 50 of his favourite music albums in his personal diaries. According to Charles R. Cross' biography Heavier Than Heaven Cobain was listening to to Automatic For The People by R.E.M. at the time of his death. He also tried to be this with Melvins, as he auditioned for them on several occasions (and wound up being an occasional tour hand) and later wound up attempting to produce Houdini until he and King Buzzo mutually agreed that it wasn't working out (which both parties were apparently rather crestfallen about). In spite of this, however, he was very good friends with King Buzzo up until his death and credited him with introducing him to heavier music.
  • Broken Ace: A rock star adored by millions of fans who suffered from depression and bipolar disorder, which, coupled with his heroin addiction, led him to suicide.
  • Bungled Suicide: In March of 1994 he overdosed on champagne and Rohypnol. After five days in the hospital, he was released. Fans wrote it off as typical rock star behavior—until Kurt Ate His Gun a month later, providing them with a moment of Fridge Horror when they realized that the overdose was in all likelihood a suicide attempt.
  • Careful with That Axe and Guttural Growler: One of his vocal trademarks.
  • Downer Ending: His tragic suicide at the age of 27.
  • Dreadful Musician: In his early days.
  • Follow the Leader: When Nirvana started becoming famous, countless rock bands began copying their Three Chords and the Truth format since it became the "trendy" thing to do.
  • Goodbye, Cruel World!: His famous suicide note (which quotes Neil Young's line "better to burn out than to fade away" from "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" on Rust Never Sleeps.).
  • Grunge: Trope Codifier
  • Guilt Complex: Cobain suffered from intense guilt about all kinds of topics that others wouldn't feel so bothered about. He hated the macho culture and attacked this viciously in songs like "In Bloom". He despised violence against women, another topic found in many of his songs, including "Rape Me," "Polly," and "Been A Son." When Nirvana suddenly broke to the mainstream, Cobain felt bad about the fact that he was now the same kind of pop star he used to despise and deride, and as a result, he desperately tried to avoid being pigeonholed as a sell-out by keeping albums like Incesticide, In Utero and MTV Unplugged in New York as anti-commercial as possible. Hell, one of his songs is even named "Oh, The Guilt."
  • Harsh Vocals: He once complained in an interview about having to scream his lungs out every night on stage.
  • Iconic Outfit: His fuzzy sweater from MTV Unplugged in New York.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: Kurt, being from the small town of Aberdeen, WA, had this sort of relationship with his town; Kurt didn't approve of the town, and the town generally didn't approve of him, and it was rare to find a moment when Kurt would have something good to say about the town (a sentiment shared by Buzz Osborne). After his death, however, the town quickly changed its tune and even wound up paying tribute to Cobain on its city limit signs, which read "Welcome to Aberdeen. Come As You Are".
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: As the liner notes for Incesticide read:
    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.
  • The Red Stapler: The grunge look of the early 90's wasn't planned out or thought of as anything special by those who "pioneered" the image, since the clothes that became associated with the look — such as flannel jackets/shirts, secondhand jeans, and Converse shoes — were just ordinary, run of the mill clothes people (especially people without a lot of money, like Kurt) would wear in a cold region like Seattle because they could be picked up for next to nothing at thrift stores or at community outreach drives. When Nirvana took off and unintentionally started the grunge "movement", stores across the United States wound up jacking up the prices of those aforementioned items to the point where it wasn't uncommon to find a $50 price tag attached to a flannel shirt up until 1995 or so, effectively making them unaffordable to the very people who began wearing them to begin with.
    • Likewise, former pawn shop beater guitars and cheap stomp-box pedals quickly found themselves worth ten times their original value once people saw Kurt (or any other grunge musician) playing through them on TV or in magazines. Unlike the clothing example though, the value of some of these items didn't really drop back in the day once grunge saw its way "out", and considering that some of these guitars and pedals have vintage instrument status by this point, they probably won't get much cheaper in the future.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Cobain often gave his songs themes, titles or lines that were clearly intended to shock and alienate certain people. He also used Nightmare Fuel laden imagery (with special attention given to drugs, disease, death, and human anatomy) that would repulse average listeners. Apart from that he sometimes performed in dress or flirted with homosexuality to piss off his macho homophobic fan-base.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: He wrote songs mocking macho culture, and he publicly lambasted those who epitomized it.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: His sound is simple, and solos aren't very technical in nature, but the music is still quite effective.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Kurt blatantly admitted he had been more concerned about the music than the words, even going so far as to occasionally string words together just because he thought they sounded good together, not because they meant anything special to him.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Cobain was particularly disturbed by violence against women.