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Music / Kurt Cobain

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The unwilling icon of a generation.

Kurt Donald Cobain (February 20, 1967 – circa April 5, 1994) was an American musician from Aberdeen, Washington note , most notably known as the lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter of Nirvana, a role that would make him the most important and influential rock star of The '90s in the eyes of many with the mass popularization of grunge and alternative rock the band would go on to achieve.

As a teenager and twentysomething, Cobain listened to a lot of Punk Rock, Heavy Metal, Proto Punk, Alternative Rock, Outsider Music, and regular rock bands to emulate their styles, and when Nirvana became the first of these bands to break to the mainstream, he 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 more so within alternative rock circles, 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.

Cobain was found dead on April 8, 1994, joining the long list of rock legends who died at 27. The police concluded that he died by suicide with a shotgun, with the coroner estimating that he did so on April 5, although conspiracy theories still persist claiming otherwise. Much of the fanbase blames his widow, Courtney Love, though he had already alluded to suicide all throughout his life.

His legend remains intact to this day, with Nirvana's albums still being 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 our Nirvana page.

Kurt Cobain and his works provide examples of:

  • Accentuate the Negative: Many of Cobain's lyrics write about a Crapsack World and his personal hatred for machismo, homophobia, and abuse of women.
  • Almighty Janitor: Literal example. He briefly worked as a janitor after he dropped out, at his old high school no less. And at some other places like motels and even a dentist's office too after that. What's more, apparently it was the only "real" job he ever had.
  • Careful with That Axe: The dude could surprisingly give a metal scream when it came to songs such as "Scentless Apprentice", "Territorial Pissing", but especially with the hidden track "Endless, Nameless".
  • Grunge: Trope Codifier. As a general rule, when people think of Grunge, they think of Nirvana and Kurt. He can be seen as the face of the genre (and by an extent, the face of the The '90s), although it wasn't something he was truly not happy with.
  • 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.
  • My Nayme Is: Occasionally wrote his name as "Kurdt Kobain."
  • Nice Guy: Arguably the epitome of it: Kurt was described by a majority of people as a relatively nice, if incredibly snarky and somber guy. He in particular really wanted Dave to break out more as a musician, to say nothing about his dedication to his fans and his advocating for women's rights.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Much like his contemporary, Layne Staley, Cobain's tragic death and dark music overshadowed the fact that he was extremely witty and a lot of his songs had a humorous, sardonic edge to them. Any home movie or TV appearance would show him, Krist, and Dave goofing off and having a great time.
  • 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 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. Taken up to eleven after mainstream audience started coming to their shows once the band broke through. In Utero was intentionally even noisier than Nevermind in an attempt to get some of the mainstream fans to go away, and "In Bloom" was intended as a middle finger to the type of dumbass alpha male mainstream rock fans who blindly followed them because they were blowing up.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: He wrote songs mocking macho culture, and he publicly lambasted those who epitomized it. Occasionally, he'd even lampoon people of this type who were fans of the band despite his apathy for them, like in "In Bloom".
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Like the many punk rock and heavy metal bands before him, Kurt's guitar style heavily relied on power chords. It's also noted that his sound is pretty simple, and solos aren't very technical in nature, but the music is still quite effective.
    Jerry Cantrell: (chuckling) Kurt was such a shitty guitar player. But he was a great songwriter, and that's what mattered.
  • Non Sequitur 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.