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Why Dave Grohl still hasn't processed the loss of Kurt Cobain

Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain laid down an unparalleled legacy in just a few short years over the late 1980s and early ‘90s as he and his band brought grunge music to the forefront of the rock world. However, memories of the icon’s musical achievements are often eclipsed somewhat by those of his shocking and untimely death in April 1994. 

Cobain duly attained a God-like status in life, mostly thanks to the seminal 1991 release Nevermind; this was taken to a new level following his death. When a cultural icon dies prematurely, as we’ve seen with the likes of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Sid Vicious, their status becomes almost mythological, especially when the circumstances surrounding their death are so controversial or mysterious.

Naturally, the news of Cobain’s violent demise caused a shockwave in the music industry as his peers came to terms with it. Suicide has been an unfortunate trend haunting the history of music history as a candid reminder of the pitfalls of fame. 

Understandably, Cobain’s Nirvana bandmates Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic took the brunt of the after-effects. While they weren’t totally mute on the subject of their late bandmate, they would refrain from fully opening up on the matter for a long time after. 

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In an interview with Hot Press 25 years later, Grohl finally opened up to speak in more depth about the death of his close friend and frontman. 

“The Nirvana experience was such a whirlwind,” Grohl said. “It all happened so quickly – exploded without any warning, and then it just disappeared. Life had changed so much, it was almost like you had to find something to hold onto so that you didn’t get swept away. Once it was over, I couldn’t imagine stepping on stage or sitting down at a drum stool and playing music anymore. It would just bring me back to the heartbreaking place of losing Kurt. A long time went by where it felt that music was going to break my heart again. Then I realized that, actually, music was the one thing that was going to heal it. I had been recording music by myself for years without ever playing it for anyone. I thought that going down to the studio at the end of the street would be therapeutic. I didn’t think it would become a band – and I sure as fuck didn’t think it was going to be a band for 20 years.”

He continued: “You have to understand – for me, Nirvana is more than it is for you. It was a really personal experience. I was a kid. Our lives were lifted and then turned upside down. And then our hearts were broken when Kurt died. The whole thing is much more personal than the logo or the t-shirt or the iconic image. I felt I had to do it to exorcise something in my soul. The intention of this band from day one has always been to keep the ball rolling: as musicians, as human beings, as friends. To feel like life keeps moving forward. We still feel like that every time we make a record – every time we step on stage. We feel like life is moving forward and that we’re not looking back.”

In a 2021 BBC documentary, titled When Nirvana Came To Britain, Grohl explained why he still hasn’t been able to fully process Cobain’s death. “I’m still processing Kurt’s death,” Grohl admitted, “because I have to explain it to my kids, who love Nirvana. Because for the longest time, I would try to process it and talk about it with friends and family and things like that, and they would help me, but now I feel like I have to help my kids go through it.”

“It’s a lifetime of healing,” he concluded.

It also seems Grohl can’t get Nirvana out of his mind and regularly dreams that Cobain is still with us. In an interview with Classic Rock last year, Grohl said: “I still have dreams that we’re in Nirvana, that we’re still a band, I still dream there’s any empty arena waiting for us to play. But I don’t sit down at home and run through ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by myself. It’s just a reminder that the person who is responsible for those beautiful songs is no longer with us. It’s bittersweet.”