This is why Kurt Cobain hated Nirvana song 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'
(Credit: Subpop)

Read Kurt Cobain’s heartfelt letter sent to his hero William S. Burroughs

Kurt Cobain, the enigmatic and uncompromising frontman of grunge pioneers Nirvana, was never shy about discussing some of the work that helped inspire his creative vision.

While he openly revealed his 50 favourite albums, Cobain regularly paid due respect to influential figures who, in one period of time or another, helped guide his sometimes unquenchable thirst for boundary-pushing art. William S. Burroughs, it is safe to say, was always a part of his life.

Back in 1992, Cobain contacted his longstanding idol, Burroughs, the writer and visual artist who was a major player of the Beat Generation. Cobain, desperate to form a collaboration, pitched an idea to Burroughs who duly replied by sending the Nirvana frontman a tape he recorded of himself reading a short story.

That story, which was originally published in his Exterminator collection way back in 1973, would be the kick starter to some of the most obscure work Cobain would ever make. Adding some guitar backing based on ‘To Anacreon in Heaven’ and ‘Silent Night’, the pair were able to birth the concept which is now known as The “Priest” They Called Him

That project, as revered as it was, left a void in Cobain’s life, somewhat. While it was a dream to work with his idol, the project was created without the two creatives actually meeting in person. Still yearning for a chance to hold a personal conversation with Burroughs, the Nirvana frontman reached out. During preparation for the video to Nirvana song ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ and with a little spare time, Cobain wrote to Burroughs and asked him to appear in the visuals. While Burroughs politely declined, it did result in a budding friendship.

“It’s a bit odd writing someone whom I’ve never met but with whom I’ve already recorded a record,” Cobain writes to Burroughs. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to do the record — it’s a great honour to be pictured alongside you on the back cover. I am writing you now regarding the possibility of your appearing alongside my band (Nirvana) in the first video from our new album, In Utero.

“I wanted the opportunity to personally let you know why I wanted you to appear in the video.”

Cobain added: “Most importantly, I wanted you to know that this request is not based on a desire to exploit you in any way. I realize that stories in the press regarding my drug use may make you think that this request comes from a desire to parallel our lives. Let me assure you that this is not the case. As a fan and student of your work, I would cherish the opportunity to work directly with you. To the extent that you may want to avoid any direct use of your image (thus avoiding the aforementioned link for the press to devour).

“While I would be proud to have William Burroughs appear as himself in my video, I am more concerned with getting the opportunity to work with you than I am with letting the public know (should that be your wish).”

Read the full letter and transcript, below.

August 2, 1993

Mr. William Burroughs

WILLIAM BURROUGHS COMUNICATION:

Dear William:

It’s a bit odd writing someone whom I’ve never met but with whom I’ve already recorded a record. I really enjoyed the opportunity to do the record — it’s a great honor to be pictured alongside you on the back cover. I am writing you now regarding the possibility of your appearing alongside my band (Nirvana) in the first video from our new album, “In Utero.”

While I know that Michael Meisel from Gold Mountain Entertainment (my management company) has been speaking to James Grauerholz, I wanted the opportunity to personally let you know why I wanted you to appear in the video.

Most importantly, I wanted you to know that this request is not based on a desire to exploit you in any way. I realize that stories in the press regarding my drug use may make you think that this request comes from a desire to parallel our lives. Let me assure you that this is not the case. As a fan and student of your work, I would cherish the opportunity to work directly with you. To the extent that you may want to avoid any direct use of your image (thus avoiding the aforementioned link for the press to devour). I would be happy to have my director look into make-up techniques that could conceal your identity. While I would be proud to have William Burroughs appear as himself in my video, I am more concerned with getting the opportunity to work with you than I am with letting the public know (should that be your wish).

Having said that, let me reiterate how much I would like to make this happen. While I am comfortable letting Michael and James discuss this further, I am available to discuss this with you at your convenience.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Best regards,

(Signed, ‘Kurt’)

Kurt Cobain

(Via: Letters of Note)

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