During the nineties, amid a flurry of alt-rock acts, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana quickly became the bastion of the disenfranchised youth—Generation X had found their leader in the figure of the enigmatic singer. But perhaps more impressive is, even after the singer’s death on April 5th, 1994, his legend gathers more and more fans by the day.
We’d venture that (when schools return) there wouldn’t be a high school in the western world that didn’t have at least one kid who was obsessed with Kurt Cobain. It’s because, perhaps like them, he was always an outsider. He always swam upstream and he never compromised himself or his artistic values in the name of greed or glory. No, Kurt Cobain was an altruistic rock star and it shines through in some of his most iconic moments both on and off stage. The list below proves that, above all else, Kurt Cobain was a good guy.
Rising from Seattle, Washington, with an unerring and passionate outlook on the world, Cobain is now remembered as one of the most iconic and influential rock musicians in the history of alternative music. With songs like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and albums like Nevermind, In Utero and Bleach, alongside Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, Cobain became the voice of a generation.
Despite his undoubted artistry within music, Cobain was also relentlessly advocating social change and valued the love of his fans and friends around him dearly. It is this distinction that makes Cobain such an endearing figure even to this day and set him apart from the phoney rock stars of his day. While most of the singers and songwriters today are happy to share a post or a few words via social media, Kurt Cobain let his actions do the talking.
So, aside from the music, we’re looking back at what else made Kurt Cobain great. His loyal, honest and authentic moral character.
Kurt Cobain’s 10 most iconic moments:
Fighting sexual assault
Kurt Cobain was a man of strong principles. He was a man who knew what he believed in, knew what he considered to be the right thing and he was never afraid to let himself known.
Cobain, on stage with his Nirvana bandmates during a show in Oakland on New Year’s Eve 1993, confronted a male fan in the crowd who was groping a female in the front row during a gig. Cobain, clearly distracted by what he had seen in the audience, stopped his acoustic rendition of ‘Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam’ and threw his guitar to the ground before rushing over to the crowd.
Having alerted security and pointed to the door, Cobain returned to the microphone and said “copping a feel, eh buddy?” It’s the kind of decisive action and refusal to accept gender oppression that made Cobain a hero for those who felt downtrodden.
Protesting in the style of Morrissey
In 1991 Nirvana played their hit song ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ for the Top Of The Pops under strict BBC rules which would see Cobain deliver an iconic performance.
For the live performance, production staff had ordered that only Cobain’s vocals were to be performed live meaning that the bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl had to mime along to a pre-recorded backing track.
In a big fuck you to the programme, Novoselic threw his bass behind his head, Grohl hit the cymbals out of time and spent most the time dancing and Cobain exchanged the opening line of the song from “load up on guns, bring your friends”, to “load up on drugs, kill your friends.”
Cobain then attempts to eat his microphone and exaggerated his guitar playing (when he actually touched the instrument) before slowing down the vocals to an octave lower and later confirmed that he was attempting to imitate Smiths frontman Morrissey. It’s precisely the kind of irreverent humour, concealing a nugget of truth, that saw Cobain become the main man for Gen-X.
Fighting for women’s rights
Cobain was a strong believer in women’s rights and, back in 1991, Cobain explained his thoughts on how he believed society should look to eliminate rape. One of the important factors he believed in was educating men about rape and the musician spoke about a female friend who had begun attending rape self-defence classes, he said: “She looked out the window and saw a football pitch full of boys, and thought those are the people that should really be in this class.”
Sexual assault was the subject of ‘Rape Me’ from In Utero, which was Cobain’s attempt to write an anti-rape anthem, despite it being largely misconstrued.
He explained the meaning behind the track to Spin: “It’s like she’s saying, ‘Rape me, go ahead, rape me, beat me. You’ll never kill me. I’ll survive this and I’m gonna fucking rape you one of these days and you won’t even know it.’”
The audio, which was posted online by musician Roberto Lorusso, was recorded on 20 September 1991 at the Opera House in Toronto, Canada. Lorusso, a then student at the university in Toronto, asked Cobain about a wide range of subjects which included everything from business deals around Nirvana’s tour and label, to their then album Nevermind.
“I’m a fan of rap music, but most of it is so misogynist that I can’t even deal with it. I’m not really that much of a fan, I totally respect and love it because it’s one of the only original forms of music that’s been introduced, but the white man doing rap is just like watching a white man dance. We can’t dance, we can’t rap.”
Creating his own supergroup
Delving into the Far Out Magazine Vault, we look back at the formation of ‘The Jury’, a tribute band formed by Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.
Lanegan and Cobain joined forces years before they secured major national prominence with their respected bands in a bit to honour the great blues artist Leadbelly. The band, which they named ‘The Jury’ became the side project of both musicians but sadly only lasted a handful of songs and never reached full fruition.
After the first Nirvana U.S. tour, Cobain and Lanegan began work on the side project and scheduled a session at Reciprocal Recording with Skin Yard guitarist Jack Endino to record some potential new songs. It is believed that the subsequent recording would coincide with a special release via Sub Pop. “Mark and Kurt got together,” Endino once said of the project. “I think they got drunk together, or really stoned, and wrote a bunch of songs, and got all excited and told Jonathan [Poneman, co-founder of Sub Pop Records], ‘Hey we want to do an album together!’
Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel completed the band lineup to make a formidable four-piece.
Forging unique friendships
Back in 1993, Kurt Cobain and his Nirvana bandmates formed what is now known as an iconic friendship with drag queen royalty RuPaul.
RuPaul, who built his legacy in the grimy clubs of New York, went on to dominate popular culture and now holds the acclaim of being included in the annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world such has been his impact.
Remembering a time he joined Cobain, the members of Nirvana and Courtney Love on the red carpet of the 1993 MTV Awards, RuPaul explained how he was taken back as members explained their love for his art.
Speaking in an interview with the AV Club, RuPaul explained the story behind the now-famous pictures: “I literally met [Nirvana] on the step-and-repeat red carpet at the MTV Awards, and Kurt Cobain told me, ‘You know, we went to see you perform in Seattle, but you had already performed and left by the time we got there.’ Because it was one of those gigs where I think I may have gone on at like 10 or something like that, and that tickled me,” he reminisced.
Supporting his bandmates…
A rare interview with Cobain has surfaced in which the grunge pioneer heaped praise on drummer Dave Grohl and hinted at the stupendous career he would have as a songwriter.
Grohl, who joined Nirvana in 1990 and replaced Chad Channing, enjoyed major mainstream success with the band who had previously seen Aaron Burckhard, Dale Crover and Dave Foster on the drums.
In the interview with Cobain which was unearthed by Studio Brussels, a radio station in Belgium which took place in Ghent during November 1991, Cobain says: “Krist [Novoselic] and I have been playing together for about four and a half years now with a few different drummers,” Cobain says in the interview. “Dave has been in the band for about a year. This is the first time we’ve felt like a very definite unit.
“The band is finally complete because all the other drummers we had pretty much sucked.”
Meeting his idols
Back in 1992, Cobain contacted one of his longstanding idols, William Burroughs, a writer and visual artist who was a major player of the Beat Generation. Cobain, desperate to form a collaboration, pitched the idea to Burroughs who duly replied by sending the Nirvana frontman a tape of a reading he’d done of a short story.
That story, which was originally published in his Exterminator collection way back in 1973, would be the kickstarter to some of the most obscure work Cobain would make. Inspired by the writer, Coban went on a leftfield journey with the music he create at this time.
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.
Remembering what’s important to him
Despite rising to international fame with Nirvana, Cobain always remained true to the bands and artists that have influenced him throughout the years.
The Frogs, a controversial American rock music band founded in 1980 by brothers Jimmy and Dennis Flemion, turned out to be one of Cobain’s favourite bands of all time. After meeting Cobain in 1993, The Frogs wrote two songs about him… as you do. Not content with that, the two brothers also made him a videotape entitled ‘Toy Porno’ which featured a few live performances and stop-motion animation with painted toys.
In return, Cobain sampled The Frogs on a couple of recordings he did in the later stage of his career.
Playing special gigs for children
With Nirvana’s reputation building to a frenzy following the release of the band’s second album, Cobain led his bandmates to a small Scottish bar to perform an intimate gig for some lucky fans.
Nirvana’s first full Scottish performance was to a sold-out Friday night at the city’s Calton Studios. It was after this show that a small Edinburgh-based band called The Joyriders decided to invite Nirvana to support them at a charity fundraiser for the city’s Sick Kids hospital the following Sunday.
It was an invitation the band duly accepted and delivered a stripped-back version of their set. It’s a performance that has gone down in Nirvana and Scottish history.