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(Credit: Subpop)

Music

The story of how Kurt Cobain worked as a janitor to finance Nirvana's first demo

Kurt Cobain is one of the most iconic figures in the history of rock music. Through his dark lyricism and genius ability to pen an anthem, Cobain managed to galvanise an entire generation and cement himself as the spokesperson of Generation X. 

However, this role wasn’t a position Cobain was comfortable with, nor was he at the level of fame that the band was afforded after the release of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in September 1991. Together, both these things have been attributed to the Nirvana frontman’s suicide, confirming him as the most humble rockstar the world has ever seen.

This modest, everyman nature is what really endeared Cobain to fans worldwide. Apart from his drug use, Cobain turned the stereotype of the rockstar on its head. He wasn’t a misogynist, he wasn’t concerned with promoting himself, and always stayed true to his convictions. Famously, the Nirvana leader refused to do an encore after 1993’s MTV Unplugged as he thought the band “sucked” which, of course, simply wasn’t true. 

The stories of Cobain being a good person are as refreshing today as they were 30 years ago. Whether it be his six commandments of how to live like a good human being, such as ‘Don’t rape’ and ‘Don’t be sexist’, or calling men out for being creeps at his shows, Cobain led by example, which made his loss in April 1994 even harder to bear. 

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One of the most enduring facets of his larger than life character, however, was his hard-working mentality and relentless dedication to reaching artistic enlightenment. This was a sentiment that Cobain always espoused, and it was due to this dedication that Nirvana were able to navigate numerous lineup and name changes and finally get signed to local Seattle label, Sub Pop, which truly set them on their path to greatness. 

Showing his dedication to his craft, Cobain picked up a series of odd jobs in order to finance Nirvana’s budding recording career. One of the positions he held down was, for a brief time, working as a janitor at his old school, Aberdeen High School. During this period, he rented a flat on N. Michigan Street, where many of the band’s early bangers were penned.

“Here was a man who would never clean his kitchen or take out the garbage, or do those kind of chores, but Kurt Cobain was not a lazy person,” recalled Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. “Basically, he cleaned toilets – that’s how he paid for (our) demo.” 

If you feel like Nirvana and the janitors of the world are linked, that’s because they are. Remember the dancing janitor in the video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’? He was intended as a reference to Cobain’s former employment. A man who never forgot where he came from, Kurt Cobain lives on through humble anecdotes such as these. 

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