The Many Ways We Remember Kurt Cobain After His Death

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Videos by American Songwriter

When Kurt Cobain was born in small Aberdeen, Washington, on February 20, 1967, there was no way to know he would be deified by many and remembered by most on planet earth. Today, we remember Kurt as the handsome, bestubbled frontman of the ‘90s grunge rock group Nirvana. He was that generation’s answer to Bob Dylan and the Beatles. But also, with his successful, beautiful blond partner, Courtney Love, he was Joe DiMaggio or JFK with Marilyn Monroe.

We also remember Cobain for how he died. Like other greats, who passed away too young (many of whom, like Cobain, were just 27 years old—Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison), there remains mystery around his death. Some speculate that someone else might have pulled the trigger. Some wonder, if he did it to himself, why he would do such a thing? Even others can imagine the tremendous pressure Cobain must have felt—the “Voice of a Generation.” This, from a disgruntled Pacific Northwestern small-town guy.

The world, in some way, remembers Cobain like we remember Mickey Mouse. He is, in a way, a mascot. With that stringy blond hair, million-dollar smile, raspy voice, brilliant songs, green cardigan sweater, and best-selling albums, he was a success story in a world where, at many points in his life prior, he was anything but. Perhaps it was too hard to handle. Perhaps a gun was easier to hold onto until he didn’t have to anymore?

We also remember Cobain for Nirvana’s records, which stand the test of time. There’s the lo-fi Bleach, recorded by famed Seattle engineer Jack Endino. There’s the emblazoned-on-all-music-lovers-minds Nevermind with the blue water and naked baby (who is suing the band today, in a twist of fate no one could have imagined in 1991 when it hit shelves) on the album cover. And there’s the screeching In Utero, which melted minds and stands as almost too sad to relive because maybe we all should have known a little better about Cobain’s mental health.

But there is also the Cobain who lived free of all that, the adult Cobain who wore a dress when he wanted to. There was the young Cobain, a rebel, a jackass, a son of divorce who grew up in Ronald Reagan’s America. There was the young man, Cobain, searching for his way, living in relative Squalor in the Northwest, strumming a second-hand guitar, recording on voice-mail tapes, smoking cigarettes. There is the happy Cobain who earned success and much of it since the days when he would call Seattle radio stations and ask, “Why aren’t you playing my song?” There’s the Cobain in white sunglasses, grinning because he found a secret place in the world and it was a wellspring of all that’s desirable.

Then there’s the heartbreaking Cobain—the strung out, worn out, exhausted, and drug-addled in a room somewhere, skinny, pale, no one to help, and probably no one to talk to Cobain. In the end, that may have been what did him in. His feeling that there was no one to share new words with. But, like so many others, that’s just one theory about the man.

Finally, there was Cobain the father, who sadly left behind his daughter, Frances Bean, the child of Cobain and Love. Cobain’s band, Nirvana, which he also left behind, was formed in 1987. At the time, it included bassist Krist Novoselic, who remained in the band until Cobain’s death, and drummer Aaron Burckhard, who would go on to be one of several drummers throughout the years, including most famously Dave Grohl, the current frontman of the Foo Fighters.

In 2014, Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And a few months ago, the world celebrated the 30th anniversary of Nevermind. (Seattle will celebrate December 12.) Today, Cobain remains one of those people who everyone feels like they know, or feel like they know what he would say or do regarding a given topic. In the end, though, perhaps his greatest magic trick may be that we all somehow see ourselves in him, to some degree or another. In that way, his face, his music, and his stringy blond hair will always live on. That’s our Kurt Cobain.

Below are even more ways to remember the great musician, through pictures, videos and lyrics.

Best Nirvana Lyrics:

He’s the one who likes all our pretty songs, and he likes to sing along, and he likes to shoot his gun / But he knows not what it means.

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous / Here we are now, entertain us / I feel stupid and contagious / Here we are now, entertain us.

I’m so happy ’cause today I found my friends, they’re in my head.

What else could I say? Everyone is gay / What else could I write? I don’t have the right / What else should I be? All apologies.

Hey! Wait! I got a new complaint.

All Photos By Charles Peterson:

(Not for the faint of heart) Kurt Cobain’s Suicide Note:

To Boddah

Speaking from the tongue of an experienced simpleton who obviously would rather be an emasculated, infantile complain-ee. This note should be pretty easy to understand.

All the warnings from the punk rock 101 courses over the years, since my first introduction to the, shall we say, ethics involved with independence and the embracement of your community has proven to be very true. I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music along with reading and writing for too many years now. I feel guity beyond words about these things.

For example when we’re back stage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowds begins., it doesn’t affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury, who seemed to love, relish in the the love and adoration from the crowd which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact is, I can’t fool you, any one of you. It simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100% fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do,God, believe me I do, but it’s not enough). I appreciate the fact that I and we have affected and entertained a lot of people. It must be one of those narcissists who only appreciate things when they’re gone. I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasms I once had as a child.

On our last 3 tours, I’ve had a much better appreciation for all the people I’ve known personally, and as fans of our music, but I still can’t get over the frustration, the guilt and empathy I have for everyone. There’s good in all of us and I think I simply love people too much, so much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. The sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man. Why don’t you just enjoy it? I don’t know!

I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what i used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point to where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become.

I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general. Only because it seems so easy for people to get along that have empathy. Only because I love and feel sorry for people too much I guess.

Thank you all from the pit of my burning, nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the past years. I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

Peace, love, empathy.
Kurt Cobain

Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your alter.
Please keep going Courtney, for Frances.
For her life, which will be so much happier without me.

I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU!

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