” If you die you’re completely happy and your soul somewhere lives on. I’m not afraid of dying. Total peace after death, becoming someone else is the best hope I’ve got.”—Kurt Cobain.
Within the slew of alternative bands that formed in the 80s and burst onto the scene in the early 90s, there was something special about Nirvana—and in particular, there was something special about the bands’ frontman, Kurt Cobain. With a gravelly voice, blue eyes peeking out from curtains of blond hair, and an expression that would vacillate between a mischievous smile and a stony gaze that belied a sense of true pain, he was a magnetic figure that drew flocks of fans to the band—but it wasn’t all about idolatry. His incredible songwriting talent and stage presence stand on their own as well. Cobain’s tragic death at the age of 27 broke the hearts of fans worldwide, but his influence and memory endure. Here are 60 heart-shaped facts about Kurt Cobain.
1. A (Reluctant) Star Is Born
Kurt Cobain was born on February 20, 1967, in Aberdeen, Washington to parents Wendy Elizabeth Cobain and Donald Leland Cobain. He was described as a happy yet sensitive child.
2. It Was an Okay Word
Kurt Cobain had a difficult relationship with the media and seldom went along with anything that was printed about him. The one label he didn’t seem to mind was grunge. When asked about it in 1994, he said: “If someone wouldn’t have come up with grunge, it would have been called something else. I think it described what kind of guitar rock we were playing at the time pretty well, and it was an okay word.”
3. “Kurt” or “Kurdt”
An article written about Nirvana before the release of their debut album Bleach misspelled Kurt Cobain’s name as “Kurdt” Cobain. From that point on, Cobain often spelled his name Kurdt, and it was believed that he used the name to represent his alter-ego when he wasn’t feeling like himself.
4. The 27 Club
With his suicide at age 27, Kurt Cobain joined what is known as the 27 club—a group of prominent musicians who died at age 27. Other members include Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, and Doors frontman Jim Morrison.
5. Beautiful, Nice and Pretty
According to Kurt Cobain, the band settled on the name Nirvana for their band because he wanted something that sounded beautiful, nice, and pretty, and not mean, raunchy, or punk rock.
6. Lefty and Righty
Cobain played his guitar left-handed, but played the drums right-handed.
According to one of Kurt Cobain’s ex-girlfriends, Cobain was made fun of for his size in high school, and started wearing layers to cover his frame. As he got older, he continued to wear layers of clothing, even in warm weather.
8. We Don’t Want Your Money
Kurt Cobain was a supporter of social equality. He had no tolerance for homophobia, and in an interview, he emphatically stated that if someone was racist, homophobic, or misogynistic, they could refrain from buying their albums or attending their concerts because he didn’t want their money or anything to do with them.
9. Alternative Paths
Cobain once toyed with the idea of joining the Navy, and he even met with a recruitment officer to discuss enlisting.
10. Silent and Moody
Cobain was known for his sensitivity and his moodiness. Occasionally, when the mood struck him, he would sit in a corner for 45 minutes without speaking a word.
11. The Show Went On
Hours before he was due to perform on Saturday Night Live, and one week before Nevermind hit number one on the charts, Cobain overdosed on drugs. In July 1993, he overdosed again, but still managed to participate in a full day of press interviews and do a live show.
12. They’re Kissing! How Dare They?!
Speaking of that 1992 appearance on Saturday Night Live, Nirvana managed to squeeze a minor scandal into the closing credits of the show. Bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl began making out while they were standing around on the stage, only to be joined in their kissing session by Kurt Cobain. After the initial broadcast, SNL producer Lorne Michaels cut the footage of the kissing out of every re-broadcast. Safe to say, the 90s were a really different time.
As a child, Kurt Cobain was temporarily put on Ritalin to control his hyperactivity.
Cobain’s mother granted his father full custody of Kurt when he was a teen, but he didn’t last long at his father’s, and spent time living at the homes of friends and family. During his second year of high school, he went back to his mother’s, but years later, when it became clear that he was short of credits to graduate, she told him to get a job or leave the house, and he chose to leave. During this time, he stayed with friends and claimed to have occasionally been homeless.
15. First Job
One of Cobain’s few jobs before entering the music business was teaching preschool swimming lessons at the YMCA in Aberdeen.
16. An Interesting Costume Choice
One year, Kurt Cobain cut up a sex doll and wore it as a costume for Halloween.
17. Always a Feminine Person
Cobain once said that growing up, he was unaware of feminism, but that he was always a feminine person. He felt more inclined to hang out with girls, and preferred softer pop music until his teens.
18. Kurt Smells Like…
Before his marriage to Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain was involved with Tobi Vail, a founding member of riot grrl band Bikini Kill. Soon after they began dating, Kathleen Hanna, singer for Bikini Kill, began dating Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. It was during this era that Hanna scrolled the words “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” on the wall in Cobain’s bedroom, referring to Vail’s brand of deodorant—and inspiring the title for Nirvana’s breakout hit.
19. No Thanks
Cobain always had an uneasy time with Nirvana’s fame. After the band got big, Cobain offered to play at the International Pop Underground festival in Olympia, but was turned down by the event coordinators. Cobain was hurt by their rejection and felt alienated from a scene he really cared about.
20. We Really Dig Nirvana
Early on in their rise to stardom, Metallica sent Nirvana a fax that said “We really dig Nirvana. Nevermind is the best album of the year. Let’s get together soon, Metallica. PS, Lars hates the band.” There’s no accounting for taste!
21. Just Like 16
In response to a question about what it was like to be number one on the Billboard charts, Cobain replied: “It’s just like being 16, only even more people kiss your ass”.
22. The Truth Hurts
Cobain once wrote in a letter to his father, “I’ve never taken sides with you or my mother because while I was growing up, I had equal contempt for you both”.
23. Kurt & Courtney
Kurt Cobain met Courtney Love in 1990, and the pair developed crushes on each other, with Love pursuing Cobain, who had hoped to stay single for a few months but admitted that he liked her a lot. On February 24, 1992, the pair were married in Honolulu, Hawaii, and later, in August of that year, they welcomed their daughter Frances Bean Cobain.
24. Running Into Trouble
In 1992, Vanity Fair ran a profile of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love by author Lynn Hirschberg. In the article, Hirschberg allegedly misquoted Love on the subject of her heroin use before her pregnancy, and as a result, the couple became the target of both tabloid articles and the Los Angeles Department of Children’s Services, who took the Cobains to court. The investigation was eventually dismissed, but not without taking a huge psychological toll on Cobain and Love.
25. What He Left Behind
According to Courtney Love, Cobain left behind 109 unreleased, unrecorded songs when he died. Some are just fragments of songs, some “music collages,” and some are acoustic numbers that Love thinks are good enough to release.
26. A Prophetic Scene
Cobain used to enjoy making Super 8 films. One early film made with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic featured a montage of surrealistic scenes including Cobain pretending to stab a dog, Novoselic wearing a Mr. T mask, and Cobain pretending to stab himself.
27. Based on a Book
The song “Scentless Apprentice” is based on the book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. The literary historical fantasy novel tells the story of a French perfumer with an extraordinary nose who murders a young girl with a scent that he finds exceptional.
28. Choir Boy
At the age of 4 years old, Kurt Cobain sang in the choir of Baptist church his family attended. Cobain would later flirt with religion again in his teens while staying at the home of his friend Jesse Reed. The Reeds were born again Christians, and Cobain attended church with them before renouncing his beliefs.
29. First Guitar
Kurt Cobain received his first guitar at the age of 14, as a birthday present from his uncle. While he couldn’t remember the exact model, he remembered “becoming so obsessed with it” as soon as he got it.
30. Prized Possession
A signed first edition of William S. Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch was one of Cobain’s most prized possession. The book is a dream-like series of vignettes about the narrator, a character named William Lee.
31. Target Practice
In his spare time, Cobain used to purchase large chunks of meat from the grocery store and then go out into the woods and use them for shooting practice.
32. A Guitar, Bass, Spoons, and a Suitcase
In December 1982, Kurt Cobain recorded his first songs at his aunt Mari’s house. Instruments included a guitar, bass, and spoons banged against a suitcase. He called the recordings “Organized Confusion.”
33. Famous Last Words
In his suicide note, addressed to his fans, Cobain reference one of Neil Young’s lyrics, writing: “Thank you all from the pit of my burning, nauseous stomach for your letters of concern over the past years. I don’t have the passion anymore and so remember, it’s better to burn out than fade away.” The phrase “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” comes from the Young song “My My, Hey Hey.”
34. Do It Live
If there’s one thing Nirvana loved to do, it was to joke around. They were essentially trolls before the term caught on. During their live shows, Kurt Cobain would sometimes stop singing the lyrics and replace them with gibberish. He’d grunt like a caveman, he’d put on an accent, or he’d intentionally slur his voice. All that just to joke around with his fans.
35. Not a Fan
Kurt Cobain stated multiple times that he didn’t like Pearl Jam, but he and Eddie Vedder got along extremely well. The two used to talk on the phone, and when Cobain’s body was found, Vedder paid tribute to him at a concert on the same day.
36. Pre-Show Jitters
Kurt Cobain suffered from stage fright, and more often than not, he’d throw up before a show.
37. Two Goals
Cobain admitted that his goal in writing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was to rip off the Pixies and make a huge record. When the song blew up, he got sick of the song and hated playing it.
38. Self-Drawn Tattoo
In 1991, Kurt Cobain reportedly gave himself a small tattoo on his forearm. It was a small “K,” inside a shield. It’s not a reference to his own name, it’s actually the logo of the independent music label K Records, whose motto is “exploding the teenage underground into passionate revolt against the corporate ogre since 1982”.
39. Buying Anatomy
Kurt Cobain was fascinated by anatomy, especially fetuses and vaginas, which were often represented in his music and art. In one interview, he talked about a medical supply store in the Mall of America where he bought a collection of model fetuses.
40. Avid Animal Lover
Kurt Cobain was an animal lover, and even talked about opening a petting zoo. He also had a number of pets, including a rat called Kitty, a cat called Melvin, and a few turtles.
41. The End of an Era
The grunge era of music is said to have officially ended with Kurt Cobain’s death.
42. A Dead Ringer
Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean Cobain looks just like her famous father, and has his distinct blue eyes.
43. A Posthumous Grammy
The only Grammy that Nirvana ever won was awarded for the album MTV Unplugged, which was released after Cobain’s death.
44. Fragile & Delicate
Carrie Montgomery, a friend of Kurt Cobain’s, once said that he “made women want to protect and nurture him.” She also referred to him as a paradox, in that he was brutally and intensely strong, yet also fragile & delicate.
45. What’s in a Title?
Kurt Cobain’s original title for Nirvana’s 1993 album In Utero was I Hate Myself and I Want to Die. At the time, Cobain had used this phrase as a sarcastic response to anyone asking him how he was doing. Cobain also wanted to use the phrase as a title to work against Nirvana’s fans “taking this band so seriously.” Ultimately, bassist Krist Novoselic convinced him to shelve that title, fearing the band might be sued over a title like that.
The phrase “In Utero” was taken from a poem by Cobain’s then-partner, Courtney Love.
46. I Don’t Mean to Brag But…
One of the tags that Nirvana was given during their heyday was “the ‘flagship band’ of Generation X.” Cobain went further and called himself the “spokesman of a generation.” He must have gotten self-promotion lessons from the Beatles.
47. I Hate It…
It turns out that Cobain disliked most of Nirvana’s first album, Bleach. He claimed that most of the album’s lyrics had been written the night before recording happened. He also disliked how negative the songs felt in the attempt to have them fit in with the grunge movement that Sub Pop was trying to craft.
48. Keeping It Clean
In the music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” you can see a dancing janitor. Nirvana deliberately did this as an inside joke at frontman Kurt Cobain’s expense. Cobain had previously worked as a janitor in the high school that he’d dropped out of as a youth.
49. It Makes You Want to Be Sad
When Kurt Cobain was just 9 years old, his parents divorced. In June of that year, he scribbled on his bedroom wall: “I hate Mom, I hate Dad, Dad hates Mom, Mom hates Dad, it simply makes you want to be sad.” Seems like he showed early songwriting promise!
50. Broken Promises
Cobain clearly took the divorce hard, but his nightmare only got worse when his parents her new partners. His father had promised him he wouldn’t get married again, but broke that promise, eventually marrying a woman named Jenny Westeby. Cobain’s relationship with his stepmother eventually warmed, but when she gave birth to his half-brother, he was no longer the only young boy in the family, and he grew to resent his father and stepmother once again.
Cobain’s mother, for her part, wound up in an abusive relationship. Despite the physical abuse, some of which Kurt witnessed firsthand, she refused to leave her partner.
52. The Physical Toll
Cobain suffered from chronic pain due to a stomach condition which went undiagnosed for most of his life. As with many who suffer from chronic pain, it dramatically affected and deeply traumatized Cobain. He claimed that his heroin use was a direct result of it, saying that after he used, it would be one of the only times he didn’t suffer.
53. Early Rejection
Prior to forming Nirvana, Cobain auditioned for the influential rock band the Melvins, but was rejected. He also claimed that the Melvins was his first concert, but many of his former classmates contended that they remembered him going to a Sammy Hagar show before that—guess the Red Rocker didn’t have enough indie cred for Cobain.
54. A Reason or an Excuse
Coincidentally, Buzz Osborne of the Melvins, who was close friends with Cobain, refuted Cobain’s claims about suffering from chronic pain as a result of his stomach issues. Osborne claimed that the stomach illness was simply an excuse that Cobain made to justify his drug use.
After an intervention organized by Love in late March 1995, Cobain entered a detox program on March 30, 1994. The next day, he hopped the fence and left, and flew from Los Angeles back to Seattle. Coincidentally, he ended up next to Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses on the plane, who later revealed that he felt like something was off with the Nirvana frontman.
56. Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
Cobain was seen in multiple locations around Seattle through April 2 and 3, and on April 3, Love hired a private investigator to track Cobain down. Cobain’s body was found in the greenhouse of his home by an electrician who came to install a security system on April 8, 1994. It was later determined that he’d died on April 5, 1994.
57. A Final Goodbye
On April 10, 1994, roughly 5 days after his death, a public vigil was held in Cobain’s honor at a park in Seattle Center. Nearly 7,000 people attended, and Courtney Love read Cobain’s suicide note to the crowd.
58. Dear Boddah
As a child, Kurt Cobain had an imaginary friend Boddah, whom he described as the evil part of his psyche. It was to Boddah whom he addressed his suicide note. Although many fans know about the famous suicide note, many don’t know that some investigators believe that the end of the note was doctored and it actually read differently.
The main body of the note is written about Kurt’s relationship to music, it’s only the very small part of the note, the last four lines, that talk about his relationship to his family, and specifically Courtney and their daughter Frances.
59. The Last Days
Due to the high-profile nature of the case and the rampant conspiracy theories perpetuated by fans, Seattle Police decided to revisit the case of Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 2014. Detectives claimed an undeveloped roll of film with photographs of the scene that had sat in an evidence locker for years. These photos provided a clearer image of Cobain’s final moments than the Polaroids that had been previously used.
Upon re-evaluation of the scene, the detective only confirmed the finding that Cobain had killed himself, but they initially refused to release these new photos to the public, saying “What are people going to gain from seeing pictures of Kurt Cobain laying on the ground with his hair blown back, with blood coming out of his nose and trauma to his eyes from a penetrating shotgun wound. How’s that going to benefit anybody?”
However, some of the photos, including one tragically showing the hospital bracelet he still had on his arm from the detox program that he had escaped from just days before his death, were later made publicly available.
60. Couldn’t Be Helped
Years after Cobain committed suicide, his friend and former bandmate Grohl revealed in an interview with BBC that he had always known that Cobain was going to die young, saying “There are some people that you meet in life that you just know that they are not going to live to be a 100 years old… In some ways, you kind of prepare yourself emotionally for that to be a reality.”
However, aside from this sad resignation, he was still shocked when the tragic day finally came: “It was probably the worst thing that has happened to me in my life. I remember the day after that I woke up and I was heartbroken that he was gone. I just felt like, ‘OK, so I get to wake up today and have another day and he doesn’t.’”