Seeing as how I accidentally went all Kurt Cobain recently I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the great man himself.
As was the case for many of us – well those of us lucky enough to be old/young enough to experience his music first hand – I first heard Kurt screaming his way through “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I flicked on MTV one day in 1991 (back when it played music) and I saw the last thirty seconds of a rather raucous music video.
It was probably a few days later when I bought “Nevermind” without hearing anything about it. The fact that I had just bought one of the most defining albums of my lifetime was unknown to me at the time.
“Nevermind” might have been about Kurt’s tortured soul but since so little was known about him the messages in the music flew over a lot of fans heads. “Lithium” was a catchy sing-a-long – nothing to do with a drug treatment for depressives. “Polly” was obviously not about a parrot but only on closer inspection could you work out the disturbing nature of the subject matter. Only when stories of Kurt’s depression and drug addiction started to hit the papers did the likes of me begin to interpret his lyrics a different way.
Nirvana’s third studio album, “In Utero”, was more alternative and disturbing again. The lyrical obtuseness of songs like “Scentless Apprentice” (“I lie in the soil and fertilize mushrooms/Leaking out gas fumes are made into perfume”) and “Pennyroyal Tea” (“Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld/So I can sigh eternally”) still split fans to this day on exactly what Kurt was writing about. Regardless of who is debating you will find that the same topics come up – self-loathing, abortion, depression, suicide. As perverse as it is, Kurt’s ticking time-bomb lifestyle led him to write some absolutely incredible music and lyrics.
To me Kurt Cobain was a genius. I’m not fortunate enough to have experienced Presley, Lennon or Hendrix first hand but for me Kurt deserves to be put on a pedestal with those greats. From the rabid punk of (brilliant) debut record “Bleach” to the intimate acoustic set from “Unplugged in New York”, he succeeded at everything he tried. Except being happy, of course. And just like any other human, Kurt desperately wanted to be happy.
If you want a great read about Kurt, try this book from Charles Cross.
I also wrote a piece on him for a radio broadcast journalism assignment. It’s written in the form of a radio script and I eventually recorded it and aired it on college radio.
And for a bit of a laugh, how about Weird Al Yankovic’s “Smells Like Nirvana” parody – a version that Kurt gave the thumbs up to himself.