The day the grunge music died for Generation X
Kurt Cobain, the reluctant ‘king of grunge’, died 20 years ago today
Teen spirit: Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, performing in 1993. Photograph: Robert Sorbo/AP
The day, 20 years ago on Tuesday, that Kurt Cobain’s body was found in his home in Seattle, his band Nirvana were supposed to have been playing the RDS, in Dublin. The singer had been dead for three days; his death occurred precisely two decades ago today.
The “Prince of Generation X”, the scrawny musical prodigy from the lumber town of Aberdeen, in the backwoods of Washington state, who grew up to become the anti-martyr of the grunge movement, had killed himself after a heroin binge.
In Dublin, distressed fans marched to the Phoenix Park carrying album sleeves and candles. Some were dressed in red-and-black jumpers, Cobain’s trademark, others in the grunge uniform of plaid shirt and ripped jeans.
Around the Wellington Monument they sat, disconsolate, as Smells Like Teen Spirit blasted out on cassette recorders: “I’m worse at what I do best / And for this gift I feel blessed / Our little group has always been / And always will until the end.”
It was a John Lennon moment for those people, who are now in middle age. Cobain was the loser kid of divorced parents, beaten down by self-loathing and peer rejection, who had picked up a guitar and screamed his fury all the way to superstardom.
His family were “white trash posing as middle class”, he once said. When he was nine, and his parents were on the brink of divorce, Kurt wrote on his bedroom wall: “I hate Mom. I hate Dad. Dad hates Mom, Mom hates Dad. It simply makes you want to be so sad.”
As a teenager he found common cause with the local punk-rock music scene. With two friends he formed Nirvana; and with their second album, Nevermind , they caught a wave: it replaced Michael Jackson’s Dangerous at the top of the chart and went on to sell 30 million copies.
“This was music by, for and about a whole new group of people who have been overlooked, ignored or condescended to,” according to Michael Azerrad, a Nirvana biographer.
Baby boomers’ dominance of music was over; younger bands, and younger fans, had seized control. But, as Cobain was to find out, there’s no failure like success. He came to loathe the “yuppie scum in BMWs” who took to his band. On the liner notes of a Nirvana compilation album he wrote: “If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different colour, or women, please do this one favour for us – leave us the f**k alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”
His wealth and stardom alienated him from the scene that spawned him. On a band T-shirt he referred to Nirvana as “flower sniffin’, kitty pettin’, baby kissin’, corporate rock whores”.
His wealth allowed him to self-medicate, with heroin, a lifelong stomach complaint characterised by crippling pains. He became a rich, famous junkie: the sort of person he used to mock.
A stormy marriage to Courtney Love didn’t exactly bring stability, and he was distraught when they had to surrender custody of their baby daughter, Frances Bean, because of concern about their drug use.
There were overdoses, interventions and spells in rehab. With his band on top of the world and due to play in Dublin, he signed himself out of a clinic, travelled back to his Seattle mansion, injected himself with heroin and shot himself. He was 27.
Shortly before Cobain died he talked about the trauma of his daughter being removed from his care: “I’m being used as an example because I stand for everything that goes against the grain of conformist American entertainment.”