Kurt Cobain was more than a musician. For many, he was a voice of a generation, in a time when hope was dwindling and music was too manufactured. Enter Cobain and his stripped down guitar, lyrics, and a message that was always high on revolution, challenging the status quo, and love, always full of love.
A lot was written during his ascent to stardom, during the ups and downs of his band Nirvana as well as after his death by suicide. Some is shocking, some strange, but regardless, it’s very interesting. Cobain was a unique individual that, despite being quiet, was always the center of attention once he entered a room or took the stage.
So what didn’t make the list? There was a rumor that Cobain auditioned for the Melvins prior to forming Nirvana. This is not true. Did you know what Cobain did the first time he saw his video “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on television? He called his mom. See, stars are just like us! Cobain also wrote about sexual assault, but it’s not the song “Rape Me” that many associate to this. That song is more about the media and their relationship with his band. The song “Polly” was based on a sexual assault story he heard about, written from the perspective of the woman who was assaulted.
Ready to learn more about the grunge god Kurt Cobain? We’ve got dedicated songs, some of Cobain’s favorite people and even a petting zoo? Say what? That’s right, it’s time to get started. Here are 15 shocking facts you didn’t know about Kurt Cobain.
15. Kurt Cobain Almost Opened A Petting Zoo
Bruce Pavitt was the founder of Sub Pop, Nirvana’s initial record label. He recalled a discussion he had with Cobain after Nirvana had performed on the television show Saturday Night Live. High on energy and realizing anything was possible, Kurt brought up that maybe he would start a petting zoo. Now it’s unclear how serious he was and given this never came to fruition, maybe he was high on more than energy when he made this statement, but Kurt was a lover of animals so maybe…
Had Cobain started a petting zoo, my guess is there would have been a strange assortment of animals. Not Mike Tyson strange, but animals you may not typically associate with a petting zoo – lots of tamed animals from the cat family. There would have to be release forms signed prior to entry and no pictures allowed, that’s a given. Also chickens, I don’t know why but I assume there would have been a lot of chickens.
14. Kurt Cobain Once Performed After Overdosing On Heroin
In July of 1993, Cobain was found with a syringe in his arm slumped behind a toilet in his New York hotel room. He had turned blue. He came to and went on to participate in a full day of press interviews and did a live show, all in the same day. Wow! Sometimes I get stressed having two events scheduled in the same day, pretty sure I would have missed at least one of them had I overdosed that morning.
Apparently, the Nirvana public relations team knew it was going to happen. First, there was a drug dealer that arrived the day before. It was clear this guy was a heroin dealer. Then (presumably after he started using) Cobain and his wife, Courtney Love, started fighting, ending with an intense fight so violent it led to the PR team breaking in the door where they would find Cobain slumped behind the toilet.
13. MTV Unplugged Almost Never Happened
One of the greatest Nirvana performances was their set on the MTV television show Unplugged. The audio album is a treasure of stripped down Nirvana originals and covers that still receive a lot of airplay today. What many don’t realize is that it’s amazing all of this actually happened.
First was the tension between Cobain and Dave Grohl’s drumming. Cobain wanted the drums to be really light and not overpower the songs. The “compromise” was Grohl using silencers on his sticks and barely hitting the drums. MTV also had concerns. When they heard Nirvana wasn’t going to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and instead play B-side Nirvana songs and covers, the executives weren’t happy. In addition to the set list, MTV was unhappy with the special guests the band brought along. When Cobain said he was going to have special guests, MTV assumed members of other popular nineties grunge bands, not the Meat Puppets. Eventually MTV gave in because, well, they really didn’t have much of a choice.
12. The Foo Fighters Song “My Hero” Is About Kurt Cobain
There were several drummers before the band settled on Dave Grohl and even after this there was often tension because Kurt wasn’t always a fan of his drumming. Of course, this is just part of being in a band and Grohl always speaks of Cobain as a leader of a generation as well as leader of the Nirvana. After Cobain’s death, Grohl formed the band Foo Fighters and on the 1997 album The Colour & The Shape, he wrote and recorded a song named “My Hero” that he has stated is about Cobain.
The lyrics are vague, but you can make the connection. The beginning “too alarming now to talk about…” rings true as well as the lyrics “leaving all the best” which could be assumed to be a legacy of being the face of nineties rock as well as his band’s superior catalog of music. The lyric, though, that strikes me most is “He’s ordinary, Don’t the best of them bleed it out,” an example of Cobain’s struggle with being famous, one he ultimately couldn’t handle it.
11. Before Nirvana, Kurt Played In The Band Fecal Matter
When he was just 18 years of age, Cobain teamed up with Dale Crover and Buzz Osbourne of The Melvins to form the band named Fecal Matter. The band only created demos; however, this was the root of Cobain’s grunge sound that was rooted in punk with a strong pop influence. Krist Noveselic, someone Cobain had wanted to play with, heard Fecal Matter and reached out to Kurt. They decided to form their own band called Nirvana and the rest is history.
It’s crazy to think what may had happened if his initial band had a different name, something a little less offensive. We would have maybe gotten Nirvana-lite and never been exposed to the actual Nirvana band. Things may have worked out better for Cobain in the long run as well. He wouldn’t have become the voice of a generation, but he still would have had a band which seems to be all he really wanted in the first place.
10. Kurt Cobain’s Middle Name Is Donald
Don’t start on the conspiracies! No, Cobain did not predict Donald Trump would be president, that was an Internet hoax. A fun one, yes, but a hoax nonetheless. The name Donald actually comes from his father, Donald Leland Cobain. Another interesting thing about Cobain’s name is his first name, Kurt. I don’t think “Kurt” was very cool before, but now it’s hard to say it’s not. Cobain gave “Kurt” street cred!
There are a lot of conspiracies surrounding Cobain and his death. Some believe he is still alive, but I don’t believe that. I think he’s in rock star heaven where he jams with John Lennon and Janis Joplin on vocals. Occasionally he passes by Jimi Hendrix, but avoids Jim Morrison like the plague. Seems to me that these two would clash, sort of the way Cobain and Axl Rose never really saw eye to eye – one ego too many when the two of them got together.
9. Kurt Cobain Wrote A Full Solo Album
Ever since his death, the unreleased music of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain has been a legal mess. Some of this has been sorted out, however, there is apparently still music out there that has never been released. For example, Cobain was working on a solo project with non-Nirvana band members. Eric Erlandson, a guitarist for the band Hole, actually got to hear a lot of the music from Cobain’s solo record. He called it Cobain’s “White Album.” He also said in an interview that “There is one cover. I won’t say what it is. I don’t own the stuff. I just hope that one day it will be released for fans. It’s just so heartbreaking. It’s not surprising. It’s a very sweet, just touching song.”
What could the cover be? Something by Elton John? No, only Elton can sing Elton John. It’s interesting to think of what it could be. I like to hope that it’s John Lennon’s “Imagine” and that someday we get to hear this.
8. Kurt Cobain Dropped Out Of High School
Not a huge surprise to hear this, right? So many artists and genius types realize they don’t need formal schooling to be successful. Cobain dropping out of high school is only part of the story. Did you know he continued to work at the school as a janitor? That’s something, can you imagine the comments and ridicule he must have faced? I know if someone dropped out at my high school and stayed on as a janitor, it would not be easy.
I guess this is the influence for the janitor in the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I mean he is definitely one of the stars of the video. Did Cobain give him direction during the shooting of the video? “No man, you need to do it like this!” Then he pushes the mop, “Man you could never cut it at my high school.” I think it would have been a good idea for Cobain to include the janitor in every video. You know, 20-20 hindsight and all…
7. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Was Inspired By Deodorant
After a night of heavy partying, Cobain and many of his friends continued to party to the point where Kathleen Hanna, the singer for the band Bikini Kill, started spray painting the wall. She wrote “KURT SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT,” a reference to his girlfriend’s deodorant. Obviously, this phrase stuck with Cobain, one to mix silly, serious, and shocking when coming up with lyrics and song titles.
So did Kathleen Hanna spend the nineties after Nirvana blew up just sitting on the couch with her mouth wide open? I mean, technically she did write the song title first… Was there that uncomfortable “so Kurt, how about that song, what was it again? Oh yeah, you know what I spray painted on the wall!” Did she try coming up with others – maybe “Second Degree” or “Speed Stick It To The Man?” Let’s hope not. This also reminds me why I have never been asked to come up with a name for a song.
6. Kurt Cobain Almost Joined The Navy
As mentioned earlier, Cobain wasn’t much of a student in high school so his father tried to straighten him out by meeting with a Navy recruitment officer. In 1984, Cobain actually completed the process and just had to meet with the recruitment officer; however, Kurt decided to instead get high and blew off the meeting. That was the end of Cobain potentially joining the Navy.
During times of “relative” peace during the late eighties, can you imagine Cobain on board a ship? I can because he would have a mop in his hand and, given his janitorial experience, probably mop the hell out of the deck. The Navy lost a good one, but thankfully for us, we gained one of the greatest artists of our time. Lesson for the kids out there: getting high and blowing off meetings can make you a superstar. Note: this message is not intended for kids.
5. Kurt Cobain And Nirvana Were Thrown Out Of Their Record Release Party
Cobain and the rest of Nirvana actually got tossed out of their own record release party due to starting a food fight. Kurt initially started it and the other members joined in. Unity! I mean, this is a rock band and it’s just a food fight. Did they really have to throw out the band? What were they expecting? It’s okay to rage on drugs, start fights, and urinate where you feel you must, but don’t you dare throw any food or you are out of here!
Kurt was often referred to as a “slob” so it makes sense he would enjoy a good food fight. Plus, he was often uncomfortable in the public so this was really a perfect way to shake things up and take the focus off him. Nothing like a good ole fashioned John Belushi “FOOD FIGHT!” to create temporary chaos and a much needed diversion for Kurt and the band.
4. Kurt Cobain Was Homeless During the Recording Of Nevermind
During the recording of Nevermind, Nirvana’s breakthrough hit album, Cobain was homeless. During the day, he was in the recording studio, and at night, slept in his car. The album he was working on would go on to sell millions of copies and change the rock music scene. Cobain would go on to be one of the biggest pop culture celebrities of all time. I’m guessing it wasn’t a big Cadillac or anything with a lot of room, probably a small hatchback with the windows rolled down so his legs could hang out.
Cobain didn’t actually leave a “role model” legacy given how he left, but he was definitely a role model in sticking with your work, art, or whatever your passion may be. I’m sure it would have been easy for Cobain to pack it in, especially when homeless, but instead channeled that experience into his music, creating something that was meaningful and felt real to his eventual fans.
3. Kurt Cobain Was A Fan Of Weird Al Yankovic
There was always a long list of people Cobain had issues with, but surprisingly Weird Al Yankovic was not one of them. Yankovic makes it a habit to always get the artist’s permission before recording a parody, and called Cobain directly. Kurt had one question: “Is it going to be about food?” When Yankovic explained it would be about not being able to understand the lyrics, Cobain was 100 percent on board and felt that his band had now made it.
The video for the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” parody titled “Smells Like Nirvana” actually got to use many of the cheerleaders and the famous janitor from the original video. Can you imagine the great feeling the janitor must have had? I mean first, a chance of a lifetime to be in one of the biggest videos of all time, let’s face it, that guy probably wasn’t getting a lot of work. But wait, here’s another call and they want you to do the same thing – this is great – oh no wait, have I been typecast as a fake janitor?
2. Kurt Cobain’s Body Was Unrecognizable
During his final moments, Cobain threw his opened wallet on the floor. This would be used to officially identify the body. Cobain died from a self-inflicted gun wound to the head and given it took some time before he was found, he was not easily identified. The wound along with the decomposing made the license necessary for police to identify the body at the scene. Some don’t believe this is what happened, instead believing he was murdered.
It is rumored that music from the band REM was playing in the background. It was the album Automatic For The People that was apparently on repeat. One of his projects prior to his suicide was a collaboration with Michael Stipe and REM. When police discovered the body, there was a shotgun laid across his chest. There were several filtered Camel cigarette butts surrounding the area where Cobain must have contemplated his future as well as his present. He also left a note…
1. Kurt Cobain Addressed His Suicide Note To His Childhood Imaginary Friend
Boddah was Kurt’s imaginary friend, or his evil alter ego depending how you looked at it (or how Kurt described it). As a child, a cat was tortured and Kurt was accused of doing this – he blamed Boddah for the torture of the cat. His final letter, or suicide note, was addressed “Dear Boddah,” the friend who always got him in trouble.
The letter discusses his musical roots and what he hopes he has left behind, mainly that he made a difference when it came to being an artist. The pain of having empathy for his fans and society comes across as too much for Cobain to handle, or wanted to handle any longer. Cobain often spoke about being famous and how he didn’t like it, noting that having money was nice, but not worth the stings that came attached. He also notes “it’s better to burn out than fade away” and sends love to his family.