Kurt Cobain: The King of Grunge Rock, ‘an old memory’, turns 46!

Ananya Bhattacharya

“It is better to burn out than to fade away.”
- Kurt Donald Cobain, (1967-1994)

Any youngster who comes in contact with the works of Kurt Cobain, they say, is bound to fall head over heels in love with him. Be it his outrageously beautiful poetry or his devastating words, Cobain is one guy for who even the ‘burning out’ that he so advocated was put to shame. One gunshot and the young man fell to death – at the shamefully young age of 27.

Kurt Donald Cobain, had he been alive today, in addition to having had completed 46 glorious years of his life, might have changed the face of rock music as we know it. For in the few years from 1982 to 1994 that he was actively into music, Cobain’s work with grunge rock carved his name in golden letters in the annals of rock history.

In more ways than one, Kurt Cobain lived the life of a lightning bolt. A flash, a thundering applause and everything burned to ashes. In 1985 when Cobain collaborated with Krist Novoselic to form the band ‘Nirvana’, there were many struggling singers in the rock scene of the US. What set ‘Nirvana’ apart, however, was the pure shock that most of its song-lyrics came packed with. At times, the words were so dense that people ended up misinterpreting them – as had happened with the song ‘Rape Me’. The anti-rape song still comes across as one of Cobain’s most revolutionary works mainly due the strength of its lyrics and the fact that it was an objective discussion of rape.

Kurt Cobain’s first rendezvous with the guitar took place soon after his fourteenth birthday in 1981 when his uncle offered him the choice of either a bike or a used guitar as a gift. Cobain chose the latter – and that one moment will probably go down as one of the most defining moments in the history of 20th century music. The teenage Cobain soon played Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ to perfection and thereafter, began working on his own songs. Krist Novoselic and Cobain were brought together by their strong love for punk rock, and the two soon formed ‘Nirvana’. The percussionist’s position, for a few years, was unstable, and then Chad Channing came into the scene. This band of three recorded the album ‘Bleach’, and then, Novoselic and Cobain finally zeroed in on Dave Grohl – the drummer with whom Nirvana recorded most of their albums.

In 1991, Cobain and his band tasted success of the kind that is considered enviable at the least and paradisiacal at the most. With the album ‘Nevermind’, and its lead single ‘Smells like teen spirit’, Kurt Cobain became a name to reckon with in the rock canvas of the world. The song led to the massive popularization of the sub-genre of alternative or grunge rock and ‘Nirvana’ gained the status of cult. As a songwriter with ‘Nirvana’, Kurt Cobain and his band sold more than 25 million albums in the US alone and over 50 million worldwide – such was the spell that the singer had been able to cast on people!

Drug abuse and his relationship with Courtney Love – were two of the major setbacks in Kurt Cobain’s life – or so the popular fan-hypotheses run. In fact, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love are believed to have bonded through drugs. Cobain suffered from an undiagnosed stomach condition. His liaison with the dark world of drugs began at the tender age of 13 when he first sniffed marijuana. Once into adulthood and fame, the usage and the prices of the drugs that he used were on an unstoppable upward rise. Marijuana made way for LSD, Heroin and Percodan gradually and Cobain’s ‘Nevermind’ tours began to be affected majorly by his drug abuse.

On April 8, 1994, an electrician discovered Kurt Cobain lying on the floor with a little blood next to his ear. Thereafter, a shotgun pointing towards his chin came into the picture. The death of Kurt Cobain did not put an end to anything. It opened up a Pandora’s Box on the one hand with investigations into the exact method of his death, and on the other, Cobain’s death opened up a treasure chest of fame. In life if he had been able to achieve the status of a cult, it was with his death that Kurt Cobain turned into a legend, a phenomenon, a God.

Kurt Cobain’s songs, his poetry, his words, his very life – a short one, laced with intoxicating amounts of fame – have inspired much of popular culture since his death in 1994. The end of the twentieth century saw Cobain immortalised in books, films and the like. Underlying all of that, there is a deep sense of regret. Kurt Cobain was one man whose life would have made a lot more difference than what his death has been able to do.

“Come, as you are,
As you were,
As I want you to be...
As a friend,
As an old memory...”

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