Throughout the history of pop culture there is one unmistakable truth. Change comes gradually until someone or a group of people make their presence known. Then the change happens almost overnight. In the early 90’s a Seattle band known as Nirvana hit main stream music. Kurt Cobain was the lead singer, lead guitar, and a founding member of this very band. The purpose of this essay is to understand how he shaped our musical culture from his very own experiences in life. How he died and the questions surrounding his death. First let’s look over his life.
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Kurt Donald Cobain was born February 20, 1967 to a cocktail waitress named Wendy and an auto mechanic named Donald. He grew up in the town of Aberdeen, Washington. At a young age his family noted he had promise in art and music. Unfortunately for his family, money was tight. When he was eight years old his parents divorced. He lived with his mom at first, but would later live with his dad. His dad would later marry and Kurt had a real personality shift. He was a sweet and caring child but this drove him to become very defiant. On his 14th birthday an uncle of his gave him a choice. He could either have a bicycle, or a guitar. Kurt chose the guitar. At this point he stopped focusing on school almost entirely and just played music. Another activity of his was to watch his favorite punk rock band “The Melvin’s”. This is the first band he credits for influencing his work. He would eventually drop out of school 2 weeks prior to graduation due to not having the credits to graduate.
Like we all have a tendency to do, he became an adult and was given an ultimatum from his mother. He had to either find a job or move out. After neglecting to find a job, he came home to all of his belongings packed away on her front porch. After some moving around someone named Krist Novoselic offered him a couch to sleep on. Cobain actually met Krist while both were hanging out at a Melvin’s practice. They would form Nirvana together in 1989 and constantly go through new drummers. Eventually they would record a demo and get signed with Sub Pop records, a local record label. They released the album “Bleach” which sold 35000 copies. While touring Kurt found an addiction in heroin.
In 1991 Nirvana signed with a new record label, Geffen. They also finally found their drummer, David Grohl. They would release the album “Nevermind”, which sold around 4 million copies in the first year. He also met his future wife, Courtney Love, lead singer of the band Hole. They had much in common, from bad childhoods to their current drug habits. It seemed like an endless cycle of drug abuse until Courtney found out she was pregnant. They would have a daughter in 1992, named Frances Bean Cobain.
1993 was the year In Utero was released. The following year they performed on MTV’s unplugged set. It is around this time that his drug addiction took a turn for the worse. On March 2nd, 1994, he overdosed on rohypnol, a date rape drug more commonly known as “ruffies”. He was found unconscious by his wife and survived after going to the hospital. But on April 5th, 1994 he died. He injected a dose of heroin that was about three times the lethal limit. And while on the high, he shot himself with a shotgun.
Questions tend to be raised when successful people commit suicide, and then conspiracy theories are born. There are many who believe that Kurt Cobain was murdered. The evidence is pretty convincing. For one, there are no clear prints anything in the room he should have touched. None on the bullets or gun but where he held it. None on his drug box. As noted earlier, he injected more than 3 times the lethal limit of heroin with a blood level of 1.52 mgs per liter. This is a dose that can kill hardcore addicts in seconds. It would be nearly impossible for someone to handle a shotgun in their mouth. It is possible he could have done it, but it is highly unlikely. Another conspiracy is a man named Eldon Hoke. He has claimed that Courtney tried to pay him 50000 to kill Kurt. Eight days after an interview about it he was found dead on a railroad track. It should also be noted that Courtney Love was around every other time Kurt overdosed. She hired a Private Investigator to find a missing Kurt 2 days before he killed himself by the name of Tom Grant. Grant is certain Courtney had something to do with Kurt’s death due to motive. They were talking about divorce and there was a prenuptial agreement. She would get very little, but get everything if he died. He also found it suspicious that she couldn’t leave Los Angeles when her missing husband was on the loose. While it’s not damning evidence, this is still convincing. It does leave room to question. Another autopsy will never happen. Kurt was cremated and in 1999 his ashes were spread out in Lake Olympia by his daughter in a final ceremony.
While Kurt was alive he was one of the most important musical figures of that era. One of the most notable changes was popular music. Michael Jackson and other pop musicians dominated the air waves. The “Nevermind” album knocked Michael Jackson out of the number 1 spot. It was the album that showed you can make something that sounds like you played it in your garage and still outsell more established artists. In the last 16 years since he died there are bands that list his band as a musical influence.
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It is also significant that he grew up poor and what he perceived as a troubled household. He used the feelings he learned from this to write his music filled with angst. The problem was he wrote the music hoping it would appeal to people who were like him in school. Those that didn’t fit in. His biggest fans turned out to be like those who beat him up in school.
The music movement he was a part of also affected fashion. Flannel, torn up jeans, and wearing plain long sleeve shirts under your awesome t-shirt. Stores started selling jeans already with holes. Most of the clothing assossiated with grunge was cheap. But of course major retail stores have a knack for taping into what is fashionable and sell it for a higher price.
Three of their most popular albums were popular because of the music on them obviously. From the “Nevermind” CD tracks include “Smells like Teen Spirit”, “Come As You Are”, and “Lithium”. From the “In Utero” CD, we have “Heart Shaped Box”, “Dumb”, and “All Apologies”. Finally we have their “MTV’s Unplugged in New York by Nirvana” album. Most of the songs were on previous albums, but some others played were “Lake of Fire”, a cover of “The Man Who Sold the World” (Originally by David Bowie), and “Where did you sleep last night”. These are not the only good songs per CD.
Being in one of the most popular bands at the time it’s easy to see how Kurt Cobain was one of the most popular people shaping our culture. His music encouraged people to question what is considered right or normal. He showed people you don’t have to fit in to be one of the cool kids. And in the end, even the popular can fall to their outlook on life. People like Kurt don’t come very often. When they do, they leave a lasting footprint on us all. From the music people make to our outlook on our past experiences. The early to mid 90’s owes Kurt Cobain recognition for how it was shaped by him. So do the people who were alive during that time.
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