On the twentieth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, seven snapshots of his life and legacy.
Every generation has that one unforgettable death that bears the question, “Where were you when ____ died?” For baby boomers, it was JFK. For the cool music-minded baby boomers, it was John Lennon. And, for Generation Xers, like myself, it was Kurt Cobain. Like generations past, you never forget where you were when a cultural icon dies. For me, the day the news broke that Kurt Cobain died is permanently etched in my mind because I was there.
—Former Billboard editor Carrie Borzillo
Twenty-seven years ago, in December 1987, three kids in Aberdeen, Wash. formed the original line-up of Nirvana. They recorded a 10-song demo the next month. Bleach was released on Sub Pop six months later, followed by Nevermind in September, 1991. It opened at #144 on the Billboard charts. The next January, it hit #1, and the band played “Saturday Night Live” that same night. Three months later they were on the cover of Rolling Stone. In Utero, their third and final album, was released in September 1993, debuting at #1 on the Billboard charts and selling 180,000 copies within a week of its release. Seven months later, Kurt Cobain was dead; a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
That was 20 years ago. Nirvana will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this Thursday. Kurt Cobain’s life and legacy have been examined in far too many books, dissertations and teenage diary entries to name. This list is the opposite of comprehensive; instead it offers seven specific snapshots.
The Chemistry of an Echo: On the twentieth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, investigating copycat suicide and the lasting influence of the Nirvana icon (Candace Opper, Guernica, April 1, 2014)
According to Opper, Cobain’s death was arguably the first major celebrity suicide since Marilyn Monroe’s passing in 1962. This piece, which examines both Cobain’s death and the phenomena of suicide contagion, provides a fascinating look at how suicide prevention specialists sprung into action after the tragedy, providing resources to devastated fans.
Who Killed Kurt Cobain? (Tim Kenneally & Steve Bloom, High Times, April 1996)
Two years after Cobain’s death, High Times investigated the rumors that foul play—and not a self-inflicted gunshot wound—were to blame.
Kurt Cobain’s Final Tour (Amy Dickinson, Esquire, February 1996)
Crisscrossing the country with Courtney Love, this story follows the strange saga of Cobain’s earthly remains, which, in search of nirvana, are divided, molded, stuffed in a teddy bear, held up in customs, and inhaled by many).
Kurt Cobain’s Downward Spiral: The Last Days of Nirvana’s Leader (Neil Strauss, Rolling Stone, June 1994)
Rolling Stone traces Cobain’s final days—from his nearly fatal drug overdose in Rome to the discovery of his body one month later in Seattle.
Cobain to Fans: Just Say No (Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times, September 1992)
An LA Times interview in the living room of Cobain’s Hollywood Hills apartment; he addresses drug rumors and tenderly explains that as a new father he doesn’t want his daughter “to grow up and someday be hassled by kids at school… I don’t want people telling her that her parents were junkies.”
Kurt and Courtney Sitting In a Tree (Christina Kelly, Sassy Magazine, April 1992)
From the seminal teen magazine Sassy, a cover story on the then-newly engaged poster couple for grunge love. Bonus: an I Heart Daily video interview with the story’s author and former Sassy editor Christina Kelly.
Everett True Thrashes It Out With The Latest Wizards From Seattle’s Sub Pop Label (Everett True, Melody Maker, October 1989)
From the now defunct British music weekly Melody Maker, a very early interview—right after Bleach, and back when Cobain still spelled his name “Kurdt.” Cobain jokes around, sports a goatee and is described as “your archetypal small guy—wiry, defiantly working class and fiery.” Note: This interview comes via Flavorwire’s excellent compendium of essential Kurt Cobain books, interviews and photos.
Photo: Ramsey Beyer, Flickr