17 years ago today, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. When his body was found three days later, a wave of shock travelled across the globe as music fans of all ages mourned the loss of one of the most iconic figures in recent pop history.
1. Kurt Donald Cobain was born on February 20, 1967 in Aberdeen, Washington to car mechanic dad Donald Leland Cobain and waitress mum Wendy Elizabeth.
2. An early starter, Kurt’s aunt Mari remembers him singing The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ when he was only 2. Supposed audio recordings of the young Kurt warbling the 1968 hit have apparently leaked on the internet!
3. Kurt claimed that his first gig was Montesano rockers the Melvins (who he later roadied for before drummer Dave Crover returned the favour by playing on Nirvana’s debut Bleach). His mates claim that his actual first gig was the much less hip Sammy Hagar and Quarterflash at the Seattle Centre Coliseum in 1983.
4. According to legend, Kurt used to go round spraypainting ‘God Is Gay’ on pickup trucks in the Aberdeen area. In fact, he actually got arrested for vandalism on May 25, 1986 (number 12615 on his mug shot) for daubing “Ain’T goT no how waTchamacalliT” on the wall of a local bank.
5. Kurt’s first band (the not-too-pleasantly titled Fecal Matter – a phrase later yoinked by Jason Gardiner!) recorded a demo tape called Illiteracy Will Prevail in 1986. ‘Sound of Dentage’, ‘Bambi Slaughter’ and ‘Laminated Effect’ later leaked, while ‘Spank Thru’ survived and became ‘the first Nirvana song’, appearing on the Sub Pop 200 comp in 1988. The original FM demo was later given an official release on 2005′s Sliver collection.
6. Cobain played drums and Krist Novoselic sang in their first band Stiff Woodies. Krist picked up a guitar for their next project as The Sellouts, and then moved to bass for Skid Row, where Kurt finally started playing guitar. Together with drummer Aaron Burckhard, they changed names to Ted Ed Fred, Bliss, Throat Oyster, Pen Cap Chew and Windowpane before eventually settling on Nirvana.
7. Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna spraypainted ‘Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on his wall, in reference to the deodorant worn by her bandmate and Kurt’s then-girlfriend Tobi Vail. Kurt misunderstood and thought it was a punk rock statement, using it as inspiration for Nirvana’s breakthrough smash ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Apparently sales of the anti-perspirant shot through the roof in the early ’90s!
8. In 1993, Nirvana recorded the (rather incredible) MTV Unplugged in New York album. Despite the title and premise of the show, Kurt insisted on running his guitar through an effects pedal. Producer Alex Coletti explains: “Maybe I shouldn’t give this secret away, but I built a fake box out in front of the amp to make it look like a monitor wedge. It was Kurt’s security blanket. He was used to hearing this guitar through his Fender. He wanted those effects. You can hear it on ‘The Man Who Sold The World’. It’s an acoustic guitar, but he’s obviously going through an amp. There’s no trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.”
9. In the original liner notes of 1992 compilation Incesticide, words sadly excised on current issues, Cobain nailed his personal, musical and political colours to the mast in a message signed by “Kurdt (the blond one)”. He declared his love of The Raincoats, Shonen Knife, The Vaselines (who have recently reformed), Sonic Youth and others. He described Courtney Love as a “supreme example of dignity, ethics and honesty”. He also made a request of his fans, stating: “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.” Right. On.
10. Kurt Cobain’s suicide note was addressed to “Boddah”, his imaginary friend from childhood. In it he castigated himself as a “miserable, self-destructive, death rocker” and later admitted: “I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby!” He finished the main part of the letter by quoting Neil Young’s ‘My My, Hey Hey’, claiming “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”.