8 times Kurt Cobain proved he was one of the good guys
“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of who you are” – Kurt Cobain
A reluctant star, since the early 1990s, Kurt Cobain became the voice of a generation who desperately needed a saviour. To this very day, Nirvana’s music has never lost the poignancy and honesty that captivated his audience back in their heyday. Inspired equally by The Beatles and the punk movement of the late ’70s, Cobain developed an indelible songwriting voice with cutting lyrics and catchy but original melodies. When coupled with loud, highly distorted guitars and a fast backbeat, Nirvana carved themselves a niche within the burgeoning grunge movement of the ’90s and, eventually, found themselves pioneering a new frontier in rock ‘n’ roll.
In countless interviews with famous musicians, when asked about influences, 99 per cent of them will typically cite Kurt Cobain and Nirvana as an undeniable force of inspiration. This is the case not only within loud guitar music and offshoots of grunge and punk; Cobain’s brand of piecing songwriting inhabits the DNA of a wide variety of genres, such as rap, modern R&B, neo-folk, neo-psychedelia, and even top 40 pop. When considering Nirvana’s far-reaching influence, one shouldn’t just look towards the sound of a particular artist, but at the originality and integrity of their music. If Kurt Cobain did anything for music, it was injecting fearless honesty and a sense of pureness within the intention of a songwriter’s craft.
This righteous honesty didn’t stop with the music. Kurt Cobain walked the talk and did what he preached. While more so a voice through the medium of music than anything else, Kurt still espoused ideas and philosophies that, for lack of a better word, were simply good. What does this mean?
Cobain was the kind of person who believed in kindness and treating people justly and with respect. One should normally expect nothing less from a figure with a public platform, but this is just not the case most times. Many famous musicians take their influence and position as role models for granted, sometimes acting recklessly, selfishly and carelessly. Whether it is abusing others, using others, or simply acting like a self-entitled prick, the pressures and spotlight of fame can get to one’s head, in this regard, Kurt Cobain certainly was a unique animal; bear in mind, nobody is perfect, and while everyone has to deal with their demons, Kurt never really placed his burden onto anyone but himself. The person that fell prey to his personal struggles was none other but himself.
Cobain always felt at odds with his stardom. In his heart, he espoused and expressed his punk ethos and rebelled against ‘the man’ any chance he got. There are countless examples of this which we will explore throughout the eight things that made Cobain one of ‘good guys’. Kurt Cobain was truly ahead of his time as he was full of wisdom for someone who only lived until 27. It seems that the Nirvana leader was at odds with a lot of things in his life; his own self, his generation’s attitude, the media, the music industry, his family life and his own personal goals. He once said, “I’m disgusted by my own and my generation’s apathy,” he once said. “I’m disgusted at what we allow to go on, by how spineless, lethargic and guilty we are of not standing up against racism, sexism and all those other ‘isms’ that the counterculture has been whining about for years while they sit and enforce those same attitudes every night on their televisions and in the magazines.”
Kurt Cobain was not only a brilliant songwriter and musician but he had a powerful voice with a lot of things to say. He barely ever wasted an opportunity to speak up for the downtrodden and powerless. We took a look into a list of eight traits that made Kurt Cobain one of the good guys.
8 things that made Kurt Cobain one of the good guys:
A major ‘tenet’ of Kurt’s philosophy is his sense of moral compass which underpins every action of his. In his famous journal, which has since been published; on page 104, he listed his six commandments:
1. Don’t rape
2. Don’t be sexist
3. Don’t be prejudice
4. Love your children
5. Love your neighbour
6. Love yourself
Kurt’s six commandments fits nicely in the first spot, as it truly outlines his beliefs of what it means to be one of the good guys’. Throughout our list, we are going to detail other traits of Kurt’s; one way or the other, they all fall under these basic six commandments.
In the early days of the band touring, Kurt Cobain took on the responsibility of tour manager, and in a display of leadership, Kurt would write lists of requirements. These were often a list of checks the band had to make of the van’s cleanliness at every stop they made. “Every 400 miles, there will be an inspection of van cleanliness,” Kurt wrote. This list included boycotting major gas corporations, “except for Exxon. No exceptions.”
Besides these leadership skills, Kurt worked menial jobs before he played music full-time. One of these jobs was working as a janitor for Aberdeen High school, where he went for a time.
Krist Novoselic said, “Here was a man who would never clean his kitchen or take out the garbage, or do those kinds of chores, but Kurt Cobain was not a lazy person,” remembers Krist Novoselic. “Basically he cleaned toilets – that’s how he paid for our demo.” The portrayal of the janitor in the music video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, is a nod to his old job. Cobain liked those were ‘salt of the earth’ kinds of people, and therefore he tried hard to emulate that.
One of the boldest acts Kurt Cobain has pulled in the name of his moral compass was when he stopped a woman from being sexually assaulted at a Nirvana show. Kurt always believed wholeheartedly in women’s rights and was a proud feminist. Kurt had a female friend who attended a rape self-defence class; in an interview talking about this, he said, “She looked out the window and saw a football pitch full of boys, and thought those are the people that should really be in this class.”
During a show in 1993, Kurt was performing an acoustic rendition of ‘Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam’ when he noticed a man groping a woman in front of the crowd. He subsequently stopped the song and threw the guitar down the ground. He alerted security and spoke into the microphone, “Copping a feel, eh, buddy?” Cobain has expressed his sentiments on his anti-rape anthem, ‘Rape Me’. About the song, he said, “It’s like she’s saying, ‘Rape me, go ahead, rape me, beat me. You’ll never kill me. I’ll survive this, and I’m gonna fucking rape you one of these days, and you won’t even know it.’”
He continued with, “It’s about a young girl who was abducted, the guy drove her around in his van. Tortured her. Raped her. The only chance she had of getting away was to come on to him and persuade him to untie her. That’s what she did, and she got away. Can you imagine how much strength that took?”
During Nirvana’s first appearance on British live television, right before starting ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, Cobain announced into the microphone, “I’d like all of you people in this room to know that Courtney Love, the lead singer of the sensational pop group Hole, is the best fuck in the world.”
It is clear that Kurt Cobain, as a human being and artist, wore his heart on his sleeve and never held back what he truly felt. What you saw on television and what you heard in his music is who he was on and off the stage.
In 1992, Nirvana went on MTV for an interview, and Kurt brought his baby daughter with him, Frances Bean. Instead of focusing his energy on the interviewer’s questions during the televised interview, he fed his daughter milk from a bottle. The grunge singer turned father chimes in with a story about a run-in he had with Axl Rose from Guns n’ Roses. After Kurt’s wife, Courtney Love, jokingly asked Rose to be their daughter’s godfather, Axl turned to Kurt and told him to “keep his woman in line.”
Later that evening when the band performed at MTV, as the band ascended on an elevator platform, Kurt spat on what he thought was Axl Rose’s piano. Turns out, it was Elton John’s.
Sticking it to the man
The most literal expression of his disdain for authority always came forth when it was time for Kurt to promote Nirvana’s work and appear on a television show. One of these times erupted in a case of hilarity — a truly unique rock ‘n’ roll story. It happened at the album release party for Nirvana’s Nevermind, Kurt supposedly threw ranch dressing at the bass player, Krist Novoselic, and a food fight ensued. The band were subsequently thrown out of their own release party by an oblivious bouncer.
Another time to confirm Kurt’s disdain for corporate entities occurred on MTV. Nirvana was scheduled to appear on MTV after the groundbreaking success of Nevermind. The executives were hellbent on having the Seattle boys perform ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’, their smash hit. Cobain was having none of it. The last thing he was going to have happened was executives tell him what to play. In Kurt Cobain’s own words, “The duty of youth is to challenge corruption.”
MTV executives threatened the band to be permanently banned from the show if they didn’t play the hit song, even went as far as to threaten to fire a friend of the band’s who happened to have worked for MTV. The executives feared that Nirvana would instead perform ‘Rape Me’. Compromising, Nirvana would instead play ‘Lithium’, not before teasing the opening first six seconds of ‘Rape Me.’
Kurt Cobain was very vocal about respecting gay, lesbian and transgender rights. He had no tolerance for homophobia and sexism. He once stated that if anyone openly announced they were homophobic, mysogionistic or anything of the stort they should refrain from buying Nirvana records. He did not want their money. It is rare although not uncommon for public figures to put special attention on these issues. While many would not ever actively promote hate speech, it takes quite another thing to actively demote it. This is precisely what Cobain did.
Kurt Cobain made it a point to have his message heard loudly and clearly. Within the liner notes of Incesticide, contained the words: “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— alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”
A similar sentiment was contained within the liner notes of In Utero, “If you’re a sexist, racist, homophobe or basically an a–hole, don’t buy this CD. I don’t care if you like me, I hate you.” Throughout his short life, Kurt made some controversial statements about being gay, once stating in an interview with LA Times, “wearing a dress shows I can be as feminine as I want. I’m a heterosexual… big deal. But if I was a homosexual, it wouldn’t matter either.”
“What’s alternative? What’s counterculture? What’s cool? Who knows? Who cares? If chasing cool is important to you, you’re an idiot.” Kurt Cobain boldly once claimed. Despite their seemingly overnight success, Nirvana will be remembered as a real grassroots band. Nirvana never really sold out; any suggestion they did sell-out was typically shot down by Kurt fairly quickly.
It could be argued that Kurt’s battle with fame was highly underappreciated, and it may have led to his eventual suicide.
Nirvana came from an underground scene and never expected anything more than the local support and love they received when they were just a Seattle band. Behind Nirvana’s prankish attitude, lies a steadfast philosophy; Cobain once summed it up pretty nicely, “I’m not into ambition or salesmanship, we’re not some new trend. We never meant or tried to be cool, or be a ‘buzz’ band. It never even entered our minds.” Any of their major appearances was never without some kind of joke or prank they were playing on the unsuspecting hosts. A subtle message of “you don’t own us.”
He never took himself too seriously
Despite the seriousness of Nirvana’s music and the loudness of their message, Kurt Cobain never presented himself in any form of pretension as a performer. Live at Reading, just 24 hours after Kurt overdosed and was revived, Nirvana were scheduled to appear at the festival. The band hadn’t rehearsed in a while, and many were very nervous they were either not going to show up or, even if they did show up, weren’t going to give a good performance.
Not only did Kurt and the rest of the band show up, but Kurt was wheeled onto the stage in a wheelchair, dressed in a white gown, wearing a wig. Once the set kicked in, nerves got settled as the people around them soon realized they were on form.
When Nevermind and the success of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ changed Nirvana’s world, they were slated to appear on Top of The Pops, a sign that a band had truly ‘made it’. Throughout Top of the Pops long history, it has undergone various changes for how bands would perform. In the beginning, bands had to perform completely live; later on, bands had to sing live over the recorded instruments.
The latter was the case for Nirvana; while the band hated the prospect of presenting themselves in this manner, Nirvana got one over the commercial show. Kurt sang ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in a low and lazy voice and lazily pretended to play the guitar, while Grohl and Novoselic did the same. Clearly, Nirvana could care less about the performance.