This Day in History: April 8th

Today in History: April 8, 1994

cobain-house

Cobain’s House

On April 8, 1994 Kurt Cobain, the reluctant messiah of the “grunge” phenomenon that dominated rock music in the early 1990s, was found dead from an apparent suicide at his home in Seattle, WA.

The 27-year-old Cobain, leader of the wildly popular and influential band Nirvana, died from a single shotgun blast to the head. Kurt left a suicide note (which can be read here), which was discovered by the same electrician who discovered Cobain’s body when he arrived to do some work at the singer’s house.

Cobain could only be positively identified once his body was fingerprinted. It was estimated that Kurt had died on April 5, three days before he was found. Toxicology reports revealed evidence of both heroin and valium in Cobain’s body.

Kurt’s family and friends recalled the troubled superstar’s long history of drug abuse and depression well before Nirvana catapulted him into the spotlight. His parents divorced when he was seven and by his own account he never felt safe or secure again. He acted out both at home and in school, and spent the bulk of his childhood being bounced from relative to relative.

When Kurt was 11, he discovered the Sex Pistols, whose angry, chaotic sound so perfectly mirrored the emotions he was feeling. Cobain and his friend Krist Novoselic started listening to post-punk bands such as Joy Division that influenced the angst-ridden undertone of the band that was evolving into Nirvana.

The band tore through a revolving-door roster of drummers before finally settling on power-player Dave Grohl, right before recording their breakthrough album “Nevermind” in 1991. The album’s first single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” became a huge mainstream hit, while “Nevermind” went on to sell 75 million copies worldwide, turning “alternative” rock into, well, anything but. (The rock press dubbed the music “grunge,” and everybody said, “yeah, okay,” but grunge really had more to do with fashion than music.)

No-one was more surprised – and taken aback – by Nirvana’s sudden rise to fame than Kurt Cobain. Nominated as his generation’s spokesperson – a role he was never comfortable with – Cobain was ill-equipped to deal with the rigors of sudden stardom. Plagued for years by chronic stomach ailments as well, Kurt had turned to heroin to dull his emotional and physical pain by the ‘90s.

Kurt was involved in a tumultuous relationship with Courtney Love, the lead singer for the band Hole. The couple, who seemed to bring out the worst in each other, married in February 1992, when Nirvana was the biggest band in the world. Their daughter, Frances Bean, was born in August of that year. In 1993, Nirvana released their album, “In Utero,” which was a commercial and critical success. During this time, Kurt sank deeper and deeper into depression and drug abuse. His erratic behavior was jeopardizing his relationships – and the future of Nirvana.

As 1994 began, Kurt developed bronchitis while Nirvana was touring Europe. The band was forced to cancel mid-way through so Kurt could recover, so Cobain went to Rome to meet up with wife Courtney Love, busy preparing for her own tour with Hole.

Kurt’s behavior the entire month of March was reckless, including two alleged suicide attempts. On March 25, Love held an intervention for Kurt. He left for a detox facility that night, but by the next evening he was on a plane back to Seattle. He was seen around town on April 2nd and 3rd, but then Kurt Cobain disappeared forever.

Kurt Cobain, whether he would have liked it or not, is remembered as the rock god of the grunge era. In the years after Kurt’s death, his mythological status only grew. There are kids who weren’t even born when he died that speak his name in reverential tones. Writing ten years after Kurt died, MSNBC’s Eric Olsen had this to say about Kurt’s influence:

In the intervening decade, Cobain, a small, frail but handsome man in life, has become an abstract Generation X icon, viewed by many as the ‘last real rock star’ [. . .] a messiah and martyr whose every utterance has been plundered and parsed.

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