Most people know by now that a popular American singer/songwriter named Kurt Cobain died in 1994. Many also know that his band Nirvana became famous and well-loved for their sound, which was often compared to that of The Beatles. But what people may not know is that a year before his death, Kurt Cobain was hospitalized due to an eating disorder and almost died himself. His battle with bulimia nervosa caused him to become weak and emaciated, which in turn led to his very rapid death at the age of 27. It was all due to a combination of his unhealthy relationship with food and his unhealthy love of alcohol. But the world still held its breath in awe, since Kurt Cobain was an extremely talented and influential musician, and his untimely death was considered shocking and tragic.
Kurt Cobain’s Early Life
Kurt Cobain was born in Washington, D.C., on February 20, 1967. He was the only child born to Valerie and Malcolm Cobain, a college professor. His mother named him after the 19th century painter and illustrator, George Caleb Bingham, who is most known for his realistic paintings of American life in the early 20th century. But before he became famous for his artwork, George Caleb Bingham was an accomplished artist himself whose work consisted mainly of military scenes and portraits of famous Americans such as Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.
Malcolm and Valerie married in 1964 and immediately started a family. Even though they were both teachers, they decided to have a child-centered marriage, and adopted a daughter, Tracy, the following year. But it wasn’t until they adopted a son, Chris, in 1971 that they really started getting into fatherhood. And it wasn’t long before they realized that Chris was a different kind of child, and required more individual attention than his older sister, Tracy.
Valerie and Malcolm were very involved with their kids’ schooling, inviting expert psychologists to the house to help out with mental health issues. They also made sure that their children were exposed to a variety of cultures and made sure to integrate music, drama, and art into their lives. Especially since Kurt Cobain often spoke about how important creativity was to him and how he felt stifled by the very existence of so many rules and regulations in school.
The Dawn Of A Musical Genius
It was in the summer of 1975 when 11-year-old Kurt Cobain started playing guitar and writing songs. Inspired by his mother’s old 45s and the growing punk rock movement, his passion for music and songwriting soon developed into a full-blown obsession. Kurt learned how to play guitar from his grandfather, Michael, who taught him songs by the Everly Brothers and Chuck Berry. But it was the sound of his favorite artist, Jimmy Page, that Kurt began emulating. As Page’s work with The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin began sounding more and more like the sound he was hearing in his head, Kurt started learning how to play and sing along with the recordings. He also started taking guitar lessons from neighborhood guitarist Jack Endino, who later became one of the greatest producers of the 1980s.
When Endino heard about Kurt’s talent, he encouraged his student to record some demo tapes with him. So in the fall of 1976, at the age of 14, Kurt Cobain started recording songs with his engineer grandfather, Dan, at Treasure Island Studios in Seattle. The results were surprisingly good, considering he was only a high school sophomore. Two of the tracks, “You’re Pretty Good,” and “I Believe In You,” were released as a 7″ vinyl record in early 1977. The songs and the demo tapes Kurt made at the age of 14 would later serve as the foundation for his first full-length album, Killing Yourself to Live. But even then, it was already apparent that Kurt was destined for greatness.
In The Spotlight
The following year, Kurt Cobain entered the 6th grade at George Washington University, where he would remain for three years. It was during this time that he started getting recognition for his songs, appearing on a variety of compilation albums and gaining the attention of a music executive named Danny Goldberg. Goldberg, who worked in A&R for Columbia Records, heard about Kurt Cobain and was impressed by his raw talent. He signed Kurt to Columbia Records and started working with him on his first album. During this time, Kurt also met a girl named Courtney Love, the manager of an up-and-coming punk band named Bad Religion. The two became good friends and began seeing each other regularly. But even though Kurt was only 18, it wasn’t until he turned 19 that he and Courtney got engaged. The couple went on to record two critically acclaimed albums, Nevermind and In Utero, before Kurt Cobain committed suicide in April 1994.
Courtney Love became one of the most prominent figures in alternative music during the 1990s and continues to headline music festivals today. She also happens to be one of the most prominent voices in the survivor movement, speaking and writing about her experiences as a sexual assault and domestic violence victim. In 2007, she released an autobiography, Recovery, in which she reveals the details of her life, including the story of Kurt Cobain and her life as a punk.
While we all mourn the loss of a musical genius and the band he formed, Nirvana, we should also celebrate the life of an incredible man who left us too soon. But most importantly, we should remember the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and being mindful of our bodies, since it was his refusal to accept and treat his body as a problem that almost killed him. And as his widow, Courtney Love, so eloquently stated in her 2015 song, “With You,” “we’ll carry on where he left off, and help others realize that they’re not alone, and that there’s hope.”