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Sunday 18 February 2018

Kurt Cobain's ghost still haunts fans 20 years after his suicide

Kurt Cobain with his daughter, Frances Bean, wife Courtney Love and Sinead O’Connor
Kurt Cobain with his daughter, Frances Bean, wife Courtney Love and Sinead O’Connor
Ian Morris

Ian Morris

Grunge rock icon Kurt Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle, Washington from a gunshot wound to the head 20 years ago this month.

Though his body was found on April 8, forensic specialists determined that the Nirvana frontman had been dead since April 5 and, with a shotgun still lying across his chest and a detailed handwritten note nearby, it was quickly pronounced as a suicide.

Cobain, both in life and in death, became a magnetically attractive beacon for the masses of confused youths who see their own troubled feelings magnified in the late singer. His followers are so dedicated that many still find it hard to believe that he would take his own life. Numerous conspiracy theories have been offered to otherwise explain his untimely passing, but the Seattle Police Department maintain that, "Sometimes people believe what they read... that this was a conspiracy. That's completely inaccurate. It's a suicide. This is a closed case".

It seems that, much like with the death of Elvis Presley, the fans just can't accept such a sad, self-destructive end for their hero.

In 1989 Cobain's band, Nirvana, released their first album entitled Bleach, establishing them as an act to watch in the up-and-coming grunge movement. But it wasn't until their second album, by which time drummer, Dave Grohl, (now lead singer of the Foo Fighters) had arrived, that they would realise their full potential for success.

The 1991 album Nevermind is regarded by many as the single greatest grunge album ever recorded, packed with hit songs that would become the soundtrack to the lives of so many. The song Smells Like Teen Spirit, which headed the album, became a surprise hit and brought grunge into the mainstream for the first time, opening the doors for acts like Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains. In 1997, Smells Like Teen Spirit was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of 'The Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll'.

Suddenly, Nirvana was at the fore of a musical and social revolution, with legions of fans that identified with the troubled Cobain – who became increasingly unstable and frustrated by the pressure of his growing celebrity and his turbulent marriage to singer and actress, Courtney Love.

Born in Aberdeen, Washington, on February 1967, to parents Wendy Elizabeth and Donald Leland Cobain, Kurt Cobain's ancestry has roots in England, Scotland and Germany, though Kurt most strongly identified with his Irish heritage.

His ancestors, the Cobanes, left Co Tyrone for Canada in the late 1800s before travelling to Washington. After visiting Ireland with his band in 1993, Kurt told US Magazine that, "since that tour, which was about two years ago, I've had a sense that I was from Ireland".

His parents' divorce, when he was just seven, had what he himself described as a "profound effect" on his life. In a 1993 interview with British rock journalist Jon Savage, Cobain said: "I remember feeling ashamed, for some reason.

"I was ashamed of my parents. I couldn't face some of my friends at school anymore, because I desperately wanted to have the classic, you know, typical family. Mother, father. I wanted that security."

From then on, Cobain's childhood lacked the consistency and reliability it needed.

"I had a really good childhood, until the divorce. Then, all of a sudden, my whole world changed. I became antisocial".

After the divorce, Kurt went to live with his father and his new wife, but began to withdraw socially and openly showed resentment towards his stepmother. Kurt's real mother became involved in a relationship with an abusive man who, on one occasion, sent her to hospital with a broken arm.

With his home life in tatters, Kurt became more and more troubled, leading to antisocial outbursts and bad behaviour at school.

By the time he was a teenager, his rebellious issues had become too much for his father to handle and Kurt was sent to live with family friends who were 'Born Again Christians'. For a time, he seemed to find peace in Christianity and regularly attended Mass, but this was not to last.

Towards the end of his adolescence, Cobain's troubles increased, as he was arrested for vandalising cars with graffiti, as well as becoming the target of homophobic students at his school, after befriending another student who was known to be gay.

"I had a gay friend, and that was the only time that I ever experienced real confrontation from people," he said.

"They started giving me a lot of shit, trying to beat me up and stuff".

In 1986, Kurt moved into his own apartment, working for his rent at a nearby resort. In his spare time he practised his guitar, began writing his own songs and frequently travelled to rock concerts in Olympia, Washington. Around this time, Kurt met Krist Novoselic, a fellow musician who, after months of convincing, finally agreed to form what would become Nirvana.

In 1992, Kurt married actress and fellow musician, Courtney Love, and fathered a child, Frances Bean Cobain. Their relationship, however, turned out to be toxic.

Both were known for their heavy use of hard drugs like heroin, which led not only to a strained and stormy relationship for them, but also saw child services removing daughter Francis from their care. When asked today about her marriage to Cobain, Love blames drugs for their troubles, saying, "It was bad. It wasn't very fun. It should have been fun. But I can barely remember it."

Cobain's problems seemed to steadily increase as he sank deeper into heroin addiction. On March 18, 1994 Love called police to his home, reporting that he had locked himself in a room with a gun and seemed suicidal. Following an intervention, Cobain entered an LA rehab centre on March 30 where, during visiting hours, he would have his final interactions with his daughter.

Escaping over the facility's walls, Cobain grabbed a taxi to the airport and flew back to Seattle, Washington, but could not be contacted by family and friends. Love hired detective Tom Grant to find Cobain but before he could, an electrician, who had called to the rocker's Seattle home to fit a new security system, discovered Kurt's lifeless body. The infamous '27 club' had claimed yet another member.

Following the 20th anniversary of his death, the public have been given their first peek at a new docu-drama called Soaked in Bleach (in reference to the lyrics of the song Come as you are), which will interview experts and key witnesses to the last days of Cobain's life in an attempt to gain a new perspective on his death.

Looking back at Kurt's interview with Jon Savage in 1993, I found a quote which seems chillingly prophetic – "That's what I've done all my life, though. I've always quit jobs without telling the employer that I was quitting; I just wouldn't show up one day. I was the same in high school – I quit with only two months to go. I've always copped out of things."

Sunday Independent

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