He was best known as the lead singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter of the grunge band Nirvana. Cobain formed Nirvana with Krist Novoselic in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1985 and established it as part of the Seattle music scene, having its debut album Bleach released on the independent record label Sub Pop in 1989.
After signing with major label DGC Records, the band found breakthrough success with"Smells Like Teen Spirit" from its second album Nevermind (1991). Following the success of Nevermind, Nirvana was labeled "the flagship band" of Generation X, and Cobain hailed as "the spokesman of a generation". Cobain, however, was often uncomfortable and frustrated, believing his message and artistic vision to have been misinterpreted by the public, with his personal issues often subject to media attention. He challenged Nirvana's audience with its final studio album In Utero (1993). It did not match the sales figures of Nevermind but was still a critical and commercial success.
On April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle, the victim of what was officially ruled a suicide by a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head. The circumstances of his death at age 27 have become a topic of public fascination and debate. Since their debut, Nirvana, with Cobain as a songwriter, has sold over 25 million albums in the US, and over 75 million worldwide.
Kurt Donald Cobain was born on February 20, 1967, at Grays Harbor Hospital in Aberdeen, Washington, to a waitress, Wendy Elizabeth (née Fradenburg) (born 1948), and an automotive mechanic, Donald Leland Cobain (born 1946). His ancestry included Irish, English, Scottish, and German. Cobain's Irish ancestors migrated from County Tyrone of Northern Ireland in 1875. Researchers have found them to have been shoemakers, originally named Cobane, who came from the village of Inishatieve near Pomeroy, settling in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada, and then in Washington.
Cobain began developing an interest in music early in his life. According to his Aunt Mari, he began singing at two years old. At age four, Cobain started playing the piano and singing, writing a song about their trip to a local park. When Cobain was seven years old, his parents divorced. Later in his life, he said the divorce had a profound effect on his life. His mother noted that his personality changed dramatically; Cobain became defiant and withdrawn.
Cobain's teenage rebellion quickly became overwhelming for his father, who placed Kurt in the care of family and friends. While living with the born-again Christian family of his friend Jesse Reed, Cobain became a devout Christian and regularly attended church services. Cobain later renounced Christianity, engaging in what would be described as "anti-God" rants. The song "Lithium" is about his experience while living with the Reed family. Religion would remain an important part of Cobain's personal life and beliefs, as he often used Christian imagery in his work and maintained a constant interest in Jainism and Buddhist philosophy.
The band name Nirvana was taken from the Buddhist concept, which Cobain described as "freedom from pain, suffering and the external world," which paralleled with the punk rock ethic and ideology. Cobain would regard himself as both a Buddhist and a Jain during different points of his life, educating himself about the philosophies through various sources, including through watching late night television documentaries on both subjects.
During his second year in high school, Cobain began living with his mother in Aberdeen.Two weeks prior to graduation, he dropped out of Aberdeen High School upon realizing he did not have enough credits to graduate. His mother gave him a choice: find employment or leave. After one week, Cobain found his clothes and other belongings packed away in boxes. Feeling banished from his own mother's home, Cobain stayed with friends, occasionally sneaking back into his mother's basement. Cobain also claimed during periods of homelessness to have lived under a bridge over the Wishkah River, an experience that inspired the Nevermind track "Something in the Way".
Kurt and Tobi spent most of their time together as a couple discussing political and philosophical issues. In 1990 they collaborated on a musical project called "Bathtub Is Real", in which both Vail and Cobain sang, played guitar and drums. They recorded their songs on a four-track tape machine that belonged to Vail's father. In Everett True's 2009 book "Nirvana: The Biography" Vail is quoted as saying "(Kurt) would play the songs he was writing, I would play the songs I was writing and we'd record them on my dad's four-track.
Teen Spirit was the name of a deodorant Vail wore; Hanna joked that Cobain smelled like it. Cobain, unaware of this, initially interpreted the slogan as having a revolutionary meaning. The slogan inspired the title to the song "Smells Like Teen Spirit".
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