"Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Cobain came up with the song title "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (early lyrics from Cobain's journal pictured) while speaking with Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill. At the time, Cobain was dating Tobi Vail, another member of the band. While Hanna and Cobain spoke, the former spray-painted "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit" on his apartment wall.
Cobain thought this was a revolutionary slogan, but it was actually just the name of the deodorant that Vail wore.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Long before writing generation-defining songs for Nirvana, Cobain first learned the art of storytelling through the comics he would sketch inside his notebooks. Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain had a knack for drawing, which would often feature visceral imagery in his cartoons.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Kurt Cobain's six commandments:
"1. Dont rape
2. Dont be prejudice
3. Dont be sexist
4. Love your children
5. Love your neighbor
6. Love yourself
Dont let your opinions obstruct the aforementioned list."Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
1991's Nevermind (rough draft of liner notes pictured) was the album that catapulted Nirvana into mainstream success. The first single's popularity, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," was enough to secure the number one spot on the Billboard chart, dislodging Michael Jackson.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain was very picky about the artistic choices surrounding his music. He apparently hated the first cut of the video for "Smells Like Spirit" (his notes for which are pictured here) and insisted on personally re-editing the footage.
After completion, MTV took a total shot in the dark when they first aired the music video, given that they typically didn't premiere videos for bands with whom they had no history. Suffice it to say, the gamble paid off.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain's many sides
To friends and family, Cobain was known for being equal parts moody and hilarious (the very dichotomy Cobain is expressing and poking fun at here).Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Behind "About a Girl"
Girlfriend Tracy Marander was Cobain's life raft after his mom kicked him out of the house for dropping out of high school and subsequently failing to find a job in 1985, which effectively made him homeless. Fittingly, he would soon write a song about the time he lived with her rent-free, "About A Girl," the lyrics of which include:
"I need an easy friend
I do with an ear to lend
I do think you fit this shoe
I do, won't you have a clue?
I'll take advantage while
You hang me out to dry
But I can't see you every night
Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain the janitor
Cobain started working as a janitor for an industrial cleaning service at Marander's behest. This actually made things worse for Marander, who may have received the rent money but lost the house husband.
Considering Cobain was too tired to do the cleaning, the apartment the two shared began to stink. The five cats, four rats, a host of turtles and two rabbits sharing the studio apartment with them didn't help. Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
The songs listed here, which include "Hairspray Queen," "Mexican Seafood," and "Pen Cap Chew," are some of the earliest songs Cobain ever wrote. They would eventually be released on a compilation album titled Incesticide.
Cobain played these songs at Nirvana's first gig, a house show in Raymond, Washington on March 7, 1987. The show included Krist Novoselic, Nirvana's bassist, repeatedly jumping out of a window and two girls fighting over Michelob beer and a broken necklace in the kitchen. Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Nirvana penned "In Bloom" to criticize people who didn't understand the band's message, and had never been part of the Washington underground music community.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain, who liked the symbolism behind male seahorses carrying their offspring to term, suggested a seahorse tour shirt for Nirvana. The shirt first made an appearance around late 1991 to early 1992.
Cobain also used a photograph of a seahorse giving birth as the cover for the 1993 single "All Apologies/Rape Me."Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
A life of emotional hardships
As many now know, Cobain suffered emotional duress for much of his life. His family had a history of suicide, and while Cobain was never officially diagnosed with a mental disorder, rumors abound that he may have been bi-polar.
While he indeed loved his parents, they were a major source of pain during his childhood. They divorced when Cobain was eight years old, kicking off a decade of hurt and despair.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain's home life deteriorated quickly after his parents' divorce. His mother would become entangled with an abusive stepfather, and Cobain was often juggled between the two households.
Beyond a fractured household, Cobain's family grappled with financial woes. The family used to be so poor that the only vacations they could afford were camping trips. His sister, Kimberly, used to come along until his divorced parents started squabbling about child support payments.
Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain and the media
Cobain's relationship with the press was contentious, to say the least. He would take offense at journalists who tried to force hidden meaning into his lyrics or completely misunderstand his intentions.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
After Vanity Fair published a scathing profile of Cobain and new bride Courtney Love in 1992, Cobain wrote an angry letter to MTV for reporting on the story. An excerpt appears below:
"Dear Empty TV, the entity of all corporate Gods: How fucking dare you embrace such trash journalism from an overweight, unpopular-in-high-school cow who severely needs her karma broken. My life's dedication is now to do nothing but slag MTV and Lynn Hirschberg, who by the way is in cahoots with her lover Kurt Loder (Gin Blossom--drunk). We will survive without you. Easily. The old school is going down fast.
--- Kurdt Kobain, professional rock musician. Fuck face."
Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain's favorite bands
Cobain's list of favorite bands and albums evolved over the years. The one pictured here is one of the earliest.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
One of Cobain's earlier top bands lists. Bands such as The Vaselines, The Pixies, and Shonen Knife were mainstays for Cobain throughout the years.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
This top albums list features Young Marble Giants, The Breeders, Wipers, and Lead Belly.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Pictured: One of the last top albums lists Cobain ever wrote in his journals.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain despised the tough-love environment in which he grew up and the body image issues it caused. He wore multiple layers of clothes -- such as two pairs of long johns, jeans, multiple shirts, a sweater and a jacket -- to cover up for his smaller frame.
When he was younger, his father would frequently poke him in the chest with two fingers -- perhaps not physically hurting him, but definitely causing some mental scarring.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
One of Cobain's greatest fights with his dad came in high school during a varsity wrestling match. Cobain refused to fight, throwing the match to spite his father, who lived vicariously through Cobain's athletics.
"I waited for the whistle to blow, just staring straight into [his father's] face and then I instantly clammed up -- I put my arms together and let the guy pin me," four times in a row, Cobain told rock writer Michael Azerrad.
Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain never enjoyed his fame and fortune. In an anecdote shared in an interview, Cobain says that he treasured just going to the thrift store and finding something special.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
When the band went on tour in 1989, Novoselic became the de facto band manager and kept a very strict set of rules. Which is fair, considering that the band's van was his. Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cleaning up their act
Novoselic and Cobain decided to start a cleaning service of their own after spending all the money they made on tour. Not a single person took them up on it. Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
A new artistic venture
Dale Crover was the drummer for the Melvins, a huge band for Cobain and a major source of inspiration.
Crover and Cobain would eventually form a very short-lived band called Fecal Matter in 1985. Songs from group's sole recording session remain unreleased.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain's sense of humor is on display here:
"I like to fill my mouth with seeds and spit them out at random as I walk. I like to taunt small, barking dogs in parked cars. I like to make people feel happy and superior in their reaction towards [sic] people who are prejudice. I like to make incisions into the belly of infants then fuck the incisions until the child dies."Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain's religious streak
Cobain went through a religious phase in 1984. He attended church regularly, cut out smoking dope, went to Christian Youth Group meetings and was even baptized, although his family didn't attend.
The phase lasted a couple months at most before Cobain gave up and started smoking pot again.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain continues his previous meditation on culture with this journal entry.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain's constant sense of self-loathing was ballast to his desire to be popular. He would often wander away in social settings, for quiet moments to himself.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
The imagery shown here would be seen again in the music video for "Heart-Shaped Box."Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain wrote "Lithium" before he met girlfriend Tobi Vail, but over time the lyrics began to describe her.
In an interview with Musician, Cobain said the lyrics came from "some of my personal experiences, like breaking up with girlfriends and having bad relationships, feeling that death void that the person in the song is feeling -- very lonely, sick."Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
While Cobain had a troubled childhood, it doesn't mean it was spent without love.
Cobain recorded his first-ever demo on his aunt's four-track recorder. She still has recordings of Cobain playing around with it when he was a child, as seen on the documentary Kurt & Courtney.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain disliked society as much as he disliked himself. This isn't to say he hated the world all the time -- he still coveted fame before he got it -- but Cobain did loath inauthenticity. Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
"Come As You Are"
Cobain doodles his vision for the "Come As You Are" music video. As previously mentioned, Cobain liked to keep a strict level of artistic control over everything Nirvana did.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain's understanding of punk
Cobain would draft letters in his notebooks before sending them out. Here, he explains to a fan that he didn't mean that punk was dead, just that it was dead to him.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal