Happy Birthday, Kurt Cobain: Where Would He Be Today?
Last year on this date, in honor of what would have been late Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain's 45th birthday, I wrote a blog supposing where the grunge icon would have been in 2012. It got a lot of traction, and people loved and hated it. Imagining him as a dubstep DJ was really for grins and shock value. I mean, who would have thought Dave Grohl would be Dave Grohl as we know him now? The future is funny that way. For all we know, Cobain would be playing a solo noise show at Super Happy Fun Land tonight.
Had he not died in April 1994, by his own hand -- or at the hands of sinister forces working for Courtney Love (insert maniacal laugh) -- Kurt Cobain would have turned 45 years old today. The rock icon killed himself at the age of 27, not only leaving behind a daughter to fend for herself against the wiles of her widowed mother, but also abandoning a future that music fans can only shake their heads and imagine with great shattered expectations.
Still, some have written him off as an immature, drug-addicted suicide casualty who couldn't hack it at fame. Society has a way of lionizing people who have died in their prime. Who is to say that some of the most prominent members of the 27 Club -- Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Cobain -- would have done things as groundbreaking as the work they did before their deaths, had they lived on?
The Janis Joplin disco record, graybeard Jim Morrison's Rick Rubin-produced acoustic albums, and the Jimi Hendrix show at Nutty Jerry's in Winnie only 300 people would attend. These sort of things roll around my brain all day.
With Cobain, you can also go a million ways, with some not accepting anything other than eventual death from drugs, sort of like Amy Winehouse, the latest inductee into the 27 Club.
Cobain, Folky Shut-In
Cobain disbands Nirvana in the wake of his 1994 overdose, goes into seclusion in a cabin in Washington State and puts 40 pounds on his frail frame. He re-emerges in late 1998, in slightly better physical shape, to talk to a few press outlets about the upcoming tenth anniversary of Bleach, and hints at major recording again, but he mostly admits that he has been listening to less current rock and more ancient blues stuff. He even admits he has recorded a few demos in this vein. He doesn't think they would fly in 1998, or in any other decade.
Four years later, he logs a few more wild and woolly Rolling Stone interviews ("I don't regret heroin...") and a controversial remastered and personally-remixed reissue of Nevermind in 2001 leads to the band reuniting for Coachella 2002, now augmented with smoky keyboards from the Wallflowers' Rami Jaffee. Pictures of his gut hanging under his guitar have tabloids reeling in delight.
A decade later, he is still in that cabin, albeit a much larger one with a full -- unused -- gym and theater room, not caring for current music, though he did just produce the new Fleet Foxes record as a favor to his label.
In a barn near his compound, he hosts monthly happenings with local musicians and touring bands that have become a thing of Northwestern rock lore. A picture of Bob Dylan and Cobain teaming up on "I Shall Be Released" gets retweeted almost 5,000 times in one day.
The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach -- who could be Cobain's twin -- says that this summer he is producing and recording a new album with Kurt and "two dudes that Kurt used to be in a band with in the '90s," which sends the blogger world into a frenzy.
A chance meeting with Deepak Chopra on a plane flight to New York in the summer of 1994 sets Cobain on a path of personal healing and away from drug use. He puts Nirvana on indefinite hiatus, forcing drummer Dave Grohl to begin work on his Foo Fighters side project in earnest. Bassist Krist Novoselic is all for Cobain's new direction, and tells the press that Nirvana is now on their clock, not that of a label.
His ex-wife Love -- served divorce papers over Thanksgiving '94 -- overdoses while on tour in Houston in early 1995, and Cobain and new squeeze Samantha Mathis begin raising Frances Bean.
By 1996, Cobain decides to start work on a new solo album, lifting his Beatles fetish to the forefront, and teams with younger musicians around Seattle for what ends up being named the best album of 1997, the saccharine and poppy Modern Malt Shop, which is supported by a national tour with Fountains of Wayne as openers.
Cobain, now fit and tan and sporting a few scattered tattoos, starts a power-pop project with fellow moper Rivers Cuomo while the Weezer mastermind is on break from Harvard, releasing a disc in 1999 together as The Brain Trust. A brief teaming with Conor Oberst in 2001 makes Cobain an elder indie statesman all over again.
By 2004, Cobain and the Nirvana boys, plus seasoned Detroit session man Jack White, decide to re-form the band for a tour and a new album. The band now only plays sporadically, à la Pearl Jam, while Cobain's solo career continues to chug along. Remember last week's guest spot on The Voice?
Rocks Off readers lit our comments section afire after this writer gives his recent tour with dubstep wunderkind Skrillex high marks, with Cobain and Skrillex reinvigorating old Nirvana hits for a sold-out Verizon Wireless Theater crowd.
Cobain, Metalhead '90s Burnout
"I was at the end of my rope, stupid and in a failing marriage," says Cobain in a late 1995 issue of SPIN, his first interview since his April '94 overdose/suicide attempt, in which he details his plans to make a noise-pop record with friend Dylan Carlson. He laughs off rumors of a Nirvana reunion, and instead takes a gig playing with Sonic Youth, and briefly tours with Patti Smith.
Music fans aren't so kind to the band's music, as there is a backlash related to Cobain now calling "grunge" as bad as New Wave or the New Romantic period of the '80s.
"I don't see the difference between Pearl Jam and Flock of Seagulls at this point," he says. "It's like, you guys are making McDonald's jingles and shit for tenth-graders."
Cobain dialing up "In Bloom" on the sold-out tour with Skrillex
He takes a left turn with Carlson and begins repping Black Sabbath, Venom and obscure black-metal artists by 2000, and records a disc for Relapse Records the same year, touring small clubs as The Shattered Tomb. The shows are notoriously loud, with the now-bald Cobain sporting an unholy blond beard. The only Nirvana song on the setlist is "Tourette's," from In Utero. A fire started inside Emo's when they played SXSW last year, and Rocks Off was there.
Cobain, Sole Nirvana Journeyman
"I think Dave is a great musician, but we just couldn't handle the working-relationship side. Look, I dig the Foos, and I even own that stuff, but once we got into a studio after 1995, he wanted every other cut to be a 'Dave' cut, and this was never a democracy," says Cobain to Entertainment Weekly in 2007, pulling a long drag on a cigarette after a radio festival date in Los Angeles.
Now the only original member of Nirvana, which has released almost one album every two years since 1993, Cobain is notorious for firing his touring band a day after each touring cycle after an album ends. Novoselic left in 1996 to begin producing bands, and still keeps in touch with Cobain, even helping on Nirvana's power ballad for a Michael Bay blockbuster.
At this point, the band sounds less like the titanic Nirvana from 1994 and more like the bands that came after them, with guest vocals from the likes of rumored girlfriend Amy Lee of Evanescence.
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