Kurt Cobain called himself “an extremely happy child” until the age of nine.
“Things just lay down before me,” the Gen-X godfather later recalled. “I didn’t have any problems. There were no obstacles.”
During this period, the boy believed he was an alien sent from another planet to study earthlings. His best friend was a fellow extraterrestrial by the name of “Boddah.” Amused by the fantasy at first, his parents set a place at the dinner table for Boddah. Finally, becoming concerned that their son wasn’t spending time with real children, they told him Boddah had gone missing in Vietnam.
Then, in 1976, Don Cobain, an auto mechanic, and Wendy, a homemaker, were divorced.
“I HATE MOM. I HATE DAD,” Kurt graffitied his bedroom wall.
Wendy won legal custody of her son and tried her best as a single parent. “I was totaled out on him,” she said. “My every waking hour was for him.”
Though a small, meek boy who hated sports, he became prone to violence and backtalk. Without friends, he adopted stray and wounded animals. Wendy took him to a psychologist who prescribed him Ritalin for his hyperactivity and tantrums. Finally at her wits end with the unmanageable boy, she sent him off to live in the trailer park with his father.
As my bones grew they did hurt. They hurt really bad, Kurt sang in “Serve the Servants.” I tried hard to have a father. But instead I had a dad.
Don Cobain could be an impatient disciplinarian. He had once thrown his misbehaved son, age 6, across the room. He was especially severe with the boy in public. Once when Kurt spilled his water glass at a restaurant, Don seized him by the head, rapping him with his knuckles. “Fuck him for that!” Kurt later told his biographer, Michael Azerrad. “Accidents weren’t allowed… we had to be perfect all the time.”
Still, deeply attached to his father, he begged him not to get remarried. To pacify the sensitive boy, Don promised, but broke his word. “… After that,” recalled Kurt. “I was one of the last things of importance.” He had little further contact with his father for the rest of his brief life.
Early on, the future Punk icon decided he was fated to be either a great artist or a rock musician. In kindergarten, he drew perfect Donald Ducks, Plutos, and other Disney characters. By early teens, he was producing lifelike vaginas, fetuses, and devils. Later, after an arrest for public drunkenness, he spent his jail time drawing nudes which he sold to fellow prisoners for masturbation. Kurt was also a graffiti artist, decorating buildings and shop fronts with guerilla haiku such as GOD IS GAY! ABORT CHRIST! and NIXON KILLED HENDRIX!
In high school, Cobain’s precocious art abilities led him to filmmaking. One of his Super-8 shorts was called Kurt Commits Bloody Suicide. In it he pretended to cut his wrists with a crushed soda can.
“I have suicide genes,” he told schoolmates.
Kurt’s genetic instability rivaled that of Elvis. Two of his fraternal great uncles had fatally shot themselves. A third great-uncle died of a cerebral hemorrhage after toppling drunk down a staircase. His maternal great-grandfather stabbed himself in the stomach in front of his family, and later perished in a mental hospital.
“I’m going to be a superstar musician, kill myself, and go out in a flame of glory,” Kurt told a friend after deciding that his future was not in art after all, but rock and roll. Not classic rock, not metal rock, but the kind of rock that expressed his entire childhood – the manic energy, the isolation, the rejection, the hurt. The rage.
Shock-and-awe became the sturm and drang of Punk. In this Kurt was the maestro. He gobbed and pissed on fans; he smashed up guitars, tour buses and hotel suites; he paraded on stage in women’s lingerie and hospital gowns; and he did Manson-eyed photo-ops with revolvers in his mouth. With such stagecraft enlivening Grunge anthems such as “Smells like Teen Spirit,” he became the pied piper of the once voiceless X-generation.
Kurt Cobain dreamed of “going out in a flame of glory like Hendrix.” Instead of trying to his outgrow his painful childhood, he sought to embrace it. His only tattoo was a “K” inside a shield on his forearm. The K was for KAOS, his local Punk radio station which played the songs of the child-friendly K Records.
Explaining the significance of the tattoo, Kurt said, “It was just a nice reminder of innocence… To try to remind me to stay a child.”
He did so until age 27 when he joined his immortal predecessors in Club 27 – Hendrix, Janis, Morrison, and too many others. The young star was found lying with a shotgun, and next to his body, a suicide note addressed to Boddah.
“I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasms I once had as a child,” the note ended to his imaginary boyhood friend. “I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
Peace, love, empathy