MUSIC: Never Mind

Kurt Cobain was the dour, brilliant leader of Nirvana, the multiplatinum grunge band that defined the sound of the 1990s. Last week he killed himself.

  • Robert Sorbo / AP

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    If the loss of an oddly magnetic, brilliant musician was jolting, though, the manner of his death was not entirely unexpected. Cobain spoke so openly on the subjects of drugs and depression and suicide that writers searching for easy obituary ironies didn't have to look very hard. Cobain himself even began joking about it; a song called "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die" was recorded but dropped from the last album. "It was totally satirical, making fun of ourselves," Cobain told a reporter earlier this year. "I'm thought of as this pissy, complaining, freaked-out schizophrenic who wants to kill himself all the time. I thought it was a funny title."

    Love, an alternative-rock star in her own right, was in Los Angeles at the time of Cobain's death but reportedly flew to Seattle Friday morning. While talking to the pop-music critic Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times early last week, Love broke into tears describing her husband's recently fragile condition. "I just don't ever want to see him on the floor like that again. He was blue," she told Hilburn, recalling Cobain's overdose in Rome last month. "I thought I went through a lot of hard times over the years, but this has been the hardest." A source who had been close to Cobain confirms what now seems obvious: the European incident, labeled an accident at the time, was an unsuccessful suicide attempt. "You don't take 50 pills by accident," ; notes the source. Two weeks after returning to Seattle from Rome, Love had to call police when Cobain locked himself in a room along with some of the guns he enjoyed keeping around the house; police removed four weapons that day, including a Colt AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

    Growing up in the depressed logging town of Aberdeen on Washington's Pacific coast, Cobain had, by his account, a relatively happy childhood until his parents, a cocktail waitress and an auto mechanic, got divorced. He was only eight at the time, and he claimed the traumatic split fueled the anguish in Nirvana's music. He shuttled back and forth between various relatives, even finding himself homeless at one point and living under a bridge. His budding artistry and iconoclastic attitude didn't win him many fans in high school; instead, he attracted beatings from "jocks and moron dudes," as an old friend once put it. Cobain got even by spray-painting QUEER on his tormentors' pickup trucks.

    Cobain formed and reformed a series of bands before Nirvana finally coalesced in 1986 as an uneasy alliance among Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic (a hometown friend) and eventually drummer Dave Grohl. Cobain married Love in 1992, when the band was first peaking on the charts, when she was already pregnant with Frances Bean, and when both parents had already developed heroin habits (Love claims to have kicked hers immediately after finding out she was pregnant). "It's a whirling dervish of emotion, all these extremes of fighting and loving each other at once," is how Cobain described the marriage last year, proudly showing off nasty fingernail scratches on his back.

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