Ever since news broke of his suicide in April 1994, Nirvana’s late frontman Kurt Cobain has been shrouded in enigma and championed as a tortured artist by much of the discourse surrounding his legacy. Of course, this is understandable given that society remains obsessed with the tragic figures of art. Because of this, the so-called “27 Club” exists, featuring other musicians taken too soon, such as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.
Cobain’s former Nirvana bandmates, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl, have always tried to dispel the misconception that their friend was a tortured artist. In fact, they have shared many amusing and often candid anecdotes showing it to be the opposite. According to the couple and those who knew him best, Cobain was for the most part a prankster and a teller of many hoaxes.
When I spoke with the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle in 2008 about Live Oral History, Krist Novoselic looked back at Kurt Cobain and explained why he wasn’t a tortured artist at all and how he came to see himself as one.
The bassist said: “Kurt wasn’t really a tortured artist, like a sullen, tortured person. He was a really funny guy. Someone was watching this… when we were doing the Nirvana box set With the lights off boxset, and they edited it, and watching all the videos, they were like, “You know what, I’ve been watching Nirvana and all these interviews, and everyone’s always laughing.” The gang was always laughing, cracking jokes and just, you know. If something was stupid or ridiculous, so much the better. It had to be super stupid – it was really funny – it was so stupid.”
Novoselic then addressed the spectacle of Koban’s death and how it created extensive myths. In one of his most pertinent admissions, he noted that so much time had passed and now that he was older and in his 40s, members of the 27 Club like Jimi Hendrix looked “a lot younger” than they used to.
He continued: “It was such an event as Kurt’s death and the way he chose to die. It’s been such a media spectacle, and so you get all this mythology, and then there’s books and articles and all that stuff—speculation. You know, when I was growing up, it was like, ‘Wow, Bruce Lee or Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix’ – they were just huge. And now I look back and see Jimi Hendrix; he was 27 when he died, and he’s still great musically, but look at this guy who’s so much younger. I’m 43 and you look at someone who’s 27, you know, they look younger.
Concluding on the Kurt Cobain tragedy, Novoselic said, “It’s just very bad. Again, these are personal things that were passed on to Kurt and one thing led to another and he just had to stay. He just shouldn’t have done that; that’s all i can really say. That’s an understatement… He could do anything he wanted. He may have been a painter or sculptor; he could do anything he wanted…”