Cobain's journals, more than any other source, reveal the music that inspired him and the problems that plagued him.
"Smells Like Teen Spirit"
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
"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
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
Behind "About a Girl"
"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
Free" Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
Cobain the janitor
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
Cleaning up their act
A new artistic venture
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
"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
The phase lasted a couple months at most before Cobain gave up and started smoking pot again.Internet Archive / CC0 1.0 Universal
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
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
"Come As You Are"
Cobain's understanding of punk
You know that queasy feeling you get whenever you see a still from a Poison music video? Kurt Cobain changed all that.
In the early 1990s, the Nirvana frontman shifted popular attention away from cheesy hair bands playing stale, musical gruel and introduced grunge and alternative to mainstream audiences, injecting heavy, distorted guitars into teen angst around the world. Instead of merely lashing out at "society," his music expressed the reality of one's emotional pain.
Music listeners around the world soon devoured Cobain's sound. Indeed, the band went from playing music for a few hundred people in Seattle to lighting up stadium-sized sets across Europe. In the course of a few years, Cobain transformed from the ugly duckling worried about money to the world's greasy-haired poet-prophet.
This came at a price: By the time Nirvana came back to the States, Cobain went from convincing people to buy his album to doing anything he could to get people to stop worshipping him. Cobain wanted none of what his music had wrought him; the musician already suffered from depression and social isolation growing up, and eventually rejected much of his own fame.
Cobain ultimately succumbed to the emotional pain that informed much of his music, and in 1994 he died -- perhaps of suicide -- at age 27.
"Now he's gone and joined that stupid club," Cobain's mother said when she learned her son had died, according to Rolling Stone (referring to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison and the others in "The 27 Club" for famous musicians who died at age 27). "I told him not to join that stupid club."
Even though Cobain did join that club, he left behind a wealth of writings and drawings from his journals, a treasure trove for those touched by his music.
Those journals (largely written between and 1989 and 1990, when he also wrote many of Nirvana's most famous songs) have since been compiled into a book, transcribed and annotated excerpts from which you can see above.
Kurt Cobain's Journals were published in 2002.
Next, check out the casting call for the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" music video. Then hear the tragic tale of Frances Farmer, Kurt Cobain's doomed muse.