I was living in Seattle when Grunge happened in the early 1990s. Young people around the globe embraced the “Seattle Sound” of fat sludgy guitar riffs, fuzz and feedback. I became aware that the city was becoming a center of American culture. The look of angst and the raw sound jumped to the fashion world and a lifestyle of thrift shop flannel went international with the huge success of Nirvana’s album Nevermind. Amazing, this was more than a quarter century ago.
The best television episode of the 1990s starred a small blond young man and his band. On November 18, 1993, at Sony Music Studios in New York City, the band Nirvana appeared on MTV Unplugged. That night, the biggest group of the decade staged one of the most intimate rock concerts ever captured on film.
Wearing a fuzzy cardigan, ratty tee-shirt, jeans, and Converse sneakers, Kurt Cobain and drummer Dave Grohl, bass player Krist Novoselic, guitarist Pat Smear, plus guest cellist Lori Goldston, gave a performance that was heartfelt, funny, unnerving, and mesmerizing. Their appearance on the acoustic series proved that the loudest band on earth had a stunning amount of depth. It was a moment I will never forget.
Cobain’s music reflected his fractured childhood and his disconnection from the world. Cobain befriended a gay student at Aberdeen High School that suffered bullying from the straight students. Those same classmates concluded that Cobain must be gay also. Cobain claimed that he liked being identified as gay because he didn’t like people and when they thought he was a queer, people left him alone.
”I started being really proud of the fact that I was gay even though I wasn’t.”
Cobain claimed that he was ”gay in spirit”. He also stated that he used to to spray paint ”God Is Gay” on pickup trucks around his hometown Aberdeen, Washington. Cobain:
”I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off the homophobes. I used to pretend I was gay just to fuck with people. I’ve had the reputation of being a homosexual ever since I was 14. It was really cool, because I found a couple of gay friends in Aberdeen, which is almost impossible. How I could ever come across a gay person in Aberdeen is amazing! But I had some really good friends that way. I got beat up a lot, of course, because of my association with them.”
“People just thought I was weird at first, just some fucked-up kid. But once I got the gay tag, it gave me the freedom to be able to be a freak and let people know that they should just stay away from me. Instead of having to explain to someone that they should just stay the fuck away from me. I’m gay, so I can’t even be touched. It made for quite a few scary experiences in alleys walking home from school, though…”
When Cobain’s body was discovered on April 5, 1994, the world was shocked but not surprised. I had a friend who bought a commemorative tee-shirt with a huge photo on it of Cobain that read: “If my eyes could show my soul, everyone would cry when they saw me smile”.
Cobain was found dead at his home on Lake Washington on that spring day, just a few blocks away from The Husband’s restaurant (yes, The Husband was once a restaurateur). I was working at his place that day and we heard the sirens and the whirl of helicopters all day long. The staff were arriving in tears, some unable to work.
Cobain would have turned 54 years old today.