Nirvana: Kurt Cobain’s 20 best moments

A look at the life and legacy of late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain…

Nirvana: Kurt Cobain’s 20 best moments

Today – February 20 – would have been Kurt Cobain’s 54th birthday. To celebrate the Nirvana man's tragically short yet incredible life, we’ve scoured the archives to bring you this round-up of some of his greatest moments…

That time he worked as a janitor

For a brief period, Kurt Cobain went to Aberdeen High School, just a stone’s throw from the muddy banks of the Wishkah River. He later worked there as a janitor, where he earned enough to rent a flat at 404 N. Michigan Street. “Here was a man who would never clean his kitchen or take out the garbage, or do those kind of chores, but Kurt Cobain was not a lazy person,” remembers Krist Novoselic. “Basically he cleaned toilets – that’s how he paid for [our] demo.” The dancing janitor in the Smells Like Teen Spirit video is a nod to his former job.

That time he took being a tour manager very seriously

During the early days of the band, the frontman wrote down a series of strict rules when it came to their tour van, with a guide to the rigorous checks they had to carry out at every stop. “Every 400 miles there will be an inspection of van cleanliness,” Kurt wrote, adding that there would be no use of any gas corporation services “besides Exxon. No exceptions.” Must have had a loyalty card or something.

That time he brought his baby daughter to work

In 1992, Kurt brought his baby daughter Frances Bean onto an MTV set and proceeded to feed and wind her throughout the filmed interview. While leaving most of the talking to Krist and Dave Grohl, he does chime in with a story about his run-in with Axl Rose at the MTV Awards in 1992. “He told me to keep my woman in line,” he explained, recounting a tense moment between the pair after Courtney jokingly asked the Guns N’ Roses frontman to be the godfather to their child. “He was threatening to beat me up and I couldn’t help but laugh because I hadn’t been in that situation since I was in sixth grade.”

That time Nirvana made their TV debut

The first time Kurt saw himself on TV – MTV’s alternative show 120 Minutes – he called his mother Wendy from his hotel room and said, “There’s me.”

That time he got married in his pyjamas

Following two sold-out shows in Honolulu, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love were married on Waikiki Beach on February 24, 1992, just over two years after they met. Courtney, who was pregnant with the couple’s daughter Frances Bean, wore a dress that belonged to troubled Seattle actress Frances Farmer. Her groom, who was “too lazy to wear a tux”, wore green checked pyjamas and a Guatemalan purse slung over his shoulder. Saves all that faffing around at Moss Bros, we suppose…

That time Kurt got kicked out of his own album launch party

Kurt was kicked out of a party at Seattle venue Rebar while celebrating the release of Nevermind. In Charles R. Cross’ book Heavier Than Heaven, the journalist remembers that the frontman started throwing ranch dressing at Krist and a food fight erupted. “A bouncer grabbed the offenders and threw them out, unaware he’d ejected the three men the party was being held for,” wrote Charles. “‘We were laughing,’ Krist recalled, ‘Saying, ‘Oh my God, we just got kicked out of our own record release party!’” In a later interview with the Huffington Post, the writer revealed that hummus was also involved in the messy fracas.

That time he took the piss on The Jonathan Ross Show

Nirvana were booked to perform Lithium on The Jonathan Ross Show in 1991 and chose to rattle through a raw version of Territorial Pissings and trash their gear instead. After picking his jaw from his desk, the host noted that the trio were “available for children’s parties and bar mitzvahs”, although we suspect this was a wotten lie.

That time he wore a gown on Headbangers Ball

A month after the release of Nevermind, Kurt and Krist appeared on MTV’s flagship metal show, hosted by Riki Rachtman. “It’s Headbangers Ball, so I thought I’d wear a gown,” said the frontman of his gaudy yellow number. Fashion aside, what’s notable about this clip all these years later is that Kurt is brazenly smoking a cigarette indoors and perhaps having a nap behind his outsized sunglasses at various points. It truly was a different time.

That time he took the piss on Top Of The Pops

Jonathan Ross wasn’t the only UK show to feature the band resolutely refusing to toe the line. Following the release of Smells Like Teen Spirit, Kurt took issue to singing to a backing track on the show and delivered the song in a near-monotone croon while his bandmates dicked around in the background. He later revealed he was attempting to sing like Morrissey. No-one at the Beeb noticed that he changed the opening lyrics to ‘load up on drugs, kill your friends’, either.

That time he made lists of the good stuff

Kurt had impeccable taste in music. In his personal diaries, he would make notes of his favourite albums and bands. In the book Journals, you can see a photo of a handwritten list of his top albums, which included The Stooges’ Raw Power, Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, Black Flag’s My War and Scratch Acid’s self-titled EP.

That time he paid a compliment to Courtney Love on UK TV

Before performing Smells Like Teen Spirit on Channel 4’s late-night show The Word – their first performance on British TV – Kurt announced to the audience, “I’d like all of you people in this room to know that Courtney Love, the lead singer of the sensational pop group Hole, is the best fuck in the world.” How romantic.

That time he smooched Krist Novoselic on Saturday Night Live

On January 11, 1992, Nevermind had just knocked Michael Jackson’s Dangerous off the top spot of the charts, and the band were booked to perform on Saturday Night Live. During the end credits, Kurt and Krist started French kissing. The frontman said it was to annoy “the rednecks and homophobes” in Aberdeen. Charles R. Cross says that Krist did it to cheer his friend up. “I walked right up to him,” Krist remembers in Heavier Than Heaven, “and grabbed him and stuck my tongue in his mouth, kissing him. I just wanted to make him feel better. At the end of it all, I told him, ‘It’s going to be okay. It’s not so bad. Okay?’”

The show – which featured Smells Like Teen Spirit and Territorial Pissings – cut the amorous moment from all future repeats, but you can watch it on YouTube if you want to see a 6’5 man plunder the Nirvana frontman’s mouth with all the finesse of a starving man eating a free pizza.

That time he put the fear of God into MTV executives

Nirvana’s appearance at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards was not without its share of hassle. The band were threatened with being booted from evening’s schedule for their reluctance to play Smells Like Teen Spirit, even going as far to suggest that they’d never appear on the channel again and that their own employee Amy Finnerty – a friend of the band – would be fired from the company if they dared play Rape Me instead. A compromise was met and they would play Lithium at the ceremony. Kurt strummed the opening chords of Rape Me before starting Lithium, “just to give [MTV] a little heart palpitation”. If you listen very carefully, you can hear a gathering of MTV executives fart with sheer terror…

That time he thought he gobbed on Axl Rose’s piano

The run-in with the Guns N’ Roses frontman at the VMAs continued after their performance of Lithium. Noticing that a piano was set up under the stage, Kurt took the opportunity to get his own back for their earlier confrontation. “I spat on Axl’s keyboard when we were sitting on the stage,” he told Jon Savage in 1993. “It was either that or beat him up. We’re down on this platform that brought us up hydraulically, you know? I saw this piano there, and I just had to take this opportunity and spit big goobers all over his keyboards.” He later reacted with horror as he learned the other piano belonged to Elton John.

That time he arrived onstage in a wheelchair

On August 30, 1992, Nirvana headlined the final night of Reading Festival. With media speculation that the frontman was ‘unwell’, he arrived in a hospital gown and blonde wig, sat in wheelchair pushed by journalist Everett True. He stood up, grabbed the mic, croaked a line from Bette Midler’s The Rose and promptly collapsed. It was all a big joke and the band went on to play a legendary set and it was to be their final UK appearance. “Kurt had been in and out of rehab, communication in the band was beginning to be strained,” Dave said in an interview with The Scotsman. “Kurt was living in LA, Krist and I were in Seattle. People weren’t even sure if we were going to show up.

“We rehearsed once, the night before, and it wasn’t good,” he added. “I really thought, ‘This will be a disaster, this will be the end of our career, for sure.’ And then it turned out to be a wonderful show, and it healed us for a little while.”

That time he took the piss on the cover of Rolling Stone

For their 1992 Rolling Stone cover, the story goes that the trio were to wear Brooks Brothers suits for the shoot. The frontman was not having any of it and instead wore a T-shirt on which he’d scrawled ‘Corporate Magazines Still Suck’. “Kurt was very resistant,” remembers photographer Mark Seliger. “He didn’t want to be publicised. He didn’t want anything but to be true to his fans and to the music.”

That time he drew Eddie

When not making collages featuring parts of the human anatomy and babies, Kurt liked to draw and doodle. One such sketch, featured in the book Journals, shows Iron Maiden's undead mascot Eddie cracking open the world to expose a heart and intestines.

That time he made cardigans look, you know, quite cool…

It goes without saying that Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged performance, which was filmed at Sony Music Studios in New York City on November 18, 1993, is the stuff of legend. Showing off a completely different side to their music, the 14-song set featured beautiful, stripped-down arrangements of About A Girl, Come As You Are, Polly and covers of The Vaselines, David Bowie and Lead Belly’s version of the folk song Where Did You Sleep Last Night?. Music aside, it was his ratty green cardigan that had teenagers all over the world raiding their grandmothers’ wardrobe to get that classic Kurt look.

That time he had a guitar duel with Krist Novoselic

There’s fan-shot footage of a Nirvana show in 1991 where the frontman and bassist have a play flight using their instruments as swords. We think Krist has an unfair advantage with his towering stature and bass, but Kurt holds his own in this feedback-laden stand-off. It’s the guitar techs we feel sorry for.

That time he wrote the Kurt Cobain six commandments

Journals yielded a unique look inside the mind of the Nirvana frontman: essential album lists, lyrics, sketches and comic strips. On page 104, he wrote down his own six commandments:

1. Don’t rape
2. Don’t be prejudice
3. Don't be sexist
4. Love your children
5. Love your neighbor
6. Love yourself

Don’t let your opinions obstruct the aforementioned list.

Check out more:

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?