April 5th, 1994 has gone down in history as a turning point in rock and roll. The day Kurt Cobain decided to stop being a spokesman for his generation. A groundskeeper found a note Cobain had left in his garage, initially believed to be a suicide note, but was later revealed as, what he called a “dear john letter to the music industry.” Cobain secretly caught a plane down to Athens, Georgia to hide out at the home of longtime confidant and early influence, REM’s Michael Stipe. After spending most of the summer down in the hot Georgia air, he made headlines filing for divorce from Courtney Love. For those that don’t remember Love, she was the leader of the band Hole that briefly made a splash in the alternative world during her marriage to Cobain. After their divorce, her personal problems got in the way, and aside from an occasional appearance on shows like VH1’s “I Love the ‘90s”, she hasn’t been heard from much since.
With his tumultuous marriage, and his legendary band Nirvana behind him, Cobain focused on getting his life together. Cobain spent most of 1995 and ’96 getting himself off the drugs that had almost taken his life during Nirvana’s heyday. While he’d occasionally pop up as a guest vocalist with the likes of Neil Young, Patti Smith, or his old friend Mark Lanegan, he kept a low profile through the rest of the ‘90s. It wasn’t until 1999, at the dawn of a new decade that we heard a new full-length from this famous “poster boy of grunge.” A New Leaf was released to mixed reviews, the British press said he had “gone soft,” but what we saw was a more mature Cobain able to speak more directly about his childhood pain, his drug abuse, and the highs and lows of life in the spotlight. Featuring duets with Lanegan, Young, Thurston Moore, Cat Power, and the then-rising star, Neko Case, he unveiled a more rootsy side that he’d only hinted at with Nirvana’s 1994 MTV “Unplugged” appearance. After a small tour that included several of Nirvana’s quieter songs in its repertoire, Cobain settled into the small town of Hart Flats, California and we didn’t hear from him again for a number of years.
He again caught the public's attention in small indie films, 2003’s Coffee & Cigarettes, director Jim Jarmusch paired him with William S. Burroughs (filmed before Burroughs death in 1997), and a lead role in Gus Van Zandt’s Last Days (2005), which was loosely based on Cobain’s 1994 retreat from music. Each time Cobain’s old band-mate David Grohl released a new record with the Foo Fighters, the press would come around to try to get a sound-bite from Cobain. While at first Cobain usually said “I haven’t heard the record," or would refuse to answer, he eventually went on record saying that he felt “Grohl is a sellout," and “Grohl never understood what my music was all about.” Comments like those made many fans worry he’d never rekindle things with his previous band-mates.
Of course, like so many bands in recent years, Nirvana has finally decided that a reunion tour is in order and this Fall music fans across the globe, many of whom were too young to see Nirvana in their ‘90s glory, will get a chance to see the band reunited. Backed by a small string ensemble, members of Meat Puppets and Pat Smear, the band embarks on a six-month world tour. Cobain has even personally selected his heroes The Vaselines (also recently reunited) to open the tour. Featuring songs from the original Nirvana catalogue, as well as solo Cobain output, the shows are sure to sell-out and bring Cobain’s classic songs to a new generation. While Cobain has gone back and forth on the famous Neil Young couplet “It’s better to burn out than fade away,” at the ripe old age of 44, it’s looking like Cobain has beat the odds and hasn’t burnt out and shows no signs of fading away any time soon.
By Shane Tutmarc