By TIMOTHY EGAN
Kurt Cobain, the ragged-voiced product of a Pacific Northwest timber town who helped to create the grunge rock sound that has dominated popular music for the last four years, was found dead today at his home here. The police said they believed that Mr. Cobain, the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for the influential band Nirvana, killed himself with a single shotgun blast to the head.
A note was found next to Mr. Cobain’s body, which was discovered by an electrician who had gone to the house this morning to do some work, said Vinette Tichi, a spokeswoman for the Seattle Police Department. Mr. Cobain was 27.
Although police officials were initially reluctant to identify the body, late today the King County Medical Examiner, Donald Reay, said a fingerprint examination confirmed that it was that of Mr. Cobain.
Nirvana is a leader among the half-dozen Seattle-based musical groups, lumped together as grunge, that combined heavy metal with a punk sensibility.
With its 1991 album, “Nevermind,” Nirvana put alternative rock, the noisy, icon-smashing spawn of punk rock, into the commercial mainstream. The album sold nearly 10 million copies worldwide, knocked Michael Jackson off the top of the popular music charts and established an anthem for a generation with the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Dressed in thrift-shop plaid shirts and torn jeans, a fashion soon copied by designers around the world, Mr. Cobain and the members of his band raged against the material and synthetic trappings of pop music. They concocted a sound that was close to both the nihilistic fury of punk rock and the tunefulness of the Beatles. Nirvana’s popularity signaled the acceptability not only of grunge but also of many other bands once considered far too raw and scruffy for the mainstream.
“Nirvana will be remembered for revolutionizing the state of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1990’s, pulling it away from a processed, rather synthetic sound and returning it to something more sincere,” said Michael Azerrad, the author of “Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana,” published last year by Doubleday.
As the group became successful, Mr. Cobain struggled with addictions to heroin and alcohol. He was hospitalized last month in Rome after he lapsed into a temporary coma brought on by a combination of drugs and alcohol. The coma forced his band to cut short a European tour. ‘Psychic Pain’
Upon hearing of Mr. Cobain’s death today, his mother, Wendy O’Connor, said, “Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club.” She was referring to rock stars like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison who died young after having problems with drugs.
Mr. Azerrad, who last spoke to Mr. Cobain in January, said the musician became a heroin addict, in part, because of a persistent and unexplained stomach ailment.
“He was also in a fair amount of psychic pain,” said Mr. Azerrad. “He was a very sensitive person, sweet and bright, which are not the best qualities to have if you are a rock star.”
Nirvana’s last album, “In Utero,” was released last year to critical acclaim and large sales. Mr. Cobain reproached his own fame in songs he wrote for the album, singing “I do not want what I have got” and “What’s wrong with me?”
Founded in 1986, Nirvana, which included Christ Novoselic on bass and Dave Grohl on drums, produced its first album, “Bleach,” in 1990 on the Seattle-based Sub Pop label. “Bleach” was recorded for $606 and initially sold 30,000 copies, respectable for an independent label but tiny by commercial standards. The album helped the group establish a strong following on the college circuit with loud live shows that sometimes ended with bouts of equipment smashing.
The band recorded its later albums with Geffen Records. The company’s president, Ed Rosenblatt, said, “We are all devastated by the unbelievable tragedy of Kurt Cobain’s death.”
The band’s success, coming out of small clubs in a distant corner of the country, helped to clear the path for other Seattle bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Complaints About Fame
After he became famous, Mr. Cobain frequently complained about his own success. “I do not want to have a long career if I have to put up with the same stuff that I’m putting up with,” Mr. Cobain said in an interview with The New York Times last November. “I’m trying it one last time, and if it’s more of a pleasant year for us, then fine, we’ll have a career. But I’m not going to subject myself to being stuck in an apartment building for the next 10 years and being afraid to go out-side of my house. It’s not worth it.”
Lori Goldston of Seattle, a cellist who toured with Nirvana last fall, said she was surprised by Mr. Cobain’s suicide. “He sort of had a depressive streak but he basically seemed optimistic and had ideas for the future,” she said. “But I think he was pretty overwhelmed in general by his fame.”
His drug problems and squabbles over royalties nearly broke up the group, as did the travails of Mr. Cobain and his wife, the singer Courtney Love, in regaining custody of their young child, Frances, from a relative after a Vanity Fair article reported that Ms. Love had used heroin well into her pregnancy.
At Mr. Cobain’s house today, a large, Northwest-style home just off Lake Washington in the Seattle neighborhood of Madrona, fans stood in the rain and cried.
“It’s hard to be a young person nowadays,” said Renae Ely, a 20-year-old college student. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. “He helped open people’s eyes to our struggles.”
Jim Sellars, a 21-year-old nursing assistant, said, “The bond is hard to describe, but he was a lyricist who could feel the way we do.” He said Mr. Cobain was an inspiration. “I’m still in shock, I feel so numb that someone who helped us understand is now dead.”
Police said Mr. Cobain was alone at the time of his death. It is not known where Ms. Love, the lead singer of the band, Hole, and their daughter were. Over the last year, the police had been called to their house after a complaint of a domestic dispute and a gunshot being fired.
Mr. Cobain’s body was found today in the upper floor of a detached garage to the side of the house.
Mr. Cobain was born in Aberdeen, a gray, sodden timber town of 16,000 people on a Pacific bay about 100 miles southwest of Seattle. His parents, Don and Wendy Cobain, divorced when he was 7, and he was given guitar lessons to keep him out of trouble. He dropped out of high school and left Abderdeen with his hometown friend, Mr. Novoselic, a co-founder of Nirvana.
Mr. Cobain has said that he always sympathized with homosexuals and felt trapped in the male culture of Aberdeen. He said that, as a teen-ager, he often felt that young men had no choice but to play sports and eventually work as loggers or in the lumber mills. Lyrics Full of Angst
Mr. Cobain’s lyrics, often contradictory and full of angst, spoke to a generation overshadowed by the enormous baby boom and coming of age when jobs were shrinking.
“As a songwriter, Kurt was really one of the greatest talents of pop music,” said Charles Cross, editor of the Rocket, a Seattle music magazine. “His songs were so emotional and so full of personal pain.”
Mr. Cross said, “The sad thing is what we’ve lost on the music scene. Regretfully, his body of work is small. He could have done so much more.”
When the grunge look became a fashion rage, ending up in Kmart, Mr. Cobain took note of the irony that that is where the look started. He once said he wore plaid shirts and boots because they best suited the marine climate of the Pacific Northwest. In his hometown, plaid shirts were a working a uniform well before they were a Calvin Klein fashion statement.
A recent movie, “Singles,” celebrated the Seattle scene and the grunge sound. But by last year, Nirvana and the other bands identified as the grunge pioneers said they were sick of it all. When asked last year if a band that rode the wave of a revolt could still be considered an underdog, Mr. Cobain said, “I think we look ridiculous already.”
His problem with heroin was told in numerous interviews. In the 1992 Vanity Fair interview, Ms. Love, implied that she had taken heroin into the late stages of her pregnancy. Using the article as evidence, child welfare officials forced the couple to surrender their child, then still an infant, to a relative.
Mr. Cobain and his wife soon regained custody. Mr. Cobain said the child was named for another tragic Seattle figure, Frances Farmer. A major movie star in the 1930’s, Ms. Farmer was forced into a mental institution by her family, and underwent a lobotomy.
Source: New York Times Obituaries, April 9, 1994