We weren’t allowed to have MTV on in the house when I was a kid — MTV didn’t play country music or classical or oldies; it was forbidden.
Nirvana changed that. They were our Beatles on Ed Sullivan.
I brought home Nirvana’s Nevermind and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger on the same day. My dad allowed me to play them each in full, back-to-back, on the home stereo while I did homework. Afterward, I asked him which he preferred, and he said “I like the Nirvana album better.”
That became my permission to watch MTV when Mom protested: Nirvana was undeniable.
But they weren’t that way before Dave Grohl joined the band.
Beyond being a powerhouse drummer, his backup vocal harmonies added more colors to the band’s sonic palette. Plus, Krist Novaselic finally had a drummer who understood groove, the rhythm section was locked in. Kurt, from what I could tell at the time, only enjoyed being a brat and was a drug addict.
My love affair with Nirvana began and ended with Dave Grohl, and continues with Foo Fighters.
With that, I have to admit, as much as I keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in our current cultural zeitgeist, I’m late to the party on some things. One of these things was Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.
I watched it a couple of weeks ago, and while my first impressions of Cobain were validated, I made a list of ten things I learned from the documentary. They each resonated with me.
1. Divorce irrevocably changed his life.
Touré, in his book I Would Die 4 U: How Prince Became an Icon, explains that divorce was the cultural zeitgeist of Gen X, and even people whose parents remain married feel fallout from the divorce of relatives, friends, et al. Cobain would not have become an icon if he, much like Prince, didn’t experience being a child of divorced parents.
2. His girlfriend before Courtney Love supported him 100% while he lived an artist’s life.
How does anyone make it in our current culture without a support system? Anyone who says they became successful through their own hard work alone is deluded.
It’s true, hard work is the first requirement when it comes to achieving goals, and using time and resources wisely is important, too. But without a support system of people who believe in you, who see how hard you’re working, who help pick you up when you’re down, who have your best interests at heart, who know you appreciate them…you are doomed.
3. There is still bad blood when it comes to Dave Grohl.
Although I gained respect for Cobain while watching MOH, there is obviously still a grudge with Dave Grohl.
He wasn’t featured as Novaselic and Love were, and it was not acknowledged that the band got better when he joined, or how Kurt felt about him joining. Seems weird to me, considering his post-Nirvana success and celebrity.
4. He was constantly studying and learning and experimenting.
Cobain would sit alone in his room, playing his guitar, reading, writing lyrics and poetry, performing audio engineering experiments with his tape recorder, and more, all day long. He became what James Altucher refers to as an “idea machine”, filling notebook after notebook with his thoughts.
5. Marijuana expanded his mind and artistic capabilities.
6. He kept his super-ambitiousness hidden.
I heard Dave Grohl say in an interview once that when the Nirvana was in their first meeting at Geffen Records, a label rep asked “What do you guys want?”
Cobain replied, “We want to be the biggest band in the world.”
That’s the only occasion I can think of when Kurt said anything about wanting fame. I assumed he was trying to be flippant.
Nope. He wanted to be the biggest band in the world. He just didn’t know what fame (and heroin) was going to do him.
7. He sacrificed everything for his band.
His band and his music were his top priorities. Everything else was dismissible — relationships, material things (except music equipment), etc. If it didn’t help his band get to the next level, it didn’t matter.
8. He was incredibly self-conscious, and thin-skinned when it came to critics.
As most true artists feel about their creative output, Kurt’s songs were like his babies. When critics were negative about his music, Kurt took it personally. His songs were him, he poured his soul out. His soul was under attack.
9. He was much better-looking than I gave him credit for.
Handsome dude, when not on drugs.
10. He thought a band needed to practice five times a week.
I found this fascinating because it revealed the true intensity of his drive and discipline.
Also, it showed that he was willing to grind, to hone, to perfect the performance, getting it down to a science, where the rules are known, and can therefore be broken at will. All musicians and entrepreneurs can learn from his example.