Kurt Cobain On Identity
Interview by Jon Savage
July 22, 1993
Profile appeared in The Observer
Hear the full interview at Rock's Backpages
Jon Savage: Did you have problems in high school?
Kurt Cobain: Yeah. You know I felt so different and so crazy that people just left me alone. I always felt that they would vote me “Most likely to kill everyone at a high school dance.” You know?
Kurt Cobain: My mother has always tried to keep a little bit of English culture in our family. Like we’d drink tea all the time. You know? Although I’ve never really known my ancestry. I didn’t even know until this year that the name Cobain was Irish. I found out through different phone books throughout America, I couldn’t find any Cobains at all. So I started calling Coburns and I found this one lady in San Francisco and she had been researching our family history. And it came from County Cork, which is a weird coincidence, because when we toured we played in Cork and the entire day I walked around in a daze. I’d never felt more spiritual in my life. I was almost in tears the whole day. It was the weirdest thing.
[Nirvana “Pennyroyal Tea”]
Kurt Cobain: I had a really good childhood until the divorce. Then all of a sudden my whole world changed. I couldn’t face some of my friends at school.I desperately wanted to have the classic, typical family. Mother, father.
[Nirvana “Love Buzz”]
Kurt Cobain: Because I couldn’t find any friends, male friends that I felt compatible with, I ended up hanging out with the girls a lot. And I just always felt that they weren’t treated with respect. Especially because women are just totally oppressed. I mean the words bitch and cunt were totally common. Although I listened to Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, and I really did enjoy some of the melodies they’d written, it took me so many years to realise that a lot of it had to do with sexism. The way that they just wrote about their dicks and having sex. I was just starting to understand what really was pissing me off so much, those last couple of years of high school. And then punk rock was exposed and then it all came together. It just fit together like a puzzle.
[Crass “Bata Motel”]
Kurt Cobain: It expressed the way I felt socially and politically. Just everything. You know. It was the anger that I felt. The alienation.
Jon Savage: Did you have problems with people thinking that you were gay?
Kurt Cobain: Yeah. I even thought that I was gay. I thought that might be the solution to my problem. Although I never experimented with it, I had a gay friend and then my mother wouldn’t allow me to be friends with him anymore because, well, she’s homophobic. It was real devastating because finally I’d found a male friend who I actually hugged and was affectionate to and we talked about a lot of things.
Jon Savage: So did you stop?
Kurt Cobain: Yeah, I couldn’t hang out with him anymore.
[Nirvana “Lithium (Acoustic)”]
Jon Savage: Tell me how do you sing?
Kurt Cobain: Most of the time I sing right from my stomach. Right from where my stomach pain is. Every time I’ve had an endoscope, they find a red irritation in my stomach. But it’s all from anger. And screaming. I mean not only is my stomach has inflamed irritation, but I have scoliosis. And the weight of the guitar has made my back grow in this curvature. So it gives me a back pain all the time. You know? I’m always in pain, too, and that really adds to the anger in our music. It really does. I’m kind of grateful for it in a way.
Jon Savage: Maybe you’re feeling a bit better now…
Kurt Cobain: Yeah. Especially since I’ve been married and I’ve had a child. You know within the last year, my whole mental state and my physical state has almost improved one hundred percent. I haven’t felt this optimistic since right before the divorce. You know? [laughs]
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