Cobain formed Nirvana with Krist Novoselic in Aberdeen, Washington in 1985 and established it as part of the Seattle music scene, having its debut album Bleach released on the independent record label Sub Pop in 1989. After signing with major label DGC Records, the band found breakthrough success with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from its second album Nevermind (1991). This caused Nirvana to be considered "the flagship band" of Generation X, and Cobain hailed as "the spokesman of a generation".Cobain however was often uncomfortable and frustrated, believing his message and artistic vision to have been misinterpreted by the public, with his personal issues often subject to media attention. He challenged Nirvana's audience with its final studio album In Utero (1993).
During the last years of his life, Cobain struggled with heroin addiction, illness and depression, his fame and public image, as well as the professional and lifelong personal pressures surrounding himself and his wife, musician Courtney Love. On April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle, the victim of what was officially ruled a suicide by a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head. The circumstances of his death have sometimes become a topic of fascination and debate. Since their debut, Nirvana, with Cobain as a songwriter, sold over twenty-five million albums in the US alone, and over fifty million worldwide.
Kurt Donald Cobain was born on 20 February 1967, at Grays Harbor Hospital in Aberdeen, Washington, to a waitress, Wendy Elizabeth Fradenburg and an automotive mechanic named Donald Leland Cobain. His father was of Scottish, Irish and French ancestry, and his mother, was of Cuban, Spanish,Irish, German and English ancestry. Cobain's Irish ancestors migrated from County Tyrone of Northern Ireland in 1875. Further research found them to have been shoemakers, originally named Cobane, who came from the village of Inishatieve near Pomeroy, who settled in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada, and then in Washington.Cobain had one younger sister named Kimberly, born in 1970.
Cobain's family had a musical background. His maternal uncle Chuck Fradenburg starred in a band called The Beachcombers, his Aunt Mari Earle played guitar and performed in bands throughout Grays Harbor County, and his great-uncle Delbert had a career as an Irish tenor; making an appearance in the 1930 film King of Jazz. Cobain was described as being a happy and excitable, while sensitive and caring child. His talent as an artist was evident from an early age. His bedroom was described as having taken on the appearance of an art studio,where he would accurately draw his favorite characters from films and cartoons such as Aquaman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Disney characters like Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and Pluto.This enthusiasm was encouraged by his grandmother Iris Cobain, who was a professional artist herself. Cobain began developing an interest in music early in his life. According to his Aunt Mari, he began singing at two years old. At age four, Cobain started playing the piano and singing, writing a song about their trip to a local park. He listened to artists like the Ramones and would sing songs like Arlo Guthrie's "Motorcycle Song," The Beatles' "Hey Jude", Terry Jacks' "Seasons in the Sun" and the theme song to The Monkees television show at a young age.
When Kurt was eight years old, his parents divorced. Later in his life, he said the divorce had a profound effect on his life. His mother noted that his personality changed dramatically; Cobain became defiant and withdrawn.In a 1993 interview, he elaborated:
"I remember feeling ashamed, for some reason. I was ashamed of my parents. I couldn't face some of my friends at school anymore, because I desperately wanted to have the classic, you know, typical family. Mother, father. I wanted that security, so I resented my parents for quite a few years because of that."
Cobain's parents both found new partners after the divorce. His father had promised not to remarry; however, after meeting Jenny Westeby, he did, to Kurt's dismay.Kurt, his father, Westeby, and her two children Mindy and James, moved into a new household together. Cobain liked Westeby at first, who gave him the maternal attention he desired.In January 1979, Westeby gave birth to a boy, Chad Cobain. This new family, which Cobain insisted was not his real one, was in stark contrast the attention Cobain was used to receiving as an only boy; he soon began to express resentment toward his stepmother.Kurt's mother began dating a man who was abusive. Cobain witnessed the domestic violence inflicted towards her, with one incident resulting in her being hospitalized with a broken arm.Wendy steadfastly refused to press charges, remaining completely committed to the relationship.
Kurt behaved insolently toward adults. He began bullying another boy at school. These behaviours eventually caused his father and Westeby to take him to a therapist, who concluded that Kurt would benefit in a single family environment. Both sides of the family attempted to bring his parents back together, but to no avail. On 28 June 1979, Cobain's mother granted full custody of Kurt to his father.
Cobain's teenage rebellion quickly became overwhelming for his father, who placed Kurt in the care of family and friends. While living with the born-again Christian family of his friend Jesse Reed, Cobain became a devout Christian and regularly attended church services. Cobain later renounced Christianity, engaging in what would be described as "anti-God" rants. The song "Lithium" is about his experience while living with the Reed family. Religion would remain an important part in Cobain's personal life and beliefs, as he often used Christian imagery in his work and maintained a constant interest in Jainism and Buddhist philosophy. The band name Nirvana was taken from the Buddhist concept, which Cobain described as "freedom from pain, suffering and the external world," which paralleled with the punk rock ethic and ideology. Cobain would regard himself as both a Buddhist and a Jain during different points of his life, educating himself about the philosophies through various sources, including through watching late night television documentaries on both subjects.
Although not interested in sports, Kurt was enrolled in a junior high school wrestling team at the insistence of his father. Kurt was a skilled wrestler, yet despised the experience. Because of the ridicule he endured from his teammates and coach, he allowed himself to be pinned, in an attempt to sadden his father. Later, his father enlisted him in a little league baseball team, where Cobain would intentionally strike out to avoid playing on the team.