You Say It's Your Birthday: The Late Kurt Cobain

Nirvana singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain would have been 31 years old today. Though Cobain's career in the

spotlight was short, the influence of Nirvana's music was a major

contributor to the grunge-rock explosion in the mid-1990s and spawned many

an imitator. Without Nirvana, it would be difficult to imagine such acts

as Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, Pearl Jam and the Breeders -- among others --

topping the pop charts. Cobain was born the only son of a secretary and an

auto mechanic in Hoquiam, Wash., but was raised in the logging town of

Aberdeen, Wash., where he first met future Nirvana bassist Krist

Novoselic. Cobain's parents divorced when he was 8 and, in an act that

would influence much of his later songwriting, split custody of the child and

constantly moved him from family to family. Both Cobain and Novoselic were

big fans of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and were introduced to the

hardcore punk of Black Flag by Melvins guitarist Buzz Osborne, an incident

that might be considered the birth of Nirvana's sound. In 1987, Cobain

and Novoselic formed Nirvana with Jason Everman on guitar and Chad Channing

on drums. The group started playing parties at Evergreen State College and

was soon signed to the legendary Sub Pop label.

Bleach was released in 1989, and it moved 35,000 copies right away. Major

labels took instant notice of the band when Bleach's sales figures

hit the headlines, and the band -- which lost Everman and Channing but picked

up drummer Dave Grohl -- eventually settled on DGC.

In 1991, Nevermind was released and an even louder buzz built around

the group, with the album becoming the surprise hit of the year. By 1992,

"Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Come As You Are" and "Lithium" had all hit the

upper echelons of the pop charts and broke the formerly underground Black-

Sabbath-meets-Black-Flag sound of grunge into the mainstream. Cobain soon

married Hole frontwoman Courtney Love, who later caused a controversy when she

was quoted in Vanity Fair as saying that she used heroin while

pregnant with their daughter, Francis Bean. 1993 marked the beginning of a

downward spiral for Cobain. Nirvana returned to the studio to work on

In Utero and the pressure on Cobain began to add up. In March of

1993, he overdosed on heroin, and a month later, he was charged with

domestic assault after an argument with Love about his collection of guns.

The group released In Utero in September of that year and was criticized for

producing an album that was a bit more on the raw punk side of things than

anything on Nevermind; the song "Rape Me" was retitled

"Waif Me" so that In Utero could be sold in Wal-Marts across the U.S. Cobain

overdosed once again in March 1994, but this time it was no accident -- he

left a suicide note, took a bunch of tranquilizers and washed them down with

champagne. At the end of the month, he checked himself into a

rehabilitation center but escaped before he was discharged. On April 8, 1994,

Cobain's body was found in a room above his garage by an electrician doing

work at the house. He had died from a self-inflected gunshot wound to the

head. The note Cobain left indicated that he was no longer enchanted with

being a rock star and was fed up with the stomach problems that had bothered

him his whole life. In

November of that year, Nirvana released MTV Unplugged in New York, which hit #1 on the charts. In 1996, the group

released From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, a plugged-in

collection of live tunes culled from various parts of the group's career.

Other birthdays: Barbara Ellis (Fleetwoods), 58; Lew Soloff (Blood, Sweat and

Tears), 54; Jerome Geils (J. Geils Band), 52; Walter Becker (Steely Dan), 48; Randy California

(Spirit), 47; Jon Brant (Cheap Trick), 44; and Craig "Doodlebug" Irving

(Digable Planets), 31.