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Robert Altman Week

Monday
Sep192011

« In Which We Discard A Heart-Shaped Box »

Description of Kurt Cobain

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

At the age of eleven, Kurt Cobain was the subject of a description to be published in his school's newspaper, the Puppy Press, under the headline, "Meatball of the Month":

Kurt is a seventh grader at our school. He has blonde hair and blue eyes. He thinks school is alright. Kurt's favorite class is band and his favorite teacher is Mr. Hepp. His favorite food and drink are pizza and coke. His favorite saying is, "excuse you." His favorite song is "Don't Bring Me Down" by E.L.O. and his favorite rock group is Meatloaf. His favorite TV show is "Taxi" and his favorite actor is Burt Reynolds.

Kurt's biographer Charles R. Cross writes, "his doodles mostly were of cars, trucks, and guitars, but he also began to craft his own crude pornography." He had many pets. He loved animals, taking care of strays.

When he was eight his grandparents took him to Disneyland for the first time. His mother drove him from Aberdeen to Seattle where he took a plane to Arizona. It was a whirlwind, stretching his experience of the world.

In the second grade, Red Dye Number Two was removed from his diet. He could not concentrate on any one thing for long, and this was thought to be the culprit. A doctor prescribed Ritalin to remedy the problem. Kurt possessed an overactive mind.

The Cobains

Almost every time someone writes about Kurt's childhood, they invent a different way from the last person who tried it. One biography of Kurt describes him "a kind of menace," another paints him as a sensitive artist. It is as if the person talking about Kurt was never themselves young. He was without doubt his family's horcrux: he simply was not very interested in being anything they were.

at age fourteen

He was artistically gifted from the first, but he could not inure himself from cricitism. When a peer could not understand one of his paintings, he lashed out at the willfully obtuse fourteen-year-old girl. His mother divorced Kurt's father when he was nine. She later said, "Everybody was telling him how much they loved his art and he was never satisfied with it."

Later, his worried parents would decide to finally send him to a child psychiatrist. He told Kurt to fit in more.

As soon as his parents got divorced, Kurt stopped eating. At the age of ten, he transferred to a new elementary school in Montesano closer to his father. Girls began noticing him for the first time, his blue eyes. He loved television, never found himself without something fascinating to absorb in silence. His favorite shows were Taxi and Saturday Night Live.

He was not happy in his town, and wanted to live with his mother again. She had moved on to an even worse relationship. Later, when Kurt confronted his mother about why she'd forced him to stay with his father, she told him, "Kurt, you don't even know what it was like. You would have ended up in juvie or jail."

His sketches became more advanced. He once showed a sketch of a vagina to a friend, and when his friend asked him what it was, he laughed.

1989

He was probably not ADHD, but he was still on a pill regimen: not just Ritalin, but sedatives, too. When something was wrong he knew where to go. He felt he could not really depend on anyone else. In junior high, he called his teachers racist and got high whenever he could. He avoided school to be alone, not to hang out with friends.

LSD, marijuana, mushrooms and amyl nitrate. Plus whatever he was taking on script.

His parents became even more concerned when, at the age of fifteen, Kurt composed his first short film, Kurt Commits Bloody Suicide, which featured fake blood pouring out of his wrists. He had thought Jimi Hendrix killed himself and wanted to evade the world in a similar fashion.

He stayed with his uncle for awhile, but the man and his wife had an infant daughter and for space reasons, they made Kurt move out. He was shuttled around between other relatives for a time. No one seemed to take much of an interest in the boy. Back in Aberdeen for high school, he was picked on more than he was admired. His still beautiful mother started dating younger men before she married a longshoreman who regarded Kurt as a kind of pestilence or plague.

In his new art class, one assignment encouraged the students to show an object as it developed. Kurt drew sperm. A classmate said, "It was such a different mental attitude. People began to talk about him, wondering, 'What does he think of?'"

When he moved back in with his father, the man made Kurt pawn his only guitar. Kurt left after he had redeemed the instrument, and turned down the Navy. Out of desperation his mother put down a $100 deposit on an abandoned house for her son. One of Kurt's first ideas was to install a tank full of turtles. One of his other ideas was to change music forever.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Madonna's adolescence.

"On a Plain" - Telekinesis (mp3)

"Stay Away" - Charles Bradley & the Menahan Street Band (mp3)

"Lounge Act" - Jessica Lea Mayfield (mp3)

"Drain You" - Foxy Shazam (mp3)

Kurt as Barney for a Halloween concert

References (2)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (2)

"A different mental attitude." Ain't it the truth.
September 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHugh
I miss this guy.
September 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDime

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