The “Death” of Grunge

March 12, 2008

It’s hard to say if grunge really died or if it just evolved into something else. But if it did die, it happened on April 8th, 1994.

The success of grunge was taking its toll on all involved, and one of those most obviously affected by it was Kurt Cobain. Cobain, who had suffered from an undiagnosed stomach ailment for many years, began to self medicate with heroin in the late 80s to ease the pain. It didn’t take long for his use to become a problem; He would pass out during photo shoots and started to become less reliable at shows. After his marriage to Courtney Love and the realization that he would become a father, Cobain tried to get clean. It was during this time that Cobain looked worse than ever, having gone through withdrawls in addition to his stomach ailment. The mainstream press had a field day covering Cobain and Love, with stories about how their daughter Frances Bean was born addicted to heroin (she wasn’t) and Cobain’s drug problems (some of which were valid).

In late 1994, Love staged an intervention for Cobain with friends and recording associates. They convinced Cobain to go to rehab, which he did for a short while in Los Angles before escaping back to Seattle.

In late March of 1994, Cobain was hospitalized for a heroin overdose, and rumors were that he was dead. He had actually survived, but for bandmate Dave Grohl, it was an emotional and confusing time:

“So they called and said he’d passed in Rome, and I fucking freaked out. I just lost my mind and started wailing. As disconnected as our relationship had become, you just can’t imagine real tragedy in your life. Twenty minutes later someone called me and said, “Actually, no, he’s not dead, he’s awake.” How weird. That could have been the happiest moment of my life. When he came home, I talked to him on the phone. We tried to avoid the subject — we were talking about buying minibikes or something, and I told him, “Look, man, I was really scared.” He said, “I know. I’m really sorry. It was just an accident.” I was trying to reach out to him and tell him that I really cared about him, but it wasn’t enough. The time leading up to his death was really strange. He disappeared. He just seemed like he wanted to get away. He bailed. I honestly did not think he was going to kill himself. I just thought he was on someone’s floor in Olympia, listening to albums. Or something.”- (Rolling Stone, July 14th, 2005)

The conditions of Cobain’s death remain a bit of a mystery. What is known is that Cobain had gotten back on heroin and was very depressed. He was found dead by an electrician in his home on April 8th, 1994. The cause of death was ruled to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

News of Cobain’s death spread like wildfire. MTV ran 24 hour coverage of what was happening in Seattle following the news. Cable news channels like CNN carried the story. Conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh covered the story and chastised the grunge music. Cobain’s face even appeared on the cover of Newsweek.

Pearl Jam, who were on tour at the time, dedicated a show on April 8th to Cobain, with Vedder saying “Sometimes, whether you like it or not, people elevate you. It’s really easy to fall. I don’t think any of us would be here if it weren’t for Kurt Cobain.”

A memorial service for Cobain was held at the in downtown Seattle on April 10th, where about 10,000 people attended.

Cobain’s death marked the end of an era, and that was the era of grunge.

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