Kurt Cobain is synonymous with the grunge movement of the early-'90s, simultaneously symbolizing Generation X, adolescence and rebellion. We all share images of Cobain with his long, unruly hair, unwashed jeans and bad posture.
His suicide at 27 in 1994 only further adds to his mysterious legacy of success with alternative rock band Nirvana. But what if I told you about a more underrated part of his personality: his status as rock music’s most outspoken feminist?
Several Nirvana songs show glimpses of Cobain’s passion for issues concerning women. For example, the song “Polly” is based around the 1987 events of a 14-year-old girl being kidnapped by a man who then tortured and raped her before her escape.
Although the song is sang from the abductor’s side, this is pretty clearly meant to horrify the listener, and not glorify the violence. The final verse of the song illustrates how the subject of “Polly,” the kidnapped girl, manages to escape her rapist, with him only being left to muse, “she caught me off my guard / amazes me the will of instinct.”
Though many think of “Rape Me” as an allegory for Cobain’s feelings regarding journalists spreading rumors about him and his then-lover Courtney Love, Cobain actually denied this. Instead, “Rape Me” is an ironic anti-rape anthem written from the perspective of rape victims speaking out against their rapists and sarcastically telling them off. In an interview with Spin magazine, Cobain said about the chorus, “It’s like she’s saying, ‘Rape me, go ahead, rape me, beat me. You’ll never kill me. I’ll survive this.’”
Cobain also had a gold-mine collection of quotes regarding his views on women’s rights, LGBTQ issues and other related topics. While discussing his own sexuality with LGBTQ magazine The Advocate, Cobain talked about how he “could be bisexual” and joked about “definitely being gay in spirit,” mentioning how devastated when his mother forced him to stop talking to a gay friend.
In one of his journals, Cobain wrote “I am not gay, but I wish I were, just to piss off the homophobes.” He also put down in the liner notes of “Incesticide” to anyone who hated gay people, women or people of color, “Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”
While Cobain’s ways of discussing and dealing with feminist issues are controversial and not exactly subtle, his youthful fearlessness in bringing them up should be celebrated and admired - especially given how this came just after AIDS had decimated so much of the LGBTQ population at a time before they were even allowed to marry.
Fourteen years later, it’s time to remember the greatest musical frontman of the 1990s as a visionary with views still relevant today and a feminist message that we can still remember and learn from.