Grunge music is characterized by distorted guitars, fast tempo, and is generally loud music. Kurt Cobain is sometimes called the godfather of grunge because as the lead singer of Nirvana he was an influential member of one of the first grunge bands ever. Nirvana’s songs cover a wide range of emotions from the calm and subtle “Something in the Way” to the intense “Smells like Teen Spirit.” Relatives and people close to Kurt believe that he was bipolar because of his long episodes of depression and sometimes violent anger. Even though he was never diagnosed for Bipolar Disorder he showed many of the signs that gave people reason to believe otherwise.
Kurt showed early signs of Bipolar Disorder from a young age. According to Christopher Sandford, author of Kurt Cobain, Kurt showed early signs of being violent by reportedly attempting to bite off the ear of his neighbor. Another incident occurred where the police responded to a complaint that a woman’s cat had been tortured by Kurt. When Kurt was seven years old he was diagnosed with Attention deficit Disorder and prescribed Ritalin and sedatives to help him sleep. Kurt’s cousin believes that like most kids in that time Kurt was given the wrong medication and that his problem was a condition that caused him to swing from mania to despair. This description of his condition fits Bipolar Disorder exactly and if he really was bipolar the Ritalin was doing more harm than good. About two years later, Kurt’s parents filed for a divorce because differences between the two had arose. This didn’t help his sensitive emotional problem, and some people believe it was the main cause of his Bipolar Disorder. He became increasingly difficult, anti-social and more of a loner after his parent's divorce. In the book Heavier than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain by Charles Cross, Kurt says that his parent's divorce fueled a lot of the anger in Nirvana's music. Kurt wrote Nirvana’s songs, which shows that he had went through extremely emotional times while writing these songs. Kurt’s streaky emotions stayed with him for the rest of his life and everyone who met him became aware of this fact.
Kurt showed many key signals of Bipolar Disorder throughout his childhood, but it was simply overlooked as him having Attention Deficit Disorder. Later in his life he showed signs of being at both extreme ends of the emotion scale. Kurt claimed to be depressed for most of his life after his parents’ divorce. According to Charles Cross, whose biography about Kurt won the 2002 ASCAP Award for Outstanding Biography, he was also depressed because of his persistent stomach pain that he decided to self-medicate with heroin and other drugs. Kurt’s addiction to heroin and other drugs played a big role in his depression and his mania. If he was having stomach pain and he wasn’t high on heroin he was generally an angry person. He also showed signs of mania throughout his life. Many of the people that knew Kurt frequently complained of his laziness but also periods where he was highly active, either in the studio constantly wanting to play or song writing at home. Kurt continued to show these signs of Bipolar Disorder all his life.
All of the songs Kurt wrote speak volumes about who he was as a person and the things that he encountered. Kurt’s songs sometimes talk about his values and beliefs and other times they describe his feelings and emotions towards certain topics that generate those emotions. Curiously enough one of his songs seems to talk about the characteristics about Bipolar Disorder. The song “Lithium” from Nirvana’s second album Nevermind starts out calm and subtle with almost contradictory lyrics which are said to be both sides of his emotions: the depressed side and the side of mania. Later in the song it turns into a loud angry sounding song which also seems like the extremes of Bipolar Disorder. According to Michael Azerrad, whose book, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, was the best-selling biography of Nirvana, Kurt said the song was written about a man who, after his girlfriend dies, turns to religion as a last resort to keep himself from committing suicide. In the lyrics there is a line that says “I’ve found my friends…they’re in my head” this is talking about hallucinations which are characteristic of mania and depression. “I’m so ugly…so are you”, “I’m so lonely”, and “I’m to blame” are all lyrics discussing feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and distrust of others associated with depression. “I’m so excited…” and “I’m so horny…” both describe feelings of elevated mood, energy and increased sexual drive which is associated with mania. The chorus of the song is “I like it, I’m not gonna crack” is referring to the manic highs experienced and not going to crack is referring to attempting to not crack during a manic episode. Now, as if this isn’t enough evidence that the song is about Bipolar Disorder, the song title is “Lithium” and Lithium is sometimes used as a treatment for Bipolar Disorder. Even though Kurt never actually said this song was about Bipolar Disorder he was known to have multiple meanings for his songs. Kurt could have written this song about his experiences with Bipolar Disorder without knowing he did because he was not diagnosed and he didn’t know he had the disorder.
After looking at these aspects of Kurt’s life it is apparent that he showed many of the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. Certain parts of his life may have made the disorder worse including his parents’ divorce and his stomach pain. Through this disorder he experienced many emotions that inspired his song lyrics and sounds. Unfortunately the depression caused by the disorder became too much for Kurt to handle causing him to take his own life. Despite his death his emotions will live on forever through his music. Along with this we can learn from his life and death that Bipolar Disorder is a serious condition that causes severe depression and mania and in extreme cases can lead to suicide.
Azerrad, Michael. Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. New York: Doubleday, 1993. Print
Cross, Charles. Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain. New York: Hyperion Books,
Sandford, Christopher. Kurt Cobain. Massachusetts: Da Capo, 2004. Print
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