child­hood Kurt Cobain’s sis­ter re­calls their

Kurt Cobain’s sis­ter Kim re­calls her child­hood with the boy who would go on to front one of the big­gest rock bands in the world. Her hope, she tells Es­ther Mc­Carthy, is that a new ex­hi­bi­tion of his per­sonal artefacts will re­veal the real man be­hind the he

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside -

When Kurt Cobain’s neigh­bour and friend gave him a rub­ber mon­key the lit­tle boy had fallen in love with, he couldn’t have known it would one day ap­pear on one of the most iconic al­bums of all time.

The mod­est toy, nick­named ‘Chim Chim’ by the tod­dler Cobain, would fea­ture on the back sleeve of Nev­er­mind, the al­bum that sealed Nir­vana’s place as one of the big­gest groups in rock. The star never lost his af­fec­tion for Chim Chim and would even carry it around as an adult, smiles his sis­ter, Kim.

“That rub­ber mon­key ac­tu­ally came from our neigh­bour that we grew up with.

“He had this rub­ber mon­key and he gave it to Kurt.

“It might have been a trade or a par­tial trade but then Kurt ended up keep­ing it.

“Later when he moved to Olympia (in Wash­ing­ton State) and started his band and was do­ing all this stuff, I don’t know how he at­tached it but he used to carry it around on the shoul­der of his leather jacket when he was with his old girl­friend, Tracy.

“The mon­key has been around a long time!

“It was some­thing for him­self to see what peo­ple would say, I think. ‘What the hell is that on his shoul­der?’”

It’s an anec­dote that shows the wack­ier, comedic side of the grunge rocker who ruled mu­sic, only to strug­gle with ad­dic­tion and other is­sues be­fore trag­i­cally tak­ing his own life at the age of 27, at the height of his fame, in 1994.

Cobain and his mu­sic are of­ten char­ac­terised as melan­choly and dark and though he cer­tainly strug­gled with his demons, those who knew him best are hope­ful that a new ex­hi­bi­tion will step be­yond the mythol­ogy and give a sense of who he was.

Kim, their mother Wendy and Kurt’s daugh­ter with Court­ney Love, Frances Bean, all trav­elled to Ire­land this week for the open­ing of Grow­ing Up: Kurt Cobain ex­hi­bi­tion. The Musuem of Style Icons at New­bridge Sil­ver­ware will house the ex­hi­bi­tion, fea­tur­ing Kurt’s draw­ings and sketches along with cloth­ing, awards, sun­glasses, train­ers and the only known car Kurt owned dur­ing his life, a pow­der blue 1965 Dodge Dart. They in­clude well-known items such as the sweater he wore in the Smells Like Teen Spirit video.

It was in part due to the fam­ily’s Irish her­itage that the fam­ily brought the ex­hi­bi­tion to New­bridge, Kim tells me.

The fam­ily have roots in Co Ty­rone, though when Kurt was alive he be­lieved they had con­nec­tions to Co Cork.

Go­ing through Kurt’s be­long­ings to pick pos­ses­sions to ex­hibit has been emo­tional, says his sis­ter, but the tim­ing felt right.

“Ev­ery­body’s heard and writ­ten about and put their own pre­sump­tions onto who he was.

“I’m try­ing to show the pro­gres­sion into his real child­hood, how

his art pro­gressed, how he got to where he is, but mi­nus go­ing into the dark parts.

“There was much more hap­pi­ness in our child­hood than there was sad­ness.

“Not one per­son has had the per­fect child­hood where ev­ery­thing is happy and great. We’ve all had some out­side in­flu­ences that put damp­en­ers on your life.

“But we’re try­ing to bring him back to his Irish roots.

“That’s an­other rea­son why we came to Ire­land first, it’s very much who we are.”

Cobain was born into a fam­ily that was very cre­ative, mu­si­cal and artis­tic, says Kim, though it was ob­vi­ous from an early age that her big brother had some­thing spe­cial. “I’m three years younger, so he was al­ready es­tab­lished as the first-born grand­child on both sides of the fam­ily.

“By the time he was three, four

years old, he was show­ing that he could draw. Later, he could start to hear a song on the ra­dio or a record and start to play it on the pi­ano. He could play things by ear and he could pick up al­most any in­stru­ment and just start play­ing it.

“I al­ways felt as a kid that I couldn’t do art, I couldn’t play mu­sic, be­cause he was so good at it!

“He just had nat­u­ral tal­ent.” Nir­vana were al­ready mak­ing an im­pres­sion in Wash­ing­ton State be­fore their mu­sic wowed the world. Kim would reg­u­larly cheer on her si­b­ling at lo­cal gigs, but could never have pre­pared her­self for hear­ing him on the ra­dio for the first time.

“When he first got signed with DGC, I’d been watch­ing him, see­ing the band play all over the place in Seat­tle and the north west, so it wasn’t that big of a

shock that they got big, to me, be­cause I kind of al­most ex­pected it. But then it was kind of a weird thing to hear your brother’s voice on the ra­dio while you’re driv­ing down the street.

“He worked for it, and I don’t think he ex­pected to be as fa­mous as he got, world­wide, in­ter­na­tion­ally.

“Ev­ery­where I go and they see my last name, peo­ple go: ‘Any re­la­tion?’

“I think he was hop­ing and ex­pect­ing to only get as fa­mous as Sonic Youth. Only Sonic Youth!” she laughs.

“That was about as far as he ever thought it was gonna go. Or Mud­honey, the bands that he re­ally loved.”

Mum Wendy, speak­ing at the launch of the ex­hi­bi­tion, ad­mit­ted that she felt ex­cited but also anx­ious for her shy, easy-go­ing son when she first heard Smells

Like Teen Spirit — and knew in­stinc­tively it would make the band huge. “They first time I heard it, when it had been recorded, he was sit­ting next to me on the sofa.

“He’d been home three days. It came on, it was Teen Spirit, and I was… in my house­hold my chil­dren play loud and rau­cous mu­sic 24/7... and when it came on I was just freak­ing out on him, like a fan. I said to him: ‘I know mu­sic, I know I’m your mom, but this is go­ing to blow up so big, and I’m scared for you.’ But I was so impressed also with it.

“We al­ways had mu­sic and art in our fam­ily. It was al­ways around us. “He loved to play gui­tar. He loved to play drums. He loved the drama, to get all of this ex­pres­sion out.”

Wendy and Kim were closely in­volved in col­lat­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion, and Kurt’s daugh­ter Frances Bean is proud of what they’ve achieved.

“It was their cre­ative out­put which is why I wanted to come and sup­port it,” she says.

“This is the first time they’ve ex­tended them­selves in that they’ve cu­rated it and cre­ated it. And formed their idea of Kurt and who they knew him to be. That to me is the purest form of him.

“Ev­ery­thing we’ve seen and heard is this sat­u­rated ver­sion. It’s part of mythol­ogy, we love to think of him as this mys­te­ri­ous, dark, poet, and he was, but he was also funny and warm and a brother and a son.

“And I think this is more re­flec­tive of that.

“I think it’s im­por­tant to the nar­ra­tive to recog­nise that these were as im­por­tant as­pects to his per­son­al­ity as the darker mys­te­ri­ous poet lau­re­ate that we know him to be.”

When you lose a fam­ily mem­ber so young it leads to a life­time of mile­stones missed, and Kim agrees that work­ing on the ex­hi­bi­tion, and re­vis­it­ing so many fond mem­o­ries of her brother, has been com­fort­ing and cathar­tic.

“Ab­so­lutely. It’s a heal­ing thing for all of us.

“My mom saved ev­ery­thing for all of us. But with Kurt’s stuff, we know the value if some­one was to break in and steal it.

“Over the last six, seven years at least, we’ve had most of this ex­hi­bi­tion in a pro­tected stor­age fa­cil­ity. I think the walls are like ten feet thick. So tak­ing it out and be­ing able to see it again is re­ally re­mark­able.

“To see that pro­gres­sion of his child­hood through his art. What he was draw­ing was pretty im­por­tant as well.

“A young child draw­ing all the car­toons he has seen, all the Dis­ney char­ac­ters and su­per­heroes. And when he be­came a pre-teen: ‘I’m go­ing to get a lit­tle bit more mis­chievous’, draw­ing Jaws and Bat­man, and the Night­stalker.

“That’s how he felt about it too, he needed to present his art. He needed to get that out.

“When you’re a cre­ative per­son, you have to get it out. It’s therapy, it’s part of their be­ing.

“It’s cre­at­ing, and they need to cre­ate at all times.”

Above: The rub­ber mon­key that be­longed to Kurt Cobain ap­peared on the back cover of the al­bum ‘Nev­er­mind’; Cobain’s Dodge Dart car; and his Con­verse train­ers. He ap­par­ently wrote “Fuh­gawz” on his left shoe to make fun of Pearl Jam’s Ed­die Ved­der....

Pic­ture: Brian Law­less/PA Wire

Kurt Cobain’s mother Wendy O’Con­nor (left) daugh­ter Frances Bean Cobain (cen­tre) and sis­ter Kim Cobain stand along­side his t-shirt worn in the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video, dur­ing the open­ing of the ‘Grow­ing Up Kurt’ ex­hi­bi­tion on the life of the...

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