Found this great article on Kurt’s Feminism; from quotes about why he won’t deal with Guns n’ Roses, to wishing he was gay to piss off homophobes, to quotes about his controversial anti-rape songs such as “Rape Me” and “Polly”. Again, due to subject matter, reader discretion is appropriate here.
The article is posted in this location:
But the website is so full of ads, I thought I’d save you the trouble and post it here:
If Generation X had a king it would be Kurt Cobain. His devil may care attitude arguably defined a generation of people. His haunting melodies and desperate screams spoke to youth disenchanted with societies’ expectations. He cared about a lot of things despite what his attitude projected. He was one of a handful of male feminists who reached enough fame to project their ideas on a mass scale. Through his songs and even in his interviews he repeatedly noted how much he detested sexism. Up until his untimely suicide in 1994 and despite his drug abuse and personal issues, he never wavered in his attempt to prove that men, even famous rock band having men, could be proud unadulterated feminists.
Kurt was open about his dissociation with the masculine ideal. He was quoted as saying “I’ve always had a problem with the average macho man – they’ve always been a threat to me.” His mellow nature defied traditional gender roles. ‘Territorial Pissing’ may have been in response to the disenchantment he had experienced with masculine behavior. During his music video for one of his hit singles ‘In Bloom’ he donned a dress and also wore a dress during an interview with the Los Angeles Times noting “Wearing a dress shows I can be as feminine as I want.”
In junior high school Kurt noted that he was very into heavy metal but that he grew out of it. In an interview with Metal Express in 1994 he commented “I have nothing against heavy metal, except that some of it is pretty sexist”. This was very different from the male prominent bands of the time, who made a considerable amount off of the degradation of women in music.
His progressive beliefs put him at odds with Guns and Roses, Axl called him a ‘pussy’ for not agreeing to tour with him. Kurt says he didn’t agree to tour with him because he believed him to be a racist homophobe referring to lyrics in his song ‘one in a million’ where he says “niggers and police” and “immigrants and faggots” and in ‘It’s so easy’ where he sings “Turn around bitch, I got a use for you”.
Whilst performing at a “No On 9” benefit, (supporting defeating of Measure 9 an anti-homosexuality measure that said homosexuality was “abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and they are to be discouraged and avoided”) he was approached by a kid that suggested he and Guns and Roses patch thing up. He responded with, “No, kid, you’re really wrong. Those people are total sexist jerks, and the reason we’re playing this show is to fight homophobia in a real small way. The guy is a fucking sexist and a racist and a homophobe, and you can’t be on his side and be on our side. I’m sorry that I have to divide this up like this, but it’s something you can’t ignore.”
In an interview Kurt describes an encounter he had with Axl where Courtney jokingly asked Axl to be the god father of, then nine month old, Frances. He turned around and told her “shut the fuck up bitch” and instructed Kurt to “shut her up”. Cobain then told the reporter he had not encountered a situation like that since the sixth grade.
Cobain was against all forms of prejudice. In the liner notes of Incesticide he wrote “If you’re a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, we don’t want you to buy our records.” In high school Kurt was often called discriminatory names alluding to him being homosexual because he was good friends with an openly gay male student. Despite this, he began to embrace the taunts and acted as though he was gay saying he, “really enjoyed the conflict” He got arrested for spray painting “Gay sex rules” onto an Aberdeen bank and “God is gay” on a van. He insisted he was ‘gay in spirit’ and said “I wish I were gay, just to piss off homophobes”. No Alternative is a compilation album the proceeds of which went to AIDS Prevention to which he provided the song ‘Sappy’.
Good friends are hard to find but Cobain managed to find them. Cobain was good friends Bikini Kills’ Kathleen Hanna, a strong proponent of the feminist scene who no doubt was an influence on his views. She was the inspiration for his titling of the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” after spray painting “Kurt smells like teen spirit” on his front wall. Toby Vail, the drummer from Go Team and collaborator with Bikini Kill and all around feminist activist, dated Kurt. She was also featured very fondly in his song ‘Aneurysm’ written during their relationship. He supported his wife Courtney Love’s band Hole and said that ideally he would quit Nirvana and be a guitarist for her band. At the time Hole was considered a highly feminist band. Love used to pass out a guitar to a girl at the end of each concert to encourage young girls to enter the male dominated music scene.
Kurt’s sarcasm was tragically misunderstood. Along with his vintage acoustic guitar proudly having 1972s Nixon Now plastered on it for ironic effect, many of his songs were made to be so much that they weren’t. He was forced to re-iterate time and time again that In Utero’s hit single “Rape Me” was a song against rape. Kurt clarified bluntly, “It’s an anti-, let me repeat that, anti-rape song” Insisting that it was meant to be blunt so that people would not misinterpret it. “It’s like she’s saying ‘Rape me, go ahead, rape me, beat me. You’ll never kill me. I’ll survive this.’”
Tori Amos, an open rape survivor, defended him on this point saying that the songs shocking effect was done on purpose, “It’s a defiant song… When I first heard it I broke out in a cold sweat, but when you get over that you realize he’s turning it back on people.” Continuing to promote how truly against rape he was, he and Courtney Love preformed at the Rock Against Rape benefit in Los Angeles in 1993.
‘Rape me’ was not the only song that Kurt wrote to give light to the issue of rape. ‘Polly’ from Nirvana’s Nevermind album is yet another anti-rape song. It retells a story he had read in the newspaper of a 14 year old girl named Polly who had been kidnapped by Gerald Arthur Friend in 1987 after a rock concert and tortured with a propane torch, then raped. He wrote it in homage to ‘Polly’ and re-imagines her daring escape from her captor. When he heard that there had been a group of boys that had raped a girl whilst singing the song ‘Polly’, he denounced them in the liner notes of his album Incestiside calling them “a waste of sperm and eggs” and said he “has a hard time carrying on knowing that plankton like that” were in his audience.
‘In Bloom’ addressed the disparity between the audience he wanted and the one he had. In the song he sing “He’s the one who likes all our pretty songs and he likes to sing along… but he don’t know what it means” and ‘all apologies’ where he wrote “I wish I was like you, easily amused”.
Cobain was perfect by no means, but he did contribute to feminism in a great many ways. Since Kurt Cobain’s suicide we are left to wonder what effect he could have had on today’s sexism. With his undeniable ‘cool’ factor, could he have inspired more men to identify themselves as feminists? Unfortunately, we will never know. On the upside, his widow Courtney Love has talked seriously about producing a film about Kurt’s troubled life. Maybe some of his activism will show up on the silver screen soon. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Well there it is. And another thing: Please write to the manufacturers of products who are using Kurt to sell their shit.
Look at this:
Fender using Kurt’s image to sell guitars. The Jaguar comes pre-scuffed for that “road-worn” look:
Sweetie says: More stuff Kurt is posthumously endorsing:
Not *one* shoe, mind, but a *line* of them. Kinda made me want to barf a little bit. Some shoes also come “pre-scuffed”.
This link is to a series of fashion photos based on Kurt’s “personal style” and song titles:
Which Kurt scoffs at, insisting he “always wore pants” (referring to the guy in long underwear leaning against a fire hydrant).
I reminded him that I saw him pull his junk out onstage while accepting an MTV award one time. He just shrugged it off. He *was* technically wearing pants at the time.
9 thoughts on “Kurt Cobain – Feminist”
This is an awesome article.
It had me thinking about high school. I wouldn’t have called myself a feminist then, even though I was (I just thought feminists were something else, I guess?). My main peeves at the time were with hypocrisy, and abuses of power. Here’s a little story about that:
I had this friend, and I thought she was really cool at the time because she was kind of badass and had good taste in music — until one day I discovered that she wasn’t, and I lost a lot of respect for her.
So what happened was I went to pick her up after school one day, and she asked if I could give her friend a ride too. I said, “Sure”. She was this (suspiciously) clean cut girl, and I’d never seen her before. I had the stereo on as usual. My friend and her friend were chatting, and I came to understand that this girl was a recruiter for a white supremacist group that I won’t dignify by naming here. Now I’m like, “Wtf? No one asked me, ‘Do you mind giving a racist bitch a ride?’ “. So now this girl’s engaging with me, saying, “Oh, is this the Dead Kennedys? (referring to the music) I used to really like them”. I’m like, “Uh, yeah”. But I’m thinking, “Oh really? What’s your favourite song by them? I really like Nazi Punks Fuck Off”. Gawd.
Point is, even when you *think* you’re surrounded by allies, and like minded people, so often you’re not.
Also I think, like, even now Kurt’s feminism is lost on a lot of people because of the heavy sound the band had, and the fact that he didn’t try to appeal himself to women in an obvious way. So they’re not a band associated with girls, generally.
This topic is also bringing to mind Occupy Patriarchy. It’s a recurring theme within activist circles, resistance movements, and so-called subversive subcultures, where women continually seem to need to remind people, “Hey, sexism is oppression, as well”.
OMG! There was a white supremacist group in North Bay???? WTF! I guess I shouldn’t be *so* surprised, since the town’s really white anyway. UGH. Kind of like how rape makes a feminist guy feel shitty, racism / white supremacist bs makes us non-bigoted whites feel like pricks by association. Pardon my lily white privilege, everyone. Sigh.
Hey, I’m continually surprised that there are any in Canada. My father told me recently about his embarrassment/shame at his mother’s and aunts’ racism when he was growing up. I was shocked (I never knew) and still feel kind of icky, especially since I loved — love — all of them dearly (and they were such sweet and kindly ladies). I like to hope that perhaps had they lived to this day and age, they might have changed their attitudes.
I like to listen to stories about grandparents who surprise their grandkids with their open-minds and acceptance. There are a lot of those stories out there too. Some gay kids even find more support from their grandparents than their parents, initially.
Yeah, Canada has a long and terrible history of racism and genocide. Canadians are obviously not taught any of this in school, you have to be an independent learner to come across this stuff. Google some Kevin Annett videos to learn about our Canadian government & church’s gruesome history with the First Nations people of our country.
Where I live, there are about 6 FN people to every white person. The shock waves from the past 150 years still resonate through our community, although healing and reclamation of culture is underway. (Check out the sacred grandmother post for more info on this one)
Also, look up what happened to the Japanese Canadians during WWII – we have a lot of descendants here from the people who were put in what is essentially Canadian concentration camps.
No, our country has a deep dark history we need to air out.
Yeah, a chapter of them I guess. It was these guys:
(I just realized that they’ve disbanded, so I guess it doesn’t matter if I inadvertently direct traffic to them).
I guess I was surprised too. Especially since you hear “neo-Nazi” and it conjures up a certain image. Which for me, at the time, did not conjure up preppy teenaged girls. Sooo weird.
OO! I remember them. They got their asses kicked in Toronto when they tried to do a white power rock concert. I was so proud to be a Torontonian that day. I think that’s one of the reasons they disbanded. No market for their swill.
I really like that article. I’ve never been a fan of either Nirvana or Kurt, though I’ve become more of a fan of his since you started posted your conversations with him.
Regarding the items using his image, don’t they have to have the permission of his estate to do that? The Converse ones in particular say they have the full support of Courtney Love and his estate so if it’s creepy, it’s kind of down to her/them, isn’t it? There are worse products they could have approved him endorsing: Hello Kitty merchandise, for example. (Note: I would have paid good money to see Kurt Cobain performing wearing some Hello Kitty. It would have been awesome.)
That’s so great! I’ve had a few people email me too to tell me they didn’t know Kurt was such a “cool guy” (pro-woman feminist) and they’re appreciating his music more now.
I would *hope* that $$ from the sale of this stuff goes to Kurt’s family, but Courtney’s been utterly screwed financially by the record company. I doubt she talks about it much since whenever she does, she gets called a money-grubbing bitch. But seriously, if you had a kid to raise and you were making girl-band money (which is a fraction of what boy-rock bands make) and your dead husband’s records were out-selling bands who you know are millionaires, wouldn’t you be asking where your cheque was too?
And really, she was utterly screwed over by Kurt too when he died, so if she and her daughter are okay with this, I’ll shut up. I just see Kurt shaking his head and I get this feeling like they’re not seeing any money from the sales of this stuff – because they’d have to depend upon the company’s accountants being honest about what the sales actually were.
The timing of it is also suspicious. I wonder if he’s been dead for so long, they don’t have to get the family’s permission. There’s a lot of Lennon stuff for sale out there and I’m sure John’s family doesn’t see their cut of that (although I recall Yoko suing the hell out of someone, I can’t remember why. I just remember thinking “good for her”.)
Listen to Hole everyone. Kurt was a big fan of that band, and the sales from those records actually DO go to Courtney.
I really should clarify: That was Sweetie & I asking you to contact these companies selling what looks to us like gross, exploitive, disrespectful use of Kurt’s image. It was NOT Kurt asking you to do it.
Kurt just sighs and shrugs, and keeps his mouth shut, and looks away.
And Sweetie & I have no beef with Courtney. I was actually a Courtney Love fan long before I knew she’d ever been married to Kurt Cobain. She was just on my radar of feminist rockers like Pink, Tori Amos, Alannis Morissette, Bif Naked. I don’t know who any of those women are married to either.