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Now an idol to millions, Kurt Cobain’s childhood idols were stars who represented risk, danger and opposition – Evel Knieval, Iggy Pop and John Lennon. Why did he love them, and how did he feel when he met Iggy in later life?
Evel Knieval: Interviewed in 1992 Kurt said: “I wanted to be a stunt man, Knieval was a big influence on that. I’d jump on my bikes and I took all my bedding and pillows out of our house and put it on the deck and got up on the roof and would jump off. I took a thin piece of metal one time and duct taped it to my chest, and put a bunch of firecrackers on it and lit ’em on fire.” Kurt was diagnosed with childhood ADHD and it seems Evel’s antics appealed to his high energy and love of risk. In a 2005 interview with Rolling Stone, Dave Grohl said of Kurt: “In England, he jumped into my drum kit like some sort of Evel Knieval...it looked so painful. I mean it’s like diving into a pile of sheet metal. Kurt once said that he aspired to be a stuntman… He had no fear and a high tolerance for pain.” In a twist of fate, Nevermind was recorded at the same studio as Evel’s album and Grohl remembered Kurt stealing Evel’s master tapes – even though he couldn’t afford the player to listen to them!
Iggy Pop: Kurt called Iggy “my total idol.’ Iggy was the punk version of Evel, smashing up the stage at gigs. In August 1993, Cobain met Iggy. He didn’t ask for an autograph as he didn’t want to bother him, but had this to say about the reality of meeting his idol:
Pop told a reporter he later received a 2am message saying: “Iggy this is Kurt Cobain, let’s get in the studio man” – leaving a number at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. But Iggy was unable to get hold of him as each time he called, the staff would tell him: “Mr Cobain is under the bed,” or ‘We’ve not heard from Mr Cobain in three days.”
John Lennon: Kurt loved the Beatles from childhood, and John Lennon in particular, but he did not worship him uncritically. He wrote in his Journal: “John Lennon has been my idol all my life, but he’s dead wrong about revolution… find a representative of gluttony or oppression and blow the mother******s head off.” (In the song ‘Revolution’ Lennon sings: “When you talk about destruction/Don’t you know that you can count me out.”)
When he in turn became an idol, Kurt rejected it, saying:
“I wanted to have the adoration of John Lennon but have the anonymity of Ringo Starr. I didn’t want to be a frontman. I just wanted to be back there and still be a rock and roll star at the same time.”