The message Neil Young tried to tell Kurt Cobain

Neil Young

Neil Young quickly became the lovable strange uncle of rock and roll by the early 1990s. In the 1980s, Neil Young wasn’t sure about the direction of his music. However, his album “Freedom” marked a new beginning for him. After that he became known as ‘The Godfather of Grunge’ as the Seattle music scene became popular. Though Young maintained a healthy relationship with some grunge bands, he admitted to never becoming the genre’s biggest star.

Kurt Cobain, unlike Young’s ‘anything goes’ attitude throughout his career, was not as fortunate. Fame thrust Cobain into the role of ‘Voice of a Generation’ so quickly that he was not ready. Following a difficult childhood, Cobain used music as an art form to express himself, which became overblown once ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ took over the airwaves.

Even though he pursued his dreams on the album Nevermind, the fallout further isolated him from his fans and bandmates, as every media outlet wanted a piece of him. Though Cobain never tried to contact Neil Young, the Canadian saw him as a restless spirit. So, he attempted to contact him several times.

After Cobain was discovered dead in his home from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Young felt terrible to learn that his words appeared in his suicide note, quoting a line from ‘Hey Hey My My’ that read. ‘It’s better to burn out than to fade away’. Looking back on the time he tried to help, Young expressed how difficult it must have been for Cobain to deal with the media circus. He told TIME: “He was forced to do tours when he didn’t want to, forced into all kinds of stuff. I was trying to contact him because I had heard about some of the things he was doing to himself.

Young even had a whole speech prepared to tell him over the phone, but Cobain continued to fall through the cracks, as recounted in the Pearl Jam documentary Twenty. “I was about to say, ‘Listen, you don’t have to do whatever anyone fucking tells you to do. Just cancel the gigs. I had a whole thing that I was going to tell him, but I never got the chance”.

Despite Cobain slipping through his fingers, Young used his remaining goodwill for the Seattle community to help Pearl Jam get back on track. Pearl Jam felt lost after Cobain’s death until Young took them under his wing. Later on they produced the album Mirror Ball with every member except Eddie Vedder as a backing band.

Stone Gossard later described how special it felt to receive approval from one of their heroes. He said, “It was like him telling us, ‘You’re great, guys. You can still do it” came at a time when we needed to hear it.

Years later, Young was still thinking about Cobain’s death. He also wrote the song ‘Sleeps With Angels’ as a tribute to him. While Young was unable to capture the grunge voice near the end, he will always remember Cobain as a shining star who burned too brightly too soon.

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