A fake quote that Donald Trump supporters attributed to Kurt Cobain during the 2016 campaign has been circulating again on Twitter lately. First posted on a Facebook page called Trump Train, the invention has Cobain predicting, “We’ll elect a true outsider. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a business tycoon… Someone like Donald Trump.”
As one of Nirvana’s managers when Kurt was alive, I know that the quote is not only made up but it is also a grotesque perversion of Kurt’s beliefs. He often differentiated Nirvana from more overtly political punk bands like Dead Kennedys and Fugazi, but Kurt was unambiguous about where his political sentiments lay and, although he identified with anarchist imagery in some contexts, Kurt had no problem making choices at election time.
I remember the excitement in his voice when he called to tell me that he and Courtney Love had just contributed $100 each to Jerry Brown’s campaign for president in the Democratic primary in 1992. A few months later, Sergio Marchi, an Argentinian journalist, asked Kurt if he planned to vote in the general election, and Kurt answered “Yeah, I’ll vote for Clinton. The Democrats are very conservative but at least they are not as conservative as the Republicans.” Regarding the billionaire businessman third-party candidate Ross Perot, Kurt was equally clear: “The guy sucks. He’s rich; I don’t trust him as president.”
After the election, in an interview for The Advocate, Kurt elaborated: “I was helpless when I was 12 and Reagan was elected and there was nothing I could do about it. But now this generation is growing up and they’re in their mid-20s and they’re not putting up with it. I would rather have had Jerry Brown but I’m definitely happy that Clinton is in…. Chelsea seems like a pretty neat person, a Birkenstock wearing kid,” adding “Amy Carter’s pretty cool too from what I’ve heard. She’s been seen at Butthole Surfers concerts.”
Trump’s misogynistic attitude towards women would have deeply offended Kurt, who detested bullies and sexists. Explaining the lyrics to his song “In Bloom” when Nirvana’s breakthrough album Nevermind was released, Kurt was explicit: “I don’t like rednecks, I don’t like macho men, I don’t like abusive people.”
I suspect that Kurt would also have been appalled by the idea of a reality-TV star becoming president. In his famous chorus to “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Kurt sang, “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous, here we are now, entertain us.” He was not endorsing hypnotic passivity, he was satirizing it. As those who program Trump-supporting bots know, apathy and cynicism help discourage some people from voting, a syndrome that inevitably helps Republicans.
Kurt’s life has become a bit like a Rorschach ink blot in which various people who were close to him see contradictory aspects of his life and death. However, I think all of us can be proud that Kurt’s reputation as an authentic and moral voice was so enduring that propagandists still think it is worth trying to coopt.
After Nevermind became the best-selling album in the world, Kurt realized that some fans were simply jumping on a fashion trend. There were times when Kurt gazed out at festival audiences and he saw the kinds of kids who used to torment him as a teenager. Ivanka Trump is quoted in her mother’s book Raising Trump, “During my punk phase in the nineties, I was really into Nirvana. My wardrobe consisted of ripped corduroy jeans and flannel shirts.”
To make his values clear Kurt wrote in the liner notes of the Nirvana compilation Incesticide, “I have a request for our fans. If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us—leave us the fuck alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”
No one can know for sure how Kurt would view the coming mid-terms, but he did say in that Argentinian interview that he did just before the 1992 election: “Republicans are an incarnation of Satan. I hate them.”