The Truth About Dave Grohl's Relationship With Kurt Cobain

Former Nirvana-drummer-turned-Foo-Fighters-frontman, Dave Grohl, only knew Nirvana singer and songwriter, Kurt Cobain, for about three and a half years before Cobain committed suicide in April of 1994. But in those couple of years, the young musicians, along with bassist Krist Novoselic, would change the course of music history with their hard-hitting yet melodic sound.

With their massive first hit (of many), "Smells Like Teen Spirit," it seemed like overnight the then-popular hair bands got the memo that it was time to pack up their make-up, Aqua Net, and tight leather pants to make ways for the Grunge era's flannel shirts, baggy jeans, and Doc Martens. Cobain, Grohl, and Noveselic rode a tidal wave of stratospheric fame and success together, but what started out as a love for music and the scene evolved into something bigger than Cobain, at least, was ready to deal with. 

Drugs and baby-mama-drama became the norm for Cobain, who bore the brunt of the media attention as Nirvana's frontman and whose vulnerability seemed tangible even as he screamed through some of his lyrics. In his suicide note, Cobain wrote of how he'd lost joy and passion for making music and for playing for crowds, quoting the Neil Young lyric, "it's better to burn out than to fade away," before killing himself. 

That effectively ended the band Nirvana, yet Nirvana never went away. Nor did Grohl's passion for music. He also never stopped thinking of Cobain. 

Nirvana went through a few drummers before they found Grohl

Dave Grohl was an East Coast guy in a punk band called Scream when, in 1990, the band was on tour playing a show in San Francisco. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Cobain and some friends went to check them out and were impressed by Grohl's drumming. Though Nirvana already had a drummer and had put out the album "Bleach," they felt like they needed a different drummer to get the sound they were looking for. 

Grohl played like a boss, so Cobain and Novoselic invited him to a Seattle recording studio to play. According to UCR, Novoselic said in the biography "Come As You Are," "We knew within two minutes that he was the right drummer. He was a hard hitter. He was really dynamic. He was so bright, so hot, so vital." 

Grohl had a new band and Nirvana had a new drummer. In a 1991 interview with Studio Brussel (via YouTube), Cobain said, "Krist [Novoselic] and I have been playing together for about four and a half years now with a few different drummers. Dave has been in the band for about a year. This is the first time we've felt like a very definite unit. The band is finally complete because all the other drummers we had pretty much sucked."

Grohl said he mostly connected with Cobain through music

In February 2021, Grohl told The Big Issue that he agreed that he and the rest of Nirvana connected very well musically but without it, they probably wouldn't have been hanging out. 

Grohl said, "When I first met Kurt [Cobain] and Krist ... musically, it was a match made in heaven. But personally, it was a bit off, to be honest. Of course we loved each other. We were friends. But, you know, there was a dysfunction in Nirvana that a band like Foo Fighters doesn't have."

Grohl and Kurt both came from broken homes, but the coming-of-age experiences that shaped them were strikingly different. Grohl described to The Big Issue that he had a "happy" childhood with a kick-ass single mom who supported him in his ventures. Alternately, Cobain's parents split when he was 9 and, per Britannica, and as he grew up he "was frequently troubled and angry." He bounced around the homes of relatives and friends, sometimes sleeping under bridges. As such, he experimented with drugs and some minor vandalism. 

Grohl elaborated about his relationship with Cobain to The Big Issue, saying, "back then we were young, and the world was just so strange. But that emotional dysfunction in Nirvana was relieved when we put on instruments. If the music hadn't worked, we wouldn't have been there together. I truly believe that there's some people you can only communicate with musically. And sometimes that's an even greater, deeper communication."

Cobain's drug use took its toll on Grohl

Grohl and Cobain definitely meshed musically and had good times together, but as time wore on and Cobain's heroin use got worse, with him even overdosing a couple of times only to be saved (once as recently as a month before his death), the bandmates had less and less in common, mostly because of Kurt's drug use. 

The New York Post reported that, according to Grohl's recently published book, "The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music," Grohl got a call that Cobain had OD'd and died in March 1994 only to find out it was a false alarm. Still, in the moments in between, he was fully devastated. 

Grohl wrote of his thoughts at the time: "He was gone. The shy young man who had offered me an apple upon our first introduction at the Seattle airport was gone. My quiet, introverted roommate who I'd shared a tiny little apartment with in Olympia was gone. The loving father who played with his beautiful baby daughter backstage every night before each show was gone. I was overcome with a more profound sadness than I had ever imagined."

Grohl went on to say that because of Cobain's near-death experience he "built his walls higher." According to Firstpost, Grohl recently said, "There are some people in life that you emotionally prepare yourself to lose ... like some sort of defense mechanism. But it doesn't work. It never works."

Dave Grohl said things were getting 'weird' toward the end

In 2011 Dave Grohl told Howard Stern (via YouTube) of his relationship with Cobain and the band, "It got weird toward the end." He said everyone was "split off" and then tried to explain to Stern what he saw as the underlying issue. 

Grohl said he doesn't do drugs and hadn't since he was about 20 years old. He told Stern, "you know, there were drugs around, and there was, like, the people who did the drugs, and then there were the people who didn't do the drugs. And I didn't do the drugs, so I was just out of that world, you know. If you're in it you're in it. If you're not, you're out." 

Grohl said around the time of Kurt's death the issues had gotten such that, "I think at that point, it was important that we take a break. I think everybody felt that way. It was time to take a break." 

For Cobain, in his last days, it might have felt like the world was closing in on him. He had a drug problem, but also, his marriage to Courtney Love was on the rocks, and his suicide note is filled with lines about not being able to find happiness like he used to, being overly sensitive, and feeling guilty for not being able to truly appreciate the life he created for himself. 

'We went through multiple lifetimes'

After the devastation of Cobain's death, Dave Grohl briefly lost his desire to play music, something that's been his passion since childhood. He told The Big Issue, "But it came back. And thankfully, just as I had hoped, it healed me. To me, music has always been about life. It was the thing I most loved about life, more than anything else. After Nirvana, I needed it to keep me alive. and it's the reason why I never stopped."

Nearly three decades since Kurt Cobain decided to end his life and since Grohl has gone on with his, he says that he still thinks of his friend and bandmate often. Grohl switched to guitar in his band Foo Fighters but, per The New York Post, he wrote in his new memoir, "it's when I sit down at a drum set that I feel Kurt the most," he wrote. "It's not often that I play the songs that we played together, but when I sit on that stool, I can still picture him in front of me, wrestling with his guitar as he screamed his lungs raw into the microphone."

Grohl also told People, "I think about him all the time. I just had a dream about him two nights ago. I only knew Kurt for about three and a half years, but in that time we went through multiple lifetimes. Kurt's songs touched the world."