Depending on which website you ask, the photo above, taken May, 1986 in Aberdeen, WA, is either a mugshot from when Kurt Cobain was arrested for trespassing or from when Kurt Cobain was arrested for vandalizing a wall with the phrase “God is gay.” Or maybe it was “Homo sex rules.” Or, if police records are to be believed, “Ain’t got no whatchamacallit.” Internet confusion abounds over which incident the shot is connected with and what he actually spray painted when he did spray paint something, but what’s clear is that Cobain was arrested twice in a short period of time, and when asked years later about his vandalism charge, he wanted people to believe he wrote something provocative that referenced homosexuality. The specifics become less significant when you consider that the phrase “God is gay” reached more eyeballs by way of interviews than it ever would have on that wall in Aberdeen, and even more ears as the final lyrics of the 10th track of one of the best selling records of all time.
Cobain’s vandalism may involve elements of myth, but his distaste for homophobia was well documented. Two examples stand out — a journal entry that was revealed to read “I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes” — and the liner notes of 1992’s Incesticide, which made the following appeal:
At this point 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.
I find myself thinking about this part of Cobain’s legacy every once in a while, and it strikes me as incredibly powerful. People like to say — rightly on some levels, I think — that we remember Kurt Cobain in rosier terms because of his suicide, and that the uglier parts of his life get swept under the rug by a combination of selective nostalgia and hero worship. But in my mind, this is an area of unequivocal beauty. As confused and ironic as it may have been at times, Cobain’s cross-dressing, spray-painting, liner-noting, bassist-kissing advocacy for the acceptance of homosexuality demonstrated real compassion and courage, and each time it comes to mind, I’m filled with a strange sense of pride. The guy I trusted my early adolescence with — whose songs helped me learn how to play guitar and whose hair and clothes I emulated — turns out to have been even worthier of emulation than I realized, if just in this one specific, yet incredibly meaningful, way.
By chance, one of these prideful moments took place while I was getting ready for work yesterday — the same day the Supreme Court was set to hear oral arguments for the first of two landmark cases involving gay marriage. I can’t remember what got me thinking about Cobain and his convictions, but I realized yesterday morning that, aside from developing a woefully half-baked theory involving David Geffen, the openly gay record executive who won the Nevermind bidding war, I’d never taken the time to learn why he felt so strongly about homophobia.