“I wish that he would’ve seen us live past the stupid Nineties, you’re-a-sellout thing.” Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna on the enduring impact of Nirvana and the loss of her friend Kurt Cobain

Kathleen Hanna, Kurt Cobain
(Image credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc |Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

In August 1990, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain and Bikini Kill vocalist Kathleen Hanna  went out drinking together and decided to write some graffiti on the walls of a teen pregnancy centre in Olympia, Washington as a public information service. Hanna spray-painted the words 'fake abortion clinic' on the building, while Cobain opted to declare 'God Is Gay'. Happy with their work, the pair then hit up a few local bars, before returning to Cobain's apartment to drink some more.

Hanna recalls that she woke up the following day with "one of those hangovers where you think that if you walked in the next room, there could be a dead body in there": in reality, the singer had "smashed up a bunch of shit" and written the message 'Kurt smells like Teen Spirit' on Cobain's bedroom wall, Teen Spirit being the deodorant brand favoured by his girlfriend Tobi Vail, Hanna's Bikini Kill bandmate. Cobain wasn't actually aware that this product existed, but he liked the phrase, so much so that he decided to use Smells Like Teen Spirit as the title of a new song he was writing. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Next month, Kathleen Hanna will publish her autobiography Rebel Girl: My Life as a Feminist Punk via Ecco Press (US) and William Collins (UK). And in a new interview with Rolling Stone promoting the book, Hanna talks about her delight in seeing that her friend's music is still resonating across the world, 30 years after his passing.

"You cannot walk three feet in any country, any city, without seeing a Nirvana shirt," she marvels. "That’s pretty amazing for two guys from Aberdeen [Washington, Cobain and Krist Novoselic's hometown] to do that. And also, I like that kids are listening to good music. I think the whole mythology and the conspiracy theories are creepy and weird, but I don’t really pay that much attention. I just see kids all over the world wearing Nirvana shirts, I see 80-year-old women wearing Nirvana shirts, and it makes me smile. I am like, that’s kind of cool, a band that was practicing in the garage a few blocks from where I lived, they’re just still everywhere, and people love their music. And I feel proud of them."

Hanna goes on to say that she wishes that Cobain was still around to see the incredible impact his music has made.

"I just really wish that Kurt could have enjoyed it," she says. And that’s the hard part, just being like, 'Wow, I wish that he would’ve seen us live past the stupid Nineties, you’re-a-sellout thing.' I was very much a part of that and feel horrible."

Rebel Girl: My Life as a Feminist Punk will be published by Ecco Press/William Collins on May 14. 

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.