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  • David Andrews

Cobain's Literary Influences

Updated: Oct 16



For one of grunge rock icon Kurt Cobain‘s final interviews before his tragic death by suicide in 1994, he was asked about the books that inspired his life and songwriting. Cobain spoke of his deep affection for Patrick Suskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murder, a historical horror novel following a perfumer’s apprentice with a super-sensitive sense of smell that alienates him from the rest of the world. The book would accompany Cobain on many tours and directly inspired the song Scentless Apprentice” off 1993’s In Utero.


Cobain was also drawn to the writers and poets of the Beat Generation, whose work – like Perfume – often dealt with outlaws, outcasts and other characters on the fringes of society. Counting William S. Burroughs as a personal hero, Cobain would collaborate with the writer for 1993’s The “Priest” They Called Him – a spoken word piece with discordant musical accompaniment. And, like David Bowie, Cobain employed Burroughs’ cut-up technique to help construct his lyrics.


Gathered from biographies, interviews and his personal journals, read on for a list of the books that inspired Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain. For more book recommendations from musicians, check out the reading lists of Jim Morrison, David Bowie, Bob Dylan & John Lennon.


The List


Collected Essays by Camille Paglia

Junky by William S. Burroughs

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Ham On Rye by Charles Bukowski

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs (also by Anthony Bourdain, Bob Dylan & Jim Morrison)

On The Road by Jack Kerouac (also by Bob Dylan, David Bowie, John Lennon & Jim Morrison)

Post Office by Charles Bukowski

Queer by William S. Burroughs

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac (also by Jim Morrison)

The Inferno by Dante Alighieri (also by David Bowie)

Three Novels: Malloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable by Samuel Beckett

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton


“I really like Camille Paglia a lot; it’s really entertaining, even though I don’t necessarily agree with what she says.” - Kurt Cobain

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (also by Philip Roth)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas (also by Nick Cave)


“[Solanas] was a militant feminist who, in my opinion, had some incredible ideas. Everybody called her insane because the ideas are pretty violent. [The book] pretty much says women should rule the earth, and I agree with it.” - Kurt Cobain

Perfume by Patrick Süskind

“I’ve read Perfume, by Patrick Süskind, about ten times in my life and I can’t stop reading it. It’s like something that’s just stationary in my pocket all the time, it just doesn’t leave me.” -Kurt Cobain

Selected Works by Elinor Wylie


(via Journals, Nirvana: The Chosen Rejects, Kurt Cobain, Kurt Cobain: The Cobain Dossier, The LA Times, The Poetry Foundation, The Hollywood Reporter & The Independent)

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