Feb 20, 2017
One of the hardest things to quantify for me still is the loss of Kurt Cobain. At 35, I think about his music, his legacy, constantly. No single band has done more for me as a person or emotionally as Nirvana. Nirvana has been my favorite band since I was around 11 or 12, I can’t remember a life that’s pre-Nirvana. While I liked other bands and enjoyed all of the other stuff happening in metal, punk, and grunge, Nirvana’s chord struck the loudest. While we’ve had our ebbs and flows of how much I listen to their music, there’s never an argument about their impact on my life. On Kurt Cobain’s 50th birthday, it’s a springboard for a wealth of emotions when thinking about what we lost that spring of 1994.
Nirvana were proud to be outsiders, they did their own thing without remorse, and did so while wearing a coat of many colors. Nirvana’s music was inclusive for everyone who wanted to be a part of the party – whether that sat well with Kurt or not. That was the allure of their music, their presence, they might not have been the best, or the most talented, or whatever, it’s how they made you feel in a world full of bands like Poison or Guns N Roses.
They took punk idealism and made it mainstream. They took what so many bands felt, said and worked toward waving the flag of, and gave it to a generation. Through Nirvana’s social message of Incesticide’s liner notes, seeds were planted:
“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.”
When I was a kid, I re-read and obsessed about every lyric, every thought. Reading this helped me see the world wasn’t my white neighborhood full of working class, Irish tough guys. For many of us, we needed that. We needed to know about sub-cultures, genres outside the mainstream. Nirvana broke that door wide open. Every song just wasn’t some garbage about fucking chicks. We were getting a message what it felt like to be an outsider, when we may have not realized our social status. That’s why the music still endures, because of its honesty in spite of the platform.
While some laud Kurt as nothing more than an over-hyped junkie, I saw him as a figurehead that mirrored my problems. While yes, they were my favorite band at the time of his death, was resonated more was my sense of personal loss. When Kurt Cobain committed suicide, my grandmother had passed away from cancer at 54 a month earlier. I’d lost one of the most important people in my life, arguably just as important as either of my parents and now, my hero was dead, too. I compounded both losses into one mutated ache. Nirvana’s music became more than enjoying angst. It became about loss and recovery. With the tired cliché of “your music got me through so much” as a footnote to life, it’s true for me – I leaned on the death of Kurt Cobain as another way to process the loss of someone I’d loved so much. When I sang those songs, they weren’t anthems of jaded youth, but trying to process a world I wasn’t close to understanding, and in a lot of ways, I still don’t.
All of this music hit me like a sledgehammer. It was a good time to be a kid in the 90’s. I got all of the rock and roll I could take, in all of its forms. Punk made me socially aware, Rage Against The Machine paved the way for my passion for politics. But, Nirvana’s music was raw, it was powerful, and hadn’t suffered from a slump. A lot of bands release crappy albums, but not Nirvana. Like the Beatles, the loss of Kurt encapsulated the music, so it’s one vision, forever. We’ll always be left asking what and why, and what could’ve been.
Looking back on Kurt Cobain’s legacy, we’ve got so much to consider. So many feelings to sift through. While yeah, to many he was just a guy who killed himself. For us watching MTV like it was CNN in 1994, we watch Kurt Loder break the news that it was over, he was gone.
It’s still so hard to fathom, to consider, or to place your finger on why it felt like a dagger in the heart. Rock stars are meant to feel bigger than life, but Kurt felt like he was as big as your living room. It was his aloof attitude of the fame, or maybe it was despite being a millionaire with oodles of power, they didn’t follow up Nevermind with a slick collection of hits; instead, it was In Utero, which DGC thought would ruin the band. It didn’t. It only made them more endearing to what they were, verse perceived to be. Who else would take a platform as big as theirs, as the biggest band in the world, and write songs like Rape Me or Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle? Who else would 'squander' their precious Unplugged taping and fill it with obscure cover songs, only for it to become a heart-wrenching classic, which defined the medium as a whole? That was their power and vision.
The world has changed considerably since Nirvana. But, we still adore their legacy, and new generations of kids still see Kurt Cobain as a mile marker to their growth. Those words, the moodiness of the music, it’s not dated, it only gets better with time. In a world of sell outs, they never did, and they’re not in soap commercials, or selling Nikes to assholes. Nirvana is still pure. We honor Kurt’s memory by remembering he was the one to tell us we weren’t alone, even when he was gone. A scared kid who’d just lost the woman who took him to buy In Utero for his birthday needed that.
That’s why we love Nirvana, and we love Kurt Cobain – he was many things, and now, he’s an icon, but he’s still managed to do something after death: remain yours, no matter how many times he’s been shared amongst friends.
Happy birthday, Kurt. We miss you so much.