Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain may have died 17 years ago today, but his legacy as a grunge icon lives on. Led by the popularity of “SmellsLike Teen Spirit,” Nirvana’s 1991 record “Nevermind” catapulted the alt-rock Seattle music scene into the mainstream, changing the way we view flannel shirts forever.
Cobain’s suicide at 27 — the same inauspicious age of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix at their deaths — shocked the world. In 2009, FooFighters’ singer and Nirvana bandmate Dave Grohl told the BBC that Cobain’s death “was a terrible surprise.”
“It was probably the worst thing that has happened to me in my life,” he said. “I remember theday after that I woke up and I was heartbroken that he was gone.”
On April 9, 1994, the day after Cobain’s body was found, the Post’s Richard Harrington and Richard Leiby wrote:
By virtue of Nirvana's stunning record sales and MTV exposure, Cobain,27, was presumed to speak for a youth subculture whose fatalistic outlook was forged by the dissolution of family, lowered expectations in the job market, and endemic drug abuse and violence.
In 1991, Nirvana helped create and define a category of guitar-driven rock -- grunge -- through the hit song "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The band's breakthrough pushed underground rock music into the mainstream. A mix of punk and pop influences, grunge sparked a fashion craze of flannel shirts and Doc Martens boots and resulted in a wave of cult bands being signed by major labels.
Nirvana's "Nevermind" album sold 10 million copies worldwide, a staggering accomplishment Cobain remarked upon in the first line of the opening song on the band's follow-up album, "In Utero."
"Teenage angst has paid off well, now I'm bored and old," he sang caustically in "Serve the Servants." Cobain had wanted to call the album "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die," though he insisted in subsequent interviews that the title was satirical, "as literal as a joke can be." His label, Geffen, rejected that title.
In a recent Rolling Stone article, Cobain discussed his troubled marriage to singer Courtney Love of the female punk band Hole and the joy of fathering his daughter, Frances Bean, now a year old. He also talked about his heroin addiction, the weight of sudden fame and fortune, and his discomfort at being a symbol of his generation. Small and slight despite a ferocious onstage presence, Cobain seemed ill-equipped for such a role.
"If there was a Rock Star 101 course, I would have liked to take it," he said. "It might have helped me."
Among young music fans, Cobain's death was felt as viscerally as John Lennon's or Bob Marley's. More than any current rock performer, he bore the burden of being anointed by the media as a spokesman for the angst-ridden twentysomething generation.
All three members of Nirvana came from broken homes. Cobain,son of an auto mechanic and secretary who divorced when he was 8, did not speak to his father for eight years -- until signing his breakthrough contract with Geffen in 1990. As a shy teenager, he became enthralled with punk rock and began collecting records and playing guitar, though he saw himself as a rhythm guitarist -- out of the limelight. When Cobain was still a teenager, his father had forced him to pawn his guitar and join the Navy; instead Cobain reclaimed the guitar and left home.
"The divorce, the violence, the drugs, the diminished opportunities for an entire generation, that is so crucial to the sound of their music and the success of their music," biographer Azerrad said recently. "The band translated that pain and anger and confusion into musical sound waves very directly that hit a nerve among a large amount of kids who had a similar experience."
"None of you will ever know my intentions," Cobain had painted onto a wall of his home in Seattle not long ago, a magazine writer noted in a recent profile in Details magazine. It seemed an apt epitaph.
if it hadn't been for Nirvana I'd never have become a buddhist. I am no longer a buddhist but thanks Kurt anyway #cobaintributes
Verse Corus Verse summed up living in a small pond with a big fish Dad #Cobaintributes