April 11, 2014 Reflecting on Kurt Cobain and Nirvana 20 Years Later
With the release in 1989 of their first album, Bleach, Nirvana emerged as an underground garage punk influenced band. Shortly after, with their second album Nevermind (1991), a new vessel opened up for fans to listen to a broader variety of grunge and punk rock music. With a raw sound and carefree attitude, they stood out strongly for what they believed in and were not afraid to let the music world know. While their rise was fast and furious it came to an abrupt end less than a year after the release of In Utero (1993) when lead singer-songwriter Kurt Donald Cobain’s life came to a tragic end on April 5th, 1994.
Twenty years have passed since the day that now music legend Cobain left this world. Twisted by fate in a terrible way he become part of the 27 club, which is comprised of musicians and artists that have died at the age of 27 due to drugs, alcoholism, suicide, or homicide. His years were short lived, but his music influence and memory remains eternal. He brought an immense amount of talent, passion and spirit to his music with Nirvana and changed the rock scene tremendously. Grunge was no longer overlooked; it was different, edgy, and dirty. This helped open the door for already established Seattle scene bands such as Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. It was a great time and a start of a new generation for Rock N’ Roll. Sadly, once fame and stardom took over, it brought Kurt Cobain to a deeper battle with his own personal demons.
The glory of being a famous rock star is not as pretty and glamorous as one would hope. There is the constant pressure from press, fans, media, and your own personal struggles with never a true break from being famous. This pressure only added to Cobain’s endless battle with depression. As his stardom and idolism grew, his joy for it all slowly dissipated. He clearly did not want to disappoint his fans, friends, and loved ones, but yet at the same time was conflicted with the idea of continuing with Nirvana.
Cobain struggled with depression since his parents split when he was a child. Despite his talents as an artist, musician, and song-writer, it still was not enough for him to overcome his issues. There have been many conspiracies about his death within the past twenty years that recently lead investigators to re-examine the case. New evidence of undeveloped film was recently released by the Seattle Police department with images of the scene of Cobain’s death stirring up a sea of emotion among fans and still not bringing much if any light to the case. While evidence strongly leans toward this being a suicide, no one would ever truly know exactly what happened on that day. The one thing everyone can agree on is Cobain will never be forgotten and will always remain a music legend.
Many recollections of those who personally knew Cobain state that he had a beautiful and caring soul. He was known to be someone who never judged people for being who they were, he was always active with what he believed in, and what he thought was right. The grunge scene he was associated with was not just to influence people by saying it is ok to be an outcast; it was to show that you can indulge being who you are despite the rules and regulations of society.
There have been many bands in the past two decades which carry strong inspiration from Cobain’s music. One of the examples of musicians influenced from his music is Australian native band Silverchair. This is clearly evident listening to their early track “Freak”, with its strong Nirvana-esque style. The list of musicians born from the grunge era and more specifically Cobain is vast and overwhelming.
The song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” remains to this day one of the most important songs of the 1990’s and still makes people travel back to a time in their lives of free-spirit youthfulness. When one mentions grunge rock, the first thought that comes to mind is Nirvana. Nirvana’s music, along with Kurt Cobain’s legacy, lives on in the heart of fans and musicians everywhere.
Kurt Cobain’s impression, positive or negative, is a bold point in rock-n-roll history. Below is a list of musicians and music industry representative’s thoughts on Cobain and Nirvana:
“Nirvana was my favorite band in high school. I grew up in a rural southern area and everyone there liked country music or perhaps Dave Matthews. Kurt Cobain embodied “alternative” to me and Nirvana is what inspired me to swear off acoustic guitar and capos, start a heavy band, and move to Seattle. When he died I was 16 and I really couldn’t understand how someone who seemed to have EVERYTHING that I wanted wasn’t satisfied with it. Right then and there I realized that achievement does not equal happiness, and quite possibly the two are inversely proportional.”
-Matt Carter, Emery vocalist/guitarist
“Kurt Cobain was a major influence on anyone growing up at that time listening to Rock music. Nirvana came out when I was quite young, but I really fell for their music once I hit my angry rebellious teen years. How could I not admire a band that was so real and raw with passion, and not cheesy and fucking lame like all those 80’s bands that had ruled for so long? I remember being completely shocked by his death, but being so young that I didn’t understand a lot of the situation. It’s really cool to see a new generation getting into Nirvana now as this wave of new interest in them has been hitting. It just shows you how great and timeless those songs really are.”
-Sean Danielsen, Smile Empty Soul vocalist/guitarist
“It’s unbelievable that 20 years has passed since that day. For me, Nirvana was not only a cultural force… Kurt Cobain was also such a champion for bands that weren’t as well known as his own. It’s because of Nirvana that my adolescent self became aware of so many lesser-known independent and first-wave punk rock bands. To me, that’s the true value of a band and also why they’re my favorite of all time.”
-Luis Cabezas, Dollyrots guitarist
“Kurt was a trailblazer. He was uninhibited in his time, in a way that gripped us all. The Nirvana records all helped shape who I am as a musician and a songwriter. They connected with us, they spoke to us.”
Trevor McNevan, Thousand Foot Krutch vocalist
“I remember when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” premiered on MTV and became the face of rock-n-roll that very instant. Cobain’s writing, vocal style, and punk rock attitude continues to be an inspiration to this day”
-Josh Brown, Full Devil Jacket vocalist
“The first time I saw a video of Nirvana I knew something was happening, I felt it was a very unique band that we aspiring musicians needed at the time. Kurt Cobain was a man dedicated to living his life, to expressing himself without compromise, always true to his principles. A clear and unwavering artist, who lived as only true geniuses live and understand music.”
-Pedro Arguello, Prime Ministers bassist/vocalist
“Much like Bob Dylan in the early ’60s Kurt Cobain became a spokesman for a generation. And again like Dylan, it was the last thing he intended to be. His life is a cautionary tale about what can happen to a true artist who gets swallowed up by the big machine. He wasn’t made for it. And he just couldn’t cope. Can you imagine how much better the music scene would be today if he was still around.”
-Phil Leavitt, 7Horse singer/drummer
“Kurt was an inspiration to so many different people. He had a way to connect with kids who didn’t fit in with society or felt lost. Nirvana was an outlet for that. Very real and that is why his music will live on forever.”
-Bobby Amaru, Saliva vocalist
“Nirvana made musicians like me, and people that are in our same boat – people who know we’re not perfect – know that we can deliver music and mean something to people even though our lives aren’t candy coated. Kurt Cobain was an inspiration to my heart, and to many millions more, and still lives through each and every one of us…”
-Wesley Scantlin, Puddle Of Mudd vocalist/guitarist
“Growing up as an awkward, left-handed artist type surrounded by bully jocks and cheerleaders named Becky, Kurt Cobain was the first frontman who really spoke my language.”
-Thunderwood, 9Electric vocalist
“Nirvana changed music by making good use of pop chord structures while making very non-pop music. They took the outlandish sound of the 90’s grunge/punk era and made it radio friendly.”
-Ryan Hayes, Righteous Vendetta vocalist
“I will never forget, as a kid, reading the liner notes of Incesticide (1992), where Kurt told his own fans that if they hated homosexuals, or people of different color, or women, to fuck off and stop buying Nirvana records. Seeing someone with that much fame be so unapologetic and true to his own beliefs, regardless of how it could potentially affect record sales or his popularity, was life changing for me.”
-Damien Lawson, Delta Wave vocalist
“Kurt’s music touched people in a way that put him on a pedestal he never wanted. He was the voice of a generation and two decades later the music he left us with still brings comfort to millions around the world and like his predecessor’s, it will continue to influence many generations to come.”
-Chad Lee, professional rock concert photographer
“I was never influenced by Nirvana, although I think Dave Grohl is an amazing drummer and songwriter. As for Kurt, any person that commits suicide and leaves a young child and mother to fend for themselves is selfish and weak and deserves no glory or praise in my opinion”
-Tim King, SOiL bassist
“Growing up in Virginia, Dave Grohl’s mom was a teacher at my high school and was very supportive of the arts. I knew about him when he was in a Washington D.C. punk band called Scream. We were all rooting for him, and then Nirvana changed the landscape of popular music – watching it happen was special, because it started as our little secret.”
-Jason Charles Miller, Godhead vocalist/guitarist
“Kurt helped change musical history. Countless people have been influenced by Nirvana’s sound and style. They were the voice and attitude of an entire generation. His talents will forever live on.”
-Louis Prima Jr., Louis Prima Jr. and the Witness
“The first time I saw the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video I realized immediately that music as we knew it was about to change – Nirvana did more than change music though, they changed our world. They became the voice of a generation that society wanted to ignore, and that voice continues to shape our culture.”
-Paul Gargano, Street Smart Marketing/co-owner Metal Edge
“When Kurt Cobain mentioned a band he loved in an interview, I would run out to find who they were. When your young, you need your elders to help guide your taste.”
-Jay Anderson, Biblical drummer
“I’ll never forget hearing “Heart Shaped Box” for the first time. I grew up listening to many different styles of music, being surrounded by a musical family but grunge was something new to me. In elementary school I was all about Mariah Carey and Paula Abdul, pop pop pop. Suddenly one day returning from my first day of sixth grade, I hear these dirty guitar tones coming from my older brothers bedroom. There was something intriguing and disturbing about the vocals covering the music. It sounded brash and raw. It sounded real. I remember standing outside of my brothers bedroom and feeling something well up inside of me when the chorus hit. I was in love with Kurt’s voice and the way he approached his music. He was speaking poetry. I quickly ran out and bought Nevermind (1991) and I think I borrowed In Utero (1993) from either my brother or a friend. These albums ushered me into a new way of thinking about music.
They challenged me to really tell the truth about how I was feeling. Watching MTV’s unplugged special with Nirvana was equally mesmerizing. How could a band evoke such hardcore emotion without being fully plugged in? I owe a lot to Kurt and the guys of Nirvana. They made me listen to music differently. They got me interested in bands like Soundgarden, The Cranberries, and eventually I started a band of my own. It is tragic the way Kurt went out but I think he left a legacy of honest art. Rest in peace, man.”
-Kristen May, Flyleaf vocalist
“I met Kurt and his wife at Ralph’s on Santa Monica Blvd. at 1 P.M. in the afternoon in the baby section. I was looking for some baby stuff for my daughter and so were they. We were joking with each other for the fact that no one would expect rockers this early in the day up and going and on top of that in the “baby” section of the store.”
-Mandy Meyer, Krokus guitarist
“”Missing Cobain… Thankful for the life he had. Shows how one life lost can affect millions.”
-Joe Scorsone, FLINTface
“He taught me how to play the guitar, and to be a artist. One of my favorite moments was singing his songs to my little girl this morning before a flight. I also bought her a nirvana shirt, for her 4th birthday a month ago. On tour, somewhere. Weeks later I got it to her and she sleeps in it.”
– Ryan “Tater” Johnson, 10 Years guitarist
“For me, Nirvana is something that always puts me into a certain type of headspace. Hearing Nirvana or even the name instantly reminds me of being 12 years old looking through my dad’s CD collection and finding the Nevermind (1991) album. I remember thinking, why in the heck is there a naked baby on this cover? I was too young to think anything more about it. But finding that CD was probably the first step along the way of getting me into heavier music, getting me into hard rock music. All I ever found in his cd collection up to that point was Meat Loaf, Steppenwolf, PM Dawn, REO Speedwagon, the list goes on and on…. and then one day…Nirvana’s Nevermind.
There was something different about this…the guitars were heavier and meaner, the drums were louder and way more aggressive, and it sounded amazing! That CD didn’t leave my player after that. It was new and different for me and that slowly led me to discover other bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden, which became two of my favorite bands”
-Jose Urquiza, Three Years Hollow vocalist
“When Nirvana came along in the late 80’s I think there was enough people that hated hair bands and florescent colors to give them a huge cult following after Bleach (1989) came out. Back then when you made a certain amount of splash independently, it was given that the major labels were gonna sniff you out and exploit and profit off of what you were doing…regardless of what it was and who you were. it was refreshing to have an artist like Kurt Cobain get a chance like that, and his contribution literally destroyed the 80’s metal movement and a lot of record companies lost millions of dollars they had invested in Slaughter, Poison, Warrant, Winger and countless others. It was a double edged sword anyway you slice it. Even if you were an amazing band but you weren’t a carbon copy of Nirvana and the other Seattle grunge scene bands…the answer was no. So Kurt’s contribution to rock-n-roll in many ways put limitations on things…it made decent musicians a joke and pretentiousness was at an all-time high. I don’t think that was Kurt’s intention.
Nevermind (1991) is an amazing, classic record…but greed wore it out fast and greed wore Kurt out fast. When someone is that talented and that creative, chances are they do a lot of thinking or over-thinking. Kurt was tortured by success because it painted a picture of stardom and celebrity that wasn’t much different from the sanitized pop rock environment that he probably opposed vehemently. There are no words to describe the frustration and horror that evolves when unqualified but powerful people start imposing and meddling in your work. It starts to feel really gross. I just don’t think there was any way for him to handle that. For me, Kurt was influential in that he proved that there could be a different approach and that anything is possible, and those first two records are great, but as he suffered the music started to suffer…and Nirvana incessantly overexposed was in direct contrast to their intentions and it became a little corny. It’s hard to believe that with all those people surrounding you constantly, telling you how much they love you…there was no one there to stop or help him. That’s pretty fucking sad. Without him, who knows how bad music could have gotten…maybe as bad as it is today?”
-Deron Miller, CKY vocalist/guitarist
“Every once in a while, someone comes along and breathes fresh air into something that you thought was played out and couldn’t be reinvented…Nirvana was that for me…Kurt Cobain put the Punk back in Rock. Thank you !”
-Rodney Browning Cravens, Dishwalla lead guitarist
“I was really into Nirvana, They were a Ship that had set sail into the storm. Alas, packing only 2 life jackets. They were another reason I went to Seattle to record my first two U.P.O. records. They Had great songs with cool combination of ” Heavy Melody” & attitude that came across in the music and live show. Kurts lyrics and vocal stylings were unique and gritty at the same time as being personnel and emotionally antagonizing. A band sorely missed”
-Shawn Albro, U.P.O. & Hopes Funeral vocalist
“Growing up Kurt Cobain, Nirvana and the entire Seattle scene had definitely made an impact on my junior high years. I sported the open flannel with the black t shirt and ripped jeans everyday! Nirvana was a fun escape from the typical bands at the time. They seemed to be so out of control musically, that the chaos they were creating was extraordinary to my ears. My collection consisted of Bleach (1989), Nevermind (1991), Incesticide (1992), In Utero (1993) and the epic Unplugged in New York MTV special.
The day Kurt was found dead felt like a hero had been taken. I can still hear the breaking MTV News bulletin and Curt Loder’s voice! I remember sitting on my front porch with my buddy Andrew staring towards the sky in silence and disbelief.”
-Mathieu Nevitt, Dorydrive vocalist