Celebrating the life of one of the most unlikely cultural icons
Photo credit - Charles Peterson
When you reach my age (50 is just a few months away) hearing how old other people are, typically people of the famous variety can have real visceral effects on you. Perhaps because he died at just 27, or maybe because I'm a passenger on a sonic time machine when I hear his music, Kurt Cobain is one of those people whose age (or the age he would've been) dropkicks me when I hear it.
Knowing that the leader of Nirvana, one of the most important bands in history when you consider what they meant to music and culture, would have turned 56 years old yesterday (2/20/23) is difficult to comprehend. I could've sworn I was just getting out of class at St. John's University on a Friday afternoon and heading into Manhattan for a night of live music. How could so many years have passed?
What would the band have sounded like had he lived? How long would Nirvana have lasted? Would Kurt have formed another band, gone solo, or left music altogether? Would the Foo Fighters ever have come into existence? Would the "grunge" scene have continued into the 2000s? We will never know.
Those are the selfish questions of a fan and I'm willing to bet I'm not alone in asking them. I still wonder about it all to this day, however.
More importantly, had Kurt lived, he could have raised his daughter and continued to grow his family if he had chosen to do so. We all know of Kurt Cobain because of his music but he left family and friends behind who will forever carry the burden of his loss. Suicide, especially when committed by someone so young, is beyond disturbing and leaves plenty of unanswered questions with no possibility for answers.
As the late 80s bled into the early 90s, popular music was littered with vanilla-sounding music lacking substance and grit and leaving nothing for the kids on the fringe. There was an underground of course but it was barely a nuisance to the tastemakers of Top 40 radio or the flashy images of MTV.
Then "Smells Like Teen Spirit" happened. Game, set, match. Music, culture, and history changed in an instant.
If you were around then, found it later, or have researched the era in the decades since, you would not be able to escape the fact that between 1991 and 1992, the world belonged to Nirvana and a new music scene centered around isolation, addiction, introspection, and loneliness was all the rage. Not very uplifting but the complete opposite of what popular music had been right before Nirvana showed up. The music was as dark as the messaging, utilizing a mixture of punk, alternative, and metal as the musical companion to their personal yet unifying lyrics.
Cobain and Nirvana weren't the first to play this style of music but they were the ones the world anointed as the pied pipers of this new generation. The band, the scene, and the culture that was spawned because of them were never meant for the long term but somehow carved out a niche that will last forever. They are as important now as they were over three decades ago and that is a rare occurrence in pop music.
Happy birthday Kurt. It's a shame you are not here to see what you have created.
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