Remembering Nirvana's Kurt Cobain on what would've been his 55th birthday
"Teenage angst has paid off well, now I'm bored and old" are the first words we hear from Kurt Cobain on Nirvana's follow-up album to what was literally one of the biggest, best selling, and most important albums in music history. Considering the song from Nevermind, the album that changed the culture and led a generation shot into the stratosphere on the legs of a single called, "Smells Like Teen Spirit", you now have all you need to know about Kurt's struggle with what and who he'd become to the world.
Kurt Donald Cobain was born today, February 20th, 1967, and as of this writing would've been just 55 years old. Kurt died of a self-inflicted gunshot blast to his head on April 5th, 1994. He was just 27.
Cobain has now been gone one more year than he lived, 28 years. To those who grew up listening to Kurt's music with feet firmly planted in the scene he was given the keys to, this seems hard to believe. At almost 49, I'm not much younger than Kurt, and when he died I was just about to turn 21. His death loomed large over my angry youth world and left me even angrier. One of millions, I took his suicide personally, not able to fully process the overwhelming power of depression, mental illness, or drug addiction. By this time in my life, I'd already had some stints in therapy but never considered harming myself or wanting to die. I couldn't relate to Kurt's pain and yet somehow his music felt like home to me.
To the generations who grew up only knowing Kurt Cobain as some dead, famous musician, I'd imagine the impact of his life on their own is minimal at best. His music though, well, that resonates like a bomb. I'm sure he's a mythological figure like Elvis or some other larger-than-life character in their parents pantheon of days gone by they still talk about over coffee and the now occasional beer.
Even those older than Kurt, and the kids of his generation, know his name. I'm sure for some it holds zero weight, perhaps even disdain, while for others, there's some acknowledgment, maybe even a bit of respect. Hey, parents should know who they lost their kids to, shouldn't they?
Nirvana was only together for seven years. Most of the world only knew them for a little more than three of those. It's nearly impossible for any band or artist to have the mammoth impact Nirvana had (and in many ways, still has) in such a short amount of time. They did though, and it was something that I, nor the world has seen since. In the aftermath, we have the music.
With three proper albums (yes they have b-sides, live records, compilations, etc.), Bleach (1989), Nevermind (1991), and In Utero (1993), they were one of the few bands that had "it". Talent, chops, charisma, intrigue, mischief, contradictions, timing, and a frontman who was complex, even mystifying enough, to make you want to know everything you could about him. Nirvana was a perfect storm of dark, brooding beauty that took hold of the world around them and unleashed its fury until there was nothing left inside the people responsible for that unleashing.
The music though, has been left in perpetuum. We will never be without Kurt's mellow whispers, which evolved into strained growls, that fell back again to mellow whispers. The screeches and screams, the vulnerable sighs, audible cries for help, and the damaged soul that left us no choice but to clamor for more, are with us, and all who come after, for as long as this planet is spinning.
Music is many things to many people. It hits different for all who are lucky enough to hear and feel its power. The chemical reactions that music creates inside each and every one of us are unique and unifying all at the same time, It's a kick to the teeth, a gut punch, and a tug at the heart. It's magical, pretty, sad, confusing, unattainable, imperfectly doable, poetic, maddening, and necessary. It speaks for us when we're reluctant or incapable of speaking for ourselves, So we look to others to do the speaking for us, and sometimes, and sadly, it can come at the expense of that person's life.
Happy Birthday, Kurt Cobain.
"She'll come back as fire To burn all the liars Leave a blanket of ash on the ground
I miss the comfort in being sad I miss the comfort in being sad I miss the comfort in being sad"
"Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle"/Nirvana