On this date 27 years ago, Kurt Cobain passed away at the age of just 27, becoming one of many artists memorialised in the ’27 Club’. As the guitarist, primary songwriter, and frontman of Nirvana, he was adored by many. Although his death was a tragedy that essentially ended the grunge scene in 1994, his legacy continues to go on through Nirvana’s music as the band still remains popular amongst original fans and younger generations.
From the yellow wiggly smiley face you see everywhere to their infamous naked baby 1991 album Nevermind still seen in music shops, there is no denying that Nirvana is the most influential grunge band of all time. As of 31st March 2021, the band has just over 17,255,000 monthly listeners and their most well-known song ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, has just over 933,525,000 plays on Spotify! They are certainly not going away any time soon.
While the hot debate surrounding what can be defined as grunge has been going on since the mid-80s, Nirvana embraced it for what they assumed it to be. Musically, grunge is an underground genre that borrows from punk, metal, rock and to a certain extent, pop. Under the talent of Cobain, Nirvana surprised the world with their second album, Nevermind breaking tradition by having huge success on radio, MTV, CD, and tape recordings, thus launching the genre into the mainstream. They were raw and unpolished; that’s what was needed then.
Furthermore, their iconic Nirvana MTV Unplugged 1993/1994 set reminded viewers and listeners that they were more than your average Joe. Although the infamous 1992 MTV Awards (when Nirvana performed) may lead many to question why the band would agree to perform for MTV Unplugged, it came at a time where the TV station’s popularity was dipping. Cobain’s motives will never be clear, but one thing is for sure – they rocked the roof off! Viewership for this much-anticipated release did wonders for MTV and showed the entire world that Nirvana were not just some shouty, rowdy men who turned the volume up to 100. This was their time to shine and show their talent off. From ‘All Apologies’ to ‘About A Girl’, they were stripping back and showing off the incredible vocal skills and writings of Cobain. Oh, and the band were willing to take risks by performing covers of David Bowie, who, according to The Independent, was ‘regarded as a sort of super-naff crazy uncle to Phil Collins. It is hard to convey just how uncool he still was in the early Nineties.’ They made it their own.
In a short span of time, the band went supernova, known worldwide for their down-tuning, strange chord progressions, their punk rock essence and their peculiar lyrics about Courtney Love’s vagina (‘Heart-Shaped Box’) and the smell of teenage angst (‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’). Despite their strange lyrics and edgy music, the band spoke to the disillusioned Gen X youth. As someone who was lucky enough to catch Nirvana at Reading Festival, Jasper Ward, 40, still continues to listen to the band:
‘I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing, the first time I heard Nirvana. I grew up during the 80s, so that decade of decadence as a response to political upheaval and dark tension of punk – that characterised the end of the 70s – meant nothing to me.
For me, the 80s was merely a torrent of increasingly manufactured plastic pop acts dominating the musical landscape. Then I heard something completely different that blew away that decade of shallow pop. That twisted fuzz guitar and seething rage simply didn’t give a fuck about the zeitgeist. It wasn’t rebellion. It was a refusal to play somebody else’s game that called to the disenfranchised.
Their pied piper was a stunningly beautiful, unassuming poet whose refusal to play the anti-hero made his music only more alluring to me and we all flocked to his clarion call. Simply put, there was everything before… and then there was Nirvana.’
What Jasper says speaks the truth for many. Creating anthems about alienation continues to resonate with each new generation. When speaking to 21-year-old Eva Richards about what Cobain means to her, she stated ‘I just really like the genre and how he puts his emotion into his music, even though the lyrics are sometimes nonsensical. You can tell the emotion and stuff is there and he definitely had that kinda raw passion that kina raw passion that you don’t often come by at all.’ The fascination with Nirvana lives on; there is even a Rock-A-Bye version of Nirvana songs to help send your children to sleep!
Cobain became an icon himself. With his clothing style, unphased attitude and his refusal to be inauthentic – many idolised him, and still do. He was ahead of his time; he was even arrested for spray-painting ‘God is Gay’ on police cars in Washington state. He was also modest about his own talent, saying that ‘We’re from the learn-as-you-play school. We’re still in it.’ Cobain came from a small town and dreamed of making it big time. That’s what he did; he never gave up.
Ultimately, without Cobain and Nirvana, there would be no Lana Del Rey, You Me At Six, Foo Fighters, Machine Gun Kelly, Biffy Clyro, 30 Seconds to Mars – the list goes on. If it was not for the genius of Kurt Cobain, who knows where your favourite band would be today. Cobain may no longer be with us, but he lives on through Nirvana’s music and inspires many day-in and day-out to be unapologetically themselves.