In 1994, if you were to have told my prepubescent self dressed in all black in my steel-toed Doc Martens, holding a candle and crying at a vigil after school that 17 years later I would be watching a teenager screeching Kurt Cobain's Smells Like Teen Spirit on something called American Idol, or that when I Googled "Kurt Cobain's Impact on Society" that the question "Who is Kurt Cobain?" would show up as a relevant result, I would have cried some more. Kurt Cobain, no matter what you may think of his suicide, got me through some very lonely nights as a nervous, utterly self-aware young girl.
Even if I didn't understand half of what he was muttering, and would normally finish the songs by singing "Yahhh Yaeah Mwaaaa Laaaa." (At least I tried to pretend I knew the words.) That was back when I was Generation X, (but somehow since I have shifted to Generation Y), the term 'alternative' was being invented, and flannel shirts were all the rage.
On April 5th 1994, Kurt Cobain shot himself in the head in his Seattle home a week after leaving a rehabilitation site. It wasn't until April 8th, 3 days later, that he was discovered. Three days that a score of music fans would forever be changed. Some people argue that it was only in hindsight that Nirvana was held up so high in our culture.
Truth be told, I remember adults sharing their disgust of Cobain's unwashed, muttering self appearing on television. However, for music fans, watching Nirvana on MTV's Unplugged for the first time in the early 90's was unlike most of the sugary pop bands and glam rock that we had seen. He was soulful, real and just what teens needed.
Kurt Cobain represented many of the misunderstood young person in the 90's. The world wasn't a very happy place during that time ' New Kids on the Block had just broken up, the Gulf War was raging, riots and racial tension in LA were all over the news, Magic Johnson tests positive for HIV, Nancy Kerrigan gets clubbed in the knee by Tonya Harding. People needed someone who reflected that inner angst. And there just weren't a whole lot of great musicians writing great music during that time (hence the NKOTB reference above).
"Cobain changed the course of where the music went," writes Vernon Reid, formerly of Living Colour, in a tribute to Nirvana. "There are certain people where you can see the axis of musical history twisting on them: Hendrix was pivotal, Prince was pivotal, Cobain was pivotal."
In 1991, Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl released "Nevermind" on DGC/Geffen Records. According to the Seattle Post,
Cobain's riveting songs gave rock's underground a voice in the mainstream.
They ran past Metallica, Boyz II Men and Garth Brooks, stealing the number slot with the anthemic "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (the same one that Casey Abrams tore apart ' not in a good way ' on American Idol a couple of weeks back). In 1992, the album Nevermind even beat out Michael Jackson, eventually selling over 8.5 million albums in the United States.
As for his political and cultural implications on society, once his Journals were released in 2002, another generation was impacted by his thoughts. Although, perhaps he doesn't want to be known for what we now revere him for. From his journal, he speaks about his frustrations with being lauded as the first to create the grunge sound and the Seattle hard rock movement:
"If we were going to be ghettoized, I'd rather be in the same slum as bands that are good like Mudhoney, Jesus Lizard, the Melvins and Beat Happening rather than being a tenant of the corporate landlords regime ... There are a lot of bands who claim to be alternative and they're nothing but stripped down, ex sunset strip hair farming bands of a few years ago. I would love to be erased from our association with Pearl Jam or the Nymphs and other first time offenders."
If he were to have an impact on our culture now, maybe we can learn from our celebrity stalkerish behavior by what he says again, in his Journals. (Ironically, by re-publishing this, I'm feeding into exactly what he hated most and what may have led to his ultimate suicide ' unfortunately we will never know.)
"Within the months between October 1991 through December 92, I have had four notebooks filled with two years worth of poetry and personal writing ... The most violating thing I've felt this year is not the media exaggerations or the catty gossip, but the rape of my personal thoughts. Ripped out of pages from my stay in hospitals and airplane rides hotel stays etc. I feel compelled to say f--- you F--- you to those of you who have absolutely no regard for me as a person. You have raped me harder than you'll ever know."
Unfortunately, his death brought copy cat suicides, especially in the Seattle area. According to Dr. David A Jobes, "The suicide of rock star Kurt Cobain in 1994 raised immediate concerns among suicidologists and the public at large about the potential for his death to spark copycat suicides, especially among vulnerable youth. The Seattle community, where Cobain lived and died, was especially affected by his sudden death." There were even links to suicides in Australia.
"If Cobain had died of a drug overdose, it might not have been so devastating, but fairly or not, that shotgun blast was seen by many as a betrayal," said Michael Lewis Goldberg, an associate professor at the University of Washington to a Seattle newspaper.
And that's the problem. His impact and end, though seen to him as fateful and Nirvana, was devastating to his fans.
How do you feel about his death 17 years later? (COMMENT BELOW)
"Kurt Cobain Left Us" was first released on 4.5.2011 and last updated on 5.6.2017 6:00 AM EDT.
Meagan Lopez submitted this feature to AND Magazine.
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