The Nirvana frontman died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 5, 1994, leaving an entire generation of music fans to wonder what we’ve missed out on in his absence
I’ll never forget where I was the day I heard Kurt Cobain’s body was found in his home.
Easter had come early that year, and I was on Long Island visiting family when the news broke on WNEW as I had been driving through Plainview to visit my aunt and uncle. It was an early report, which only admitted to “a body” being found on Cobain’s property. But while they didn’t cite him initially by name, we all knew who it was (though for a second I thought it was Courtney Love, whose name has been dragged through the mud in the wake of her husband’s death by countless conspiracy theorists thinking she staged a hit job).
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As someone who greatly enjoyed the pure pop underpinnings that imbued all three of their studio albums, neither Bleach, Nevermind nor In Utero were stone masterpieces. Each of these records had these lucid moments of genius amid fat chunks of id-addled rage, like kids hopped up on The Melvins and Black Flag and Kiss should exhibit in their music. Don’t get me wrong, songs like “Floyd The Barber,” “Territorial Pissings” and “Very Ape” are exciting blasts of that teenage angst Kurt had mentioned in “Serve the Servants” which paid off so well. But we never got the “bored and old” version of Cobain he promises in the next line after he took the shotgun he bought off Earth’s Dylan Carlson and fired off that fatal round.
What sucks most about losing Kurt 25 years ago is where he was heading as he approached 30. There was so much more to his songwriting than punk fury, as the eloquence of “Polly,” which in another era could’ve been a Love song, and the invincible “All Apologies” so deftly signifies. I guess that’s what makes the MTV Unplugged the most cherished of the Nirvana titles, at least for me. That broadcast sounded like the next logical step in where Cobain was headed as a musician, compounded by the news that he was actively seeking to collaborate more with R.E.M. producer Scott Litt, who mixed the In Utero single “Pennyroyal Tea” as well as the Unplugged album, as well as Michael Stipe. I can hear shades of where Kurt might have gone musically when I hear Wilco or The Felice Brothers. Maybe he and Dave Grohl would’ve formed a deeper songwriting bond and along with Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear and Ultra Vivid Scene/Rasputina cellist Melora Creager built upon the arrangements on display during MTV Unplugged. A Nirvana album with strings by Van Dyke Parks, or produced by Jim O’Rourke.
VIDEO: Nirvana – Unplugged in New York
One could write countless short stories of fan fiction hypothesizing what the last 25 years of popular music would look like had Cobain pressed on. But why drive yourself crazy like that? What Kurt Cobain should represent to today’s youth is the courage and bravery this man displayed against the tyranny of conformity, assuring an entire generation of kids in the early 90s that it was okay to be different, and what the jocks might have in ego and muscle we have in pure electric volume. If you can’t kick their ass with your fists, you can just slay them with your guitar. For those of us who spent middle school immersed in an age rife with slogans like “Where’s The Beef?” and “Greed is Good!” and perpetuating a bully culture, Nirvana were heroes to those who associated more with Corey Haim than Charlie Sheen in Lucas.
It just sucks he’s gone. Just like it sucks that Mac Miller is gone at the age of 26. And Jimi at 27, just like Kurt. Karen Carpenter. Gram Parsons. Buddy Holly. These are people who passed on while ascending to full flight creatively. It will never not hurt. All we can do is encourage our own youth to the amazing gifts these legends have given the world, stripped away of the tabloid bollocks. Direct your children to bands like Potty Mouth and Starcrawler, young groups who are really shaking things up in ways no other music act appealing to high schoolers really is, quite honestly. That’s how you can honor Kurt Cobain’s legacy on the 25th anniversary of his death.
VIDEO: Nirvana – Roseland Ballroom, NYC 7/23/93