Kurt Cobain and Nirvana 20 Years Later

2014-04-05

Story by Anne Erickson

Nirvana recognize two milestones this month: induction into the Rock Hall and the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death

Today (April 5) marks the 20th anniversary of when Kurt Cobain took his own life in a small room atop the garage of his Seattle-area home. Not only is the world celebrating that ominous day this month, but on April 10, Nirvana will be inducted into the Rock and Hall of Fame.

Few critics and fans debate on the impact Nirvana had on popular music. The band changed the musical and a cultural trajectory with a single song: 1991’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The track, with its fuzzbox distortion and raw chords, was first recorded by Cobain, drummer Dave Grohl and bass player Krist Novoselic on cassette at a barn in Tacoma, Wash.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” made its way onto Nirvana’s sophomore album, “Nevermind,” and turned Nirvana from underground indie sensations into the new mainstream of rock. The song went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart, and the physical single was RIAA certified platinum.

Cobain told Rolling Stone in 1994 that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was an effort to make “the ultimate pop song” and that he was “basically trying to rip off the Pixies.”

“When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily that I should have been in that band—or at least a Pixies cover band,” he said. “We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.”

Years later, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is still a symbol of alternative culture. It represents a resistance to swallow anything expected and resist the norm. It’s one of rock music’s most recognizable songs, and perhaps one of the most recognizable anthems of all time, any genre.

But success took its toll. Cobain, who was perhaps a tortured figure long before Nirvana, took his own life in April 5, 1994. “It was so fast and explosive,” Cobain told Rolling Stone of Nirvana’s quick rise. “I didn’t know how to deal with it. If there was a Rock Star 101 course, I would have liked to take it. It might have helped me.”

Twenty years later, Nirvana’s music lives on. During the celebration of the 20th anniversary of “Nevermind,” Novoselic told Billboard that “Nirvana for me personally has been prominent the whole way.”

“People are listening to the music, talking about it and thinking about it,” he added. “It’s really neat. I never thought it would be so enduring.”

Photo by Anton Corbijn.




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