On Tuesday the 5th April 2016 a lot of human beings around the world remembered the life and music of Kurt Cobain. It’s hard to believe that he has been dead for 22 years. I was just 11 years old when he passed away and it wouldn’t be until 1995 that I would become a fan of his music and greatest legacy, Nirvana.
Anyone who has read my personal stories across any of the blogs that I’ve written will know that at age eleven I discovered Pearl Jam. This discovery helped open up the door to a scene and community of musicians and artists who came from Seattle. The media and uneducated called it “grunge” but the reality of it all was that it was just rock n roll that paid tribute to all that was wonderful about punk rock, art rock, pop music and heavy metal. The music from Seattle wasn’t just “rock n roll” though, it had a special energy at the centre of it and it’s hard to deny the power bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Mudhoney had. On the surface these bands were some of the most popular bands from that scene but in all honesty there were so many other bands from Seattle that were equally as unique and powerful.
I can never really put my finger on it but I believe that there was a special kind of magic happening in the universe at the time that allowed these bands from Seattle to break through. The way this music resonated so deeply with youth culture was without a doubt a phenomenon. We had of course seen it before but for those of us that lived through it and were there as it was happening, it was an excitement and level of artistry that I’m confident in saying has not been repeated. To those who weren’t there and who only have hindsight and history and the fucking misinformation of the internet to provide you with the (sigh) “grunge” experience, I hope that I can do my best to give some context to how special and pure this period of time was and how Nirvana and Kurt Cobain are the reason why you have the freedom to have your “alternative” lifestyles so accepted in today’s society.
I feel a tad bit out of my depth writing this because although I’m quite a big fan of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, it is in fact my brother Ben who was the superfan growing up and that remains to this day. All of his artistic pursuits were inspired by Kurt Cobain and I’m yet to meet a human being more in-tuned or understanding of the Kurt Cobain legacy than Ben.
Nirvana first came into my life via my Brother Ben who in 1995 brought a cassette tape copy of “In Utero” by Nirvana. This was my first experience with Nirvana and it had a lasting effect on my soul and personality. Ben was 14 years old and I was 11 going on 12. The music contained on “In Utero” was some of the harshest and soul bearing I had ever heard. It had a different energy to Pearl Jam and via the different physical media I was reading at the time the word “Punk Rock” got thrown around a lot. So in all reality “In Utero” was my first encounter with what “Punk Rock” was.
My brother brought Pearl Jam’s classic third album “Vitalogy” one afternoon not long after and after some intense negotiations I agreed to swap my cassette tape copy of “VS” for his cassette tape copy of “In Utero” – so we switched. This all happened in early to late March of 1995 and this was the point in time that Nirvana took over my whole world.
I can safely say that Nirvana were my favourite band at that point in time and “In Utero” was one of the coolest movements of music that I had ever heard. There was a cathartic nature to it all and being in Grade Seven at the time and being on the verge of entering the Teenage Wasteland it was the album and band that I needed in order to help set me free.
To this day “In Utero” remains my favourite, not because I’m some kind of insecure asshole who prefers to pick a favourite album from Nirvana that isn’t “Nevermind” but because it was the first album I heard from the band. It was the first time the band resonated with me and I feel it is their best record. A lot of my favourite Nirvana songs come from this album including “Serve The Servants,” “Scentless Apprentice,” “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” “Very Ape,” “Milk It,” “Pennyroyal Tea,” “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter,” and “All Apologies” – these were the songs that my eleven going on twelve year old self was getting off on back in 1995, this music protected me and understood me and Kurt Cobain sparked my fascination with being creative. I was obsessed with the lyrics he wrote and I would look up all the different words he used in my dictionary (when I should have been doing my school work) to try and understand what they all meant and how they related to the emotions he was delivering in his music.
The next album I brought on Cassette Tape was “Bleach” and this was in around June of 1995 whilst I was visiting my Nana and Pop in Brisbane (I lived in Mackay at the time). The reason I brought “Bleach” was because it had the song “About a Girl” on it which I had heard via their unplugged concert. I loved that song quite a bit and the album “Bleach” itself was quite an interesting record. Again, not because I’m some jerk-off purist but simply due to my journey I list “Bleach” as my second favourite Nirvana album. I feel that in 1995 and now in 2016 nothing sounds as middle finger as “Negative Creep” and the opening trilogy of “Blew,” “Floyd the Barber” and “About a Girl” is punk rock heaven. Then there is of course the amazing “School” and “Love Buzz” and not to mention the amazing second side of the album. I loved this album in 1995 and I still love it in 2016, it is one of the best debut albums ever and represents everything that a debut album should be.
This brings to me the moment that “Nevermind” came into my life. It was once again in 1995 and although I didn’t buy a copy of this album proper I did secure a cassette tape copy of it through a friend. To set the scene, in 1995 the grade seven humans traveled to Canberra for a week. It was a grade seven tradition and with the spending money I was given I was committed to buying a copy of “Nevermind” – unfortunately when we did make it to a shopping centre the music store was closed. A friend of mine at the time (my best friend) Stephen Angelucci informed me that he had a copy of it on Cassette tape (he had older brothers) and that if I wanted it he’d give it to me when we got back to Mackay. True to his word, Stephen gave me an original cassette tape copy of “Nevermind” with the only set back being that it didn’t have the inlay card / cover. This was a minor setback for me personally, I was just glad that I owned it.
The sound of “Nevermind” was overwhelming and the opening trilogy of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “In Bloom” and “Come As You Are” is flawless. Beyond being great punk rock it was great pop music and I would have to nominate “Lithium” as the first real “HOLY SHIT!!!!!” moment of the album for me. That song was so amazing; the way Kurt showcased such emotion simply by screaming the word “Yeah” over and over again is brilliant. The second side of the album has three of my favourite Nirvana songs ever “Drain You,” “Lounge Act” and “Something in the Way” all which showcase the genius of Nirvana, the collision of punk and pop skills.
I soon fixed the issue of not having the inlay card as well; we went to the local record store and asked if we could photocopy the inlay card via colour copying. The lady who owned the store let us do this because she knew us, so finally I had the inlay card for the album. In terms of Nirvana’s discography “Nevermind” is my fourth favourite album from the band.
By the end of 1995 I would own the remaining discography buying both “Insecticide” and “MTV Unplugged” on Cassette Tape with Birthday Money I received when I turned twelve in December 1995. This was also the same birthday where I got a brand new Walkman with not just bass boost but also an equalizer so I could adjust the sound. That was one of my favourite Birthday’s ever and I reckon that you Ipod generation fucks missed out on the joy of Walkman’s and cassette tapes, but I’ll save that indulgent rant for another blog.
My twelfth birthday also saw me get another piece of the Nirvana family tree, the debut self-titled album by Foo Fighters on cassette tape. It was given to me by my friend Lincoln Grady after I had raved to him and my Brother about how exciting it was that Dave Grohl was making music again.
Just a sidenote here, before he became the household name that he is now Dave Grohl was considered a joke by the music press and fellow Nirvana fans I knew at the time for starting his own band. He has earnt every inch of his success by fielding a very ugly backlash when he started Foo Fighters. That debut album from Foo Fighters is still one of the greatest albums ever and I’d certainly list it in my top eleven albums of all time. Back to the point, finally owning “Insecticide” gave me access to so many more awesome songs by Nirvana.
This is my third favourite album by the band and it contains my favourite Nirvana song of all time which is “Dive” and of course this is the album that has everyone’s teenage anthem “Aneurysm” but for me it is songs like “Stain,” “Hairspray Queen,” “Aero Zeppelin” and “Big Long Now” that really make this an amazing album.
In 1996 my brother overtook me as the biggest Nirvana fan ever and after he secured a job he upgraded to CD’s and a CD player and brought all of the Nirvana CD’s and Pearl Jam stuff. This meant that I got all of the Pearl Jam cassette tapes back and I resumed my love affair with the band. I continued to love Nirvana but it was bands like Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins and Metallica that started to take over my life in 1996. I remained a fan of Nirvana and to this day I still love and adore their music.
So when all is said and done, what does Nirvana and Kurt Cobain mean to me?
The music of Nirvana saved me when I was eleven going on twelve in 1995 and inspired my interest in punk rock, heavy metal, art, poetry and of course the currency of saying “fuck you” and going your own way. I didn’t feel the need to victimise myself as a result of Kurt’s influence because although I related to his lyrics and music I understood that his pain was far removed from mine. I had my own demons and my own pain and his music helped me identify that from a young age and how to use music as an outlet of escape and honest expression.
Nirvana taught me that music could be more than just entertainment and that it is indeed about honest and raw emotional expression. When I first dabbled on guitar, it was the music of Nirvana that I learnt and took great joy in playing. I’ve formed friendships with human beings over the love of Nirvana and most of all I’ve witnessed the way Nirvana inspired my brother Ben to become one of the most talented and gifted artists I know.
Kurt Cobain’s suicide may have been the death of the innocence that everyone talks about but with adult hindsight I view it as a selfish act committed by a confused and conflicted human being. To feel the way he did and to have the level of empathy that Kurt did put him in an unfortunate position. Kurt Cobain may have killed himself but for me it was the feeling of being misunderstood by his audience that really killed him and that his message of finding your own voice and own vehicle was being lost on the youth culture who looked to him as a saviour.
Kurt Cobain was not a god he was a human being and like all human beings he has the same emotions that fill all of us. He was given the burden of power and responsibility with the success of his band and whether he did or didn’t want to be the “spokesman of the generation” he is who we got. I’m always glad it was Kurt Cobain but I think the tragedy of it all is that he felt misunderstood and so lonely even in his success. To see people rip him off instead of finding their own individuality would have no doubt been frustrating. I find myself as an adult human getting mad that he took the easy way out and he didn’t find the personal and spiritual strength to live, to survive.
I never blame the pressure of success, his wife or the drugs for his death – I always blame the fans, mainstream culture and the media who misunderstood his message and to this day cash in on his creative legacy and genius. We all killed Kurt Cobain and that is a fact that I believe to this day.
After 19 years it still leaves me empty that we won’t get to hear how he would have evolved musically. I often believe he would have either gone more in the R.E.M. pop direction or possibly he may have gone more noise driven like Sonic Youth. Either way it would have been beautiful and relevant.
Kurt Cobain changed so much in our cultural landscape and for those of you who were born in the 90’s; you are all reaping the benefits of his legacy. The music industry changed and now has business / marketing templates for “alternative” bands. That was because of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. The mainstream culture accepted and now promotes “alternative” culture. That was because of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. A lot of people post 1991 started bands and brought guitars and some of them became famous and others became bedroom players only. That was because of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Triple J became a household name for being the “youth culture” radio network in Australia on a mainstream level. That was because of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.
So as you can see, Kurt Cobain has brought a lot of positive light to this world and after 22 years we are still not any closer to feeling satisfied or happy that it should of ended the way it did. The music landscape went to some ugly places after Nirvana ended and the grunge revivals and constant search for “the next Nirvana” continues to this day. We’ll never find it because in 1991 no one was looking for it. That is when revolution happens in art, when no one is looking for it and it always come from a band that no one initially cared about and is made by human beings who are outside of your popular agenda.
With the oversaturation of Alternative and Indie culture in music it is getting harder and harder for people to recognise that just because they feel “alienated” and play “angsty” music does not give them claim to be some sort of brand new “spokesperson” for youth culture. Trust fund babies who dress the part are not welcome at the revolution. You can put pearls on a swine, but it’s still a pig. The next Nirvana is the band you all laugh at and mock because they aren’t cool enough for your modern youth agenda. Trust me, the next Nirvana will be a band you already bully and mistreat.
The energy and feeling of youth culture in 1991 was that they felt misunderstood. Nirvana was the band they all connected with but Nirvana was just the end result of an underground punk scene that had been functioning for years. On paper you can indeed just call them a combination of Black Flag and R.E.M. but unlike those two bands Nirvana made music that resonated on a deeper emotional level. It was indeed a revolution and I believe that only the Beatles and Nirvana are relevant players in the nomination for who revolutionised Rock N Roll and pop culture.
We miss you Kurt Cobain and we say thank you for the music
May Nirvana’s legacy inspire youth culture for another million years
What better way to kick off our Daily Mixtape series than with a collection of Heavy and Weird’s favourite Nirvana songs which you can listen to via spotify:
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Dan Newton xo