20 years after – The true legacy of Kurt Cobain

Ioana Nica

I was 10 years younger than he was when he passed away. And nowadays I’m 10 years older than he was at that time. And I’ve been thinking of him every day since. Or at least this is what I like to believe.

Since last October’s nomination for the Music Hall of Fame until the induction ceremony a few days ago, passing through the commemoration of Kurt’s death on April 5, I have assisted with great mixture of feelings to a huge wave of press articles about Nirvana. An explosion of media coverage for the band, Kurt Cobain and Seattle grunge scene. Just as if it had been 1991 all over again. It made me smile, it made me cry. It made me relive my teen age era. It brought back a wide range of emotions I felt in the past. A wave so unexpectedly huge that I couldn’t find the strength or the time to filter or inquire them. I was just and simply emotionally reactive. And I didn’t want to be otherwise as I didn’t want to break the magic: Nirvana was on the spot again. For old time fans and new listeners’ generation.

Despite the fantastic return, there will be always some unshakable shadows cast upon the grunge style that rose so quickly from a remote area to win the world in the 90s. I guess the media had a most difficult task: deliver a good exposure for a guy who actually killed himself. Loaded up a gun and blew his brains out. Combined with the use of drugs and the gloomy lyrics, anyone has big arguments to dismantle Nirvana’s fame.

I read a lot of responsible articles, but sometimes they seemed to be written too carefully, so considerately that they could have applied to any rock star on this planet: Cobain was a product of his generation and the political times he lived when he was a child, social and family unfortunate background, couldn’t face the challenges of the mainstream pressure, victim of the music industry machine, his great influence on the following bands and alternative music and so on.

New but insignificant facts related to his death were made public. A tasteless commercial for beer came up putting Cobain on the same level of celebrity as Elvis or John Lennon. Everybody cleaned out the drawers for unused forgotten photographs which now proved of being valuable then ever. I guess this state of uniforming him with common sense clichés made me kind of sad. At the same time, among some other good media actions, NME magazine had a brilliant statement on the dedicated cover: “Forget about the shotgun and the drugs. It was always about the music.” It was indeed. But how come?

Similar in a way to the punk scene, Nirvana emerged almost out of nowhere and it was never about setting up a musical trend or comforting teenagers. Drifted by the tendencies of their times, signing a good label and have good producers and promotion, Nirvana shaped itself to become better but it was never about music virtuosity. So, how come the impact, deepness, fame and resistance over time?

Obviously, there are external factors who kept the spirit alive. The greatness of Dave Grohl, who never forgot where he came from and paid his respect every single time he got the chance. The disarming silliness of Courtney Love who instinctively fed both the love and hate of fans over the years. The other bands of the grunge scene that continued their carriers and proved that we witnessed a style which was and still is intense even if it was not hugely represented in number: Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots. For the most rational and restrained among the audiences, this could be a good reason to buy any re-issued edition of a Nirvana album.

There is only one cliché I’m going to use: there is no Nirvana without Kurt Cobain. It’s a sad story no matter how hard we try to wrap it up in shining silver paper. It’s a story about a guy who named his band Nirvana, freedom from pain and suffering while singing about pain and suffering. A guy who named his songs “Blew”, “Sliver”, “Come as You Are”, “Heart-Shaped Box”, “Lithium”, “Even in His Youth”. A guy who was talking about suicide, guns, pain, rage, his aching childhood and human atrocities with a smile on his face. Always trying to put an act on top of his act of running away, hoping that this way the pain will be buried so deep that would be either forgotten or lost forever.

For those of us who are introverts and emotional, he is the story of the little inner child sending out messages that something is not right about this constant fear of living. Messages that everyone hears but no one listens to them. Because sometimes ignoring is the only thing to do. Most of the times we choose to ignore. We choose to ignore the unhappiness and depressing things in our lives. We choose to stay children or became distorted adults. And the best way to hide the pain that no one can understand is just … smiling. I put the success of Nirvana on the account of any of these survivors. The survivors of most dark feelings, of any grade. The legacy of Nirvana is not in the evolution of music. What came after can be hardly named progress, it was just the extension of an image and bands struggling to survive or conform to the music industry rules.

Stores are already full of tennis shoes and sneakers. I expect a new wave of grunge bands soon. But there is no where any sign of Kurt’s smile. Behind his smile lays everything that one will never know. But there are people out there who get that. Many of us. And we don’t do drugs. And we didn’t kill ourselves. And we continue smiling. And sometimes we even laugh hard at the absurdity evil. Even though “The worse crime is faking it. (Kurt Cobain) “.


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