April 5, 2004 marked the 10 year anniversary since Kurt Cobain fired a fatal shot heard around the world, cementing his own untimely death that left fans and family members to mourn. Cobain’s unique voice and poetic lyrics still haunt the music world, captured through Nirvana’s ever-lasting music. It’s been a decade since the voice of Generation X was silenced. In a music industry littered with generic rock bands and glamorous pop stars, his music proved to be rock n’ roll’s final cry, before drowning in an industry concerned more about profit than music and creativity.Nirvana was the first band I was attracted to, and they opened my pre-adolescent ears to several bands that grew more important to me with age. My ears engulfed the raw sound of Bleach, the polished punk sound on Nevermind, the low-fi, experimental music of In Utero, and the haunting, final farewell of the MTV Unplugged album. The band’s music was riveting, honest, and pure.
I never had the fortune of attending a live Nirvana show. Instead, I only viewed the band’s performances on fuzzy VHS tapes and bootlegs. I watched Cobain howl into the microphone, Dave Grohl pound on the drums, and Kris hop around on stage with his bass. The band ran through such classics as “Drain You,” “Been a Son,” “Sliver,” and “In Bloom.” On tape, the band’s energy seemed to explode from the stage, grasping the attention of the audience, only to release it when the show was over. By the time I dove into the music, Cobain had already killed himself. Like many others, I was only left with the band’s brief catalogue of albums.
Nirvana emerged from the dreary atmosphere of Seattle with an audio assault on hair metal that dominated MTV and mainstream America in the 1980s. The band created a musical revolution, opening a floodgate for numerous alternative bands that swept the music scene in the 1990s. Nirvana buried bands such as Poison, Cinderella, Warrant, Motley Crue, and other acts that cared more about hairs pray than musical substance.
Nirvana’s Nevermind album was released in 1991, and it climbed up the charts. By 1992, the album bumped Michael Jackson’s Dangerous out of the top slot, and Nirvana were the new kings of the music industry. “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “In Bloom” and “Come as You Are” became anthems that conquered MTV and mainstream airwaves across the country. The follow up album, In Utero, offered more glistening musical gems such as “Dumb” “All Apologies” and “Heart-Shaped Box.” The album quickly went platinum, selling millions of copies worldwide. Nirvana’s rapid success ushered in the success of Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, The Smashing Pumpkins and other alternative rock darlings.
With success, Cobain’s troubles only increased. He turned to isolation and heroin, which would ultimately lead to his downfall. Cobain grew up in the punk rock scene, a scene that spoke out against consumerism, major labels, and manufactured music. Punk rock preached making music for the sake of making music, not music to be exploited and fed to the masses. Kurt’s success was a challenge to his own ideals, and he resented rock stardom. His super-star status was only another issue piled on the tragic rock star’s life. Cobain grew up in a broken home, and he was homeless for a period as a teenager. His only refuge was music and art.
Nirvana’s last memorable performance was recorded late in 1993, when the band played on MTV’s “Unplugged” series. From the opening track, “About a Girl,” the performance proved to be memorable. The only hit the band performed was “Come as You Are.” Instead, they did other tracks such as “Dumb,” “Pennyroyal Tea” and a cover of the Meatpuppet’s “Lake Of Fire.” The performance proved that the band wasn’t just loud and raw, they were solid musicians who could transform their sound into a beautiful acoustic set. Today, listening to Kurt’s quiet voice sing over his acoustic guitar on the “Unplugged” album is terribly eerie and haunting. The performance of Kurt hunched over his guitar, struggling to smile between songs is one of the last memories he left with the world. But before that horrific April day came, when Cobain decided to end his life, the acoustic performance was Cobain’s last release. His struggle and desire to escape was captured best by the sigh he released at the end of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?,” a Ledbelly cover that the band played at the end of the acoustic set.
If it wasn’t for Nirvana, I wouldn’t have discovered bands like X, Black Flag, The Buzzcocks, Jawbreaker, and other punk rock bands I listen to today. Nirvana’s punk rock influence led me to develop my musical liking. However, Kurt’s suicide was foolish and selfish. What musical territory could Nirvana have explored if he didn’t end his life? His untimely death was unfair to his daughter, Francis Bean, and his wife, Courtney Love, as well as millions of Nirvana fans left to grieve. Cobain was rock’s last icon. He was a man who created poetic, ironic lyrics that resonated with millions. The 10 year anniversary of Cobain’s death reminds me of the musical revolution Nirvana created, ushering in an era where bands cared about substance and creativity far more than a manufactured image.
Brian Fanelli is a sophomore majoring in Comparative Literature.