Today, 22 years ago, a legend left our world—Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. No, I don’t mean the Nirvana t-shirt you bought at Forever21, I’m talking about the band that single handedly changed music forever. This is a great deal because of the man in which this post is written in honor of.
The late lead vocalist, guitarist, and lyrical genius of the band Nirvana, said it best when he described punk rock as musical freedom—saying and doing as one pleases. Webster’s Dictionary defines, ‘nirvana’ as the freedom from pain, suffering and the external world. I truly believe, as did Kurt, that music opens one’s eyes to the world and allows you to see it in a different light — one filled with unconscious, yet, inspiring differences.Nirvana became the voice of a new generation that was very much skeptical with their future, of the world, and of music and the one who led this generation was none other than Kurt. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ with its opaque lyrics about apathy and angst, was quickly hailed as the anthem for a youthful demographic.
Nirvana catered to the growing popularity of “alternative” sound, beginning with the Lollapalooza festivals and their own Seattle grunge scene. The mosaic that alternative rock poses consisted of a disheveled appearance, unpolished sound, and harboring the value of authenticity. More specifically, Grunge came to be seen as not only the latest style of music and fashion, but as an emblem that refuted superficiality and materialism found in the preceding decade. The ascendance of Nirvana was significant since they personified modesty and sincerity in a world that was almost fixated on the complete opposite. I remember the first time I heard ‘Come As You Are’, granted a ~few~ years after the song was originally released back in 1991. But I remember hearing the song and thinking to myself, “What is this? This speaks to me in a way that nothing I’d heard before had”. The beauty in this is that the feelings the song explores the contradictions people face in their everyday lives is something that is generational.
Now sadly, I never was lucky enough to see Nirvana preform live. I suppose seeing the Foo Fighters with my man David Grohl is the closest I’ll get but hey, I’m not complaining! . There was something about the way in which Kurt preformed that made him seem like a member of the audience while simultaneously being on stage. Cobain appeared as ‘one of them’— in the way he dressed, the songs he wrote, and the things he said and how he said it. One of the most unique elements that separated Nirvana from other bands was Kurt’s voice— his wails were a separate, prominent instrument in the band’s overall sound. Rather than standing out as a figure of aspiration, he was more like a recapitulated vessel of their thoughts and feelings.
Nirvana drew a line across music history that announced that there was a time before them, and that there would be time after them; but the in-between, that type of magic can never be replicated again. What Nirvana did was something extraordinary— they came to be during a time that was immensely deprived of any passion or emotion for anything. They gave a purpose to an un-fulfilled generation who was simply longing for something in which they could devout themselves to. Nirvana produced a template in which a myriad of other bands mirrored themselves after, bands like Blink-182 (heart emoji and a lot of happy faces) who even mirrored a verse of “Come As You Are” in their song “Adam’s Song” — “I took my time, I hurried up, The choice was mine, I didn’t think enough” (Hoppus). Illustrating the slacker-to-success ethos of the early ’90s, Nirvana spoke to a generation who wasn’t exactly sure who they were, but knew who they didn’t want to be.
But the world is a much different place now, with new emotions and new ideals that have yet to be fully captured in song. Society will never all be disaffected New York hipsters or wannabe rappers of the late ’90s rap-rock variety.