On Feb. 20, 1967, the world changed forever when a man who would grow up to change music as the world knew it was born. Now fifty years later, we celebrate the long-lasting legacy of that same man: Kurt Cobain. It’s a name that everyone knows; the only conflicting viewpoint is what everyone knows him for. Some may know him for his powerful vocals or his gut-wrenching lyrics while others know him for his guitar riffs, or establishment of the grunge genre. Everyone can agree that there wasn’t much he couldn’t do and the world lost him much too soon.
Cobain was the lead singer and guitarist of the world-renowned band Nirvana. In addition to his instrumental and vocal gifts, he was a lyricist, poet, and artist. The guitar-heavy musical stylings of Nirvana paved the way for a whole new variety of rock music that would last long after Cobain’s death, but that is only one way that Cobain changed music as we know it. Let’s take a look to see just how different our lives would be without Kurt Cobain.
Modern songs would reveal no emotion.
If you were to ask a group of people what they do when they are sad, I can guarantee over half of them would answer, “Listen to music.” Why is that? It’s because the lyrics in certain songs give them something to relate to, making them feel less alone. That’s why people going through breakups listen to breakup songs, people grieving a loss listen to songs about loss, etc. Well, many songs like this would not exist without Kurt Cobain.
Nirvana is known for having song lyrics so gut-wrenching and soul-touching that there are literally thousands of different analyses on the Internet of what they truly mean, all of which were written by Cobain. Beautifully-written singles like “Lithium,” “Heart-Shaped Box,” and the ever-popular “Smells Like Teen Spirit” received much radio play, opening the door for other mainstream artists to start exploring emotional songwriting as well. If Cobain had not opened that door, iconic songs with deep lyrics such as “Hello” by Adele, “Fix You” by Coldplay, and “Stay” by Rihanna would be completely taboo; instead, we would be stuck in an era of catchy synthetic 80s pop music with shallow meanings (no offense, Rick Astley).
Every musician would be untouchable.
Prior to Nirvana’s establishment, attending concerts meant dropping several paychecks on nosebleed tickets where you wouldn’t even be able to make out who was on the stage. Everything changed when Nirvana rolled around. It was no secret that Kurt Cobain was not a fan of being a celebrity, so he kept his band’s gigs small and intimate. He didn’t perform for the sake of making money; instead, he performed to let the world hear his music. The underground-rock vibes created by Nirvana established a new kind of concert that was smaller, cheaper, and much more intimate, fusing artists and their fans into one being for the night. Without Kurt Cobain’s establishment of this way of bonding, our favorite local concert venues like The Ritz and Lincoln Theatre would not exist, and we would not have a way of seeing our favorite artists in person unless it was through a big screen.
Our relationship with music would be much more estranged.
Nirvana was known for its passionate, devoted fan-following. People found Cobain’s lyrics as relatable as his guitar riffs were catchy; this combination established an almost cult-like following for which Cobain was incredibly grateful. He normalized having a serious connection with his audience. Danny Goldberg, manager of the 80s rock band Sonic Youth, once saw Nirvana live and said, “I was stunned how intimate the relationship was between Kurt and the audience, even with material that a lot of people didn’t know. There was something about the way he performed that made him seem like a member of the audience and being on stage at the same time.” Cobain was aware of the impact he had on the people who felt so passionately about his music and used it to connect with them while on stage. If he had not established this artist-fan relationship, we would not feel nearly as connected to music as we do today. We all have artists we love, whether it’s pop bands like One Direction or R&B artists like The Weeknd; however, we would probably love them a lot less if Cobain had not introduced an emotional connection with music into pop culture.
We would not be as familiar with the pain of losing someone we don’t know personally.
While Kurt Cobain’s life made an incredible impact on the world, the loss of it was even greater. On April 8, 1994, Cobain’s lifeless body was discovered in a guest house above his garage; following an intense struggle with addiction, he had taken his own life. While the public was semi-aware of his struggles, the shock of the loss hit everyone hard. Two days after the discovery of his body, over seven thousand people gathered in the Seattle Center to mourn the loss of the rock star. For weeks after the loss, fans united to remember the man who made them feel less alone just with the sound of his voice.
In death, Cobain taught the world that losing someone you never knew personally could hurt just as badly as losing someone you did know personally. However, the loss of the icon told the world that it’s okay to hurt over someone you did not know. This prepared us for the future losses of other artists like Michael Jackson, Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Selena…the list goes on. The life of Kurt Cobain shaped an entire generation and told us that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. His life may have been cut short, but his memory will live on eternally. Rest in peace, Kurt Cobain; we all know that we would not be the same without you.