Kurt Cobain died 20 years ago today

Seeing exactly this at my parents’ house is how I found out about Kurt Cobain’s death in April 1994. Although I was as shocked as anyone, I didn’t know about the full story until years later, when I saw BBC’s The Seven Ages of Rock. I’ve always known about it by and large – heroin addiction, unable to cope with the maelstrom of commercial success he so openly made a mockery of. But not until then did I hear about the terrifying bleakness of Cobain’s addiction, his overdose and hospitalization in Rome just one month prior to his death and his insistence on their November 1993 MTV Unplugged session looking like a funeral. And also: the close friendship between Kurt Cobain and Michael Stipe, and Stipe’s failed attempt to lure Cobain away from his downward spiral, faking a made-up collaboration project he wanted Cobain to join him on. It still remains a very tragic story.

It’s also in retrospect that I’ve come to realize the importance of Nirvana to the music I’ve so dearly loved since then. Of course Nirvana themselves today still sound every bit as vigorous and sincere as they did back then. But they opened the floodgates to many bands that are very important to me now. No, bloody fucking Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and a whole slew of other acts that went and ran with a counterfeit of Nirvana’s legacy are not what I mean. What I do mean is that Nirvana chose to play “The Man Who Sold the World” right after “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” on their MTV Unplugged session, in one broad stroke making tiny little Glasgow band the Vaselines equally important in the Great Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as David Bowie. They invited another little unknown band up on stage, the Meat Puppets, to play no less than three of their songs with to a television audience of millions. They publicly spoke up for bands that influenced them and actively supported bands that sprang from the same lineage they themselves did. It’s like Cobain realized he gained his immense success partly by just being lucky, something he wished upon his peers even more than upon himself.

Kurt Cobain’s influence on indie rock can’t be overstated, not even as much musically as more so in spirit. He relentlessly supported his own folk – I mean, check out this picture of Cobain saluting both Sebadoh and K Records. It made me realize there had to be more below the surface than what I before had been exposed to – something to be very grateful for.