The sound of frantic, distorted, six-string squeals thick with fury and drenched with the agonizing, throat ripping vocals of a tortured soul can still be heard pouring out of speakers and headphones, connecting with a new generation even more jaded than the legend who created this musical chaos. It will soon be 20 years since grunge legend and the voice of alienated youth everywhere, Kurt Cobain, committed suicide, yet despite the passage of time, his legacy continues to live on. To say that the music Cobain and his band Nirvana created changed things would be an understatement. If time is spent analyzing the lyrical content, as well as the behind-the-scenes antics of this larger-than-life, punk-rock-meets-the-Beatles, angst ridden poet, it is clear that he was a creative genius.
That genius is finally getting honored this year as Nirvana will be officially inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. This is a testament to the impact that Cobain and his band of plaid-wearing gurus has had not only on the music industry, but on popular culture as well. Countless books have been written about the man, the myth, and the legend, each presenting a unique portrait that further endears Cobain to his fans, an endearment that began with the release of the group’s first commercial success, the 1991 album, Nevermind.
The first song released off of the album is the now iconic Smells Like Teen Spirit, a tune Cobain said was his attempt at creating the ultimate pop song. With slurred lyrics, raw energy, and a theme of teen rebellion and cynicism, the song found a home with teenagers who felt out of place, who were experiencing a raging concoction of emotions and hormones that caused a fluctuation of mood similar to the composition of the tune itself. Smells Like Teen Spirit shot Nirvana to the top of the charts, propelling the shy yet articulate Cobain into the spotlight. While he always considered himself an artist and loved playing for his fans, it is clear that being the center of attention made Cobain uncomfortable.
The Nirvana front man was not just a typical tortured soul, but he also suffered a lot of pain and misery from physical ailments, namely a chronic stomach condition. Some of Cobain’s drug use was an attempt to find relief from the constant pain he endured, rather than a simple desire to get high. Cobain often said that drug use was a waste of time, they were a destructive force to ruin a person’s self-esteem and respect. While this seems hypocritical, realizing that his use was for medicinal purposes, rather than just the typical rock star party debauchery helps to put this complex aspect of the singer’s life in perspective.
Every so often, a musician like Cobain comes along who is able to to channel his essence into his craft, and connect his soul to the millions of people who pick up an album and hear the message. The message Nirvana sent out to young people across the world and throughout the ages is that they are not alone. The painful self-discovery, depression, first heartaches, and longing for a place to belong have been endured before, as crushing as those times can be. The confusing cocktail of emotions can find an outlet, a release through the tortured, rage-filled screams of someone just as angry, who has gone through similar experiences. As long as teenagers go through puberty, get bullied, or are ignored, they have a voice to express their pain in Kurt Cobain, and this is part of the legacy he will be remembered for after another 20 years has come and gone.
Opinion by Michael Cantrell