As the world remembers Kurt Cobain 18 years on, we look back at an archive feature from the anniversary of his death last year. Let us know what Nirvana means to you below
If you’re one of those people wondering why there’s been so much brouhaha about some rock star who died over a decade ago, then watch the clip below. 18 years ago today, Kurt Cobain’s body was discovered in his house by a Seattle electrician. Two days later, thousands of fans gathered outside Seattle’s EMP Centre to hold a vigil for their fallen idol: the poster boy of the ‘slacker’ generation who was dead at 27 years old, courtesy of a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head.
You won’t spot me in the video, because I was 7 years old and only interested by Lego and dinosaurs, but wait six years for spotty skin, patchy bum fluff and a squeaky voice to welcome me to pubescence, and Nirvana would become my first musical obsession: the band whose back catalogue and biography I’d scour zealously, unable to rest until I’d heard every last one of their shoddy demos and half-baked out-takes.
Although this unashamed fanboyism was inspired by an ill-fated attempt to impress a girl that resulted in unrequited love (me), embarrassment (both of us) and heartbreak (me again), it endured way beyond adolescent lust and self-loathing. And even though I’ve been seduced by nastier and noisier fare since, I’ve still spent this week dusting off my old copies of ‘Nevermind’ and ‘In Utero’ to remember why Nirvana were so important to me.
When Cobain was weathered by reluctant stardom and the Albatross of ‘Nevermind’ still hanging round his neck, he conjured up a killer opening line for ‘Serve The Servants’, the first track from ‘In Utero’: “Teenage angst has paid off well/ Now I’m bored and old”. Similarly, it’s hard for me to replicate my teenage misanthropy that made Nirvana feel so vital before, but that doesn’t mean there are no pleasures left to plunder.
Indeed, while no amount of ‘growing up’ will ever dull the brilliance of ‘Lithium’, ‘Heart Shaped Box’ and the like, it’s the moments which go further than mere quiet/loud dynamics and tortured wailings that I revisit now, like this appearance on Top Of The Pops. Narked off with being forced to play over a backing track, Cobain hams it up for a lounge-lizard rendition of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ that he later claimed was a tribute to Morrissey.
Their ‘Unplugged In New York’ album, meanwhile, may be shorn of their most recognisable tracks, but the covers of David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and Leadbelly’s ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’ are almost unbearably brittle and intimate. On the latter, Cobain lets out an audible and contended sigh before the final note, as if he’s relieved to have made it through the ordeal unscathed.
And while nobody is ever likely to use a copy of ‘Bleach’ as bedroom music fodder, ‘Dive’ – hidden away on compilation LP ‘Insecticide’ – is probably the most filthy-sounding track they ever produced. It’s dirty, swaggering sound certainly grabbed Courtney Love’s attention: she later described it as “My favourite Nirvana song. It’s so sexy.”
So forget the fact that grunge is now a distant memory, or that Dave Grohl has far eclipsed Nirvana’s popularity with the stadium-pillaging success of the Foo Fighters. What are your favourite Kurt Cobain memories and moments? Let us know below…