It’s 30 Years Since the Death of Kurt Cobain

Yeah… It’ll happen on April 4th to be exact. I’m 46, so he was a seminal figure in my youth.

When I say seminal, I really do mean that. Nirvana wasn’t the first grunge band, but they were the first to really hit it big and there was symbolic value to them knocking off Michael Jackson from the number 1 spot on the US album charts with Nevermind. To me personally, Kurt Cobain was a gateway to a lot of music, which he promoted in his own way (like playing as many tracks from Meat Puppets II as from In Utero in their Unplugged set). All three of the bands albums are true classics, although admittedly I only got into Bleach at a much later age than 12 (which was my age in 1989 when the album was released).

There was a lot different reactions to Cobain’s death. There was stolen valor from people who never really were into Nirvana, but suddenly claimed to have all the time. There were people who decided that Nirvana was never really that good anyhow. Then there were weird takes like “Eddie Vedder [of Pearl Jam] should have been behind him”. It was kind of undescribable actually, because you don’t really have points of comparison.

As Cobain was part of the infamous 27 Club (famous people, mostly musicians, who have died at 27 like Robert Johnson, Brian Jones of Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse and the less often mentioned Anton Yelchin), he would have turned 57 this year. This got me thinking. What would have we thought about him, if he was still around? Compared to musicians of that age (meaning they were born in ’67), where would he be? Would he be mired in controversy like R. Kelly? I would hope not. Would he be destroying his legacy by making forgettable albums and spreading right-wing conspiracy theories in random podcasts like Billy Corgan? Would he have become completely irrelevant like Liz Phair? (Honestly, I don’t know if she’s irrelevant, but it also seems to me that noone has really paid attention to her since Exile in Guyville; but I’m also in my own bubble and it might just seem so in here.) Would he have died of an overdose like Kristen Pfaff (of Hole, his wife’s band) or Scott Weiland?

Here’s my dream scenario: Maybe he could have made one or two more albums with Nirvana, taking a totally different approach to their music and possibly alienating some of his earlier fans, but still making something that lives on for decades. And then just piece out. On top. Artistically, not in terms of fame. I mean, fame was what killed him. He could have retired from touring and let his band go their own ways, while painting in a nice little countryhouse and driving his daughter to school every day, popping out every once in a while to bring attention to a band he finds worthy or play a charity gig every once in a while.

How correct was Bill Watterson with what he did? Calvin & Hobbes is a seminal piece of art that so so many people have identified with. Yet, Watterson just left that behind to care for his father. No franchising (any apparel you might have seen has been illegally produced and usually doesn’t really get the characters), no horribe Calvin & Hobbes movie to tarnish the legacy. There must have been considerable pressure on him to just sell out, but he never did. I’m sure he made a shitton of money, but he could have made shitton squared. Yet, he we are. He just left the limelight, popping up so rarely that there are more unicorn sightings. (Although he did actually make something new with The Mysteries just last year.)

It would be easy to remember Cobain as the guy who died, but that would also be just false. He wouldn’t be remmebered the way he is, if he wasn’t big already. Of course, fame should not be a measure of ones worth (see Borlaug, Norman; Guy, Alice; Franklin, Rosalind), but at the same time, fame can be used for good. In Cobain’s case his meer existence made so many people feel seen.

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