Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain took his life 23 years ago today. His influential artistry left a lasting impression on music and pop culture. So what’s changed in the generation since his meteoric rise and sudden departure?
Twenty-three years ago today, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain shocked the world with his suicide. It’s been well documented that Kurt struggled with the pressures of fame, and the expectations of being dubbed “the voice of a generation,” but few would dispute he was exactly that. Through his guitar, his songwriting, his public persona and even his sudden death, he shifted the flow of popular culture.
So how has the world changed since Kurt shook arenas and dorm rooms alike with his distinct sound and raw emotions? Here’s a look how the music icon continues to make his mark a generation later:
Nirvana, of course, popularized the Seattle sound known as grunge music, opening the door for alternative rock to reach larger audiences. Kurt’s highly personal songwriting paved the way for more raw introspection in music and has influenced artists across a range of genres, from alternative metal band Linkin Park to pop-rockers Fall Out Boy to hip-hop MC Lil Wayne, who have all credited Kurt as an influence.
With his punk upbringings, Kurt never quite adjusted to the machinations of the music industry; he even appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a t-shirt that read “Corporate Magazines Still Suck.” However, in the same year he died, Aerosmith heralded a sea change by introducing the internet’s first free downloadable track. The subsequent rise of file-sharing systems provided an outlet for bands of all stripes, ultimately transforming the industry business model and eroding the influence of traditional radio stations, MTV and Rolling Stone. Kurt no doubt would have enjoyed the freedom to release tracks at his own whim, as well as the opportunities provided to the lesser-known bands he often plugged.
Rockers have long doubled as activists, and Kurt’s stance on societal issues manifested through his calls for equality. His attitude is best summed up in the liner notes for Nirvana’s compilation album Insecticide (1992): “If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us – leave us the f*** alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.” This strain of progressivism gained steam through the 1990s, and the explosion of the internet and social media provided additional forums for like-minded individuals. Of course, it also opened the door for the backlash to “political correctness” that features prominently in today’s cultural battles.
Like with music, fashion trends come and go on their own, but Kurt left his own indelible mark on the industry. Along with the standard flannel shirts and ripped jeans associated with the grunge movement, the rocker often sported an ensemble that included multiple layers, torn cardigans and oversized sunglasses. Not to mention the occasional dress. A peek at the runway and shop windows reveals that physical reminders of Kurt remain alive and well in the world of fashion.
Flesh and Blood
Fans may recall that Kurt was also briefly a father. Now 24, Frances Bean Cobain is almost as old as her famous dad when his life ended, and has begun carving out her own identity as a visual artist, singer and model. She’s embraced Kurt’s legacy, notably helping to produce the 2015 documentary Kurt Cobain: To Heck and Back; however she also claims she isn’t a Nirvana fan, thereby demonstrating that, along with her looks, she takes after her old man with a strong independent streak.