“Our late editor is dead, he died of death, which killed him.”
– John Lennon
20 years ago today, Kurt Cobain ended his life in the space above his garage outside his home in Washington. The career of one of the most-heralded musicians of the ‘90s was snuffed out with his sudden passing, and numerous fans around the world started mourning a hero/ voice of a generation. That mourning continues in 2014.
The act of writing about Cobain’s death is difficult to accomplish without resorting to a sort of emotional bias or cold academic critique. He was a popular singer, guitarist and songwriter for only a few short years before his death, and his band, Nirvana, produced very few albums during his lifetime. However, just the fact that significant media attention will no doubt be focused on the 20th anniversary of his death, as well as the date his body was discovered, April 8th, seemingly proves that the impact of this one person is still worth writing about today, in a world whose musical focus of late appears more concerned with dope beats and inane pop starlets than primal rock or punk.
And why not? This very month Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, or at least its most well-known incarnation, featuring bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl (sorry Chad Channing and Pat Smear), will be inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Let’s just throw the “grunge” classification out the window. Nirvana, apart from some moments on its debut album Bleach, was never really a grunge band. But as the spearhead of a significant wave of groups that exploded in popularity during the early ‘90s, Kurt and company now also act as the first entrant into the realm of the elder rock state signified by their forthcoming entrenchment into a memorabilia-stuffed building in Cleveland, Ohio.
Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains – these bands and more will likely be following suit in the next few years (at least they should be), but Nirvana will be the first, an honor partially motivated by Cobain’s death and his group’s subsequent election to hallowed status.
Let the guessers guess how the remaining band members will mark the occasion. Will they perform? Will they play some of Kurt’s songs sans Kurt? How would Cobain himself have responded to the news of his induction? These questions are all moot.
Death is the great separator. Loneliness, depression, guilt – all of these emotions follow the end of a life. But 20 years after Kurt Cobain’s death there is also the option to celebrate the life of a man, who still means a lot to so many.
Over the next few days, news reports will serve their token amount of history and conjecture, but for all interested parties there is always the music to fall back on. Crank up Nirvana at a party, or listen alone at home. Play along with your own distorted electric guitar, or strum away on a gentle acoustic. The body of Kurt Cobain may no longer exist, but his sound lives on and we are all witness to the reverberations of his final note, held long, held true, and still making listeners cock their heads and notice 20 years later.
12 years on, but the loss of Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley on this same day is also felt with a heavy heart and tempered soul.