If you were the kind of person to be interested in all things magical, mystical and occultish, you might recognise the power significance of the number 23. On April 5th (we presume) twenty-three years ago, Kurt Donald Cobain lead singer of Nirvana, husband to Hole frontwoman Courtney Love and father to Frances Bean, committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. Twenty three years later we’re still talking about him and there is something about the Black-Sheep God which seems indelibly etched on our musical psyche.
Kurt was the last true rock musician. His untimely death at the age of 27 marked the coming of a new age for music. As soon as the underground punk rock movement was seized upon and subsequently capitalised by Geffen and myriad commercial entities, its fundamental essence began to fragment and dilute spawning a plethora of category-C Nirvana wannabees. In the subsequent year that followed his death, the U.S market appeared to branch off in several directions – notably rap, post-grunge and RnB. Over on our fair shores we quietly cleared away our flannel shirts and Converse trainers to make way for all things Britpop, mixed in with sickly-sweet Spice Girls’ pop-paraphernalia for good measure.
Generation X ended with Cobain and we’re unlikely to see anything of his kind again. In the advent of glossy filtered social media where ‘celebrities’ drip from taps, even today’s golden buzz stars vanish in the blink of an eye to be replaced by younger, fresher, newer models. Gone are the days when an Aberdeen, Washington-based garage band could lay down some songs on a cassette, post them off to college radio stations and wind up becoming the biggest rock-band on the planet.
In his diaries talking about the late 80s, Cobain wrote: ‘This is a subliminal example of a society that has sucked and fucked itself into a rehashing value of greed’. This was a person who could see where things were heading and was eager to keep alive the authenticity of punk-rock whilst the record companies created plastic McPunk franchises. Retrospectively, it seems almost satirical. As Cobain dug in his heels of individuality – the corporations sold his message as a slogan; something which he lashed out at in the lyrics of In Bloom: He’s the one, Who likes all our pretty songs, And he likes to sing along, And he likes to shoot his gun, But he knows not what it means.
Appreciating how Kurt’s personal style was primarily influenced by him being utterly skint in the early days, it’s now cringe worthy to see widow Courtney Love cashing in on a ‘grunge clothing line’ with Nasty Gal including a ‘Come as You Are’ bomber jacket. It’s just too lazy to water down his iconic musical genius and legacy down to, ‘angst, rock and flannel shirts’ any more than you can summarise the 60’s counter-culture revolution as, ‘making the peace sign, wearing long hair and beads and saying man a lot.’
The journalist Charles Cross recalled: ‘There were several periods of Kurt’s life where he was so poor he lived in a car. The time after “Nevermind” was recorded, Kurt was evicted when they were in Los Angeles making the album because he hadn’t paid his rent. He came home to find his stuff on the curb, and he had to sleep in his car, this after just recording an album that would sell 30 million copies.”
In 2010, Love reportedly relinquished rights to Cobain’s name and likeness in exchange for a $2.75 million loan from the trust of the couple’s only child, Frances Bean Cobain. The brand of Kurt Cobain—his estate was recently valued at $450 million—is clearly big business, and will grow as Nirvana is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame today. The brand though has little to do with Kurt, as he said “The worst crime is faking it.” Kurt was genuine, many that have subsequently lived off his legacy just faked it.