Kurt Cobain‘s messy blonde locks, tumultuous relationship with Courtney Love, and melodic-meets-distorted rock and roll defined a decade for many of those who came of age during it. Nirvana was so much more than music to ’90s kids — the three-piece band from south of Seattle who started out as nobody contributed to our sense of style, politics, and even our sense of self.
1. Nirvana made the rock and roll "dream" a reality.
This isn’t to say that Cobain and his bandmates were particularly thrilled to be gracing corporate magazine covers throughout their heyday, but their story is the standard musician’s fairy tale: three kids from a small town played uncompromising, expressive music and rose to fame and fortune because of it.
2. Grunge fashion changed the way kids thought about clothing.
Especially for angsty teens growing up without a ton of money, Nirvana altered the role and direction of fashion. Ripped jeans, flannel shirts and anything else comfy dominated magazines and high school hallways. Nirvana championed thrift store savvy far before Macklemore & Lewis got ahold of the concept.
3. Finally, depression was something we could talk about.
Cobain’s self-loathing and anger spiraled into a depression-fueled frenzy of lyrics that we could identify with. All of a sudden, kids suffering from impenetrable sadness, be it a pubescent downswing or permanent emotional troubles, had an ally and a forum in which to address their issues. Nirvana gave us the opportunity to realize that we were not alone in our misery.
4. Nirvana stripped the glamour from an industry that thrived on it.
The groundbreaking "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came with an equally groundbreaking video. There was no spandex, no hairspray, and not a supermodel in sight. This portrayal of a more realistic youth was something that spoke to everyone who didn’t fit in between the pages of magazines.
5. Kurt and Courtney’s volatile and passionate love affair changed the way we look at celebrity relationships.
The past decade’s Snookie or R. Kelly drama may take up headlines left and right, but little compares to the way we watched Kurt and Courtney unfold in the spotlight. Not since Sid and Nancy has rock and roll produced such a fascinating and heartbreaking union.
6. Cobain made us think for ourselves.
Beyond his lyrics, Cobain spoke in interviews of political and social issues. He was the spokesperson for the validity of grassroots campaigns and guerilla marketing. His statements and his music encouraged us to question tradition, authority and even ourselves. Cobain helped to create a generation of independent, thoughtful young adults poised to challenge and deconstruct societal norms.
7. Nirvana re-legitimized music in an era of overproduced pop and soulless hair metal.
Everyone knows Nirvana is the sire to the alternative music genre, but every once in a while it’s interesting to take a step back and look at the other number one artists in Billboard’s Top 200 the year Nevermind was released: Garth Brooks, Def Leppard, Kris Kross, Michael Bolton, and Michael Jackson (who Nirvana knocked out of the number one spot in January, 1992).
8. Nirvana will always be the soundtrack to our youth.
Still garnering quite a bit of terrestrial radio play, Nirvana songs are unavoidable. And for most ’90s kids, the first chord of any Nirvana tune is enough to bring memories of our teenage years flooding back—whether we want them to or not.
9. The age of the Nevermind baby will always make us feel old.
Every generation has its own iconic imagery. Ours was an infant’s genitalia. Spencer Elden, the Nevermind baby, is now 22 years old (at the time of publication). Think about that for a second.
|Nirvana’s Nevermind Album Art: Then & Now … Spencer Elden recreates his iconic pose for the album’s 20th anniversary (2011).|
10. Cobain’s death was the shot heard ’round the world — again.
When Kurt Cobain left this earth, he left behind a legion of followers who were crushed, disenchanted and angry. He also left behind a legacy — not only with his music, but in the way he forced our generation to operate outside the box and mature into a group of adults capable of thinking for themselves and in turn, changing the world in our own way.