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Commentary: 19 years after death, Kurt Cobain still cultural icon of rock music

Courtesy of Sub Pop Records

Disney’s “Lion King” debuted in theaters. Steve Jobs returned to Apple. The “Star Trek” TV series ended. In 19 years, a lot has happened. 

Yet former Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain and his influence are still tangible within the world. 

Friday marked 19 years since Cobain was found dead in his home in Seattle. 

At 27 years old, the world lost one of the great innovators of rock music. 

Say what you want about Cobain – mention the conspiracy theories or the better rock legends – but what is undeniable is his status as a musical icon. Not only did he infiltrate the music industry but the fashion industry as well. 

Cobain joined the ranks of Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, among others in the “27 Club.” All died at the exact same age: 27. This is not exactly the kind of exclusive club you want to be part of. All these great musicians died at this premature age, and while yes, rock musicians live a significantly higher-risk lifestyle than the average person, it gives rise to the thought that 27 is the golden age of rock gods. 

The man clearly had an impact, so much so, that conspiracy theories revolve around his life and death. How could a man like him willingly take his own life? 

Murder? Accident? 

Still, his alleged suicide note with the Neil Young lyrics, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” from Young’s song “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” have resonated in the hearts of fans and the meaning behind the words has hovered in the minds of many. 

Having yet to hit his 30s, Cobain (with Nirvana) won an American Music Award, a Grammy and five MTV Video Music Awards, among other wins and nominations. He was an icon, and maybe that was all he ever wanted, or everything he never did. 

At just three studio albums, Nirvana had surpassed many grunge bands of the era, in awards, recognition, mainstream success and popularity. 

You also can’t forget about the set he did with “MTV Unplugged,” but even then, his total legit album time just tops two full hours of music. That’s not all that much, compared to U2’s 10-plus albums. 

It wasn’t about the length though. 

Cobain’s death marked the top of his career (or what we could foresee), and that was at just three albums. Nirvana alone practically skyrocketed record label Sub Pop’s sales. 

So was that what he wanted?

Grunge music, as a whole, especially out of the Seattle grunge scene in particular, embodied a kind of stripped-down rock. Much was about social alienation, and wouldn’t removing yourself from the world permanently be considered the ultimate form of leaving society?

The fuzzy guitars, the so called “unkept” appearance – that was what grunge was about. Cobain wasn’t exactly the most powder-fresh looking person, yet his look and style has been noted to have inspired more grunge appearances in fashion. The lace-up boots. The beanie caps. The fuzzy brown sweater Cobain rocked on MTV. 

Cobain, whether he wanted to “burn out” or not, is woven into music history.  

His demise was in 1994, and grunge began to fizzle out of popularity in the late ’90s. If his death was his choice, then did he see it all coming before the imminent burn out?

Nirvana bandmate, Dave Grohl, is still associated with Cobain. He included segments about Nirvana in his documentary “Sound City.” 

It’s been 19 years since Cobain’s death, and people are still talking about Cobain. His death is still argued over. 

Regardless of the nature of his death, Cobain is, and most likely always will be a cultural icon of rock music. 

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