Everyone has his or her Nirvana story. Whether you were 9 years old and never the same after the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” demolished your preconceptions of music; whether a friend included a song on a mix CD for you long after frontman Kurt Cobain's death in 1994; or whether you don't even realize how much of an influence Cobain and his band had on today's music, you have a Nirvana story. Here are just a few.
BEAU BOKAN of BLESSTHEFALL
First heard Nirvana: I believe I was in sixth grade. I was heavy into hip-hop, and a friend of mne had been trying to get me into rock. He threw on Nirvana and I was hooked. The raw intensity was so insane, like nothing I had heard before.
Favorite song: Something In The Way” from Nevermind
What made them great: They played music they loved-not because it was popular and not because they thought it would make them rich and famous.
How Cobain impacted today’s music: Every time Kurt hit the stage, he played with passion and aggression. That inspired tons of musicians to do the exact same thing.
What would be different if Cobain hadn’t died: Who knows?
PHIL ANSELMO of PANTERA
First heard Nirvana: I was in Texas. I was still living there, so it must have been in my last apartment during the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. The whole grunge thing was just revving up, so I was already familiar with the Melvins, Soundgarden and a few other bands. I bought Bleach on cassette out of plain curiosity and it took a few listens before “Negative Creep” became a mainstay on the ol’ home stereo and mix tapes I used to make.
Favorite song: “Negative Creep” from Bleach
What made them great: No matter how polished any of their albums were (sans Bleach), there was a ferocious rawness to them, musically speaking. Then there was Kurt. He could do damn-near anything as far as melody goes. He didn’t have the range of [Soundgarden’s] Chris Cornell, but he had that rough edge which was pleasing to the ear in contrast. Kurt’s hooks were killer–miserably brilliant. I’d hear a song one time and it’d be embedded into my memory bank for a month. That’s fucking Beatles magic! Not many artists in any. genre can pull that off.
How Cobain impacted today’s music: Listen to the music a band like Bush “wrote.” Listen to about 500 different bands that popped up after Nirvana. Look at how they had their hair cut. Look at their clothes. There are a shitload of singer/guitarist hybrids today screaming at the top of their lungs, “I wanna be Kurt!” (Not to single out poor, poor Bush, but come on, man. When I accidentally heard one of “their” songs (quotations marked intentionally), I wanted to sue them on behalf of Nirvana.
What would be different if Cobain hadn’t died: He’d still be making great music-or not. I hope he would’ve gotten a handle on some of the demons in his system. It was pretty evident he was a for-real, down-to-earth cat-a real dude. But, man, speaking from the ravished gut, when your personality clashes with your success, it’ bad enough. Add opiates into the equation and you’ve got a depression that magnifies itself 1000 fold. The math may be simple, but that kind of sickness/state of being is anything but. I’d like to believe he’d be seeing some good things in life today and spending time with his kid.
THOMAS ERAK of THE FALL OF TROY
First heard Nirvana: I had some older friends who were musicians and they gave me Nevermind to learn on drums. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Favorite song: Either “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle” or “Milk It” both from In Utero
What made them great: What didn’t?
How Cobain impacted today’s music: He showed that real, true music can thrive and you can just be yourself. But [covering a Nirvana song] is something you gotta be careful with. I don’t like when people try to make it their own. Just play it how it’s written.
What would be different if Cobain hadn’t died: I’m sure Nirvana would’ve written more great songs.
TONY SLY of NO USE FOR A NAME
First heard Nirvana: It was “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio. I wasn’t into the Sub-Pop [Records] stuff yet. I was too “punk” and young to like it. I denied Nirvana at first because it was so commercial-which is ridiculous.
Favorite song: “Lithium” from Nevermind
What made them great: It was the raw energy and the melodies were ridiculously good. It was the drumming, the fuzzy guitar tone, the pounding bass, Kurt’s amazing voice.
How Cobain impacted today’s music: Unfortunately, all the Creeds and Nickelbacks were born from Nirvana. But a lot of great songs were also influenced by them in other genres like punk: the Offspring, NOFX and so many others were influenced by them. Nirvana did for the ‘90s and ‘00s what the Beatles did for the ‘60s, ‘70s and beginning of the ‘80s.
What would be different if Cobain hadn’t died: I would like to think that like John Lennon, there would be more great songs for the world and not so many of these fucking fakes trying to imitate it. People turned to commercial rock after Cobain died and Creed was sitting there with Staind and Godsmack. It’s high time for the next Cobain. Maybe it’ Frank Turner. Maybe it was and is Frank Black [of the Pixies]. Either way, I’m sure it’s a Frank.
WIL FRANCIS of AIDEN/WILLIAM CONTROL
First heard Nirvana: It was the winter of 1991. I was home on a Saturday afternoon flipping through TV stations. There were Nirvana on MTV [in the "Smells Like Teen Spirit” video] thrashing in that auditorium, dirty and real. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen–those cheerleaders in their anarchy leotards and that creepy janitor bobbing along didn’t make much sense to me, but I felt as it it made all the sense in the world.
Favorite song: “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle” from In Utero
What made them great: For the first time in my life, I felt connected to other people through music. It was an unspoken thing. In school, the kids who wore Nirvana shirts hung out together just like the kids wearing Boyz II Men shirts hung out together. They made me feel like I belonged to a club and it was beautiful.
How Cobain impacted today’s music: When Nevermind came out, it changed the entire scope of the rock music industry. Kurt inspired a generation of people to pick up instruments. He also showed the world you don’t have to be a virtuoso musician to have a career as a songwriter-just a lot of heart and great melody. Right now, I’m mixing the new William Control record at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle-where Nirvana recorded their last session. The song “You Know You’re Right” [f[from 2002’s Nirvana greatest hits compilation]r> was recorded in this very room. I’m honored to be here.
DEREK SANDERS of MAYDAY PARADE
First heard Nirvana: I was probably around 7 or 8 years old, I believe my older brother showed them to me. I remember playing my dad the song “Rape Me” before I even knew what rape meant, and he gave me the weirdest look.
Favorite song: “Lithium” from Nevermind
What made them great: Nirvana were one of the few bands who were able to change music and the way people listen to it. Quite simply, they wrote great songs at the best time possible.
How Cobain impacted today's music: I haven't met a single person in a band who hasn't been inspired by Nirvana in some way. MTV Unplugged In New York was the first album that I ever bought.
What would be different if Cobain hadn't died: I don't think people would think of Nirvana in the same way. As awful as this sounds, I think part of what made Cobain and Nirvana legendary was his suicide. I believe that had he lived, he would've continued to make amazing and creative music.
ACE ENDERS of I CAN MAKE A MESS LIKE NOBODY’S BUSINESS
First heard Nirvana: When the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came out. Favorite song: I never had a favorite song, but [<[MTV’s Unplugged In New York]as my favorite album.
What made them great: How real they were. They inspired a ton of musicians and fans to be real, as well.
How Cobain impacted today’s music: They were raw and that led a lot of others along that path.
What would be different if Cobain hadn’t died: I’m sure there would’ve been a lot more great [N[Nirvana]lbums. I don’t think Kurt’s legacy would’ve been incredibly different because he was already so influential before his death.
DAVE HAUSE of THE LOVED ONES
First heard Nirvana: I was in eighth grade when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” starting being played on the radio. I distinctly remember turning the radio up loud and when the song finished, wanting to hear it again. Obviously, I got my wish: within weeks it was played every 10 minutes.
Favorite song: “Drain You” from Nevermind
What made them great: Kurt’s songwriting. There was a uniquely terrific blend of pop and darkness that resonated with a lot of people. How Cobain impacted today’s music: Nirvana brought punk aesthetics and punk politics into mainstream culture more than any band since the Clash. What would be different if Cobain hadn’t died: Nirvana might not have gotten nearly as popular, but we would’ve been able to hear much more of his great songwriting over the years. Whenever a successful star dies tragically young, it seals their legacy and is often used as a marketing tool. I certainly wish the world still had him. We could use his songs and ethics in these crazy times.
AJ PERDOMO of THE DANGEROUS SUMMER
First heard Nirvana: I remember seeing the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video all over the place, even on MTV’s Beavis And Butthead.
Favorite song: “All Apologies” from In Utero
What made them great: They changed everything musically. They pulled America out of the ‘80s and into the ‘90s in the most intense, raw fashion.
How Cobain impacted today’s music: He opened a ton of doors and shocked millions of people. He truly brought a new art to the air of music.
What would be different if Cobain hadn’t died: It’s hard to say where he would’ve progressed. He was brilliant.
ANDY HORST of THIS PROVIDENCE
First heard Nirvana: I don’t remember the first time I heard Nirvana, but I don’t remember a time when I didn’t hear Nirvana.
Favorite song: “Dumb” from In Utero
What made them great: Drummer Dave Grohl.
How Cobain impacted today’s music: Kurt gave misfits of a generation a voice. He wasn’t the norm, but still popular. He made it seem like maybe “normal” isn’t the norm. That all helped bring the punk movement to middle-class suburban America.
What would be different if Cobain hadn’t died: I don’t think he would have gotten as much credit as he does. Sometimes you don’t know how great something is until you don’t have it anymore. Luckily, we’ll have Nirvana’s music forever.
VINNIE FIORELLO of LESS THAN JAKE
First heard Nirvana: In 1990, I lived in a rather restrictive town in Southern Baptist Florida. “Punk” was a curse word or a brand of the word “outcast.” I stayed in my room smoking pot and ordering records by phone with my mom’s credit card number that I’d scratched down late one night. I remember ordering Italian hardcore band, Raw Power, and Japanese hardcore band, GISM, and the voice on the phone asked, “You like Sub-Pop?” I was honestly indifferent about the label, but the voice said, “There’s a new Nirvana 7-inch called Sliver. Have you heard of them?” In true stoned form and not wanting to be one-upped, I replied, “Sure.” The voice asked, “So do you want it or not?” I replied, “Yes, I do.”
Favorite song: “Lithium” from Nevermind
What made them great: It was the anger, alienation and great songwriting wrapped up in an aggressive, melodic bow.
How Cobain impacted today’s music: He derailed modern music from the track of watered-down pop metal for a decade after. It sent a message that punk isn’t only good, it can be great and sell records.
BILL LEEB of FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY/SKINNY PUPPY
First heard Nirvana: I remember seeing the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when it came out on [C[Canadian music video channel]uchMusic. When I saw it, it completely caught me off guard. I’d never heard anything like it.
Favorite song: “Come As You Are” from Nevermind
What made them great: They totally went against the grain and made music that was highly original. They wrote such great music that went huge without them ever even planning to become a mainstream band.
How Cobain impacted today’s music: Bands like Radiohead probably wouldn’t have the same impact. Each generation has a flagship band, and when Nirvana came out, they became that band. They became huge just by doing something for the sake of being different-they were unlikely pop artists much in the same way Radiohead did it years later.
What would be different if Cobain hadn’t died: I don’t think anything would have been different. In some aspect, it would be h ard to imagine a band like Nirvana changing with the times. Critics are never kind to bands who put out a lot of albums, and if Nirvana had put out three or four more, their legacy might have been tarnished. In a sense, his death was unfortunately the perfect ending to a perfect band.
BRIAN MARQUIS of THEREFORE I AM
First heard Nirvana: When “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit MTV. The video was dark, mysterious and had cheerleaders with armpit hair.
Favorite song: “Territorial Pissings” from Nevermind
What made them great: They didn’t give a fuck-regardless of how big they became.
How Cobain impacted today’s music: Kurt opened the door for any kid to play in a band and, for better or worse, killed the glam-rock persona. He didn’t do it alone, but was the poster-boy for being humble as a performer in the way he dressed and dealt with fame with his non-caring attitude. He is this generation’s Bob Dylan.
What would be different if Cobain hadn’t died: More dudes would be doing and dying from heroin. It took a big star like Kurt to change the way a lot of those bands at the time lived and the way drugs were looked upon by the industry and future musicians. I’ve heard there’s a slang term called the “Nirvana Clause” that labels use to make sure bands they sign aren’t headed in Kurt’s direction.
ANDREW COOK of A ROCKET TO THE MOON
First heard Nirvana: I saw the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on MTV.
Favorite song: “Breed” from Nevermind
What made them great: [D[Drummer]urt’s instability (and drummer Dave Grohl). Kurt wrote In Utero because he thought everyone would hate it. He wanted to be an anti-hero. But whatever he did, people ended up loving him more for it. Nirvana were never actively trying to be what they became in the eyes of their fans. You can’t plan to have a legacy like that and it only seems to happen every few decades.
How Cobain impacted today’s music: He ended the reign of hair metal, which I’d personally thank him for if he was here today. He made rock music about music again instead of the flash or appearance. It’s sort of ironic that artists to this day try to mimic his style and presence, even though that’s the opposite of what he would’ve wanted.
What would be different if Cobain hadn’t died: Nirvana may have purposely made enough intentionally bad records to sour most of their fans for good. We probably wouldn’t have Foo Fighters either, and that would be a terrible thing.
First heard Nirvana: [G[Guns N' Roses frontman]xl Rose was hosting a video hour in the late afternoon on MTV in September 1991. I was a G+R freak and he had a blue, foam Nirvana hat on and introduced “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as his favorite new song. I basically freaked out and have stayed that way for 18 years.
Favorite song: It changes all the time. Recently I've been on a “School” [f[from Bleach]ick.
What made them great? Everything. It was the songs, each of the players, the wildness of the live show, the way they came off at that time as so totally different than everyone else above ground. The seamless filtration of so many disparate influences into something, for [<[Nevermind and In Utero]specially, so superior to what most bands ever even come close to achieving (even for one song) during their entire careers. It was also their ferocity and their sense of humor.
How Cobain impacted today's music: I think he injected a necessary bit of self-consciousness and social awareness into a very bloated and totally un-self-aware arena. It's ironic, because he's also the last rock star. Everyone since has been a “rock star.” He was the last rock musician to be a zeitgeist moment, to where my 84-year-old grandmother knew who he was, even prior to when he committed suicide, and had an opinion about him. There are a few hip-hop dudes and pop singers in that wheelhouse now, but he was the last guitar player. An era of cultural capital and supremacy for rock music ended with him, which is so fascinating to me because in so many ways he was its photo-negative. Where you see him today is in the redundancy and absence left in the wake of his career arc and tragic ending. Like his was the last original spin left on the cliche–the anti-rock star. When he died, the culture basically wholesale moved on, Which is part of why he's still so revered and feels so current in a weird way. Even almost 20 years later, he feels close because he was the end of the line.
What would be different if Cobain hadn't died: He might have pulled a Jeff Mangum [o[of Neutral Milk Hotel]nd disappeared and saved his life. He might be making really cool and interesting music for 50,000 people as the guy who used to be in Nirvana. I'd have liked both of those possibilities better than what we got.