Cobain’s Influence

Kurt Cobain On 'MTV Unplugged'

By: Connor Lenahan

Twenty years ago today, Kurt Cobain left this world. I hadn’t even entered it yet. Kurt Cobain and my existence on this planet never overlapped. We missed each other by just a shade over four months. I’ve spent much of my adolescent life listening to his work with Nirvana. Despite never inhabiting the same air, Kurt Cobain remains the most influential person to my music taste.

A few years ago I was starting to truly listen to music. I had graduated from simply enjoying the latest radio songs into seeking out artists that I could connect with. This happened to coincide with the release of Rock Band in 2007. One of my favorite songs from the game’s soundtrack was “In Bloom” by Nirvana. This created a curiosity for me to listen to more Nirvana. From there, I never stopped listening to Nirvana.

I had never heard music of this kind before. I had only given attention to rock music on the radio during the early 2000s Nickleback-Creed-Saliva era. Unlike those three, Nirvana was dark, brooding, angst riddled, melodic, and enticing. Unlike just about every major rock band in history, Nirvana wasn’t focusing solely on sex and drugs and partying, but instead opted to write beautiful songs like “Something In The Way” or “All Apologies.”

It was this heart, this meaning behind their music, that made me fall for Nirvana. That and the fact that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is one of the greatest sonic moments in human history. All of these songs took over my life for a few years. This is not exaggeration. I listened to Nirvana obsessively when I was a teenager. My rate of play has dipped recently, but they still remain one of my favorite bands.

What makes them important to my life is the changes they brought to my musical taste. Nirvana led me to Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Audioslave, Rage Against The Machine, Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Blink 182, Green Day, and many more artists. Look back at that list. That’s not only a murderer’s row of musical talent, but a healthy chunk of the music I listen to on a regular basis. Nirvana was the first real rock band I fell for. Their importance to my life is crystal clear in my mind and my ears. They carry a certain cache to them, one that makes me really pay attention to them, whenever they come on. Never is this more apparent than the MTV Unplugged set.

Coupled with introducing me to scores of my favorite bands, Kurt Cobain’s flawless night on MTV Unplugged in late 1993 is the biggest gift he has ever given to my life. Nirvana Unplugged is my favorite live performance by any artist that I’ve ever seen. Note: I’m not only counting live albums and TV specials, I’m including every concert I’ve ever attended. Nothing can top Cobain sitting on his requested funeral-esque stage, playing obscure songs from Nirvana’s back catalog and covers in one uninterrupted performance. This was the final major performance for the band before Cobain committed suicide. If the wish was to go out on top, Cobain more than accomplished his goal.

“Where Did You Sleep Last Night” closes the set. To this day I am still emotionally devastated after listening to it. It’s haunting, beautiful, and a fitting farewell for Cobain’s career. His scream at the climax of the song has left me breathless enough times that I’ve lost count. The old story goes that an MTV representative requested Cobain to return to stage for an encore after “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” Cobain responded by telling him that nothing would top that performance. Nothing ever would. This was the end of Cobain.

Let me try and corral a lot of points together as I’ve covered a great deal about Cobain and the band. Today was the day the world lost one of the most brilliant artists ever to grace this land. One of history’s brightest stars had been extinguished. What will never be extinguished is his impact to me. I will forever be a Nirvana fan. I will forever love the beautiful music Cobain introduced to my life. I will forever consider Unplugged to be an hour-long exhibition of perfection. I will always find Cobain’s musical farewell to be the greatest last chapter to every story ever written. I will always miss Kurt Cobain. Even if I never met him.

Connor Lenahan (@ConnorLenahan) is a freshman at Boston University, majoring in journalism. He can be contacted at lenahan@bu.edu