Kurt Cobain at Fifty: The Playlist
I realise it is a little bit ghoulish and pointless...
celebrating the birthday of a deceased musician; but we do it to remember what they gave us – and how much inspiration they provide; even after their passing. I know I will not do the late, great Cobain full justice but wanted to pay tribute to one of the true icons of modern music. Were it not for the Nirvana frontman, it is debatable how many of today’s greatest Rock bands would exist. So many current artists take inspiration from Cobain and his songwriting: there are multiple reasons to adore the Grunge king. Not only was he one of the most compelling songwriters and impassioned vocalists of his generation: his personality was largely at-odds with the stylised, media-friendly persona many of his peers adopted. For starters, Cobain never wanted to sing: just playing guitar at the back of the room and be ignored. He missed – when the band hit the big time – blending in with people and yearned to have the adoration of John Lennon – but the anonymity of Ringo Starr with it. A complex and contractionary character that still yields fascination and legend nearly twenty-two years after his death. Nirvana’s live performances were legendary. In 1991, when the band were asked to perform over a pre-recording backing track, Cobain refused: he sang Smells Like Teen Spirit in a lower register and made a shambles of the performance. At 1992’s Reading Festival – following reports Cobain was ill after the birth of his daughter, Frances Bean – he came on stage in a wheelchair; the band barely regressed but went and nailed the gig.
If anything, Nirvana were forefathers: Cobain, the spokesperson who was years ahead of his time. He advocated equal rights for homosexuals and better rights for women. He abhorred sexism and fought to banish racism, homophobia and sexism in all areas of society. In today’s culture, these kind of attitudes are lesser-heard and rare (among celebrities): back in the 1990s, it was almost non-existent. In addition to that, Cobain introduced the world to music that seemed to speak for them. Yes, there was teen angst, defiance and depression: it was honest music that did not hold back and did not hide behind metaphors. Baring his soul through music; many fans resonated and connected with the troubled lead. Not going into his tragic suicide, but one wonders whether it was the toil and weight of life or the fears of commercialisation – Cobain worried his music was being marketed to the wrong people and losing its authenticity – that led to his untimely demise. You just need to see the band play the famous MTV Unplugged session to know that things were almost over. Aside from the lilies, candlelight and symbolism – many thinking Cobain was playing his own funeral, in a way – the band shunned the big hits and seemed to revert to their early days – playing obscure covers and doing what they wanted to do. By 1994, Cobain had had enough of being controlled and playing the role of a musical puppet. What he left behind was a mixture of incredible words and spellbinding music. His messages of inclusion and togetherness have connected with a new generation whilst his incredible personality and unforgettable performances have gone down in legends. Most importantly, perhaps, is the phenomenal music that defined the Grunge era and forced hopeful musicians to get in the garage and follow their icon. Cobain might have struggled with life and fame but his legacy and legend cannot be understated. In that spirit, I have included the definitive Kurt Cobain songs and performances to honour what would have been his fiftieth birthday.
Blew – Bleach (1989)
About a Girl – Bleach
Love Buzz – Bleach
Molly’s Lips – Incesticide (Compilation Album)
Aneurysm - Incesticide
Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nevermind (1991)
Come As You Are - Nevermind
In Bloom - Nevermind
Breed – Nevermind
Polly – Nevermind
Something in the Way – Nevermind
Heart-Shaped Box – In Utero (1993)
Rape Me – In Utero
Dumb – In Utero
Very Ape – In Utero
Pennyroyal Tea – In Utero
All Apologies – In Utero
Rape Me - Live on Nulle Part Ailleurs, Paris (1994)
Drain You - Live In Munich (1994)
My Best Friend's Girl - Live In Munich (1994)
About a Girl – MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)
The Man Who Sold the World – MTV Unplugged in New York
Lake of Fire – MTV Unplugged in New York
Where Did You Sleep Last Night – MTV Unplugged in New York
You Know You’re Right – Nirvana (2002)
Silver – Live at Reading (2009, Album; 1992, Performance)
Lithium – Live at Reading
Negative Creep – Live at Reading
Happy birthday to Mr. Cobain, wherever you lay. I can imagine he is jamming with (Jimi) Hendrix, (John) Lennon and (John) Bonham or maybe just sitting around tutting at the world! It is sad to think Kurt Cobain is not with us but we can never forget the fantastic music and inspiring legacy he has left. That word ‘legacy’ is not hyperbole or undeserved. There are few musicians that deserve such high praise, but then again, there are few like Cobain. One of those songwriters that comes around once every lifetime: will we ever see his like again?! Of course not, but that is not to sympathise. Enjoy what he left and just imagine what could have happened were things to be different. Maybe he’d still be performing: perhaps he would have run for President to topple the tyrannical Trump. It is amusing to imagine but, whilst we all do that, sit back and enjoy the great man’s incredible music.