Last year marked the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's suicide. The Nirvana frontman took his life on April 5, 1994, although his body wasn't discovered until three days later. In his 2014 book Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain, author Charles R. Cross—one of the first people to learn of Cobain's death 20 years ago—explores how the iconic rock musician's legacy has stood the test of time and redefined rock music.
For what would have been his 48th birthday, honor his legacy with and check out the five ways Cobain changed the game.
1) He Spoke To Us & About Us
"Music stands above everything else," Cross says. "That is 90% of his legacy. He had the capacity to write a song that he felt like he was speaking to you, or, he was speaking about you. You felt both at the same time. There was a unique connection he had with listeners. It was both his greatest strength and part of the reason [for] his struggles."
2) A New Way of Songwriting Emerged
"[Nirvana popularized] the use of loud/soft dynamics," he says. "That can’t be more apparent than in 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' where you have a chorus that just powers on, and you have a verse that’s quiet and softer. I hear that on music today and that’s their lasting influence in songwriting structure."
3) Cobain Made Rock Music Way Less Cheesy
"Kurt as a songwriter made the themes of songs widen," Cross says. "Prior to his work, most rock songs were about girls and cars. Nirvana forever changed what a rock song could be about."
4) Cobain Influenced Contemporary Rappers
"In the early '90s, there wasn’t a hip hop band that included Nirvana’s lyrics in their work," Cross explains. "That’s happened in the last few years. There have been 55 different bands so far that are listed on Whosampled.com that have covered Nirvana songs. That’s pretty extraordinary."
5) His Loss Defined a Generation
"Everyone that loves him and feels a connection to that music wishes there was someone else to blame," he says of the many conspiracy theories surrounding Cobain's death. "Even a fan of Nirvana, to some degree, feels some level of betrayal of the choice he made 20 years ago. If we could somehow pass that off, it would make us feel better about our relationship with him."