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Kurt Cobain – In Memoriam

By Fletch Whipp. CEO

As a kid, I would watch old black/white footage of ‘Beatlemania’, the name for the phenomenon that swept the world when The Beatles garnered massive worldwide popularity with their music. I’d listen to my Dad, & others recount stories about The Beatles explosion in popularity. In the Fall of 1991, as a serious musician still in school, I embraced my generations closest resemblance of Beatlemania when Nirvana came & turned the entire music world on it’s head with a single song, ‘Smells like teen spirit’.


Rather than delve into the history, I’ll focus on the moment of ignition, when Nirvana swept the music world. Initially Nirvana’s record lable, DGC hoped the bands ‘Nevermind’ CD would sell 250,000 copies, like ‘Sonic Youth’ achieved with their disc ‘Goo’. Nirvana’s landmark single, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was released Sep 10, ’91. The song didn’t chart initially, however, campus radio & modern rock stations picked up on the track, & placed it on heavy rotation. Danny Goldberg of Nirvana’s management firm Gold Mountain later admitted ‘none of us heard it as a crossover song, but the public heard it & it was instantaneous’.


By Christmas 1991, Nevermind was selling 400,000 copies a week in the US. It hung on the U.K charts for 184 weeks straight. In January 1992, the album displaced Michael Jackson’s Dangerous at number one on the Billboard album charts, & also topped the charts in numerous other countries. It was official, alternative had just hit mainstream, & indie culture was now popular culture. As of today, it is one of the highest selling albums of all time with over 30,000,000 units sold.

It wasn’t hyperbole saying they ‘changed the world’. The music connected with a disenfranchised youth, coined as ‘Generation X’. Teens everywhere connected with the band that summed up perfectly the angst in the younger generation by a single sentence in the iconic song ’I found it hard, it’s hard to find. Oh well, whatever, never mind’.

Album charts, music fans, even dress codes literally changed within weeks of the song being played in heavy rotation. I remember walking down to the shops as a kid and you couldn’t go past a few blocks without hearing the song being played in someone’s car, home or store, it was a bonafide, jaw dropping mega-monster hit. Music stores, clothing chains, & style conscious brands scrambled to cash-in on the band that connected with Generation X, where all other marketing attempts just seemed to fail. In the wake of their Tsunami, Seattle bandmates Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains & Soundgarden also saw their careers skyrocket. Musicians across America moved & relocated to Seattle (like Pearl Jam) in an effort to get in the epicenter of musical Nirvana. Music fans would fly from all over the world to Seattle to be in the new hub of popular culture. It really was THAT big.


Nirvana were booked as the support act for Violent Femmes Australian ’92 tour  prior to their surge in popularity. I heard Nirvana live as a 17 year old kid during this tour when they dropped into my then hometown of Brisbane on Mon. Jan 27th. Though the concert bill was officially Violent Femmes supported by Nirvana, it was clear to music fans, the bill was the other way around. I didn’t have a ticket to get inside Festival Hall, the iconic rock venue in that era in Brisbane, so I, along with some other diehards sat outside that hot January evening & listened to Nirvana’s whole set, heard the deafening roar of the place when they launched into ‘Smells ike teen spirit’, and more memorably, ….watched 80% of the crowd leave the venue after Nirvana’s opening set ended. I felt sorry for Violent Femmes who must have gotten quite a rude shock selling out venues everywhere, only to come out on stage to a much smaller crowd than they envisaged.

Over those 3 1/2 years, the monster that was Nirvana continued to dominate charts & popular culture, which only hit a road bump with Kurt’s passing at age 27, 20 years ago, today on April 5th 1994. His passing only succeeded in promoting Kurt into truly iconic status reserved for a small few artists who also passed at the height of their careers like Jimi Hendrix & Jim Morrison.

This year, 20 years after Kurt’s untimely passing, Nirvana is set to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Nirvana’s first year of eligibility-a respectful acknowledgement of just how impacting on society they really were. The museum’s biography of the band states that Nirvana ‘started a rock revolution & remain an enduring influence & challenge, proof that the right band with the right noise can change the world’.

Will the world be swept again by a musical monster like Nirvana? I imagine it will, & much like the musical Tsunami that was Nirvana, it will catch everyone off-guard, & a new generation of rock fans will again be in for the ride of their life they will tell their grandkid’s about!

R.I.P Kurt Cobain (February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994)


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