Today, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana fame would have been 50 years old. He, unfortunately, committed suicide in 1994, leaving fans in shock. As talented as he was, Cobain was by all accounts ill-prepared for the fame that Nirvana gained.
Growing up as a kid, Nirvana was one of my favorite bands. I can still remember hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the first time on the radio (I used to listen to the radio with a blank tape on cue so I could record songs that I liked). Even through my Sony boombox’s tinny speakers, Teen Spirit had a massive sound that I had never heard before. It was simple yet powerful, and the production and mixing on the Nevermind album is still one of the best in modern music history, in my opinion.
And it wasn’t just Cobain who was the sound of Nirvana, because without the melodic and prominent bass lines of Krist Novoselic, and the dynamically powerful drumming of Dave Grohl, the songs that Nirvana had would have never been nearly as good. The angular interplay between Cobain and Novoselic made for some killer songs, and Grohl would eventually come into his own as a songwriter, showing his metal influence by co-writing Scentless Apprentice off of In Utero, and by eventually recording his old songs written during Nirvana’s existence for the excellent Foo Fighters S/T debut album.
I have recently revisited Nirvana’s music to play on the guitar, and it’s pretty amazing how simple and similar many of their songs are. I can hardly read music, and I usually use open tunings on my guitar to bang out barre chords more easily. If you open tune to E flat, B flat, and E flat on the top 3 strings, you can easily play almost every Nirvana song. Most of their songs use many of the same chords in different combinations. And, here are my 10 favorite Nirvana songs, in no particular order:
-Radio Friendly Unit Shifter
I can still remember the day I heard of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. I am usually non-plussed by celebrity culture, but as a kid I can remember shedding a few tears upon hearing of his death. I had just moved to a different town, and a girl who I had met in school tearfully called me with the news. At that age, even though I have struggled with depression most of my life, suicide was an otherworldy thought: it was incomprehensible, and all I knew was that one of my favorite musicians was no longer with us.
Cobain was a huge influence on me: as a left-handed guitarist, he would help inspire me to pick up the guitar since I’m a lefty, too. His usage of simple barre chords was influential, too, as I am a rhythm guitarist at heart and love banging out some heavy power chords. As someone who was introverted with social anxiety and who felt out of place like many teenagers, Cobain’s honesty was also inspiring. He was certainly one of the best songwriters of the modern music era, and his influence will never be forgotten. RIP Kurt.