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“It’s better to burn out than fade away…” – Neil Young

I’ve never been too much of a grunge fan. I feel like my music knowledge and taste ends somewhere in the late 80s with The Cure and picks up in the late 90s with the garage-rock revival. Somewhere between the black nail polish/heavy eye makeup and the The Strokes/Member’s Only Jackets passed a whole decade. The 90s was a whirlwind of one over-produced, bad fashion decision after another. Few strong bands emerged and even fewer survived and we often found ourselves turning down rock n’ roll and turning up hip-hop. There was the birth of a genre that still leaks some ripped flannel and jeans and head-banging, dirt-ball distorted guitar in the way of buzz bands like Yuck – grunge.

Its Godfather may be Neil Young, but its ambassador and true painter was Kurt Cobain.

Yesterday would have been Cobain’s 45th birthday and as editor of this here establishment, I felt obliged to scribble a word or two. Nirvana’s overnight, shotgun success came way of Seattle. Before its coffee-loving “indie” persona, it was a dark town with musicians that filled its small bars with metal’s anti-Christ. Grunge was loud but not like Zeppelin. Sloppy but not like garage-rock. Poetic but not like folk. Angry but not like hardcore. And at its helm was its king. The less-than-stable Cobain was always teetering on the edge of sanity and his lyrics were certainly a testament to that. Harsh and often morose, Cobain was an open book via three very powerful albums – Bleach, Nevermind, and In Utero.

It’s Nevermind that many consider not only one of the most influential albums of all time, but the centerpiece to the genre and the 90s. In a weak decade, it is certainly the best. But in any decade, Nevermind could throw some punches with the masterpieces. However overplayed its many hits may be (we all know there was a time we wanted to smash the stereo when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on,) it’s a complete package. While Pet Sounds and Revolver were the flint that sparked psychedelia, it was Dark Side of the Moon that stands as the genre’s Bible. Rust Never Sleeps is the flint, but Nevermind is the grunge bible.

So without dwelling on often talked about depression, drug addiction, hypocrisy, and the tragic suicide of Cobain’s life, I’ll give you what it means to me – a non-grunge fan that appreciates the importance of music’s most influential and polarizing figures. He doesn’t want your sympathy, he didn’t want to be a martyr, and would most likely laugh/spit in your face if you (we) built him up on a pedestal (much like I’m doing now). He wanted to give himself some relief from his torment (read the infamous note if you don’t believe me). And he did it the only way he knew how – with a cigarette-stained howl, power chords, and poetry. There are a few albums I reach for when I need some enlightenment and Nevermind is certainly one of them.

So Happy Birthday Kurt Cobain. I can’t imagine a world with a 45 year-old version of you.

(If you don’t agree, read Klosterman’s alternate-universe time line on Spin.com.)

- Taylor DeBoer

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