Neil Young, Billie Joe Armstrong, Beck and More Remember Kurt Cobain

"I have a memory of them coming [onstage] and he had his middle finger up," Beck recalls of an early Nirvana gig

April 5, 2014 9:35 AM ET
Kurt Cobain Nirvana
Kurt Cobain
Michel Linssen/Redferns

With the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death this weekend, musicians everywhere have been paying homage. AP collected reflections from a handful of artists ranging from ones who influenced him to musicians he inspired, including Neil Young, Beck, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong and Arcade Fire's Win Butler. One thing they all agreed on is that in just a short period of time, Cobain changed their lives.

Kurt Cobain Tributes: Living in Nirvana

For Young, who wrote the album Sleeps With Angels following Cobain's suicide, the rock vet still feels remorse that he – or anyone – couldn't reach out to the Nirvana frontman during his time of need.  To this day, he still knows what he would have told Cobain had he gotten the chance. "I think it's sad that he didn't have anybody to talk to that could've talked to him and said, 'I know what you're going through, but it's not too bad,'" he said. "'It really isn't bad. Just [expletive] blink and it will be gone. Everything will be all right. You've got a lot of other things to do. Why don't you just take a break? Don't worry about all these [expletive] who want you to do all this (expletive) you don't want to do. Just stop doing everything. Tell them to get [expletive] and stay away.' That's it. That's what I would have told him if I had the chance. And I almost got a chance, but it didn't happen."

Beck cherishes a memory of a time he shared a concert bill with Nirvana, three years before Nevermind came out. While the singer didn't remember who the headliner was at the show, he can clearly recall Kurt Cobain – it was the moment he became a fan. "I have a memory of them coming out and he had his middle finger up, was giving his middle finger to the audience," he said. "I'd seen a lot of punk shows and I'd seen a lot of bands when I was younger where the shows were pretty aggressive or confrontational, but there was something completely different about this. I remember he had a smile on his face, there was a kind of playfulness, but it was also a little menacing, and I remember the minute they started playing, the entire audience erupted in a way I hadn't seen before. . . . They had the audience from the first note. Even if they had never become successful, I would still remember that. It made a big impression. I remember at the time thinking, 'What is this? Something's going on here,' and I was a fan after that."

Armstrong knew of Nirvana before he really knew what Nirvana was, having had seen their graffiti in clubs when Green Day toured in 1990. He told AP that when he heard the trio's debut, Bleach, he didn't think much of it, but now he regards Cobain as a Lennon- or McCartney-type figure. "The guy just wrote beautiful songs," he said. "When someone goes that honestly straight to the core of who they are, what they're feeling, and was able to kind of put it out there, I don't know, man, it's amazing. I remember hearing it when Nevermind came out and just thinking, 'We've finally got our Beatles. This era finally got our Beatles.' And ever since then it's never happened again."

Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler, who is 33, discovered Nirvana in the wake of Nevermind, and he still remembers the impact it had on him and his friends. "All of a sudden, the whole kind of social dynamic at my junior high changed where these kind of misfit kids who maybe come from a broken home and they're smoking cigarettes in the back and they didn't have money for nice clothes were in a weird way on the same level as everyone else socially," he said. "I was sort of like a weird kid who didn't know where I fit in or whatever and just to have that kind of voice be that big in culture, I feel like that was a magical period of alternative music where we had Jane's Addiction and R.E.M. and Nirvana. It was like seeing these kind of freaks from all the different cities of North America and you're like, 'Oh, wow.'"

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