In many ways, Nirvana were the sum of decades of groundbreaking music: early Beatles, Seventies punk, Eighties alternative. Nirvana were a band that generated omnidirectional, multigenerational goodwill, so it's fitting that these 15 tributes come from artists as different as CCR hero John Fogerty and rising indie-rock star Bethany Cosentino. As Rivers Cuomo says, summing up the awe Nirvana still inspire, "I was just so in love with the music that it made me feel sick."
Novoselic, Grohl and the Bad Communicator
Recently I found a letter that Kurt sent me in 1992. It's the one thing I would be heartbroken if my house were to burn down. I was upset with Kurt because I hadn't talked with him for a while, and some decisions had been made without me. He got word that I was upset, so he sent me a letter that basically talked about: Don't worry, this fame thing will blow over and we'll hopefully come down to the level of the Pixies or Sonic Youth, and how there are times he wished he could break up the band and start a new band called Novoselic, Grohl and the Bad Communicator. At the end of the letter it says: I'm sorry if I've been distant. I want you to know that your role in this band, as a member and a brother, is lethally important. And at the end . . . it just says bye-bye. But that, to me, is what I rest my head on at night, is remembering not only my version but Kurt's as well. 2002
His Thing Was "Build Your Own World"
Kurt had a weird sense of humor, which was kind of grotesque. You could see it in the comics and drawings he did; he was a good visual artist. Sometimes he would speak in these high-pitched voices, like a child Satanist. We were always laughing about something, being ridiculous – mostly dumb jokes. He and I would talk if things were bugging him. I’d go, "Oh, things will be all right." I had more of an outgoing personality. I had fun, talking with people onstage, drinking beers. But Kurt was really smart. He had his perception of the world. He knew how to deal with it. He had that Asian-wisdom thing – silence. He could read people really good, too, way better than I could. Now that I'm older, I’m getting better at it. You see that a lot of people are vampires. You see their agendas. I never used to see that. But Kurt was able to see that. He could take care of himself. His thing was, "Build your own world." Wherever he lived, he'd have all this stuff on the walls, drawings or music or things he had collected. There would be 10 statues of Colonel Sanders, which was kind of weird. One place, he had wood paneling, and he found this old magazine from the 1960s, with this woman in an ad, stroking wood paneling. He put that on the wall. 2001
I Got to Listen to Him Serenade Me
When the lights are blue and there are two of them in front of me, often they will symbolize Kurt's eyes to me. That's something that happens a lot. It happened to me when I used to strip. I had a friend who died, and he had almost-lavender eyes. There'd be these lights on, and I'd see that when the big purple lights came on. So there's that.
The energy is reaching in. I know that wherever he is – whatever is left, whether it's part of one egoless divinity or what – his energy is concentrated on me and on Frances. And it's also concentrated on the cause and effect he's had on the world. I had this theory that the persona people project onstage is the exact opposite of who they are. In Kurt's case, it was "Fuck you!" And ultimately, his largest problem in life was not being able to say, "Fuck you. Fuck you, Courtney. Fuck you, Geffen – and I'm gonna do what I want." I never really heard him put that down. That was the one area that he wouldn't touch like that. I got to sit and listen to this man serenade me.
The only time I asked him for a riff for one of my songs, he was in the closet. We had this huge closet, and I heard him in there working on "Heart-Shaped Box." He did that in five minutes. Knock, knock, knock. "What?" "Do you need that riff?" "Fuck you!" Slam. He was trying to be so sneaky. I could hear that one from downstairs. 1994
The Songs Just Got Better
The first time I heard Bleach, I remember turning to my friends and saying, "We gotta start writing better songs." Listening to "Negative Creep" and "School" and "Love Buzz," I thought there were three different singers in the band. It was a total perspective-changer – it definitely ripped a sheet of paper off of my mental notepad. A couple of years later, I got an advance copy of Nevermind. I was raised on Black Flag and the Cramps; I had always thought, "This is the best shit ever, and no one's going to listen to it." Nevermind proved that I was completely wrong about that. I was so stoked.
Being close to that world as it was going down, I met Kurt and Dave and Krist. I watched Kurt get more bummed about how big everything was getting – and yet the songs just got more acidic and better. Being famous was obviously overwhelming for him and too complex for him to understand how to deal with it, but he didn't make the music pay for it. That was wonderful. Even now, whenever a Nirvana song comes on, I'm always like, "Thank you! Three minutes of nothing to worry about."
Nostalgic, Sweet and Painful
In some ways, I feel like I was Nirvana's biggest fan in the Nineties. I'm sure there are a zillion people who would make that claim, but I was just so passionately in love with the music that it made me feel sick. It made my heart hurt. I can tell you the exact moment when I became aware of Nirvana: I was working at Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard in 1990, undergoing my yearlong transformation from being a speed-metal guitar player from New England to being an alternative songwriter and singer. The other, far-hipper employees at Tower kind of educated me. I remember they played "Sliver" for me, and I was immediately in love. It had the aggression that I needed from my upbringing as a metalhead, but paired with strong, major-key chord progressions and catchy, emotional melodies and lyrics that felt so nostalgic and sweet and painful. It just sounded like it was coming from the deepest part inside of me – a part which I hadn't yet come close to articulating in my own music.
Nevermind felt so close to what I wanted to do. This was right around when Weezer started. It's impossible to avoid the conclusion that Nevermind really inspired us to go for it.
I remember my friends telling me that Kurt had died. It was such a great blow – not only to me, but to everyone in Weezer. It was very hard to listen to any other music for weeks after that. Nothing sounded as sincere as Nirvana's music. It took a long time for me to accept that any other music could be good in other ways. Including my own.
Kurt's Voice Gave Me Hope
The first Nirvana album I bought was In Utero. I guess I would have been pretty young, like seven. And I'd never heard anything like it. Starting with the guitar on "Serve the Servants," I knew there was something different about this band, and it changed my idea of what you could, and maybe even what you should, do with a guitar.
Nirvana have been my favorite band ever since. In high school I was such a misfit, and Nirvana were kind of the perfect soundtrack for it. Kurt had long been dead, but I found a couple of other kids that didn't really quite fit in, and we all had Nirvana in common. We'd get stoned and listen to Nirvana and play our guitars and skip school.
For me, it was always the voice that blew me away. I'd heard people with gravelly voices, but Kurt's was different. It's not a pretty voice; he was not a trained singer by any means. But it gave me hope.
I Was Happy Kids Had Nirvana
When Nirvana came out, I was really excited. Not so much for myself – my time had passed for putting so much passion into music and pinning my faith on a band. I'd had the Rolling Stones. I was happy for the kids to have Nirvana. I didn't know anything about Kurt's torments or personal life. I saw the work and the energy, and I was excited by that. It was a tremendous shock – quite a blow to me – when he died.
That day, we went to a record store, and I remember kids were outside crying. They didn't seem to know what to do with themselves. I felt a little like Captain Picard: I couldn't mess with the Prime Directive. It was not my place to say anything. But I really wanted to comfort them, tell them it was all right, that his choice was a very rare choice. 1996
He Wasn't Afraid to Write What He Wanted
My dad was really into Nirvana because he was a musician. I remember seeing the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" music video on MTV and being like, "What is this? What kind of music is this?" I was really intrigued by it. I had a Kurt Cobain poster in my room, framed and hung in my room, mixed in with No Doubt posters and whatever I was into at that age. My favorite album is Bleach. It feels a little, like, more aggressive and angry. Nirvana did something similar to the early Beatles, before they became psychedelic – writing about emotions and situations that you've been through. Both Nirvana and the Beatles did that. I feel like it's much more relatable, and that's always been something that I've really respected about Kurt Cobain as a lyricist and as a songwriter – that he just wrote what he wanted to write about; he was not afraid to say anything.
He Touched the World on Its Wound
You could smell the talent on Kurt Cobain. He had this sort of elfin delivery, but it was not navel-gazing. He was jumping around and throwing himself into every number. He'd sort of hunch over his guitar like an evil little troll, but you heard this throaty power in his voice. At the end of the set, he tossed himself into the drums. It was one of maybe 15 performances I've seen where rock & roll is very, very good.
I bought Nevermind, and I thought, "This has really got it." Nirvana genuinely achieved dynamics. They took you down, they took you up, and when they pressed a certain button, they took you over. They rocked without rushing, and they managed melody without being insipid. It was emotional without sounding dated or corny or weak.
As for his legacy: He was Johnny B. Goode. He was the last example that I can think of within rock & roll where a poor kid with no family from a small, rural area affected a serious emotional explosion in a significant sector of world youth. It was not made in Hollywood. There were no chrome parts. It was very downhome at its root. Somebody who was nobody from nowhere reached out and touched the world. He may have touched it right on its wound. 2008
The Cinderella Story of the Century
We met at the smokers' shed at Aberdeen High School and became friends right away, because we were both interested in the same kind of music. The thing about punk rock was that there wasn't any set style, and I think that's what attracted us all to it.
I guess I'm biased about Bleach because I played on it, but Nevermind is their best record, I think. People were ready for a change, and they were in the right place at the right time. It's the Cinderella story of the century. Pop music has always been garbage, but there are a few shining things that get mixed in once in a while, and in my opinion, Nirvana is one of them.
Kurt and I Spoke the Same Language
I'm torn on the whole thing because I'd rather him be not famous and alive than be famous and dead. It's not a fun position to be in. There are no happy memories. I only have tragic memories. When I hear those songs out in the world, all that stuff comes back.
The camaraderie of music in general brought us together. What you have to understand is that where we lived was pretty demented. We were living in an area that was once thriving, and we were living in its demise. We made music that we thought was great, that saved our lives, and Kurt spoke the same language that we did.
I admire the fact that they were able to make money and become a global phenomenon because I'm involved in it, and my musical sensibilities were right from the beginning, and that had a massive impact.
What Rock Was Supposed to Be About
My first memory of Nirvana was getting a cassette of demos, which ended up becoming Bleach. Everybody's response was that this was an amazing band and these were amazing songs. It was another indication that the Northwest had something special that you couldn't argue with.
It was pretty shocking to see a threepiece that sounded like that, and trying to get inside the head of a guy who writes a song like "Floyd the Barber" – where does the kernel of a song like that start?
The Seattle scene benefitted from an MTV culture, and it was because of the way Nirvana looked and presented themselves that created this kind of unanimous support worldwide. Rock music had become kind of hedonistic – 35-year-old men taking a helicopter to the stage and dating supermodels, and going out of their way to separate themselves from their audience. Nirvana, more than any other band, rocked way harder, had significant originality, while looking like guys you went to high school with. I think that was their secret. There was an inclusion that was long overdue, and it was what rock was supposed to be about.
The legend isn't simply going to be the way that he took his life; I believe it will always be the songs.
Kurt Kissed Eddie Van Halen!
We did this show with Nirvana at the Warfield, in San Francisco. They plugged in, and from the first chord, Kurt flew into the audience. He was surfing over the crowd while playing the song. The crowd threw him back onto the stage, and [snaps his fingers] he hit the first line of the vocal. I was like, "Fuck it, there is no way we can beat that."
The last time I saw Kurt, it was in Los Angeles and San Diego; I went to both shows there on Nirvana's last tour. He seemed very content. He was having fun playing the gig, especially in L.A., because Eddie Van Halen was there. It was funny. Kurt was walking down the hall, and I said, "Dude, Eddie Van Halen's in your dressing room holding court." And Kurt goes, "No way!" He was real excited. Kurt went into the dressing room, walked right up to Eddie and kissed him on the mouth. He had to do that. 1994
Like Describing the Grand Canyon
I think people are still trying to figure out what made Nirvana so important. What makes them so interesting in a lot of ways is that the mystique remains to this day. People are still kind of scratching their heads going, "What was that?"
It was a strange time in music. A lot of stuff was going on in pop and rock and yet there was nothing, not even in alternative, that was a lot like Nirvana. Even with the cool music coming from the Seattle scene, a lot of those bands were really good, but Nirvana were just so different in a way that transcends the medium. It wasn't punk rock or heavy metal – it was just moving.
Kurt's voice was such a perfect rock voice. It was effortless and so open, and he was just a beautiful guy, full of raw emotions. What more could you want? I would always think that when I saw him perform, "What more could you do, my God?" It's like trying to explain the Grand Canyon to people when they haven't seen it.
Frozen in Time
It's weird how we take hold of certain music. We adopt it, we fall in love with it, we own it. In the case of Nirvana, it was millions of us that owned it. It's as if they're immortal, as if they never go away. When you think about what a great record Nevermind is, it seems kind of frozen in time. Maybe it's because I have a few years on me. You tend to look at these great big manifestations in our lives and in our culture with a really appreciative view. It's almost cinematic that they live on. I was never blessed to see Nirvana live. But sometimes it feels as if you could just turn a switch ever so slightly and Kurt would be still here with us and those guys would still be playing.