1. He brought grittiness and raw energy back to guitar music:
During the time of Nirvana’s emergence and rise in popularity, a lot of popular guitar music had hit a plateau of meaningless lyrics, tight trousers and bandanas. Flamboyant personas were beginning to eclipse the music they represented. Kurt’s style of song-writing and Nirvana’s cathartic live performances brought an unapologetic realness and energy back to the scene.
2. He was (and still is) the voice of the outcast:
Cobain’s music, outlook and contempt for the popular culture, which had excluded him before his success, reminded people that it was ok to be different. It showed the disenfranchised youth that there was an alternative scene if they weren’t happy to swallow the culture which was being force-fed to them.
3. Artistry over technical ability:
Nirvana’s style of playing and in particular, Kurt’s, reintroduced the notion that musicians didn’t have to be instrumental wizards in order to write brilliant and evocative music. This idea spurred countless would-be musicians to turn their hand to an instrument.
4. A new wave of artists:
Nirvana gave birth to a new wave of rock music. It would be impossible to list all of the bands which they influenced, but the easiest way to get an idea of their impact is to look at rock groups which existed prior to Nirvana, and rock groups which existed after Nirvana. You’ll get the picture pretty quickly.
5. Women in rock music:
Kurt Cobain is often cited as a feminist; one of the ways he earned himself this title was through his promotion of female-fronted rock bands. Grunge was really the first genre within rock music to give women a platform, in a way that other sub-genres of the time, such as heavy metal, never would have done.
6. Impact on fashion:
Whether he would have liked the idea or not, the fact remains that Kurt Cobain was one of the most influential style icons of the past 30 years. His beaten, thrift-store-esque plaid shirts, oversized jumpers, ripped 501s, tattered Converse and occasional floral dress are still relevant today and were the perfect visual metaphor for Nirvana’s musical and ideological approach: stripped back, raw, and embracing the idea of androgyny. Countless designers have cited Kurt as a direct inspiration on some of their collections; Heidi Slimane, Raf Simons and Marc Jacobs, to name a few.
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Kurt’s suicide in 1994 shook a global community of which he had become the figurehead. Concerns were raised about so-called ‘copycat suicides’, which affected fans who saw Kurt’s actions as a betrayal of them. Conversely, there is evidence to show that the suicide rate in Seattle actually dropped following Cobain’s death. His suicide also whipped up a frenzy amongst conspiracy theorists, who felt that the evidence didn’t quite add up and that the case was dismissed too quickly. There are still controversial documentaries being put out on this topic as recently as 2015.