Nirvana and Kurt Cobain: What Could’ve Been
Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain committed suicide 20 years ago (April 5), joining the Forever 27 club, with members Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, and since joined by Amy Winehouse. Nirvana were arguably one of the most popular band at the time, vying with Pearl Jam and other Seattle bands for alternative rock supremacy. As death so often does, Nirvana have reached legendary historical status because of Kurt’s death, giving Nirvana an elevated place in our hearts and minds.
Had Nirvana continued, who knows where they would be now? There are many questions that no one can accurately answer, but are fun to ponder. Would Nirvana have survived the edging out of alternative rock bands, or helped sustain the movement? Would Dave Grohl’s desire to write and sing songs make Nirvana a double threat, or drive the band apart? Would Dave Grohl have still formed Them Crooked Vultures, and been a guest drummer on as many albums as he has? Would the YouTube phenomenon make Cobain more private and insular? Would Kurt and Courtney Love have stayed together, or more importantly, would they have starred in a reality show?! Would Nirvana drive itself into obscurity, making horrible album after horrible album, to the point where we don’t even care about them?!
Where would Nirvana have gone musically? As their excellent MTV Unplugged album shows, Kurt does have one hell of a voice, a severely understated strength of the band. Nirvana does have the odd “softer” song, but they aren’t the focal points of the albums. The guitar work in these songs is still distorted and dominating in the choruses. Would the band have mellowed out a bit, and changed directions? Surely they can’t make the same album over and over again, although Oasis (and sure, the Foo Fighters) made a decent career out of that. Would they dip into synths, like their 90s comrades the Smashing Pumpkins, which effectively ended their popularity (although Adore is a really good album!). Would they have giant stadium tours ala U2 and Coldplay?
The obvious (and sad) thing is that we can only guess. Knowing what we know about Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters, we can guess that Nirvana would’ve stayed relatively popular, with Dave Grohl getting some of his songs into the Nirvana fold. If one were to consider Nirvana a more popular version of the Foo Fighters, and somewhat mimic their career arc (which was initially sustained by Nirvana-nostalgia, and maintained by Grohl’s songwriting skills), Nirvana would be one of the most popular bands in the world today, headlining festivals everywhere. Whether the erratic Kurt Cobain would allow them to sustain these heights for 20 more years is another story, a story which unfortunately ended on April 5, 1994. R.I.P. Kurt Cobain – you inspired a generation in the most brilliant and saddest ways possible.
Note: This article was originally published on April 5, 2014. It has been updated in reflection of the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death.