It Was 20 Years Ago Today Kurt Cobain Was Found Dead In His Home Near Seattle

In some ways, I feel like I was Nirvana’s biggest fan in the Nineties,” Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “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.”

That “sickness” continued throughout Weezer’s career. In November 1998 Weezer played their first of five secret shows under the alias “Goat Punishment” – an entire set of Nirvana covers: “Aneurysm,” “Breed,” etc (it was bootlegged by the band, and is now on YouTube). A decade later Rivers wrote the final verse of “Heart Songs” as a remembrance of how Nevermind inspired him. That same year “Silver,” the song that flamed Rivers’ love for Kurt’s songwriting, became a Weezer setlist regular.

The other, far-hipper employees at Tower kind of educated me,” Cuomo explained to Rolling Stone. “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 been able to come close to articulating in my own music.”

Rivers is certainly not alone in his love for the songwriting of Kurt Cobain, who was found dead from a suicide 20 years ago today. It’s not just musicians of Kurt and River’s generation that took notice though. Neil Young, choked up, concluded his 1995 induction speech into the Rock and Roll Hall by thanking Cobain for “inspiration to renew my commitments“. While discussing his Cobain tribute “Sleeps With Angels,” Neil told Mojo, “He really, really inspired me. He was so great. Wonderful. One of the best, but more than that. Kurt was one of the absolute best of all time for me.” Neil, who was quoted in Cobain’s suicide note, has gone on to praise Kurt numerous times in the past two decades, perhaps most revealing in Shakey – A Neil Young Biography: “What that suicide has done is return me to my roots. Makes me go back and investigate where I started. Where I came from. Why am I here and why is he not here? Does my music suffer because I survived?

Nirvana will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on April 10th, and Kurt’s influence on rock continues to be felt two decades on. Take “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as the most obvious of examples. It’s been famously covered by every from Tori Amos to Paul Anka to Miley Cyrus; The Bad Plus gave it a full on modern jazz arrangement; and of Montreal regularly covered it at the end of 2008 (the YouTube clips are all shoddy, though this one captures the visual excitement, and a high quality crowd recording of their October 10, 2008 concert at New York’s Roseland Ballroom – including “Teen Spirit” with guest Andrew VanWyngarden – is available via nyctaper). But the version that perhaps most captures the haunted eeriness of Kurt’s writing is Patti Smith’s. “In Kurt’s voice I could hear his love of bluegrass music, of Bill Monroe and Leadbelly,” Smith explained in the linear notes to Twelve, her 2007 covers album. “It’s in the twang of his voice.” To fully embrace the old, weird Americana of Kurt’s melody Patti invited some fiddle playin’, banjo pickin’ friends to accompany her: The Fugs/ Holy Modal Rounders’ Peter Stampfel, New Lost City Ramblers’ John Cohen and playwright Sam Shepard (also a sporadic member of the Holy Modal Rounders during the late ’60s).

In recognition of Kurt’s impact various quotes and covers have been collected below.
Up first…Patti Smith:

“‘Kurt Cobain said that ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was a rip-off of a Pixies song. How does that make you feel?’ I’ve been asked that question so many friggin’ times that I don’t even know what to say anymore. Why is this so important?…’So, Kurt Cobain said he liked you! Woo-hoo! Come on, Frank, did you get an erection?’ I just can’t bring myself to say some sort of ‘People’ magazine kind of comment. People were trying to call me to do interviews on the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. They want me to say some poignant shit about some poor guy who blew his head off. It’s just like, ‘Give me a fuckin’ break, man.’ I don’t want to do that. Just say the guy made some good records, and let’s get on with it. Don’t make me get all poignant and say, ‘You know what I’d like to say? He spoke for a generation, blah blah blah blah blah.’ I’m just so sick of all that.”
-Frank Black to A.V. Club, 2006

That kid has heart.”
-Bob Dylan, responding to “Polly,” as quoted by Charles R. Cross in Heavier Than Heaven

We did a week with Nirvana in the fall of 1993. About halfway through our Halloween show, an overexcited fan bopped Kurt on the noggin with a tennis shoe. Kurt grabbed the offending article and looked into the audience for the culprit. Unable to find him, Kurt dropped the shoe onto the stage, unzipped his fly, and mid-song, filled the shoe with piss.”
-Derrick Bostrom (Meat Puppets) to Spin, 1995

The minute I heard Nirvana, you could tell, ‘Oh, this guy sounds like what American radio sounds like–Bad Company or Cheap Trick or something. His voice really has got that commercial kind of style.’
– J Mascis to A.V. Club, 2005

Nirvana were like power chords–that’s blocky, kinda power-chord music with the occasional Sonic Youth-y flip-out in it. But the power of that band is Kurt Cobain’s voice, which is just fucking caramel–a beautiful rock voice.”
-Lou Barlow to A.V. Club, 2005

Nevermind was the soundtrack for a period of emotional upheaval in my life and the lives of all my closest friends. I’ve never seen anything happen like this in my life. Another of my favorite Nirvana moments: Kurt telling Krist to shut up on the MTV Unplugged special.”
-Lou Barlow to Spin, 1995

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.”
-Beck to Rolling Stone, 2014

I remember watching Kurt come through and thinking, ‘God, this music is nuclear,’ This is really splitting the atom. They raised the temperature for everybody. Manufactured pop never looked so cold as when that heat was around. Nirvana made everything else look silly.”
-Bono to Newsweek, 2002

I went to see Nirvana at a small club called the Pyramid on Avenue A in New York City. It was hard to hear the guitar, but the guy playing and singing had a vibe; he hopped around like a muppet or an elf or something, hunched over his guitar, hop hop hop, hippety hippety hop, I loved that. When he sang, he put his voice in this really grating place, and it was kind of devilish sounding. At the end of the set he attacked the drum kit and threw cymbals, other bits, and finally himself into the audience. Later I saw the same guy passing the bar. He was little, with stringy blond hair and a Stooges T-shirt. I felt proud.”
-Iggy Pop to Spin, 1995

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 backup from a small, rural area effected 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 down-home at its root. Somebody who is truly nobody from nowhere reached out and touched the world. He may have touched it right on its wound.'”
-Iggy Pop in Rolling Stone, 2008

Rage and aggression were elements for Kurt to play with as an artist, but he was profoundly gentle and intelligent.”
-Thurston Moore to The New York Times, 2004

I mourn for Kurt. A once beautiful, then pathetic, lost and heroically stupid boy.”
-Pete Townshend writing for The Guardian, 2002

I was simply blown away when I found out that Kurt Cobain liked my work, and i always wanted to talk to him about his reasons for covering ‘Man Who Sold the World.’ It was a good straightforward rendition and sounded somehow very honest. It would have been real nice to have worked with him, but just talking would have been real cool.
-David Bowie to Spin, 1995

He talked a lot about what direction he was heading in. I mean, I know what the next Nirvana recording was going to sound like. It was going to be very quiet and acoustic, with lots of stringed instruments. It was going to be an amazing fucking record, and I’m a little bit angry at him for killing himself. He and I were going to record a trial run of the album, a demo tape. It was all set up. He had a plane ticket. He had a car picking him up. And at the last minute he called and said, ‘I can’t come.'”
-Michael Stipe to Newsweek, 1994

Nirvana’s success drew attention to a marketing demographic previously ignored by the mainstream, and inadvertently started a gold rush with advertising executives, product manufacturers, merchandise distributors, fashion coordinators, and rock imitators, the latter of whom have yet to equal the sincerity, power, and wit of Nirvana.”
-Kim Thayil to Spin, 1995

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.’
-Win Butler to Rolling Stone, 2014

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…That day [April 8, 1994], 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.
-Patti Smith to Rolling Stone, 1996

I was heartbroken when he committed suicide. I loved Nirvana. And I knew that Kurt Cobain was very fond of my husband [the late guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith] and the MC5. We felt so badly. We just wished that we would have known him, and been able to talk to him, and had some positive effect on him. Seeing Robert struggling for his life, and doing everything to live, and then seeing this very gifted boy kill himself was painful to factor.”
-Patti Smith to Seattle Weekly, 2010

After we finished [Weezer’s self-titled debut] record, I was enrolled in community college in a music class. I remember coming out of the class and my friends telling me that Kurt had died. It was such a great blow – not only to me, but to everyone in Weezer, everyone we hung out with. It was very hard to listen to any other music for weeks after that. Everything just sounded shallow. 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.”
-Rivers Cuomo to Rolling Stone, 2014

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