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Seventeenth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death

On April 4, 2011

Wednesday will mark the 17th anniversary of the death of Nirvana guitarist and frontman Kurt Cobain. For those growing up in the ‘90s, the music of Nirvana represented the rebellious mainstream of popular music.

Nirvana's music was endemic of the times - they were partially responsible for popularizing "grunge," a style of music known for its gritty overdriven and distorted guitars, as well as gruff, often shouted lyrics ranging in subject matter from social awareness to melodramatic non sequitur.

Like many of his edgy ‘90s contemporaries (Tupac Shakur, Bradley Nowell of Sublime, etc), Cobain's life ended abruptly in 1994, when after a night of heroin-fueled catharsis, he took his own life.

In the aftermath of his suicide, his widow Courtney Love read his suicide note publically, where he cited distaste for fame and media intrusion into his private life as reasons for his suicide.

As with many stars who fit the archetype of Neil Young's "it's better to burn out than it is to rust," as stated in his 1979 song "Hey Hey, My MY (Into the Black)," the causes of Cobain's early death have been disputed by fans - including some speculation that Love may have been involved and belief that he may still be alive, but faked his own death to avoid fame as per his documented aversion to public life. These types of rumors are commonplace with the aforementioned group, regardless of confirmation of coroner's reports and autopsy photos. Cobain's grandfather remains a steadfast objector to report of suicide, believing that his grandson was murdered.

After his death, Love's public struggles with heroin and the custody of their child Frances Bean Cobain became a separate issue in the media altogether. It would seem that the memory of Cobain and his contribution to music were mostly forgotten. Fans have chosen to honor the anniversaries of his death by staging public vigils, playing Nirvana's music, and gathering at the couple's former home in Seattle and his childhood home in Aberdeen, Wash.

The following is a playlist that not only highlights some of Cobain's finer works, but can be used by fans to remember the artist on the anniversary of his death. Don't just listen and remember Cobain, but remember a not-so-distant era of pop music where artists took greater risks - and suffered heavier consequences.

1. Nirvana - Come As You Are - One of the singles from the band's platinum Nevermind album released in 1992. As with the other songs on the album, producer Butch Vig subverted Cobain's punk rock ethos of single-track recording, by using overdubbing and post-production effects on Cobain's guitar. Sound bytes of Cobain singing "I don't have a gun" and "memoria" were sampled and played over the track at Vig's behest. The song remains standard on many alternative rock stations across the country and the title is used on the sign welcoming drivers to Aberdeen, Wash., Cobain's hometown. It was one of the band's biggest hits.

2. Nirvana - About A Girl - Two versions of the song exist: the original recording on the band's first album Bleach, and the acoustic version from 1994's MTV's Unplugged, later released as a posthumous single. The latter is the better of the two, as it accurately portrays a somber desperation of a man who had been contemplating suicide and sunken deep into drug addiction. The acoustic version also stands as a metaphor for Cobain's career: it was written about girlfriend Tracy Marander before the band was famous, and after re-recorded in New York for the Unplugged session it was released as a single.

3. Meat Puppets - Plateau - The Meat Puppets were an influence to Cobain, and Nirvana later covered the song in their Unplugged performance. The lyrics seem to suggest a dissatisfaction with goal-orientated actions and those hoping to reach their own "plateau," which is described apathetically in the lyrics. This song deserves to be on the list for two reasons; both stem from the lines "many hands began to scan around for the next plateau… others decided it was nowhere except for where they stood, but those were all just guesses, wouldn't help you if they could." First, it relates to some of the text in Cobain's suicide note, where he writes "…when we're back stage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowds begins, it doesn't affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury, who seemed to love, relish in the love and adoration from the crowd… the worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it." In Cobain's mind, there was "nothing on the top," as the song states, and he felt that he had reached his own plateau. The other reason is that years after his death, MTV News correspondent Kurt Loder wrote an editorial claiming that Swedish garage rock band The Hives filled the void of "great savior" left by Cobain's passing. Since his 2002 posting, it is obvious that Loder was wrong. The faulty assertion and lyrics seem to beg the question of whether there even is a rock'n'roll savior, or if the idea is as trite and unrealistic as any longwinded goal. It is not surprising that Nirvana frequently covered this song in the time prior to Cobain's suicide.

4. Foo Fighters - My Hero - Frontman of the Foo Fighters and former drummer for Nirvana Dave Grohl has repeatedly stated that the song is not about Cobain, but instead about the everyday heroes in any person's life. That being said, last year Grohl told online music source NME that news of Cobain's death was "probably the worst thing that has happened to me in my life… usually it takes something like [suicide] for people to appreciate life as a gift and you have to take advantage of the time that you have." Thus, it is hard to listen to the lyrics "Don't the best of them bleed it out while the rest of them peter out?" and not think of Cobain. As with any work of art, interpretation is in the eye (or ear) of the appreciator - notwithstanding the creator's intentions.12

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