The Blog

One Generation on From Cobain and Nirvana

Guitar amplifier legend Jim Marshall died today. And today also marks the 18th anniversary of the death of one of his best-known customers, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain - though the coroner had to estimate his exact time of death as his body was only discovered on April 8th 1994.

In the spring of 1994 Nirvana were on tour with Manchester punk legends Buzzcocks and Cobain asked guitarist Steve Diggle how they had managed to survive so long. "You've got to have a sense of humour on the tour bus. That can see you through," explained Diggle.

Clearly there was not enough humour for Cobain to go on for he chose to take his own life after leaving the tour early and returning home to Seattle. Who knows what would have happened to Nirvana, and Cobain, had they grown larger and embraced the business of creating rock music - as Green Day have mastered.

The Nirvana back catalogue still sounds fresh. The cover of their magnum opus'Nevermind' still graces the T-shirts of kids on skateboards the world over - kids who were not even born when it was released in 1991. The passing of time has been kind to Nirvana.

Yet this was another era. A child born on the day Cobain died would be celebrating his first birthday as an adult this week - an entire generation has passed us by. Nirvana existed in an era before phone ringtones or the World Wide Web - the groundbreaking Netscape web browser was not even released until October 1994.

Over the past few days I talked to several friends about where Nirvana might have gone. Some talked of them as a rock super-group, they would still selling out arenas the world over in the same way The Rolling Stones manage to generate excitement about live shows where most of the material was written decades ago. Some are dismissive, believing that what happened had to happen - you could see it in Cobain's lyrics that he hated the business of making music to the extent that he would up hating himself for selling his words.

I like to think that they could have followed the example of the group on the tour bus with them just before Cobain ended his life. Buzzcocks were one of the most influential groups to emerge from the punk and new wave movement, but they were always different because they celebrated intelligence and issues rather than nihilism. Without Pete Shelley's vague gender definition in apparently sexual songs there would never have been The Smiths - and without them where would British popular music have been?

Buzzcocks kept it together and are still touring and putting out new albums that retain much of their appeal from the early days. They might not hit the charts or be featured on the cover of NME these days, but they are a good example of how artists can create a career that has longevity - without selling out.

Contrast the music of Kurt Cobain and Buzzcocks to one of the most popular global artists around today, Justin Bieber, born a month before Cobain died. If an artist needs to make guest appearances on TV cop shows and sing about their 'baby' to make it big in the music business today then it's clear that Nirvana would never have survived. It's just a shame Cobain never saw that there could be another path beyond just creating radio-friendly unit shifters.