“It’s better to burn out than to fade away”. Many will recall these as the final parting words of Kurt Cobain, written shortly before his death from a self-inflicted shotgun wound on 8th April, 1994…
Many will also know them as a direct quote from the seminal rock anthem ‘Hey Hey, My My’ by Neil Young, an artist so visibly shaken by the death of Cobain that he immediately wrote and recorded ‘Sleeps With Angels’ in his memory, a chugging behemoth of a song noted for its poignant refrain of “too late, too soon”.
Young’s influence on Cobain is by no means surprising; he has done much to earn his “Godfather of Grunge” moniker over the years, and his signature juggernaut of a guitar tone can be heard mirrored by many great artists of the genre, the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam included. And for those who may dismiss Cobain’s legacy as merely a product of what occurred on that tragic day, the reactions of Young are truly food for thought. “He really, really inspired me. He was so great. Wonderful. One of the best, but more than that” he told Nick Kent of MOJO Magazine back in December 1995. He even dedicated a section of his 2012 book Waging Heavy Peace to him, recalling how he tried to reach the troubled musician shortly after his first suicide attempt to tell him to relax and “do exactly what he thought he should do and f**k everybody else,” even if that meant taking a step back from music. How he would have have reacted had he received the message, we don’t know, and sadly never will. What it does prove, however, is that Cobain made such an impression in his own lifetime that his own influences had come full circle and were subsequently moved by him and his music.
Of course, Young is by no means the only artist to have been affected in such a way. Former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, upon hearing how much of 1992’s Automatic To The People was to be in part replicated on Nirvana’s now legendary MTV Unplugged In New York was inspired to seek to collaborate with Cobain for both musical reasons and in an attempt to provide him with some stability. In 2008, Iggy Pop described his music as having “pressed a certain button”, and Patti Smith spoke of the excitement she felt at “the work and the energy” that Nirvana portrayed. Dale Crover and Buzz Osbourne, personal friends and members of Grunge pioneers The Melvins had been massively influential on Nirvana’s first album Bleach, and both described the “massive impact” of the band as “the Cinderella story of the century”.
There are numerous artists that can boast of famous fans, but few are truly bestowed this honour by those who drove them to succeed in the first place, let alone influencing their art in return. Kurt Cobain is one such musician. His music drew from many sources and the result of the way he utilised them was so profound that older and younger generations of artists alike stood up and took notice. It is for this reason his legacy exists and continues to do so within the minds and the art of many of us today.