I was 13 years old when Kurt Cobain died; I remember hearing the news as I sat in the backseat of my parents' car and feeling sick to my stomach. That was 15 years ago.
At the time Cobain died, he was arguably one of the most famous people on the planet; in the weeks following his death, tribute t-shirts popped up all around my middle school, my classmates went into mourning, and photocopies of his suicide note were sent around like priceless documents to be cherished and wept over.
Yet 15 years later, one wonders what Cobain's legacy is; the 7th graders I worked with during my AmeriCorps term two years ago didn't even know who he was (that was the moment I realized how old I was) and preferred to listen to AC/DC and Green Day, with a touch of Pete Wentz thrown in. Nirvana's music is still played on modern rock stations, though it's hard to say if kids listen to it with the same reverence we did, or if they hear it as a relic, a song that is "so 90's," or some such. As for Dave Grohl, they immediately recognized him from the Foo Fighters, and were sort of "Oh, he played the drums? Why didn't he sing?" about his time in Nirvana.
It's strange to think that Nirvana might become (or, perhaps, has already become) one of those bands that is talked about more than listened to: I knew people in college who had Jim Morrison posters on their walls ("he's like, such a poet") but never listened to The Doors; it was more about the image, the encapsulation of a time period, that Morrison provided, rather than the music itself. One wonders if Cobain's iconic image will serve the same purpose. Or, perhaps, Nirvana's music will be there for those who seek it out, for the "real" fans, who appreciate Cobain for his songwriting as much as for his pop culture legacy. And that, perhaps, is the most hopeful scenario.
In any case, as a small tribute, here is one of my favorites: