Come As You Are: Nirvana’s Loyal Fans Still Light a Candle is the first in our original series featuring personal stories about and from devoted music fan communities.
By Leah Morrison Being born in the late eighties, I was launched into the biggest pop music era by the time I was ten years old. I became a huge fan of Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, and The Spice Girls, and still know every word to every song. Thankfully, my older brother had much better taste in music at the time and was a fan of Oasis, Our Lady Peace, Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam. But the very center of his universe was reserved for Nirvana. His bedroom was a shrine to the band, with T-shirts, posters, and framed sketches. Even today at 30 years old, he knows Nirvana influenced him into becoming the man he is. He’s a confident, direct, successful, and a pretty bad ass guy who still loves great music.
For almost three decades, Nirvana has kept a hold on its fans, especially those who grew up in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Formed in 1987 and coming into its own in 1990 with Nevermind, the band revolutionized Alternative & Rock music via a new genre: Grunge music. This inspired and introduced an entire generation to something spectacular. In the period just before they arrived there was a lack of realness in popular music of the time. Lots of artists were releasing upbeat songs with lyrics that came from someone else, whether pop music or hair metal. It was great to listen to, but wasn’t something people could relate to on an intimate level.
Nirvana’s music created the much-needed emotional liberation people had been craving. There was just nothing fake about them—they wrote their own music, all of their lyrics, and spoke directly about how they wanted things run. They were as authentic a band as the world had seen at that point in time, and they opened a lot of eyes with their sound.
An entire generation was influenced to be who they truly were and to embrace it. Nirvana gave people confidence to speak their minds and provided an outlet for the frustrations and angst all teenagers feel. They inspired people to be themselves and were loved around the world for bringing this idea to mass culture.
When Cobain died on April 5th, 1994, worlds were shattered. Part of it was the loss of the front man of one of the biggest bands of all time. Another part was the mystery that still surrounds his death: conspiracy theories persist twenty years on asking if the death was suicide or murder. The music industry took a huge hit as this band had changed the shape of it and many copycat bands (and their labels) tried to fill in the big space left behind. But even though that was the end of Nirvana, people have continued to discover their music years later joining the ranks of original fans (Dave Grohl would go on to front the hugely successful Foo Fighters).
Fans around the world are still devoted to Nirvana and what they stood for, and websites and social media accounts dedicated to the band are regularly maintained and updated, with members sharing their stories, pictures, favourite songs, and tidbits. Twitter has Nirvana fan group accounts from Canada, the United States, Indonesia, France, Nicaragua, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and more. I have a friend who lit a candle on the anniversary of Cobain’s birth and death for many years to commemorate all he and Nirvana meant to her.
Anniversaries are celebrated privately and publicly, whether it’s the 20-year mark of the In Utero album release, or the anniversary of Cobain’s death (20 years as of 2014). Concerts are performed to commemorate these anniversaries, and tribute bands like Novana and Hervana (the first all-female tribute band) can be found globally. There is also a new record store day release just announced for download through iTunes called “Whatever Nevermind: A tribute to Nirvana’s Nevermind” featuring Torche & Nothing.
A fan told me recently that she was drawn to the band because of the sad truth that she had missed their heyday. Having grown up in Abu Dhabi and without North American television and media exposure, she didn’t discover Nirvana’s music until the late nineties. She wishes she had been older so she could’ve had the chance to appreciate them more, much like the way later generations idolize iconic bands like Led Zeppelin and The Clash.
In 2012 I found myself in Seattle for only three days. I refused to leave the city without seeing Kurt Cobain’s house to pay homage to the band that had changed the face of music and that still meant so much to people like my brother. After getting lost a couple of times, my boyfriend and I finally parked the car across the street from the home. It had the gate drawn across the driveway, blocking most of the view, but I was still in awe. It was like entering a church. Right beside the house was a small clearing with a single wooden park bench. I walked closer to get a better look and realized it was a shrine. For years people had apparently been coming to pay their respects to Cobain and all he and Nirvana stood for. Carvings, messages, cigarettes, flowers, and stickers covered the bench, symbols of fans’ devotion and thanks.
When I left Seattle I felt like I had seen a piece of history, the Graceland of Grunge. I can’t see Nirvana’s fan base shrinking in the future. If anything, I believe it’ll continue to grow and a later generation will realize how amazing this little Garage band was, and how its place in music history will continue to inspire people in different ways.
Related reading: 10 Marks Left by Kurt Cobain on Modern Music Makers; Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain; Selling Nirvana’s Legacy: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Spin’s 1994 cover story on Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Nirvana Fan Club
Related watching: Kurt & Courtney, the documentary by Nick Broomfield (1998) via Fandor. A flawed but essential documentary that captured the zeitgeist of what was going on with fans and the media in the years immediately following Cobain’s death, with interviews with those very close to Cobain in his early years pre-fame, as well as some unpacking of the conspiracy theories surrounding Kurt’s death. Courtney Love tried her best to get this film killed and minimized its release, as well as refusing any music usage rights.
Montage of Heck: The upcoming documentary which looks to be a full, capably rendered and honest portrayal of a complex man, blew audiences at Sundance and SXSW away. It may run at your local art house theatre, if you are lucky enough to live in a city that has one (in Toronto it’s screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and Bloor Hot Docs Cinema April 23rd /April 24) before it airs on HBO May 4th.
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