Today marks 17 years since the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. His death at age 27 brought Cobain into an exclusive club, known as the “27 Club”. Famous influential musicians, such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, have all died at the age of 27.
2011 also marks the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s landmark album Nevermind, which set the precent for influential rock music of the 1990s and beyond. Other members of the club include founding Rolling Stones member Brian Jones, influential blues musician Robert Johnson and The Doors frontman Jim Morrison. Fans around the world are remembering Cobain, his music and his influence, commemorating him by paying attention to what he did best, making music, instead of just pouring over the details of his death.
The 27 Club has many influential members. Janis Joplin is a 27 club member who brought enormous grit to her soulful music. She proved women can live as hard, play as hard and sing as hard as their male counterparts. She showed strength and tenacity when it wasn’t necessarily common. “Me and Bobby McGee” was a cover song she made her own, giving it such a woeful performance that the fact it isn’t her own original song is irrelevant.
Cobain made grunge music credible and paved the way for the thoughtful, pensive rocker after the glorious excess of the 1980s. He turned the music world on its ear and gave listeners a peek into how brilliant one can exemplify the sadness in their lives. He made music good again, giving a new generation a reason to listen to new rock music. He showed it didn’t have to be about yearning for the classic rock of old, as anyone can emulate good rock musicianship.
There wouldn’t be most of this music if it hadn’t been for the influence of Blues musician Robert Johnson. Johnson paved the way for Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and Led Zepplin, among countless others. His allure also doesn’t come solely from his masterful guitar playing but from his legend as well. His death is highly disputed (he died from either a poisoning or a shot wound, depending on what you believe), and his alleged deal with the devil for his talent has caught the fascination of many music historians. Talk about giving music history something to talk about.
What makes these musicians legendary for dying at such a young age is that is makes us sentimental towards them and their music. We know what potential there was there, and wonder about what could have been. Music fans want the best they can get, and when someone so talented is gone so soon, their life becomes legend, their music becomes classic and their presence is truly missed. We root for those undeniably talented, and are sad to see them gone so soon. Also, when we don’t get as much from them as we would like, their image becomes shrouded in mystery, as if because we didn’t get enough from them in live it’s almost as if we didn’t get anything at all. For certain, their life is illuminated in legend, and their music becomes ours forever, and we go on longing for more.
Gil Kaufman, “Remembering Kurt Cobain, 17 Years After His Death”, MTV.com