It took something brutal and visceral to break through the corporate stagnation that was American rock in the late ’80s – and Nirvana had it in raging, alienated buckets full. They came roaring out of Seattle’s trailer-park, hinterland hell fired by a fury at the emptiness they saw all around them. They never set out to become symbols of their age and Kurt
Cobain in particular hated stardom even as he courted it. But there was soon a new media catchall to describe the phenomenon Nirvana came to represent: Generation X.

Of course, the sound they perfected didn’t arrive out of nowhere. They took in influences as diverse as The Meat Puppets, Devo, Sonic Youth and The Butthole Surfers. The likes of Jane’s Addiction and Soundgarden had previously fused heavy metal and alternative rock and the Pixies had merged a pop sensibility with white noise. But Nirvana pulled all these strands together to create something gloriously fresh that was both sonically abrasive and glisteningly melodic at the same time.

Their trump card was the complex and troubled character of Cobain, whose songwriting and creativity was not so much marred by his manic depression and self-destructive tendencies as driven by them. Their debut album, Bleach, appeared in 1989. But it was Nevermind two years later that took alternative into the mainstream and made them international superstars. By then Cobain’s heroin habit had already taken hold and his problems were only exacerbated by his inability to handle fame. There was to be just one more studio album, with 1993’s In Utero. Once again fuelled rather than constrained by Cobain’s growing instability, it was their final triumph.

When he died by his own hand on April 5, 1994, he ensured immortality. But his legend would not have taken root without the legacy of some of the most ferocious and remarkable rock music ever made.

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