By Tommy Hough
It's hard to believe now, even as the 90s rapidly recede in the cultural rearview mirror, but Kurt Cobain would've been 50 today. Like many Generation X’ers who were members of the KISS Army, the big five-oh is closing in, and Cobain was no different.
Born Feb. 20, 1967, in the logging town of Aberdeen along the Washington coast, Cobain learned to play along to classic rock like Creedence Clearwater Revivial, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin as a kid, but he also digested punk rock and KISS records as fast as he could get his hands on it.
That melding of punk, classic rock, and new wave sensibilities thankfully rid Cobain and his Pacific Northwest peers of any kind of alleigance or adherence to the hair metal gene, and his musical identity took shape when he moved to Olympia, Washington – home of Evergreen State College, then and now an incubator of artistic sensibilities, and a refuge for many independent-thinking kids from the Northwest.
I remember working at my college station at Ohio University years ago, shortly before the great grunge explosion that came down the pike (Pike Place, perhaps?) with Nirvana's Nevermind, and watching the hunk of vinyl known as Bleach going around and around on the turntable, making great, loud noise. At the time, Seattle was merely one of several music scenes happening around the country, including Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville, Austin, Madison, Boston, Atlanta and Athens, Georgia.
Furthermore, at the time, Nirvana was almost a Johnny-come-lately to the "Seattle scene," with bands like Tad (if you've never heard Salt Lick or God's Balls, you're missing out), Soundgarden and Mudhoney more in the forefront. By that time Soundgarden even had a major label deal (gasp!) on A&M Records, and Screaming Trees wound up on Epic Records shortly thereafter.
Nevertheless, it was Nirvana that precipitated the explosion of culture and music from the Pacific Northwest, and the world hasn't been the same since then. And that's a great thing.
So here's to you Kurt Cobain, and happy birthday. Whether you meant to do so or not, you gave rock and roll the swift kick in the ass it needed at just the right time. In doing so you lent a cultural soundtrack and a wealth of killer songs that myself and millions of Gen. X'ers could, at last, call our own. You helped give all of us an identity and a common cultural focal point. For that, we say thank you.
A San Diego County planning commissioner and former radio host at 91X and FM 94/9, Tommy Hough works as an environmental consultant with the ReWild Mission Bay campaign, and is a California Democratic Party delegate and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action.