I lived in the Seattle area in 1989 when Nirvana's Bleach was released. I didn't have the foresight to see that what was happening around me in the isolated Pacific Northwest was about to take the world by storm. I moved to Alabama in September 1991, just as Nevermind was about to usher in a new era of music. Nirvana would spend the next two years trying to carry the weight of a movement they were credited with and/or accused of starting. It had been at least three decades since the world witnessed this kind of musical and cultural hurricane and Nirvana, and Cobain in particular, was the eye of that storm.
They were more than just a popular band with a hit record. I won't attempt to put a bow on what they meant to a generation. I don't think it can be done. I know I can't do it.
I remember the sickening feeling when I heard the news. It such a violent, bitter end to the life of a man who had achieved so much in such a short time. It was the end of the world as we knew it and it felt anything but fine. The warning signs were there. We knew he was in trouble. We could see he wasn't built for longevity in the spotlight. Some feared he wasn't built for longevity at all. The signs were there and yet there was something terrible and shocking about the moment.
The world stopped, time froze, and nothing seemed real. I couldn't imagine that life was ever going to return to normal. I thought Cobain, Nirvana, and Seattle had changed the world forever. We thought of this moment as the generational equivalent of John Lennon's murder. He was called our Dylan, our Lennon. Lennon was a transcendent figure in life and death. We thought the same was true of Cobain. I'm not sure I was right about hiss place but I'm not convinced I was wrong.
I don't know what the Nirvana and Cobain legacy is today. I don't know what future generations will make of him, his band, or his music. I have seen stars come and go since his passing but no one band or individual has come close to seizing a moment in that same way. History suggests that torch will one day be lit again but until it is, Kurt Cobain was the last to wield it. The warning signs were there and I still can't believe he's gone. I can't believe it's been 17 years. I still believe that moment changed the world. It changed me.