Most ‘90s teens and 20-somethings will tell you that if you didn’t listen to Top 40 radio or enjoy MTV, you relied on word of mouth, the local record shop, basement shows, and zines to discover new bands and expand your musical repertoire.
The rise of the indie scene gave a platform to tastemakers like Kurt Cobain who wore Flipper, Frightwig, and Sebadoh tees to perform sold-out shows. He dropped names like Daniel Johnston in interviews and introduced blues icon Leadbelly to a whole new generation with his cover of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.”
Cobain would have been 49 today — and Internet be damned, probably still impressing us with his knowledge of underground music, introducing us to new groups. In honor of his birthday, here are quotes from Cobain about the music he loved.
“If it was up to me, I’d get more oil tanker drivers drunk. I don’t value music much. I like the Beatles, but I hate Paul McCartney. I like Led Zeppelin, but I hate Robert Plant. I like the Who, but I hate Roger Daltrey.”
“John Lennon has been my idol all my life but he’s dead wrong about revolution… find a representative of gluttony or oppression and blow the motherfuckers [sic] head off.”
“John Lennon was definitely my favorite Beatle, hands down. I don’t know who wrote what parts of what Beatles songs, but Paul McCarrney embarrasses me. Lennon was obviously disturbed [laughs]. So I could relate to that. And from the books I’ve read — and I’m so skeptical of anything I read, especially in rock books — I just felt really sorry for him. To be locked up in that apartment. Although he was totally in love with Yoko and his child, his life was a prison He was imprisoned. It’s not fair. That’s the crux of the problem that I’ve had with becoming a celebrity — the way people with celebrities. It needs to be changed; it really does. No matter how hard you try, it only comes our like you’re bitching about it. I can understand how a person can feel that way and almost become obsessed with it. But it’s so hard to convince people to mellow out. Just take it easy, have a little bit of respect. We all shit [laughs].”
“Whatever I could get a hold of. My aunts would give me Beatles records, so for the most part it was just Beatles, and every once in a while, if I was lucky, I was able to buy a single.”
“[My father’s] idea of a father-and-son day out would be to take me to work on Saturdays and Sundays and I would sit in his office while he went and counted logs. It’s really a quite exciting weekend. I drew pictures, I made prank phone calls. And then I would go out into the warehouse where they stacked two-by-fours really high up into the air and I would pretend I was being chased or chasing robbers and cops or pretend to be Superman or any other superhero. . . . And then I would take a nap in the van and listen to Queen — “News of the World” on eight-track, over and over again, and drain the battery on the van. Then we’d be stuck. That happened a few times — we’d get stuck after work with a dead battery because I listened to Queen too much.”
“The other day I was driving around in L.A. listening to a college station. They were playing a lot of my favorite bands, like Flipper and The Melvins. I was saying to myself, This is great. And then the DJ came on and went on this half-hour rant about how Nirvana is so obviously business oriented and just because we have colored hair doesn’t mean we’re alternative. And I felt really terrible. Because there is nothing in the world I like more than pure underground music. And to be shunned by this claim that just because you are playing the corporate game you are not honest! You use [the corporate ogre] to your advantage. You fight them by joining them.”
“We [referring to Nirvana] listen to Tad, we love all the Sub Pop stuff. Mudhoney’s my favorite band. The Fluid, Beat Happening, Young Marble Giants, the Melvins, the Pixies, Leadbelly, John Fahey, Leo Kottke, some bluegrass, Middle Eastern stuff.”
“The Melvins really influenced me because they lived in Aberdeen, and I watched a lot of their practices.”
“I like a lot of clean pop like the Vaselines and Beat Happening.”
From a 1991 inteview, published in Interview magazine:
COBAIN: Yeah. A few years later, in the eighth grade. I started playing Cars songs. I took lessons for two days and learned how to play “Back in Black” by AC/DC.
INTERVIEW: And then punk rock changed your life.
COBAIN: Right. I sold my Aerosmith and Led Zepplin collection for twelve dollars. I completely threw away my hard-rock roots and was into MDC and Black Flag.
INTERVIEW: They made everything else seem uncool, right?
COBAIN: Yeah, right.
INTERVIEW: As if you never even been into that hard-rock thing in the first place.
COBAIN: Right. I didn’t get back into that stuff until much later.
INTERVIEW: So when were you reborn as an Aerosmith fan?
COBAIN: Just a few years ago. It wasn’t that painful, actually.
“I like, umm, Lead Belly, the blues singer. He’s a crooner. I’m trying to think of something new I listen to . . . I listen to a lot of kids’ records. Well, just children’s records and sound effects records — I think I enjoy listening to that stuff more than rock ’n’ roll right now.”
“I was trying to write the ultimate pop song [speaking of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”]. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it [smiles]. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band — or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.”
“To put “About a Girl” on Bleach was a risk. I was heavily into pop, I really liked R.E.M., and I was into all kinds of old ‘60s stuff. But there was a lot of pressure within that social scene, the underground — like the kind of thing you get in high school. And to put a jangly R.E.M. type of pop song on a grunge record, in that scene, was risky. We have failed in showing the lighter, more dynamic side of our band. The big guitar sound is what the kids want to hear. We like playing that stuff, but I don’t know how much longer I can scream at the top of my lungs every night, for an entire year on tour. Sometimes I wish I had taken the Bob Dylan route and sang songs where my voice would not go out on me every night, so I could have a career if I wanted.”
From a 1992 interview: “Cobain is happier to reel off a list of some of the bands he does like: The Breeders, the Pixies, REM, Jesus Lizard, Urge Overkill, Beat Happening, Dinosaur Jr and Flipper. Then there’s his beloved Captain America. “Eugene and Frances Kelly are the Lennon and McCartney of the underworld – or the Captain and Tennille,” says Cobain. On last year’s tour Cobain and covered ‘Dolly’s Lips’, a song written by Eugene and first recorded by The Vaselines, the Scottish tunesmith’s previous band.”
“Roy Trakin: ‘How about Iggy and the Stooges? Velvets? Lou Reed?’ Kurt Cobain: ‘Oh yeah, definitely. Some of my favorite music.'”
“I had a subscription to Creem magazine. I thought at age 12 that that’s exactly what I wanted to do and it took years after that to finally have an opportunity to hear that stuff ’cause I lived in a really small town. When I was old enough to drive up to Seattle with my friends, I finally got to have a taste of what punk rock was. At that time, I had been playing guitar for a few years and what I had been playing in my bedroom was really similar to punk rock.”
“I would have been proud to be a New Waver 15 years ago.”