Kurt Cobain remembered, 20 years after his death

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Kurt Cobain remembered, 20 years after his death
Musician Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and daughter Frances Bean Cobain attend 10th Annual MTV Video Music Awards on September 2, 1993 at the Universal Ampitheater in Universal City, California.
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 24: Frances Bean Cobain and designer Jeremy Scott attend the 'Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck' Premiere during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival at The Marc Theatre on January 24, 2015 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images for Sundance)
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
381721 01: Courtney Love (R) and daughter Frances Bean Cobain, enjoy courtside seats with a friend at the Los Angeles Lakers-Houston Rockets game November 12, 2000 in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Newsmakers)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Frances Bean Cobain and Lindsey Ray attend Eddie Martinez 'Nomader' Opening on September 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Kohn Gallery)
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 02: Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and baby Frances Bean attending the 1993 MTV Music Video Awards in Los Angeles 09/02/93 (Photo by Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images)
WESTWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 17: Frances Bean Cobain arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of 'Twilight' at the Mann Village and Bruin Theaters on November 17, 2008 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
American singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain (1967 - 1994), performs with his group Nirvana at a taping of the television program 'MTV Unplugged,' New York, New York, Novemeber 18, 1993. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 23: READING FESTIVAL Photo of Eugene KELLY and Kurt COBAIN and NIRVANA, Kurt Cobain with Eugene Kelly performing live onstage (Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Frances Bean Cobain and Lindsey Ray attend Eddie Martinez 'Nomader' Opening on September 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Kohn Gallery)
Courtney Love & Daughter Frances Bean Cobain (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Courtney Love & Daughter Frances Bean Cobain (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
GERMANY - NOVEMBER 12: Photo of Krist NOVOSELIC and Kurt COBAIN and Dave GROHL and NIRVANA; L-R: Dave Grohl, Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, posed, group shot (Photo by Paul Bergen/Redferns)
Courtney Love and Frances Bean Cobain (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Courtney Love (right) and daughter Frances Bean Cobain at the Smashbox Studios in Culver City, California (Photo by Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage)
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana during 1993 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2007 file photo, singer Courtney Love and her daughter Frances Bean Cobain pose as they arrive at the City of Beverly Hills and the Rodeo Drive Committee event honoring Gianni Versace and his sister Donatella Versace with the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, file)
Dave Grohl,Kurt Cobain and Kirst Novoselic of Nirvana (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
Rock star Courtney Love and 12-year-old daughter Frances Bean Cobain attend the finale of FOX network's "American Idol" finale at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles Wednesday, May 25, 2005. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Actress and musician Courtney Love, right, is joined by daughter Frances Bean Cobain before boarding the USS John C. Stennis for the premiere of Disney's film "Pearl Harbor" in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Monday, May 21, 2001. The movie opens in theaters Friday.(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Tom Freston, Sumner Redstone, Courtney Love witrh daughter Frances Bean Cobain, guest, Danny Goldberg, and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 10: A letter from entertainer Kurt Cobain to Courtney Love stands on display December 10, 2004 in New York City. Christie's, in a partnership with Julien's, will hold a Rock & Roll and Entertainment Memorabilia auction Friday, December 17, 2004. The sale, which will include such items as guitars owned by Beatle George Harrison, an Academy Award from 1941 for Best Picture, interview tapes of John Lennon, letters from Kurt Cobain to Courtney Love and numerous Elvis memorabilia, is expected to realize in the region of $3 million. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
Courtney Love, Frances Bean Cobain, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
(NO TABLOIDS) Kurt Cobain of Nirvana during Nirvana in New York, New York. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 24: Frances Bean Cobain and Courtney Love pose with director Brett Morgen at the 'Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck' Premiere during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival at The Marc Theatre on January 24, 2015 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images for Sundance)
UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 30: READING FESTIVAL Photo of Kurt COBAIN and NIRVANA, Kurt Cobain performing live onstage, wearing wig (Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns)
NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 25: HILVERSUM Photo of Kurt COBAIN and NIRVANA, Kurt Cobain recording in Hilversum Studios smoking cigarette (Photo by Michel Linssen/Redferns)
LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 26: Actress Emma Roberts (L) and Frances Bean Cobain attend the pre-party for the premiere of the Twentieth Century Fox film 'Aquamarine' on February 26, 2006 at the Fox Studio Lot in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 25: Kurt Cobain from Nirvana performs live on stage at Paradiso in Amsterdam, Netherlands on November 25 1991 (photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns)
Married singers Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain w. their daughter Frances Bean. (Photo by Kevin Winter/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 25: HILVERSUM Photo of NIRVANA, Kurt Cobain, posed, looking to camera, recording in Hilversum Studios (Photo by Michel Linssen/Redferns)
NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 25: HILVERSUM Photo of Kurt COBAIN and NIRVANA, Kurt Cobain recording in Hilversum Studios (Photo by Michel Linssen/Redferns)
Courtney Love and daughter Frances Bean Cobain (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana with wife Courtney Love and daughter Frances Bean Cobain (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
Married singers Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain w. their daughter Frances Bean. (Photo by Kevin Winter/DMI/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana during MTV Live and Loud: Nirvana Performs Live - December 1993 at Pier 28 in Seattle, Washington, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana with wife Courtney Love and daughter Frances Bean Cobain at the Universal Ampitheater in Universal City, California (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana during MTV Live and Loud: Nirvana Performs Live - December 1993 at Pier 28 in Seattle, Washington, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
American singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain (1967 - 1994), performs with his group Nirvana at a taping of the television program 'MTV Unplugged,' New York, New York, Novemeber 18, 1993. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
In this photo taken Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, a sign marks the location of "Kurt Cobain Landing," a tiny park blocks from the childhood home of Kurt Cobain, the late frontman of Nirvana, in Aberdeen, Wash. Cobain's mother is putting the tired, 1.5-story Aberdeen bungalow on the market this week, the same month as the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's final studio album. The home, last assessed at less than $67,000, is being listed for $500,000, but the family would also be happy entering into a partnership with anyone who wants to turn it into a museum. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
In this photo taken Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, graffiti, mostly written about Kurt Cobain, the late frontman of Nirvana, adorns the underside of the Young Street Bridge blocks from his childhood home in Aberdeen, Wash. Cobain's mother is putting the family's tired, 1.5-story Aberdeen bungalow, where Cobain spent many of his childhood years, on the market this week, the same month as the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's final studio album. The home, last assessed at less than $67,000, is being listed for $500,000, but the family would also be happy entering into a partnership with anyone who wants to turn it into a museum. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana with wife Courtney Love and daughter Frances Bean Cobain (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: Frances Bean Cobain arrives at the Teen Vogue Young Hollywood Party at Vibiana on Sepember 20, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 26: Frances Bean Cobain is seen at LAX on January 26, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by JOCE/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Actress Courtney Love (C) daughter Frances Bean Cobain (R) and photographer David LaChapelle arrive at the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style awards held at Beverly Hills City Hall on February 8, 2007 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 24: Artist Frances Bean Cobain (L) and director Brett Morgen attend the HBO documentary films Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck Sundance premiere on January 24, 2015 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for HBO)
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Kurt Cobain changed Win Butler's world. Billie Joe Armstrong thought the Nirvana frontman was his generation's John Lennon and Paul McCartney. And Beck thinks he owes a debt of gratitude to the singer-guitarist for opening the world's ears to a thriving, but little-heard underground scene.

It's been two decades since Cobain took his own life on April 5, 1994, at age 27, yet he remains an important cultural touchstone for those he influenced and entertained in his short-lived career. The Associated Press spoke with a handful of musicians about their memories of Cobain as the anniversary of his suicide approached. Some knew him, some watched him from afar. All were touched in some way profound and unforgettable.

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Beck experienced Nirvana long before everyone else. He ran into the band three years before Nirvana's "Nevermind" changed pop music.

He had never heard of the band, the opening act on a three-band bill, the top draws now lost to memory.

"I have a memory of them coming out and he had his middle finger up, was giving his middle finger to the audience," he said. " ... I'd seen a lot of punk shows and I'd seen a lot of bands when I was younger where the shows were pretty aggressive or confrontational, but there was something completely different about this. I remember he had a smile on his face, there was a kind of playfulness, but it was also a little menacing, and I remember the minute they started playing, the entire audience erupted in a way I hadn't seen before."

Everything that would make the band popular when "Smells Like Teen Spirit" ripped the fabric of pop music was already there.

"And I can tell you, any situation I've been in and many of my peers I've seen coming up, playing for audiences who've never heard of you, you don't get people's attention at all," he said. "Usually they're talking or going to the bathroom in those kinds of situations, but they had the audience from the first note. Even if they had never become successful, I would still remember that. It made a big impression. I remember at the time thinking, `What is this? Something's going on here,' and I was a fan after that."

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Billie Joe Armstrong remembers being out on Green Day's first tour in 1990 and encountering the band's graffiti in a string of tiny clubs out West. He'd heard of Nirvana through its Sub Pop releases, including its debut album, "Bleach," but thought little of it at the time.

A year later, Nirvana was known throughout the world. Cobain became something of a tortured poet laureate, a figure Armstrong thinks was as important for his generation as Lennon and McCartney were to theirs.

"You know, the guy just wrote beautiful songs," Armstrong said. "When someone goes that honestly straight to the core of who they are, what they're feeling, and was able to kind of put it out there, I don't know, man, it's amazing. I remember hearing it when `Nevermind' came out and just thinking, we've finally got our Beatles, this era finally got our Beatles, and ever since then it's never happened again. That's what's interesting. I was always thinking maybe the next 10 years. OK, maybe the next 10 years, OK, maybe. ... That was truly the last rock `n' roll revolution."

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Like Armstrong, Win Butler was moved when he first heard "Nevermind" in 1991. So was everyone in the Arcade Fire frontman's world growing up in Texas.

"All the sudden the whole kind of social dynamic at my junior high changed where these kind of misfit kids who maybe come from a broken home and they're smoking cigarettes in the back and they didn't have money for nice clothes, all the sudden those kids socially were in a weird way on the same level as everyone else," Butler said. "I was sort of like a weird kid who didn't know where I fit in or whatever and just to have that kind of voice be that big in culture, I feel like that was a magical period of alternative music where we had Jane's Addiction and R.E.M. and Nirvana, it was like seeing these kind of freaks from all the different cities of North America and you're like, oh wow."

Butler still takes cues from Cobain and Nirvana. After winning the 2010 Grammy Award for album of the year, Butler and his band delivered a completely unexpected follow-up album last year that ignored the lure of pop possibilities - much like Nirvana did when it recorded the band's final album, the polarizing "In Utero," in 1993.

"Imagine Nirvana having the biggest record in the world and spending nine days and coming back with this super-raw album with pretty acoustic songs and crazy metal songs," Butler said. "I don't know, just artistically `In Utero' was a constant source of inspiration. It stands the test of time so well, and `All Apologies' is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, I think."

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Cobain enjoyed a kind of feedback loop with those he admired, and got the attention of Neil Young - a major touchstone for the grunge movement - before his death.

Young has often chafed under the requirements of fame as well, and understands some of what Cobain was experiencing. The singer-songwriter was so moved by Cobain's death, he recorded the album "Sleeps With Angels," and still wonders what might have happened if he had been able to talk to Cobain before he died.

"Well, you know, it's a hard thing to deal with," Young said. "I guess Kurt felt too much. I think it's sad that he didn't have anybody to talk to that could've talked to him and said, `I know what you're going through, but it's not too bad. It really isn't bad. Just (expletive) blink and it will be gone. Everything will be all right. You've got a lot of other things to do. Why don't you just take a break? Don't worry about all these (expletive) who want you to do all this (expletive) you don't want to do. Just stop doing everything. Tell them to get (expletive) and stay away.' That's it. That's what I would have told him if I had the chance. And I almost got a chance, but it didn't happen."

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