‘Nirvana’ singer still makes an impression

Nick Welles remembers where he was.

The Whidbey Island resident, then 16, was riding in a car with his mother when the news came over the radio that Kurt Cobain, the troubled frontman of Nirvana and reluctant leader of an entire generation, had killed himself .

"We were both kind of sad for a little bit," said Welles, 26. "It was definitely the end of an era. A revolution in pop music died when he died."

As many parts of Western Washington can claim, Cobain’s rising star made its way through Everett and Snohomish County before the band reached a level of mainstream appeal that few in music history have achieved.

Cobain is said to have bought his favorite guitar — a left-handed, reddish Univox "Mosrite"— from the now-defunct Danny’s Music store on Colby Avenue.

The band’s last known show in Everett was at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall on Aug. 12, 1989 — more than two years before releasing the album "Nevermind," which included the eventual 1990s anthem "Smells Like Teen Spirit".

Since then, Cobain — like Sid Vicious, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin before him — became and remains an icon to the angst-ridden generation he spoke to.

"I don’t really get it, but he’s kind of the John Lennon of that generation," said Doug Sandhop, 45, an employee at Bargain CDs on Hewitt Avenue in Everett. "Who am I to deny them their hero?"

Sandhop — who said Nirvana albums continue to fly off the shelves, bought by "anyone 14 to 40" — said Cobain’ s early death adds to the mystery, but the music stands alone.

"It’s like Jim Morrison, with his death, there’s always that certain fascination," Sandhop said. "And it rocks."

Kim Hoffer, 21, of Lynnwood plays bass and some guitar. She "was just a dorky seventh-grader" when Cobain died, but said Nirvana’s music became the reason she picked up an instrument.

"When he died, I remember thinking, ‘Why is this such a big deal? Who was that guy?’" Hoffer said. "I didn’t know their music until after that. But since then I’ve listened to ‘Bleach’ like 10 million times."

"Bleach" is a small-label release in 1989 that was reissued in 1991 as fans clamored for earlier Nirvana material. Another Hoffer favorite is "Incesticide," a collection of outtakes, demos and live studio sessions released a year after "Nevermind."

Matt Lord, 24, of Whidbey Island is still holding out hope that he’ll one day get to hear more of Cobain’s unreleased music.

Cobain’s widow, singer and actress Courtney Love, has been involved in battles with Universal Music Group over rights to unreleased Nirvana material. An agreement in 2002 resulted in the release of one song, "You Know You’re Right," as part of a greatest hits CD.

"I’m hoping they’ll release more of those songs that never came out," Lord said. "They really turned me on to alternative and rock music, even though it wasn’t until I got a little older that I started to listen to it."

Welles, whose favorite Nirvana album is "In Utero," the band’s last studio release, said he thinks Cobain was mostly a private person who didn’t fit the larger-than-life image.

"If you live in this state, a lot of people knew him personally, and everybody felt like they could relate to him," Welles said. "He didn’t really want to be put out on display, he wanted to keep to himself. But that just wasn’t possible for him."

Welles, who works at Guitar Center in Lynnwood, gets a kick out of the 11- and 12-year-olds who come into the store, grab a guitar and bust out the familiar opening riff of "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

It reminds him of kids in the same stores 10 years ago who almost automatically would strum the first few bars of Led Zepplin’s "Stairway to Heaven."

"That’s what it’s about more than anything else," Welles said, hoping the focus will eventually move away from the manner in which Cobain died.

"Now people are finally just starting to focus on the music he left," he said. "Ten years removed, everyone can come to grips with the fact that he’s done it, and enjoy the music for what it is."

Reporter Victor Balta: 425-339-3455 or vbalta@heraldnet.com.

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