April 05, 2014 7:06pm PT by Dan Reilly, Billboard
How Kurt Cobain's Friends, Family and Fellow Musicians Reacted to His Death: 20 Quotes
Twenty years later, the April 5, 1994, suicide of Kurt Cobain still resonates as one of the most unforgettably scarring days for multiple generations. In the wake of his death, his mother, wife, bandmates, friends and peers spoke out about the tragedy, expressing the raw emotions of people trying to make sense of something they could see coming but still could not believe.
Here, we look back at what they said after Cobain's death, some within days and others much more recently, to remember how it felt then, and how little has changed when it comes to the admiration, sadness and questions of what could have been different.
Courtney Love, from her recorded message to Kurt's fans days after his death
"I'm laying in our bed, and I'm really sorry. And I feel the same way you do. I'm really sorry, you guys. I don't know what I could have done. I wish I'd been here. I wish I hadn't listened to other people, but I did. … And I have to go now. Just tell him he's a f—er, OK? Just say, 'F—er. You're a f—er.' And that you love him."
Wendy O'Connor, Kurt's mother, Aberdeen Daily World, 1994
"I'll never hold him again. I don't know what to do. I don't know where to go."
Nirvana's Dave Grohl, SXSW 2013 keynote
"When Kurt died, I was lost. I was numb. The music I had devoted my life to had now betrayed me. I had no voice. I turned off the radio. I put away my drums. I couldn't bear to hear someone else's voice singing about pain, or joy."
Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, eulogy given at a memorial two days after Kurt was found dead
"On behalf of Dave, Pat and I, I would like to thank you all for your concern at this time. We remember Kurt for what he was: caring, generous and sweet. Let's keep the music with us. We'll always have it. Forever. Kurt had an ethic towards his fans that was rooted in the punk rock way of thinking. No band is special, no player royalty. But if you've got a guitar and a lot of soul, just bang something out and mean it. You're the superstar. Plugged in the tones and rhythms that are uniquely and universally human: music. Heck … use your guitar as a drum, just catch the groove and let it flow out of your heart. That's the level Kurt spoke to us on: in our hearts. And that's where he, and the music, will always be, forever."
R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, to MTV, a week after Kurt's death
"In the last few weeks, I was talking to Kurt a lot. We had a musical project in the works, but nothing was recorded. He loved Courtney and Frances Bean, and he loved Krist and Dave and Nirvana. He really loved those guys. His death was a profound loss, and I just don't think I can say anything else right now."
Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Melody Maker, May 21, 1994
"It's so difficult to really believe he's gone. I still talk about him like he's still here, you know. I can't figure it out. It doesn't make any sense … One time, he told me flat-out, just delivered me a whole paragraph on the respect he had for what I did, and he realized it was pure. This was at the MTV Awards. 'Tears in Heaven' was playing in the background, we were slow dancing. I remember going out surfing the next morning and remembering how good that moment felt and thinking, 'F—, man, if only we hadn't been so afraid of each other … ' Because we were going though so much of the same shit. If only we'd talked, maybe we could have helped each other."
Neil Young, Mojo, 1995, after refusing to discuss Kurt's suicide note, which quoted Young's lyric, "It's better to burn than to fade away."
"He really, really inspired me. He was so great. Wonderful. One of the best, but more than that. Kurt was one of the absolute best of all time for me."
Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, to CNN, 2013
"We came offstage and were about to go on for the encore, and I think the bass player of Tad came in and told us. He just kind of barged in and was emotional, and started talking about the reports that they had found Kurt but they weren't sure if it was him or not, but it was. We all got very emotional; it was very surreal. We weren't home; we weren't around any people we knew. I guess, in a sense, we could all take solace in the fact that — especially Soundgarden — that we were born from this idea that we played kind of dark, moody music. Our identity … kind of was a band that created a soundtrack for that type of weird, awful scenario."
Henry Rollins, to MTV, the week after Kurt's death
"I think maybe in a situation where all these people want a piece of you, where you're being pursued by tabloid newspapers, being in these situations might drive one to extremes. When that around you is so excessive — the money, the attention, the hype, the hysteria, all of that — perhaps something in your own life might rise to that occasion and that might get out of your control. Also, a lot of people, they're brilliant, and they're very sensitive and perhaps they're not ready for the brutality of mass acceptance, and that's the word that describes it best – brutal."
The Pixies' Black Francis, AV Club, 2006
" 'Frank, Kurt Cobain said that 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' was a rip-off of a Pixies song. How does that make you feel?' I've been asked that question so many friggin' times that I don't even know what to say anymore. Why is this so important? I guess it's because Nirvana sold a boatload of records. … People were trying to call me to do interviews on the anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death. They want me to say some poignant shit about some poor guy who blew his head off. It's just like, 'Give me a f—in' break, man' … Just say the guy made some good records, and let's get on with it. Don't make me get all poignant and say, 'You know what I'd like to say? He spoke for a generation, blah blah blah blah blah.' I'm just so sick of all that. The whole culture is like that. The whole sense of nostalgia is crazy."
David Bowie, Spin, April 1995
"I was simply blown away when I found out that Kurt Cobain liked my work, and I always wanted to talk to him about his reasons for covering 'Man Who Sold the World.' It was a good, straightforward rendition and sounded somehow very honest. It would have been nice to have worked with him, but just talking would have been real cool."
The Who's Pete Townshend, The Observer, 2002
"I mourn for Kurt. A once beautiful, then pathetic, lost and heroically stupid boy. Hard rock indeed."
Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis, in his autobiography Scar Tissue, 2004
"It was an emotional blow, and we all felt it. I don't know why everyone on Earth felt so close to that guy; he was beloved and endearing and inoffensive in some weird way. For all of his screaming and all of his darkness, he was just lovable."
Iggy Pop, Spin, April 1995
"I went to see Nirvana at a small club called the Pyramid on Avenue A in New York City. It was hard to hear the guitar, but the guy playing and singing had a vibe; he hopped around like a muppet or an elf or something, hunched over his guitar, hop hop hop, hippety hippety hop. I loved that. When he sang, he put his voice in this really grating place, and it was kind of devilish sounding. At the end of the set, he attacked the drum kit and threw the cymbals, other bits and finally himself into the audience. Later I saw the same guy passing the bar. He was little, with stringy blond hair and a Stooges T-shirt. I felt proud."
Leonard Cohen, Addicted to Noise, 1995
"I'm sorry I couldn't have spoken to the young man. I see a lot of people at the Zen Center, who have gone through drugs and found a way out that is not just Sunday school. There are always alternatives, and I might have been able to lay something on him. Or maybe not."
Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, Spin, April 1995
"Kurt's wounds were so deep that when the music floated to the surface after being filtered through his soul, it was incorporeal."
Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2010
"Once Kurt Cobain killed himself, our generation has been lost trying to find anybody willing to be a point person. Who has stepped up from my generation and meant anything, to anybody other than themselves? I can't think of anybody. I've tried many times but failed."
Slash, on VH1, mid-late '90s
"I thought the guy was brilliant. It's a loss and probably at the same time, it was probably inevitable that he did what he did, but he wrote some great stuff."
Nirvana's Pat Smear, Rolling Stone, 2013
"My Nirvana experience was much different than the other three guys. For me, it was really new and exciting. I was just a guy from a punk rock band, thrown into this huge thing. There were dark periods, too. But there wasn't a dark cloud over the whole thing."
Meat Puppets' Cris Kirkwood, Rock Hall of Fame interview, 2013
"Our appearance on the Unplugged was such a gas! What a cool use of your newfound popularity: Take the f—ing Meat Puppets on TV and shove them down everybody's throats! My kind of art-making. Huzzah! Kurt [Cobain] was so sweet, so gracious. I miss him still. But he had us be a part of their Unplugged, and it will outlast us all. Rock ever onward."
This story originally appeared on Billboard.com.