The musical shaman who gave birth to grunge was also youth culture’s most salient critic. Disgusted by the consumer roboticism which in the late 1980s sucked at the televisual teat of the Celine Dion — Michael Bolton — Vanilla Ice hegemony, KURT COBAIN (1967–1994) and his band Nirvana leapt out of Seattle wrapped in plaid shirts and emotive, anthemic musical existentialism. His legacy is more than musical; his journals — in which he says, of the late ’80s, “this is a subliminal example of a society that has sucked & fucked itself into a rehashing value of greed” — are also brilliant. He knew that his aura would be commodified; his signature song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” evoked the brand name of his girlfriend’s deodorant. He counts among his heirs both those who ape the Pacific Northwest’s hipster ethos and Portlandia, which mocks it. In today’s social-media miasma, where everybody is connected and no one talks to each other, Cobain’s visceral, Nietzsche-meets-Ramones presence is his lasting act of resistance.
READ MORE about members of the Reconstructionist Generation (1964–73).