The question of where we would be today without Kurt Cobain is a multi-faceted one. The late Nirvana frontman helped to change our cultural history in a way that has not been seen since his heroes The Beatles first broke through in the early 1960s.
Alongside bandmates Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, Cobain galvanised a generation and changed the zeitgeist almost overnight. Some of our most prized elements of modern culture wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the grunge icon, a testament to the quality of his work.
After Nirvana burst into the mainstream with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in September 1991, the world would never be the same. Cobain was lauded as the champion of Generation X, and the craze that the band started would be akin to that of Beatlemania, with people of all walks of life flocking to record stores to buy their work and rushing to box offices to get their hands on tickets to their tours, which at the time were in a phenomenal amount of demand.
One of the most everlasting facets of Kurt Cobain’s work has been the quiet-loud-quiet dynamics that he popularised off the back of cuts such as ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, ‘In Bloom’ and ‘Heart-Shaped Box’. It’s an artistic choice that many of Nirvana’s songs utilise across their discography. Notably, though, this wasn’t an entirely original idea. It is well known that Cobain was an avid fan of Boston alternative outfit Pixies, and they were the ones who actually popularised the quiet-loud-quiet dynamics on classics such as their debut, 1988’s Surfer Rosa and its follow-up 1989’s Doolittle.
Given that the first two Pixies records had a transformative effect on the entirety of the alternative community, it doesn’t come as any surprise to find out that Kurt Cobain’s favourite song of theirs is from Surfer Rosa.
A fan favourite, ‘Gigantic’ was the only song at the time not written in its entirety by frontman Frank Black, as he penned it in tandem with the band’s then-bass player Kim Deal. She sings the lead on the track and took inspiration from the 1986 Bruce Beresford film Crimes of the Heart, which stars Sissy Spacek and Diane Keaton.
Speaking to Select in October 1997, Black discussed the song’s provenance: “A good chord progression, very Lou Reed influenced. I’d had the word ‘Gigantic’ in my mind just because the chord progression seemed very big to me.”
Clearly, Cobain was blown away by the song, which not only utilises the quiet-loud-quiet dynamics but also contains one of Pixies’ catchiest choruses, fusing alternative edge with pop sugar, something that Nirvana would become world-famous for in the fall of 1991. In 1992 the Nirvana frontman said: “I wish Kim was allowed to write more songs for the Pixies, because ‘Gigantic’ is the best Pixies song and Kim wrote it.”
Interestingly, Kim Deal reacted to Cobain’s admission modestly, telling the NME, “Well, it’s better than somebody saying, ‘Oh God, you suck.'”
Listen to ‘Gigantic’ below.