It’s hard to imagine a musical landscape devoid of Kurt Cobain’s massive influence. Following a decade of hairspray, huge egos and decadent debauchery, Nirvana and Cobain, in particular, ensured that the nineties would rally against the commercialisation of rock and roll. Cobain achieved that with a return to personal and visceral songwriting, coupled with dynamic hooks and engrossing content. But while his impact on music can still be heard today, he also influenced popular culture as a whole.
Everything from the bleached blonde hair cut to the flannel shirt, both of which became the mandatory uniform for grunge kids across America. Equally, in the 21st century, Nirvana has permeated popular culture, often being seen as a badge of honour when wearing a band T-shirt or similar from the Seattle trio. But, as well as influencing fashion, Cobain also inspired one classic ’90s movie too.
Namely, Kurt Cobain’s death inspired a crucial plot point for one of the most widely-adored ’90s films of all time — Empire Records. Cobain, who sadly took his own life, directly inspired Rex Manning Day in the film.
It’s a must-see film, too. Empire Records has gone on to not only be regarded as a cult classic, but arguably to define an entire generation. Starring Liv Tyler and Renee Zellweger, the storyline is closely aligned with the burning grunge scene of the ’90s. Centred on the titular record store, the Empire employees are fighting to save the establishment being bought out by a global chain.
In a bid to defy the creditors, store employee Lucas, played by Rory Cochrane, takes the day’s takings to a casino and places a bet with them. It’s a juvenile attempt to avoid the inevitable and ends up as the perfect, poignant counterbalance to the film’s other crucial plot point — Rex Manning Day.
Manning operates as a 1980s celebrity who has seemingly faded into obscurity. Aptly played by Maxwell Caulfield, the appearance of Manning becomes a central point in the film. It also leads to all of the film’s characters wishing one another a “Happy Rex Manning Day”. The date of his appearance within the film, April 8th, has been celebrated by the movie’s fans ever since.
According to Ethan Embry, who played Mark in Empire Records, April 8th wasn’t just picked out of a hat. The date was chosen by the film’s producers thanks to its connection to Kurt Cobain — it was the date that the Nirvana singer was found dead.
In a tweet from 2018, the Embry wrote: “The reason we picked April 8th as the day to have the powdered/coifed Rex Manning visit Empire is because Kurt was found on the 8th of April, the day the music of the ’90s lost its mascot.”
While it may not be as grandiose as some of Cobain’s inspirations, nor as visceral as the myriad of rock bands he and Nirvana influenced, it does show that Kurt Cobain didn’t just affect music or fashion, he affected absolutely everything and everyone.