Nirvana’s late frontman Kurt Cobain became the poster boy for a generation, and despite gaining mainstream status, he never lost his underground spirit. It was an asset that made him such an unlikely cultural icon and a breath of fresh air from the indulgent days of the 1980s.
His refreshing presence is sorely missed over the last 25 years of contemporary culture, even though the legacy he left behind in his wake will last forever, as will the one band he was indebted to who helped shape Nirvana’s identity. The Seattle group are seen as unwavering originators. Yet, numerous forebearers influenced their approach to music creation, and some were more prominent than others.
Even an unquestionable pioneer like Cobain still found inspiration from unlikely corners. In fact, one band that affected him significantly were the Scottish indie group The Vaselines, who never have enjoyed the same level of fame and fortune as Nirvana but were a guiding light for their leader in a songwriting sense.
Cobain’s heroes were never arena-dwelling rock bands, and in all likelihood, the singer would have preferred to have his privacy than being in the biggest group in the world. The Vaselines were initially a duo made up of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, who Cobain had nothing but admiration for. “I just have this feeling they had a really cool relationship,” explained Cobain in 1992. “I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I just think it’s a really amazing thing when a couple can get together and write some of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.”
He added: “They’re kind of sharing their life with people. Eugene and Francis are the Captain & Tennille of the underground.”
Cobain even hinted that he’d have liked to have replicated their sound alongside Courtney Love one day: “Could I imagine myself and Courtney ever doing something like that? Absolutely. We play together all the time. Musically, we’re compatible, because we think exactly the same and we feel the same, and it’s really easy to come up with good music if you’re like that.”
The group split up in 1990, much to Cobain’s dismay, but somehow he managed to work his charm and get them to reunite for a private gig just for him. The Nirvana frontman equally loved The Vaselines’ fellow Scottish natives Teenage Fanclub, and their singer Norman Blake later recalled the heartwarming incident on social media in 2011. “Here’s a story. I was the other person in the room when Kurt Cobain and Eugene Kelly met for the first time. Nirvana had asked The Vaselines, who had broken up by this time if they would be interested in reforming to play a show with them in Edinburgh,” Blake wrote on Twitter.
“That’s how I found myself in the back of a van drinking cheap wine with Eugene, driving through to Edinburgh from Glasgow. We arrive at the venue and someone who was with Nirvana, maybe their publicist Anton, tells us (specifically Eugene) that Kurt is in the dressing room and is very keen to say hello.
“He extends a hand to Eugene and says something like ‘wow, it’s so great to meet you, I am such a big fan’. He really was. You could see that he was thrilled. It was the beginning of a friendship that would have endured had it not been for Kurt’s tragic death.”
Cobain used his power within the industry for good and brought his favourite band back together for one night only. Off the back of this evening, he even invited Kelly post-Vaselines band, Captain America, on tour with Nirvana across America and tried to help them break the States.
Although Kelly never got the praise that Cobain did, he was one of the most prominent musicians in the latter’s life and one of the few souls who could make him awe-struck.