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How Nirvana reminds Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig of his childhood


Ezra Koenig was ten-years-old when Nirvana entered his life. While he didn’t immediately become enamoured with their work, the Vampire Weekend frontman can’t listen to the music of Kurt Cobain without being reminded of his childhood, and they bring back mixed emotions.

During the early 1990s, the Seattle group were the most talked about band on the planet, and even though Koenig was only a child, Nirvana still found a way to storm into his existence. Nirvana were a refreshing angsty voice who fought against the status quo, and Koenig wanted to be part of it.

Tragically, his 10th birthday coincided with the same week as Kurt Cobain died by suicide, and for the singer, these two events remain inextricably linked. That same birthday was the first time that he’d ever asked for an album from a friend, and after being captivated by ‘All Apologies’ on the radio, Koenig pleaded with his classmate to buy him In Utero.

It marked a significant moment in his life, and for the first time, music had become a priority. Previously, it was merely background music on the radio while in the car, but, from that point on, it all changed as records took up a more pivotal role in his life which has only intensified with age.

“It was the first time I had gotten pop music as a birthday present from a friend, so I was really psyched to have this weird album with this intense cover. It’s easy to forget, but for a 10-year-old kid, the cover of In Utero is kind of racy,” Koenig remembered to Pitchfork.

In truth, the cover spoke to the frontman on a deeper level than the music, and all the facets of In Utero combined to create an alluring package that invited Koenig into an exciting new universe. However, this exhilaration was soon devastatingly compounded when he discovered the heartbreaking fate of Cobain.

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He continued: “My birthday is April 8th, and little did I know that on the day that I received that present, Kurt Cobain was already dead. When I got to school on Monday, my friends and I were talking about my presents, and one of my friends was like, ‘Oh, you know that guy died.’ For that reason alone, being 10 years old, receiving In Utero is etched in my memory.”

When he found out that Cobain had passed, Koenig admits he “didn’t even know what death meant” and had no previous experience of “death in my own life”. Additionally, he hadn’t invested enough time into the record to truly grasp an understanding of Cobain, and he wasn’t yet his hero. Still, these two moments have always profoundly stuck with him nonetheless.

Koenig added: “At 10, I wasn’t upset. It was just kind of weird. I didn’t know what to make of it. It was too much for me to process at that age. Sometimes, I try to ascribe some meaning to it, but really it’s just kind of a weird coincidence. I was just coming of age right around that time.”

Not only was In Utero a crucial chapter in Koenig’s relationship with music but, the fact it coincided so closely with Cobain’s death has left Koenig conflating a cloud of airiness with the chain of events that he associates with turning ten.