I've been thinking lately about how a music fan discovers music. There are so many more ways available now than pre-Internet.
Back before then and even now in many cases you fall hard for a band or artist and then you check out their peers, their influences, or if they are older - the artists they influenced.
That's why so many people who are probably in their late 50's and 60's now became big fans of blues artists, through the British Invasion bands. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Who, the Kinks, Clapton, etc. always talked up their influences - Delta Blues, Chicago Blues, R&B - so then many in that generation went back and discovered Buddy Guy, BB King, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon, Little Richard, etc. So the "doorway" artist to those fans were the Brits who led them back to the American music that influenced them.
So for me and other like-minded people, Nirvana is the real doorway band. I had already just started getting into the Replacements shortly before discovering Nirvana, but Nirvana led me back to Sonic Youth and the Pixies. And from there - the rest of the Replacements catalog, Dinosaur Jr, Husker Du, old Soul Asylum, Mudhoney, Fugazi, Mission of Burma, and so many other similar artists, many of whom were later featured in Michael Azerrad's book, Our Band Could Be Your Life about the American Indie underground in the 80's. Green Day led me back to the Descendents, Operation Ivy (which would later sort of become Rancid), the Mr T. Experience, and Bad Religion, but I was already on my way to discovering bands like that, thanks to Nirvana. They not only left their mark on a generation with their own music, but for fans like me, they helped change the way I think about music and exposed me to an entire new world of great music, that I had missed out on previously.
I don't think kids do that as much now. Like I don't think a lot of teens and twenty-something Green Day fans these days are going back and listening to the Replacements or the Ramones or Joni Mitchell or John Lennon just because they are covering their songs or mentioning them as influences.
But how many records did artists like Leadbelly, the Vaselines, and the Meat Puppets sell solely because of Nirvana covering their songs? Just something to think about a little over 15 years since Nirvana ceased to exist as a functioning band. Given the niche-driven state of popular music right now, they may end up being the last band to have that level of cultural impact on a generation of people.