Only hours after Kurt Cobain's corpse was found in his Seattle home last Friday, he was buried in a media avalanche of generalities.

The myth-making machinery that cranks up after every show-biz death busily turned a troublesome rock musician into a recognizable, easy-to-digest archetype. Headline after headline assured us that the 27-year-old Mr. Cobain, the mainspring of the band Nirvana, was the voice of a generation. (Douglas Coupland, the author of "Generation X," even published a weepy open letter to "Kurt" to claim ownership.) Mr. Cobain was also irresistibly likened to the self-immolating rock trinity of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, who all vanished into their own drug hazes at age 27.

The New York Post pursued another familiar angle with its series: "How Fame Killed Kurt Cobain." And Newsweek achieved a hat trick of depression by putting Mr. Cobain's face on a cover featuring an essay by William Styron about Vincent Foster. Inside, Mr. Cobain and Mr. Foster joined a Mount Rushmore-like pictorial "pantheon of the suicidal" that also included Abbie Hoffman, Marilyn Monroe and Ernest Hemingway.

I asked my sons, both rabid Nirvana fans and both young enough to look upon Generation X as enfeebled parental figures, if any of this reflected the musician they admired. No, they said, and were particularly vehement in defending Mr. Cobain against the charge of being The Voice of a Generation. "He didn't want to be that," said my older son, urging me to check out Mr. Cobain's true story and to listen harder to the music that had for so long drifted out of his bedroom.

He has a point. Mr. Cobain's biography, as reported by Michael Azerrad in the book "Come As You Are," strikes American chords more universal than generational. The son of parents who divorced acrimoniously when he was 8, the young Kurt was shuffled from relative to relative in the gloomy logging town of Aberdeen, Wash. As he won high school art contests with his drawings, he was tormented by jocks. He turned to music for salvation, only to be startled when his intensely idiosyncratic songs caught on with the conformist majority he despised.

When Nirvana released its first album with a major label, "Nevermind," in 1991, all of show business was shocked. Without warning, an unglamorous cult sound became what one executive called a "get-out-of-the-way-and-duck record," knocking the invincible Michael Jackson's "Dangerous" out of number one and selling 10 million copies. Yet "Nevermind" was the antithesis of commercial pop: raw, abrasive, devoid of recording-studio slickness and, in its unalloyed rage, genuinely dangerous.

Mr. Cobain did have anti-establishment politics of a sort. But when he announced "I am a spokesman for myself" -- pointedly rejecting the role of generational mouthpiece -- he wasn't being flip. The subject of "Nevermind" and Nirvana's even harsher final album, "In Utero," is private suffering, not public injustice. Images of divorce, disease and self-loathing proliferate. Joy is virtually absent.

What makes the songs so affecting to a listener who isn't schooled in punk or grunge (and doesn't care to be) is their perfect pitch for naked anguish. Half the time Mr. Cobain is screaming the same unambiguous phrase over and over again -- "Stay away!" or "I do not want what I have got!" -- until finally he trails off in exhaustion ("Oh well, whatever, nevermind"). The sound that comes from his voice and from his shrieking, feedback-choked guitar is the piercingly authentic cry of a child in torment -- if not that of our own children (or so we hope), then maybe that of the children we once were, fleeing from warring or abusive parents, playground bullies, forces we couldn't yet understand.

To label Mr. Cobain patly now -- as a symbolic victim of success or drugs or rock nihilism or slacker angst or whatever, nevermind -- is to tune him out. But his primal screams of sheer pain, unsweetened by showmanship or sentimentality or even (to my taste) music, demanded a more direct and passionate response. Without prompting by hype, millions of Americans made that intimate connection. If there were easy answers as to why, it would not be so unsettling that Mr. Cobain's shattered voice, once heard, refuses to leave the ear.