runge masters Nirvana was founded in 1987 by vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. Recruiting drummer Chad Channing, Nirvana quickly grew to become the talk of the early Seattle grunge scene. Unlike many of the others who straddled the line between punk rock and metal, Cobain added subtle pop themes and melodies into his music, and much like the early Who, they became known for their almost nihilistic stage shows inevitably ending with destroyed equipment.
Nirvana would release their debut single Love Buzz in 1988 on the now infamous 'Sub Pop' label; the record label that was smack in the middle of the whole Seattle grunge movement. Their debut album Bleach (1989), followed a year later, filled with anger interspersed with elements of pop melody, distortion, and bass. Tracks like School saw Cobain express his trademark primal shriek, while About A Girl saw the emotion of his song writing with an almost acoustic feel behind it. Bleach was clearly influenced by both the punk rock and metal genres. Before the album's release Jason Everman joined the act to add his guitar duties and his wallet, for it was his $600 that financed the album's budget. Dale Crover was a guest drummer of two tracks with Dan Peters taking on the role after and eventually replaced permanently with Dave Grohl. But Everman, for all his ability to rise needed capital, would leave shortly after.
'Geffen' moved in to take Nirvana's Nevermind up the charts to 1 US and 7 in the UK Smells Like Teen Spirit, a track that made 6 in the US and 7 in the UK on its own, highlighted the album. It took a little time but the album climbed the charts. Smells Like Teen Spirit was the perfect mix of pop/punk rock. It brought grunge into the mainstream and nicely summed up the angst of what many considered a lost generation; a type of song badly needed and not seen since the days of the Sex Pistols. Come As You Are was the semi-acoustic item of note, while Territorial Pissings was as extreme as the album got by featuring Hardcore punk rock with sarcastic overtones pilfered from the Youngblood '60s love and peace classic Get Together. In Bloom and Breed were other tracks contained within that saw Cobain let up not a bit. Cobain was said to be the spokesman of a generation but it was a role he was unable and unwilling to cope with. The album quite simply changed the music industry to the point that independent bands would soon dominate the landscape through the 1990s with the rise of the grunge movement.
A heavy round of touring commenced, a tour schedule on which Cobain's health suffered. Cobain was not exactly the healthiest of people for he suffered from chronic stomach problems as well as narcolepsy, a condition which can cause the sufferer to sleep for excessive periods of time. He was also increasingly unhappy towards the types of people attending his shows. More and more often he would see 'macho' jocks in attendance, a type of person Cobain despised. To add to all of this his February 22, 1992 marriage to Courtney Love (of Hole) simply added to the stress and gossip for the relationship almost lead to the loss of their newborn child, Francis, after revelations of their continued drug habits.
Incesticide (1992) was a compilation of rare material and remakes, but it was Cobain's drug abuses at the time that were the talk of the press when he overdosed twice on heroin the following year. Pat Smear joined on guitars for the next release. That next release, In Utero (1993), made it to #1 on both sides of the Atlantic. The album was beginning to show the stress in Nirvana's existence. The pop melody was still there but one had to now dig deeper to find it behind the wall of noise that now characterized their sound. Despite the record company's misgivings the disc was a commercial and charting success, due largely to the act's touring. The disc featured the now classic emotion filled track All Apologies, ignored at first in America but managing to chart at 32 in the UK.
During the supporting tour, the band then took a break, leaving Cobain in Rome. On the 4th of March, Love returned to their hotel room to find him in a comatose state due to an apparent overdose of prescription tranquilizers and champagne. He eventually recovered but the tour was cancelled while he and Love went home to Seattle. But, on that night in Rome, Cobain apparently was only practicing his death ritual for a month later an electrician doing a routine service call to his house discovered Cobain's body on the 8th of April; his head blown apart by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Although it came as no surprise, the music press made it out to be, and it became the most talked about celebrity death since John Lennon and sparked many copycat suicides by deranged fans. His farewell would be the posthumously released album Unplugged In New York (1994) featuring Lori Goldston (cello) and Curt & Cris Kirkwood (of Meat Puppets) guest starring on 3 tracks. The album was a live acoustic set and featured many of their previous hits non-electrified. It was recorded before his death but was released after and served as a haunting reminder of the 27 year old who no longer wished to be a part of this world. Courtney Love would return to her work with her act Hole, while Grohl went on to form Foo Fighters, and Novoselic would depart to form Sweet 75.
Two more posthumous official releases came out; the first was From The Muddy Banks Of Wishkah (1996), a sort of compilation and remix album, along with the follow-up compilation, Nirvana (2002), a "best of..." set that featured one new track, You Know You're Right, the last song Nirvana recorded before Cobain's death.
That self-titled last album did not get released without controversy, however. In 1997, Novoselic, Grohl and Love formed Nirvana LLC, a limited liability company, to oversee all Nirvana-related assets. A 45-track box set of Nirvana rarities was scheduled for release in October 2001. But, before the release date, Love filed a suit to dissolve the company, and an injunction was issued preventing the release of any new material until the matter was solved. Love contended that Cobain was the band and that the other two members were secondary, and that she signed the partnership agreement originally under bad advice. Grohl and Novoselic counter sued, asking the court to remove Love from the partnership and to replace her with another representative of Cobain's estate. The day before the case was set to go to trial, the lot announced that they had reached a settlement.
In April 2006, Love announced that she had arranged to sell 25 percent of her stake in the Nirvana song catalog in a deal estimated at $50 million. The share of Nirvana's publishing was purchased by 'Primary Wave Music', which was founded by Larry Mestel, a former CEO of 'Virgin Records'.
In 2014, Nirvana's membership of Cobain, Novoselic, and Grohl were inducted into the rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Much in the style of the Sex Pistols and punk, the grunge movement came and went with Nirvana. Although they didn't invent it, nor were they the first, they had become its most known, and after their disappearance the style seemed to slowly slip into mediocrity, then death, becoming a rather obsolete endeavor in the end despite its accomplishments at the time.
Footnote: (From the "I did not know that" file): There actually is a brand of soap named "Teen Spirit". Furthermore, before the name Nirvana was settled upon: "Ted Ed Fred", "Skid Row", "Throat Oyster", "Pen Cap Chew" and "Windowpane" were all considered to be the band's name.
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Where Nirvana went, Grunge went! Kurt Cobain (front) and Krist Novoselic (left) live at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards.
Photo by: P.B. Rage
CC BY-SA 2.0
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