As you are
As you were
As I want you to be
As a friend
As a friend…
As a known memory…”

Although they would never be entirely comfortable with the rabid attention, Nirvana became the flagship band for an entire generation. Prior to their monumental breakthrough, alternative rock wasn’t taken seriously by the music industry and was typically delegated to a small corner of most record stores. With the release of the 1991 album, Nevermind, the entire landscape of rock and roll would be forever altered.

Frontman Kurt Cobain met bassist Krist Novoselic in 1985 in Aberdeen, Washington, about 100 miles from Seattle, the soon-to-be-hotbed for the rough and unpolished grunge sound pioneered by bands like the Melvins. Nirvana’s first official release was the single “Love Buzz/Big Cheese” in 1988, and the following year saw Nirvana releasing their first album, Bleach. The record had a limited pressing of only one-thousand white vinyl records that were sold at a local music festival. Despite the album becoming a modest college radio station favorite, it didn’t give an accurate preview of the band’s future sound.

In early 1990, Nirvana began working with Butch Vig (who in the mid-90s would become the drummer for Garbage) on their follow-up to Bleach. During these sessions, Kurt and Krist realized that their drummer wasn’t the ‘right one’ and Chad Channing was let go. After a few weeks of going through drummer after drummer, they were eventually introduced to Dave Grohl, who was looking for a new band following the sudden breakup of his own group. That same year, Nirvana was signed by David Geffen to DGC Records, and continued to work with Vig on the upcoming album. With the help of Slayer producer, Andy Wallace, Nirvana found themselves with a well-tempered product, ready for mainstream release. They called the album Nevermind.

Initially, DGC Records was hoping to sell 250,000 copies, which is what they were able to achieve with one of their other acts, Sonic Youth. But Nevermind surpassed their wildest ambitions, selling over three-million copies (certified triple-platinum) in less than six months after it’s initial release. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” got them heavy radio airplay, and in MTVs regular rotation, with it’s anarchic high school pep rally that most fans wished would have broken out at their own high school. Music lovers discovered the melodic head banging potential with songs like “Come As You Are,” “In Bloom,” “Lithium” and “Drain You.”

Big hard rock hair bands like Poison, Warrant, Mötley Crüe and others were suddenly relegated to the corner of the record store, and Seattle grunge gods, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam were finding themselves with some coveted airplay. Alternative became the new ‘mainstream’ and suburban kids ditched the Aqua Net (and in some cases, the shower), trading in their parachute pants for second-hand flannel and faded jeans. Outcasts were now cool, the grunge movement had arrived and Nirvana’s Cobain was their reluctant savior.

By 1995, the album went Diamond, selling over 10 million copies, and today is included in every major ‘all-time’ list for rock albums. In 2004, it was one of fifty recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry – no small feat for a trio of grungy musicians. To their credit, the success of Nevermind never dulled the raw edge of the band. In live performances and television appearances, the band flaunted their anti-rock star image, taunting the youth of America for liking them without understanding them or their message.

In 1992, Cobain married Courtney Love of the band Hole, and the couple had a daughter later that summer, Francis Bean. Citing exhaustion, the band decided not to do another ambitious tour in the U.S. instead performing at a handful of smaller venues. Meanwhile, while the group was taking their much-needed break, Geffen released an album of cover songs and early material at the end of the year with favorable results. Incesticide reached #39 on the U.S. charts, and eventually went platinum as well.

Produced in two quick weeks, In Utero hit the shelves in September, 1993, and gave listeners a further glimpse into the troubles Cobain found in his personal life. Songs like “All Apologies” and “Heart-Shaped Box” proved that as much as he hated pop music, he certainly knew how to write it. Despite the pre-release talk that Nirvana was trying to ditch the fair-weather fans, In Utero became another enormous hit for the band, debuting at #1 and selling 5 million units in the U.S. alone.

The album didn’t come out with ease, however, as In Utero faced some major corporate censorship hurdles. Giant chains such as K-mart and Wal-Mart flat-out refused to carry the record, citing song titles like “Rape Me” and Kurt’s plastic fetus collage on the back-cover as too controversial for their clientele. The band went along with the requests, putting together an alternate package with “clean” artwork while renaming “Rape Me” as “Waif Me.” When asked about it later, Kurt noted that he could relate to small-town people who didn’t have local music stores and were forced to buy their music at these big chains.

At the end of 1993, the band sat down for MTV Unplugged in New York. The sessions included original material as well as a broad selection of covers. It became a hallmark moment for Nirvana, amplified by the tragedy that awaited around the corner.

Canceling the later portion of their European tour, Cobain became ill, and the performances declined with Kurt looking bored and distracted. In March, he was found unconscious by his wife and was rushed to the hospital, having overdosed on pills and alcohol. In the following weeks, Cobain’s heroin addiction resurfaced with a vengeance. After an intervention and a stint in rehab, he escaped the facility only to be found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound a week later. During his life, Cobain became the voice of a dissatisfied generation; in death, he became their martyr.

At the end of 1994, the acoustic album from the MTV Unplugged sessions was released, showing the softer, soul-wrenching side of Cobain’s pain. A final album in 1996, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, brought the other Nirvana experience – loud, angry, and distorted. Both albums went multiplatinum, keeping the Nirvana legacy alive for its distraught fans.

And in 2002, after years of rumor, speculation and legal wrangling, Nirvana fans got what they’d wanted for so long, the band’s final studio recording. “You Know You’re Right” was released, topping the alternative charts, and charting respectably on Billboard as well. A compilation was released in 2002, simply titled Nirvana and in 2004, the boxed set, With the Lights Out, was released, filled with rarities and other gems for the die-hard Nirvana fan.

Beyond Nirvana, Dave Grohl went on to form his own band, the Foo Fighters, finding long-term success with them, as well as drumming for numerous other bands, including Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Mike Watt, Queens of the Stone Age, Tenacious D, Nine Inch Nails, Garbage and Cat Power. Krist formed the experimental group, Sweet 75, with singer Yva Las Vegas. Meanwhile, Kurt Cobain remains the tragic hero to a generation of music fans, gone far too soon but leaving a legacy that will likely outlive all of us.

If the music of Nirvana resonated in your own life, or even if you were just a casual fan, we hope you’ll take a moment to share your memories of this iconic band in our comments section below.

One Response to “Nirvana”

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  1. Gary says:

    Back when music was good! All the music now is 95% crapola!
    Bring back the music that had emotion.

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