In their brief seven-year history, Nirvana unwillingly brought alternative music into the mainstream and defined a generation of young people alienated by baby boomers, Michael Jackson and Madonna.
Nirvana's roots lie in the underground hardcore scene of the mid-1980s; the Olympia-based Melvins and New York's Sonic Youth were early mentors of the band. Nirvana's crossover appeal was rooted in their ability to blend the hardcore fury of drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic withCobain's doleful, introspective lyrics and melodies.
Novoselic and Cobain met in 1985 in their hometown of Aberdeen, Wash., a rural logging community outside Seattle. Their first musical incarnation as the Stiff Woodies featured Cobain on drums, Novoselic on bass and whoever happened to be around on guitar. By 1987 they had morphed into Nirvana; Cobain moved to vocals and guitar, and drummer Chad Channing was added. Nirvana soon gained the attention of the hip Seattle label Sub Pop and their debut album, Bleach, recorded for just over $600, was released in June 1989. Dave Grohl of the Washington, D.C. hardcore band Scream replaced Channing in September 1990.
During the summer of 1991 the band opened for Sonic Youth on their European Festival tour. Nirvana's landmark performance at the Reading Festival was featured in the documentary "1991: The Year Punk Broke" and marked the beginning of their worldwide recognition. Ironically, 1991 marked the birth of Nirvanamania and the beginning of Cobain's mental and physical deterioration. The group signed with Geffen Records to record their much anticipated second album, and when Nevermind was released in the fall of 1991, it symbolically knocked Michael Jackson's Dangerous off the top of the U.S. album charts. The success of the album, which went triple platinum, was fueled by MTV's incessant airplay of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The song was hailed as the anthem of the grunge generation and its appeal broadened the band's fan base to include mainstream jocks, metalheads and alternative wannabes; the very people Nirvana music was supposed to alienate.
Rumors of Cobain's heroin use were ever-present and as the band grew into a multi-million dollar commercial entity, he began to withdraw into his own drug-induced world. The band's stability was questioned in the wake of a variety of bizarre stunts including Cobain's penchant for showing up at concerts in women's clothing and mocking his way through songs, and Novoselic and Grohl's nationally televised kiss following a Saturday Night Live performance. Cobain's marriage to hardcore diva Courtney Love in 1992 only fueled the negative publicity fire.
The recording of their third studio album was delayed by Cobain's health problems -- he complained of chronic stomach pain and was hospitalized several times -- and Geffen released Incesticide, a compilation of B-sides and rarities late in 1992 to appease the cash cow fans starved for new Nirvana material. By the spring of 1993, the band was ready to go back in the studio. They recruited Steve Albini (Pixies, Breeders, Jesus Lizard) to produce In Utero,the long-awaited follow up to Nevermind. The album was released in September 1993 followed by a three-month North American tour, which included their celebrated appearance on "MTV Unplugged."
In early 1994 Nirvana embarked on a European tour that was cut short in February by Cobain's much publicized drug overdose in Rome. At the end of March Cobain entered a drug rehab facility in Los Angeles and on April 1 he escaped from the center and returned to Seattle. Cobain's body was found April 8 in his Seattle home with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
After Cobain's death, Grohl and Pat Smear formed the Foo Fighters, whose hit 1995 self-titled album was an invigorating, upbeat departure from the angry, tortured strains of Nirvana.
Several albums have been released since Cobain's death, including a live set and a subdued and eerily morbid perfomance on MTV's Unplugged in New York. In the years following his death, there has been much controversy over the ownership of Nirvana's music. The two surviving band members, Grohl and Novoselic, fought with Cobain's wife Courtney Love over the issue of releasing a new album containing rare or unreleased tracks. On October 29, 2002, following a grueling legal battle, the album Nirvana was released containing several greatest hits and one unreleased track, "You Know You're Right". (A live version of this song can be found on Outcesticide V(5) Disintegration. This was released prior to the album Nirvana.)
According to some, notably public access host Richard Lee of Seattle, Kurt Cobain was murdered. His ongoing documentary has been running since the week after Cobain's demise. In addition, a documentary film called "Kurt & Courtney" was made by filmmaker Nick Broomfield which suggests that Love had Cobain killed. However, these are generally considered to be conspiracy theories and the official verdict of death by self-inflicted gunshot wound is widely accepted.
Cobain wrote in a journal often, leaving 22 notebooks filled with his writing when he died. In November 2002, a sampling of these writings was published as Journals. The book is 280 pages with a simple black cover; the pages are arranged somewhat chronologically (although Cobain generally did not date them). The journal pages are reproduced in color, and there is a section added at the back that has explanations and transcripts of some of the less intelligible pages. The writings begin in the late 1980s, around the time the band started, and end in 1994.