Nirvana is widely credited with bringing the sound and spirit of late-Seventies punk rock to a mainstream pop audience. In 1992, the Seattle-based trio took the angry, nihilistic message of the Sex Pistols "Anarchy in the U.K." to #1 with its own sarcastic blueprint for frustration, "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The band's reign was tragically cut short two years later, on April 5m 1994, when leader Kurt Cobain took his own life following at least one earlier suicde attempt and severe bouts with drug addiction, a chronic stomach ailment, and depression. He was 27.
Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic grew up in Aberdeen, Washington, a small logging town 100 miles southwest of Seattle. When Cobain was eight, his secretary mother and auto mechanic father divorced, leaving him constantly moving from one set of relatives to another. As a child he loved the Beatles, but by nine he discovered the heavier music of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Kiss. Cobain met the 6-foot-7-inch Novoselic, son of a local hairdresser, though mutual friend Buzz Osborne of the Aberdeen band Melvins. Osborne introduced them to the hardcore punk of Black Flag and Flipper.
In 1987 Cobain and Novoselic, both of whom had long felt anienated from their working-class peers, formed Nirvana and started playing parties at the liberal Evergreen State College in nearby Olympia. The following year, Seattle independent label Sup Pop signed the band and released its first single, "Love Buzz" b/w "Big Cheese." Nirvana's debut album, Bleach, recorded for $607.17, came out in 1989 to kudos from the underground rock commumnity; it sold 35,000 copies, which is considerable for an indie-label release. The next year Nirvana put out another Sub Pop single, "Sliver" b/w "Dive," and recorded six new songs (including "Smells Like Teen Spirit") with producer Butch Vig. Although opposed to major labels in principle, the band claims it shopped the songs to bigger companies in hopes of getting the message of punk to a larger audience.
A major-label bidding war ensued, with DGC ultimately offering the group a $287,000 advance (roumers had it at $750,000). With Nevermind, Nirvana succeeded in geting punk to the populace on a grand scale: After an initial shipment of 50,000 copies, the record kept selling, eventually bumping new albums by Michael Jackson, Garth Brooks, U2, and Hammer from the top of the chart. Nevermind ultimately sold ten million copies worldwide, and produced another hit, "Come As You Are (#32, 1992).
By early 1992 the group's success was biting back. As "Smells Like Teen Spirit" continued climping up the charts, Cobain began bemoaning the group's meteoric rise, worrying that fans were missing the point of Nirvana's antiestablishment message. Simultaneously his new relationship with Courtney Love, singer of the underground band Hole, had become a hot topic in the gossip columns. The couple married on February 24. When Love became pregnant with Cobain's child and was quoted in a Vanity Fair article as admitting she had used heroin during the pregnancy, news of the couple's alleged drug addiction hit the media fan. Scrutiny of the Cobain/Love affair reached a level of intensity met in the pop world only by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, or the ill-fated punk couple Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. On August 18, 1992, the Cobains delivered a healthy, seven-pound baby, Frances Bean. After a battle with children's services in Los Angeles, which challenged the Cobains' parental fitness based on Love's comments in Vanity Fair, the couple was granted custody of the child. Amid the chaos, Nirvana released Incesticide, a collection of early singles and outtakes. Beginning in spring of 1993, a series of events occured that forshadowed the demise of Cobain and Nirvana. On May 2, the singer overdosed on heroin at his Seattle home. The following month, he was charged with domestic assault [see note 1] after Love summoned the police during an arguement over Cobain's gun collection. On July 23, Cobain overdosed again, this time in the bathroom of a New York hotel room before a Nirvana show at the Roseland Ballroom.
On September 21, Nirvana released In Utero, which debuted at #1 and ultimately produced the modern-rock radio hits "Heart-Shaped Box" and "All Apologies." On January 8, 1994, Nirvana performed what would be their last American concert at the Seattle Center Arena. On February 2, the band dpearted for a European tour, but after a series of shows in France, Portugal, Italy, the former Yugoslavia, and Germany, decided to take a break, during which Cobain remained in Rome [see note 2].
At 6:30 a.m. on March 4, Love found Cobain unconscious in the couple's room at Rome's Excelsior Hotel, the result of an overdose of the tranquilizer Rohypnol. At first it was deemed an accident, but later reports confirm the existance of a suicide note. Cobain remained in a coma for 20 hours. When the Cobains returned to Seattle, things took a turn for the worse. On March 18, police arrived at the Cobain home again after the singer locked himself in a room with a .38 caliber revolver, threatening to kill himself. On March 30, Cobain checked in the Exocus Recovery center in Los Angeles, but fled on April 1, after telling staff members he was going outside for a smoke. On April 8, he was found dead in a room above the garage of the couple's Seattle home, the result of a self-inflicted 20-gauge shotgun wound to the head. For weeks afterward, fans, the news media, MTV, and radio mourned his death with specials about Nirvana and the generations they inspired. In November 1994 MTV Unplugged in New York (#1, 1994), an album of the acoustic show taped in 1993, was released.
Following Cobain's death, Novoselic spent most of his time as an advocate for various political and social causes. Grohl started a band, the Foo Fighters, which included guitarist Pat Smear, who played on Nirvana's last tour. For the band's self-titled album, released in 1995, Grohl sang lead, played guitar, and wrote all the songs.