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Most Punk
Profiles :: Nirvana

Nirvana For three short years Nirvana were the biggest band on Earth. From the backwoods of Seattle they became an overnight sensation - a genre-defining, million-selling phenomenon.

In 1989 they were signed to Seattle's Sub Pop Records. Virtually indistinguishable from label-mates Mudhoney or Tad, their debut album Bleach (apparently recorded for $606.17) was rooted around Cobain's heavy and repetitive riffing combining dirge-like punk with teenage nihilism. With a series of incendiary and destructive live shows under their belt, and following the addition of Dave Grohl on drums in October 1990, Nirvana's future as a moderately successful alternative guitar act looked assured.

The turning point came in April 1991. They were looking to take the next step and the material recorded for their second album, Nevermind, certainly had an FM radio sheen. Producer Butch Vig's brash studio arrangements allowed Cobain's hook-filled choruses to shine through, while Grohl's drumming gave Nirvana a powerhouse energy previously lacking. It was a perfect balance of aggression and melody, and following MTV's heavy rotation of the cheerleading "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video, the band were on a stratospheric rise to stardom.

Ridiculing the vacuousness of fame ("Here we are now entertain us") it struck a chord with a disaffected young audience. In an era dominated by Michael Bolton, The Bodyguard Soundtrack and Guns N Roses, Nevermind was #1 by February 1992. For America, 1991 became - in the words of a later film - 'The Year Punk Rock Broke'.

But for Cobain the prospect of success was deeply troubling. Despite marrying Courtney Love in February 1992 and the birth of a daughter, Francis Bean, his dissatisfaction continued to grow. Complaining of a persistent stomach cramps and a narcoleptic condition, tales of heroin abuse also abounded. Kurt 'n' Courtney were typecast as the 90's Sid 'n' Nancy. Meanwhile he was regularly photographed in a "Grunge Is Dead" T-shirt while the next Nirvana album was reportedly titled I Hate Myself And I Want To Die.

In Utero, recorded with ex-Big Black leader Steve Albini, was markedly heavier than Nevermind. A scabrous two-fingered salute to the corporate machine, the LP offered insight to the dejection in Cobain's mind. with images of sickness, broken relationships and loathing.

Things came to a head in March 1994. Cobain took an overdose before lapsing into a 20-minute coma. 'An accident', according to his PR, but one month later Nirvana was over for good. After discharging himself from drugs rehabilitation, Cobain returned home and fired a shotgun into his mouth. A rambling suicide note ended paraphrasing Neil Young that it was 'better to burn out than to fade away.' "Teen Spirit" had redrawn the map for US rock and in 1991 Nirvana had the world at their feet; but for Cobain it had spawned a monster, and ultimately he wanted no part in this world at all. He was only 27 years old.


Bleach (1989)
Nevermind (1991)
In Utero (1993)
MTV Unplugged In New York (1994)


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