Formed in Aberdeen, Washington, USA, at the end of 1987, the Nirvana that the MTV generation came to love comprised Kurt Cobain (Kurt Donald Cobain, 20 February 1967, Hoquiam, Washington, USA, d. 5 April 1994, Seattle, Washington, USA; guitar/vocals), Krist Novoselic (b. 16 May 1965, Croatia, Yugoslavia; bass) and Dave Grohl (b. David Eric Grohl, 14 January 1969, Warren, Ohio, USA; drums). Grohl was something like our sixth drummer, explained Cobain, and had been recruited from east coast band Dain Bramage, having previously played with Scream, who recorded for Minor Threats influential Dischord Records label. Their original drummer was Chad Channing; at one point Dinosaur Jrs J. Mascis had been touted as a permanent fixture, along with Dan Peters from Mudhoney.
Having been signed by the Seattle-based Sub Pop Records, the original line-up of Nirvana completed their debut single, Love Buzz/Big Cheese, the former a song written and first recorded by 70s Dutch act Shocking Blue. Second guitarist Jason Everman was then added prior to the release of 1989s Bleach, which cost a meagre $600 to record. Though he was pictured on the cover, he played no part in the actual recording (going on to join Mindfunk, via Soundgarden and Skunk). The set confirmed Nirvanas ability to match heavy riffs with melody and it quickly attracted a cult following. However, Channing left the band following a European tour, and as a likely replacement proved hard to find, Dan Peters from labelmates Mudhoney stepped in on a temporary basis. He was featured on the single Sliver, Nirvanas sole 1990 release.
New drummer Grohl reaffirmed a sense of stability. The revamped trio secured a prestigious contract with Geffen Records, whose faith was rewarded with Nevermind, which broke the band worldwide. This was a startling collection of songs that transcended structural boundaries, notably the distinctive slow verse/fast chorus format, and almost single-handedly brought the grunge subculture overground. It topped the US charts early in 1992, eclipsing much-vaunted competition from Michael Jackson and Dire Straits and topped many Album Of The Year polls. The MTV channels non-stop airing of the video for the opening track, Smells Like Teen Spirit, helped push sales of Nevermind through the roof, and when released as a single the song duly reached the US and UK Top 10, further confirmation that Nirvana now combined critical and popular acclaim.
In February 1992, the romance of Cobain and Courtney Love of Hole was sealed when the couple married (Love giving birth to their daughter, Frances Bean, in August the same year). It was already obvious, however, that Cobain was struggling with his new role as spokesman for a generation. The first big story to break concerned an article in Vanity Fair magazine that alleged Love had taken heroin while pregnant; this saw the state intercede on the childs behalf by not allowing the Cobains alone with the child during its first month. Press interviews ruminated on the difficulties experienced in recording a follow-up album, and also revealed Cobains use of a variety of drugs in order to stem the pain arising from a stomach complaint. The recording of In Utero, produced by Big Black / Rapeman alumnus Steve Albini, was not without difficulties. Rumours circulated concerning confrontations with both Albini and record company Geffen over the lo-fi production. When the record was finally released, the effect was not as immediate as Nevermind, although Cobains songwriting remained inspired on Penny Royal Tea, All Apologies and the evocative Rape Me.
Cobains descent into self-destruction accelerated in 1994, however, as he went into a coma during dates in Italy (it was later confirmed that this had all the markings of a failed suicide attempt), before returning to Seattle to shoot himself on 5 April 1994. The man who had long protested that Nirvana were merely a punk band had finally been destroyed by the success that overtook him and them. The wake conducted in the press was matched by public demonstrations of affection and loss, which included suspected copycat suicides. The release of MTV Unplugged In New York offered some small comfort for Cobains fans, with the singers understated, aching delivery on a variety of cover versions and Nirvana standards enduring as one of the most emotive sights and sounds of the decade.
Grohl went on to form the excellent Foo Fighters, alongside ex-Germs guitarist Pat Smear (who had added second guitar to previous touring engagements and the bands MTV Unplugged appearance), following press rumours that Grohl would be working with Pearl Jam (much to Courtney Loves chagrin) or Tom Petty. Novoselic formed Sweet 75 early in 1997 and Eyes Adrift in 2001, before retiring from music to pursue a career in politics. A legal squabble broke out in summer 2002 between Love and Grohl/Novoselic over the ownership of Nirvanas unreleased recordings. The dispute was eventually settled, however, and in October the first new Nirvana recording to emerge since Cobains death, You Know Youre Right, made its debut in the US Hot 100. The enduring appeal of Nirvana was confirmed with the following months publication of Cobains private diaries, and the commercial success of the same years compilation album. In 2004, Geffen released a box set comprising three CDs of unreleased material and a DVD of live performances and rehearsals.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.