In the end there remained nothing but a note, written in a child like scrawl in red ink. A page of crumpled paper, placed in a potted plant, encapsulating all the pain, the frustration, and the absolute brilliance of a life that lasted a mere 27 years and ended by choice, far too early....
In the summer of 1987 the face of rock music was void, and the sound was overproduced and studio inspired. Many thought that rock music had run its course and there was little evidence to prove otherwise.
But there was a strange sound coming out of a tiny logging town in Washington. A sound somewhat akin to chainsaws on broken glass. It was music so completely raw and unrefined, that many of us lucky enough to see one of those early shows walked away shaking our heads and wondering what the fuck it was we'd just heard. It was loud and nasty, and if you were lucky it made your ears bleed.
Kurt Cobain met Chris Novaselic while attending Aberdeen High School in Aberdeen, Wa.. They quickly became friends after meeting again at a studio rehearsal for Seattle Punk band The Melvins. Together they formed a sort of "anti-social" alliance that would help them survive their early years. The rest of the world became an inside joke. Aberdeen was a redneck town that wasn't kind to sensitive artistic types. The town was a beautiful place to live, if you could avoid being bored to death.
Kurt embarked upon his first musical project and formed a band called Brown Towel with fellow musicians Dale Crover (on drums) and Buzz Osbourne (on bass). They played their first gig in Olympia, Wa. at Evergreen State College in late 1985. Meanwhile Chris became the lead singer for a Melvins side band called The Stiff Woodies. Thankfully Chris sang only a few local frat parties and soon the project fell apart, the collective world of rock music has been breathing a sigh of relief ever since.
About this time Kurt began sending a tape of his original songs entitled "Fecal Matter" around to any record company that would listen. Unfortunately few would listen and Kurt never received a call from anyone. It seemed his material was too rough edged for the industry powerbrokers who had been weaned on the sound of Whitney Houston and Billy Joel. Kurt decided, if he never signed a record deal he would have no regrets. He asked Chris to form a band with him. They had no specific name, performing under the moniker of Ted, Ed, & Fred, Bliss and Skid Row among others. They played parties and small shows at clubs like the Hollywood Underground in Seattle and Community World Theater in nearby Tacoma. Unforgettable shows at which it seemed they would play new songs each night. Kurt was becoming more prolific as a songwriter and he was finding his direction as a musician. They went through a variety of drummers never finding the sound, that Kurt "heard in his head". In early 1988 they decided to keep Dale Crover, for better or worse. Together they went to record a demo tape at Reciprocal Studios in Seattle.
On January 23, 1988 the band, now calling themselves Nirvana, recorded the demos for what would eventually become their first official release "Bleach". The entire set of demos was recorded in six hours. Jack Endino, who had engineered the session, gave a mixed version to Jonathan Poneman of Seattle's fledling "Sub Pop" records who was immediately interested. On December 24, 1988, after replacing drummers with Chad Channing and adding guitarist Jason Everman, Nirvana recorded their first album at Reciprocal in Seattle. The recording time was five hours and the entire project was completed for the grand sum of $606.17. "Bleach" hit record stores in June of 1989. The sales weren't spectacular, but the "buzz" about this new punk band from Seattle started to spread. The band toured the U.S. for the first time, playing erratic yet inspired concerts.
In August of 1989 the band released and EP entitled "Blew" on Sub Pop and began an extensive European tour schedule opening for Seattle "grunge" band TAD. They played thirty six shows in forty two days, and were greeted by adoring crowds. Unfortunately the band, especially Kurt were not prepared to handle the tour. The equipment problems, lack of sleep and Kurt's increasingly nauseous stomach began to push him towards more dangerous methods of escape. The seriousness of his situation would not become apparent for a long time, but the seeds of destruction had been planted.
After the "Bleach" tour, Nirvana split company with Sub Pop and began searching for a new Record label. In the meantime, they recorded a demo tape of new songs in April of 1990 at Smart Studios in Madison, WI. Shortly thereafter, the band fired Chad Channing and found a permanent replacement in Dave Grohl, an incredibly powerful drummer with undeniable sense of melody and a beautiful tenor voice. With Dave on board Nirvana entered the studio to began work on their second album. Kurt insisted on using engineer Butch Vig, a producer who was known for his raw and straight forward approach.
In May and June of 1991 Nirvana laid down the basic tracks for "Nevermind". No one had any idea how successful the album was going to be, but the band knew it was very good. Kurt had finally found the sound he'd been looking for, thanks to the addition of Grohl's drumming and Vig's production production skill. The tracks to "Nevermind" were about teen angst, alienation and anger of convention. Together with "Bleach", it would come to define the "Seattle Sound", and would be responsible for the term "grunge" being added to the vocabularies of teenagers and music fans.
Immediately after completing "Nevermind" the band embarked on a short west coast tour. In August they joined Sonic Youth for a European festival tour. After playing a string of sellout shows, the band returned how and began working on the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit".
On September 29, 1991, while the band was touring the U.S. again "Nevermind" was released. Immediately following its release the album began climbing the charts. The band being on tour had no idea as to its success, but they knew something was happening because every show began to sell out. By the time Nirvana returned Seattle's Paramount Theater in October for their landmark homecoming gig, the album was entering the top ten. The music industry had now become aware of this new "Seattle Sound".
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" rocketed to number one with MTV's constant air play, followed by "Come As You Are", "Lithium", and "In Bloom". Over night Nirvana had become famous all over the world. Unfortunately all was not what it seemed. Kurt had wanted to be in a band and have his songs heard, but he had no idea what the success of "Nevermind" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" would spawn. His life became a fishbowl and rumors ran rampant about drug abuse by Kurt and his then girlfriend Courtney Love of the punk band Hole. Although these rumors were denied by Nirvana's management, they eventually turned out to be true. Kurt was heavily using heroin and had undergone several rehabs with mixed success. His stomach problems were worsening. Socially and emotionally he was a wreck.
Kurt Cobain and a pregnant Courtney Love were married in Waikiki, Hawaii, on February 24, 1992. Frances Bean Cobain was born on August 19, 1992. For awhile things got better, with the exception of vicious stories circulating about Courtney that made Kurt furious.
To quell rumors of the bands early demise, Nirvana flew to England in August 1992 and performed at the Reading Festival. Their performance was absolutely brilliant, and showed them to have lost nothing artistically. If anything, this may have been their best concert performance of the entire "Nevermind" tour.
The band took the rest of 1992 off, and Kurt concentrated on being a father to Frances and husband to Courtney.
On February 24, 1993 Nirvana began recording their third studio album with ex Pixies and Breeders producer Steve Albini. Kurt had written a variety of new songs on the Nevermind tour and was anxious to see what Albini's abrasive minimalistic techniques could bring to them. With more studio time and a larger budget, Geffen Records was expecting a bigger and better version of "Nevermind". What they got was a stripped down wiry recording, more reminiscent of "Bleach". Geffen was not happy. So they re-worked certain tracks and changed the title several times. "In Utero" was released on Sept. 14, 1993. It went straight to number one on the Billboard charts, despite MTV's ridiculous refusal to play "Rape Me". This was an album of deep introspection, incredibly personal lyrics on Kurt's part and in retrospect a predictor of things to come.
Nirvana once again began a world tour that would cover the U.S. and Europe. They added former Germ's gutarist Pat Smear. The new guitarist helped to take some of the weight off Kurt and made their live performances better than ever. Along the way they agreed to appear on MTV's Unplugged. Their performance included stunning covers of "The Man Who Sold The World", "Plateau" and Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night". This may have been the most stirring show in the history of MTV's Unplugged. The band continued the tour, but it was taking its toll on Kurt. He had sworn never to do another stadium tour and his fragile little body began to feel the strain of this tour more than ever. He was in constant pain from his stomach and the scoliosis that had plagued him since childhood was making it difficult for him to even hold his guitar.
On January 7th and 8th of 1994, Nirvana played their last American shows in Seattle at the Seattle Center Arena. The shows were the pinnacle of punk perfection. They appeared as a fire raging out of control before consuming itself. Kurt was animated and his voice was perfect. But the lyrics from the "In Utero" songs gave away much of what he was feeling. "Teenage angst has paid off well... now I'm bored and old" "Out of the ground, into the sky, out of the sky, into the dirt" "On the bright side is suicide". Kurt's drug addiction, his inability to deal with fame and the carrying of the mantle as spokesman for "Generation X" was becoming unbearable.
On February 2, 1994, Nirvana flew to Europe. They performed another set of amazing shows in Paris. By the time they got to Rome, the band had become suddenly listless, performing songs as if they were studio sessions. Kurt hardly spoke between songs and he was becoming more and more withdrawn. Nirvana played their last concert in Offenbach, Germany on April 13, 1994.
On March 5, 1994, while staying in Rome's Excelsior Hotel with Courtney, Kurt attempted suicide by taking more than fifty pills. He was rushed to Rome's Umberto Polyclinic, where his stomach was pumped and he entered a coma. Geffen and Gold Mountain once again denied there was anything wrong and stated that Kurt had taken an accidental overdose. Kurt came out of the coma, and together with Courtney he returned to the U.S.
On April 8, 1994, police were called to Kurt and Courtney's home by an electrician who had been hired to install a burglar alarm in the couples home. They found Kurt dead of a shotgun blast to the head. Next to him was a suicide note written to Frances and Courtney, and all of us.
Kurt Donald Cobain was, in almost every way the unlikeliest of heros, but his songs changed the face of music. Kurt and Nirvana paved the way by kicking down doors and preconceptions that had kept alternative music underground for years.
A candlelight memorial was held for Kurt two days after his death at the Seattle Center. It started out as a dark somber mass for a dead rock star, but quickly turned into a celebration of the life and music of a man. Nirvana's music played while kids danced in a fountain in defiance of security and police, they were not hurting anyone, but there were not letting anyone hold they back. It was kind of the way Kurt would have acted, what the hell, he inspired it. I'm sure he was watching it all through those brilliant blue eyes and finally smiling.
This is a small history of the music of Nirvana. Listen and enjoy....