NIRVANA Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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In 1992, just when punk looked as dead as it was likely to get, Nirvana restored hard-rocking youthful alienation to the mainstream airwaves with the deeply resonant anti-anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the landmark album Nevermind. Both eloquently tapped into a wellspring of under-thirty angst, and in the process ignited the commercial alt- rock explosion, establishing troubled singer/guitarist/songwriter Kurt Cobain as the decidedly reluctant Voice Of A Generation.


Blessed with an uncanny gift for articulating his hurt and rage in insistently catchy, metallically riffing songs that transcended the grunge tag that his band helped make a household word, Cobain - who wrestled with depression, a chronic stomach ailment and heroin addiction - was ideally cast as a deeply conflicted postmodern rock icon. His unwillingness to exploit that role, and his genuine ambivalence about his own success, made him even more perfect for it - as did his tragic suicide in April 1994. Cobain grew up in the working-class logging town of Aberdeen, Washington, a disenfranchised outcast from a broken home. He loved The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and K ISS, and found a kindred musical spirit in schoolmate and eventual Nirvana bassist Chris Novoselic.


In 1988, Nirvana, which then included drummer Chad Channing, signed with the influential independent SubPop label and released the debut single “Love Buzz.” The band’s debut album, Bleach, recorded for $600, appeared the following year and became a substantial underground hit, selling 35,000 copies and launching a major-label bidding war that culminated in the band’s signing with Geffen.


Nirvana’s 1991 Geffen debut, Nevermind, was a surprise mainstream smash, selling upwards of ten million copies. In retrospect, it’s not hard to see why. Despite the band’s staunchly anti- commercial indie aesthetic, their emotionally raw, irresistibly melodic songs like “Lithium,” “Breed” and “Something in the Way” rendered indie/major distinctions irrelevant. And the aggressive yet nimble rhythm section of Novoselic and new drummer Dave Grohl helped give the band a far-ranging rockist appeal, as did Butch Vig’s rhythmically precise production.


But the group’s massive success was as much a curse as it was a blessing for Cobain, whose profound discomfort with stardom created deep internal conflicts that he would never resolve. Meanwhile, his controversial relationship with, and subsequent marriage to, Hole leader Courtney Love became the stuff of gossip columns, increasing his dissatisfaction with his new fame .


In Utero - which had been preceded by Incesticide, a collection of early singles and outtakes - arrived in September of 1993, and was a remarkably accomplished followup. “Heart- Shaped Box,” “Rape Me,” “Dumb” and “All Apologies” expanded the parameters of the band’s song craft, while carrying a distinct air of melancholy that’s all the more poignant in light of Cobain’s ultimate fate.


But the music was nearly overshadowed by ominous reports of Cobain’s heroin addiction and his wife’s loose-cannon antics - most famously Love’s statement in a Vanity Fair interview that she’d used heroin while pregnant with their daughter Frances Bean. In the last year of his life, Cobain suffered at least three heroin overdoses, culminating in a near-fatal one in Rome on March 4, 1994. He was found dead at his Seattle home on April 8, from an apparently self-inflicted shotgun wound. The news of his death prompted an outpouring of public grief that echoed the mass mourning accompanying the death of John Lennon a decade and a half before. It demonstrated just how deeply Cobain’s tortured insights had touched his audience.


Six months later, Geffen released the acoustic MTV Unplugged in New York, followed by the electric live album From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, demonstrating the ongoing vitality of Nirvana’s legacy.