The Origins of Nirvana: Not Just a Band, But a Major Musical Influence

Samara Buffardi, Audiophile

Nirvana was a American rock band that started in 1987 and that was formed in Aberdeen, Washington. The band consisted of Kurt Cobain, who was lead vocalist and guitarist, Krist Novoselic bassist, and drummer Dave Grohl. 

Cobain said Nirvana settled on their name because he “wanted a name that was kind of beautiful or nice and pretty instead of a mean, raunchy punk name like the Angry Samoans.” Before the group became Nirvana, the band had many names such as Skid Row, Fecal Matter, and Ted Ed Fred.

The definition of Nirvana means, from a Buddhist perspective, the state of perfect happiness and peace. With a loud/soft dynamic that included lots of feedback and sometimes unintelligible (or mysterious) lyrics, Nirvana became one of the most influential bands in recent music history. The band took “alternative” or what the kids in Seattle called “grunge” music and pushed themselves into the mainstream with some huge hits and legendary shows where the band often destroyed their equipment and dove into the audience. 

Kurt Cobain met Krist Novoselic while going to Aberdeen High School in Washington State. Cobain is the one who wanted to start a band with Novoselic but Novoselic didn’t respond for a long time. Grohl was the last addition to the group, replacing original drummer Chad Channing, who had performed on most of the tracks on the original recording Bleach (on SubPop Records). 

Nirvana released three official “studio” albums, two of which, after the band signed to major label DGC Records in 1991, reached Billboard’s No. 1, “Nevermind” and “In Utero.” But their singles never reached the same level on the Hot 100. Some of Nirvana’s top hits are “Smells like Teen Spirit,” (the video for which was so popular Weird Al did a parody of it) “Come as You Are”, and “About A Girl.” 

Nirvana’s success, built on relatively small shows in  popularized alternative rock, and they are often referenced as the figurehead band of Generation X. Including the release of two live albums (From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, and the hugely popular MTV Unplugged performance) Nirvana found unexpected mainstream success, which Cobain seemed to have trouble dealing with.

Cobain’s mistrust of fame, compounded by his heroin addiction, and troubled relationship with Courtney Love, spiraled into increasingly erratic behavior and his overdose in Italy in March of 1994 effectively ended the band’s touring career. Nirvana itself ended ultimately, with Cobain’s suicide, only a month later. Many millions of fans worldwide were devastated, as were his fellow bandmates, and Courtney Love, who read her husband’s final note live on TV during an ad hoc memorial in Seattle.

Though the band only released a handful of records over about 6 years, and ended so tragically, they definitely left their mark (like “a blanket, acned with cigarette burns”) on a generation of fans and musicians.