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nirvana

Nirvana's story begins in Aberdeen, Washington, where Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic spent their adolescent years. The logging town - two and a half hours and a world apart from Seattle - proved stifling for the slight and artistic Cobain, who often found himself the victim of bullies. With its small music and arts community extending out from the liberal Evergreen State College, nearby Olympia was far more inviting for Cobain, who moved there after dropping out of high school in 1985. In Olympia, he played in a series of bands with Novoselic including the Sellouts, Skid Row, and the Stiff Woodies. The pair eventually formed their own band, Nirvana, in 1986, anchoring an ever-changing lineup. Two years later, Nirvana signed a contract with Seattle-based indie label Sub Pop Records, and released its first single, "Love Buzz" in November 1988. "Love Buzz" was also the first title in the label's legendary mail-order marketing ploy, the Sub Pop Singles Club, which gathered money in advance from subscribers who in turn received a vinyl 45 by a different Sub Pop band every month. The Singles Club brought Sub Pop much needed up-front capital, which they put to good use: the label scored a major coup when it paid to have Everett True, a writer for the influential British music paper New Musical Express, flown to Seattle. True returned to England raving about bands like Mudhoney, Tad, Soundgarden, and Nirvana. The hype in England was based on substance. Nirvana's performances were ferocious, drenched in distortion and feedback, and often culminated in smashed guitars and broken drum kits. The band toured constantly from its inception, and fanzine reviews and word-of-mouth helped insure that the crowds grew larger each time they came through the same town. Nirvana's first full-length effort, Bleach, was released on vinyl only in June of 1989. While the album is undeniably rough-hewn, Kurt Cobain's songs were already melodic, if not quite as polished as they would soon become. "School," for example, is supposedly Cobain's take on the often cliquish nature of the Seattle music scene at the time. But the lyrics couch his intention with a matter-of-fact phrase ("Wouldn't you believe it?/ It's just my luck") and a biting clincher: "No recess." Cobain also took on his past tormentors, albeit by posing as one of them in the song "Negative Creep," and pleaded passionately with a woman in "About a Girl." Bleach showed a band with its ideas clearly mapped out. While Nirvana's star was on the rise, lineup changes continued to plague the band. Bleach not only featured two different drummers, but the band photo on the album included guitarist Jason Everman, who didn't actually play on it (his only studio stint with Nirvana was a cover of KISS's "Do You Love Me?" recorded for a tribute album). As for drummers, the Melvins' Dale Crover served briefly in January of 1988, recording demos with Cobain and Novoselic before moving to San Francisco. A couple of other drummers passed through before Chad Channing took over the drum stool in the spring of 1988. He left following the band's May 1990 U.S. tour. Crover then filled in briefly, as did Mudhoney's Dan Peters, for exactly one gig, though he did play on the band's last Sub Pop single, "Sliver." The trio's fourth and final drummer, Dave Grohl, joined in October of 1990 (see the Foo Fighters) and Nirvana's power-trio lineup was complete and ready to record Nevermind. Far better realized and produced than its predecessor, Nevermind is the rare album that manages to be both accessible and uncompromising. At the behest of their friends in Sonic Youth, Nirvana agreed to sign with DGC Records (a division of Geffen Records) in April of 1991. Their advance of $287,000 was quickly divided up to pay debts, taxes, and various fees, but Nirvana had negotiated for and received full artistic control, as well as a high royalty rate if their next album reached sales of 500,000. They recorded in Van Nuys, California, early that summer with producer Butch Vig, with whom the band had cut demos in April of the previous year. Vig (who went on to form his own successful band, Garbage) helped bring the band a more polished sound that added clarity and resonance to Cobain's voice, while Grohl's muscular drumming gave Nirvana a punch it had always lacked. Still, the sessions weren't too slick; Cobain relied on a battered old guitar that wouldn't stay in tune to record the mournful strains of "Something in the Way." Nevermind has moments of quiet subtlety, but blustery hard rock with hooks dominates the album. "Come As You Are," "On a Plain," and "Drain You" all revolve around simple motifs, power chords, and keen musicianship. Those qualities are shared by another song, "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Although Cobain sang the song's words nearly indecipherably, it quickly became a wake-up call to a generation of young Americans who almost immediately dubbed the young singer their spokesman. Ironically, the song's memorable guitar riff was ripped off from Boston's "More Than a Feeling," which is just the kind of classic-rock song that dominated album-oriented rock radio stations until Nirvana came along. Nevermind was released September 24, 1991, and was certified gold (sales of over 500,000) less than a month later. On the strength of a clever "Teen Spirit" video (directed by Samuel Bayer) and heavy radio airplay, the album hit No. 1 in February of 1992. Nirvana crowned their achievement by appearing on Saturday Night Live, where Cobain and Novoselic kissed as the credits rolled, mocking legions of new fans - mostly men - who probably didn't share their progressive attitude. As 1992 wore on, Nirvana continued to tour, and turmoil began to swirl around the band. Rumors about Kurt Cobain's use of heroin reached a fever pitch when Vanity Fair magazine published a cover story on Courtney Love, whom Cobain had married in February. The article alleged that Love took heroin after she discovered she was pregnant, which the couple vehemently denied. Courtney Love gave birth to a girl, Frances Bean, on August 18, 1992. The controversy quieted in time, but still had a major influence on In Utero, the band's third album, released in September of 1993. Less conventional than its predecessor, In Utero had a raw, powerful sound due in part to producer Steve Albini's recording techniques, which captured the band playing live in the studio without overdubs. On the album, Cobain addressed the lingering effects of sudden fame in "Serve the Servants," and hit back at Lynn Hirschberg, author of the Vanity Fair article, in "Rape Me." In Utero closed with "All Apologies," in which the singer questioned how things could have been different. He ended the song with a seeming note of acceptance as the song fades: "All in all is all we are." With the release of In Utero, Nirvana sat for a major interview with Rolling Stone, in which Cobain spoke of fatherhood, fame, the future, and laying his demons to rest. The band began a three-month North American tour in October of 1993 (adding ex-Germs guitarist Pat Smear), and taped an acoustic set for MTV's Unplugged in November. The performance featured a three-song guest appearance by the Meat Puppets (one of Cobain's favorite bands as a teenager), covers of David Bowie and Leadbelly songs, and superb stripped-down arrangements of the band's own songs. At year's end, they taped a Seattle concert for an MTV New Year's Eve special. For all of its problems, Nirvana closed out 1993 appearing to be on the right track and steaming ahead. Sadly, in early 1994, problems returned for Nirvana when Kurt Cobain took a near-fatal overdose of a prescription sedative in Rome after the end of the band's European tour. Although the overdose was widely reported to have been accidental, he had written a suicide note. Friends and bandmates attempted an intervention, and Cobain entered a drug-rehabilitation clinic in California, but left soon after and returned to Seattle. He was found dead April 8, 1994, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Kurt Cobain's death meant the end of Nirvana, leaving numbness where there had been so much promise. Nirvana's legacy was expanded in 1994 by the release of Unplugged in New York, taken from their acoustic MTV set, and a video compilation. In 1996, an electric live album, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, was released, and will likely serve as the final statement from the band.

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