It’s one of the most iconic album covers of the late 20th century: bright blue water, naked baby, floating money. Nevermind was Nirvana’s breakthrough album, the one that catapulted them—and particularly frontman Kurt Cobain—from a mostly unknown Pacific Northwest grunge band (and there were a lot of those) to a worldwide musical sensation. On April 5, 2014, it will be twenty years since Cobain killed himself. And yet his legacy burns on. On April 10, 2014, Nirvana will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame.
Here are five things that you might not (but should) know about the talented lead singer, along with five iconic Nirvana videos to watch, either for the first time or in honor of a voice silenced too soon. To learn even more about Cobain, check out noted author Charles R. Cross’s two enlightening biographies: Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain (2002 from Hyperion) and Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain (It Books, March 2014).
1. At the September 1991 launch party for Nirvana’s sophomore album, Nevermind, at Seattle’s Re-bar, the invitation’s tag line proclaimed “Nevermind Triskaidekaphobia, here’s Nirvana.” Triskaidekaphobia is a fear of Friday the 13th. The band shouldn’t have feared: the album has sold over 30 million copies worldwide.
Video #1: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (from Nevermind)
2. Cobain idolized and was inspired by the punk band the Melvins, also Washington State natives, and wrote in his diary, after seeing them perform for the first time at age 16 in 1983: They played faster than I ever imagined music could be played and with more energy than my Iron Maiden records could provide. This was what I was looking for. Ah, punk rock.[…] I came to the promised land of a grocery store parking lot and I found my special purpose.
Video #2: “Heart-Shaped Box” (from In Utero)
3. The baby on the album cover of Nevermind is now old enough to drink and only four years younger than Cobain was when he died. Spencer Elden was famous before he could talk as being the main attraction on Nirvana’s wildly popular second album. In 2011, the 20th anniversary of the album, Elden told CNN “definitely, I like Nirvana a lot and there are no songs that I don’t like—they all have a special place for people.”
Video #3: “Come As You Are” (from Nirvana)
4. Cobain holds unenviable membership in “The 27 Club,” a group of musicians who all died at the age of 27. The other talented, troubled members include Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, and Jim Morrison. In his suicide note from 1994, addressed to his imaginary childhood friend “Boddah,” Cobain quotes another famous (but thankfully very much alive) musician, Neil Young: “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” These are lyrics from Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).” Young, shaken by Cobain’s death, dedicated his 1994 album, Sleeps With Angels, to Cobain.
Video #4: “Lithium” Live at Reading in 1992 (from Nevermind)
5. The inspiration for Nirvana’s best-known song wasn’t from Cobain but rather from Kathleen Hanna of the seminal female punk band Bikini Kill (and later of Le Tigre fame). After a night of partying with the band, Hanna spray-painted “Kurt smells like teen spirit” on a wall of a room, referring to the popular deodorant of the time, marketed to teenage girls.
Video #5: Nirvana’s entire appearance on MTV Unplugged (you won’t regret watching the whole thing)
Rest in peace, Mr. Cobain. We’re glad you came as you were but wish you’d stuck around a little longer.
What are your favorite Nirvana songs or memories about Cobain?
Cover Image: http://musik.jac0bss0n.se/
Cobain with Melvins sticker: http://artisnotdead.blogspot.com/2011/01/nice-and-rare-picture-of-kurt-cobain.html
Cobain portrait 1: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/kerouac-cobain-and-the-photos-that-define-american-cool/
Cobain portrait 2: http://sasukethehotty.deviantart.com/art/Kurt-Cobain-1993-371947309
Cobain portrait 3: http://www.spin.com/articles/kurt-cobain-19-year-death-anniversary/