Sunday, September 24, 2023

Looking back on 27 years of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’


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Photo courtesy of Time Magazine

Story by Enrique Geronimo / Contributing Writer 

For those who were alive when Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was released, it must seem like a lifetime ago – and for Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who only lived to be 27, it would be a lifetime. Today marks 27 years since Nirvana’s breakthrough album was released.

Their first album, “Bleach,” which was released in 1989, had caused some movement in the underground alternative-rock music scene. Nirvana’s live shows were known for the raw emotion, distortion and volume from their first show in Washington in 1987 until their last in Germany in 1994. While they had gained some traction from “Bleach” and the countless performances, they had no idea what they were about to do to the music scene around the world for years to come.

Prior to the release of ”Nevermind,” Nirvana had already gone through five drummers, two guitarists and a bassist until they finalized their lineup toward the end of 1990. Apart from the addition of Pat Smear as a second guitarist less than a year before their disbanding, these three high-school dropouts were on their way to becoming one of the most recognized rock bands of all time.

Cobain and Krist Novoselic went to Aberdeen High School together but had apparently never really spoken. They both started to frequent the same locations, and Cobain gave Novoselic a copy of a demo tape he created. After some persuasion, Novoselic listened and agreed to form a band with Cobain.

After going through names like Fecal Matter, Skid Row and Ted Ed Fred, they finally settled on Nirvana. Cobain said he wanted a name that was “kind of beautiful, or nice and pretty.” Cobain and Novoselic went on tour with The Melvins in 1990, and while they were in Washington, D.C., Melvins band member Buzz Osborne took them to see one of his favorite local punk bands, Scream. Nirvana was in the midst of looking for a drummer and Scream’s drummer, Dave Grohl, was exactly the sound and power they were looking for. Osborne introduced the three musicians, and the rest was history.

Initially, Nirvana was on the Seattle-based indie label Sub-Pop, and they even urged the label to allow them to sign an extended contract, making them the first band to do so. Once the band’s name began to grow, they wanted to sign to a major record label. They had befriended the members of Sonic Youth, who were signed to DGC Records, and some of the members suggested they sign to the same label as well.

Once they were signed, they began to record their next album with producer Butch Vig, which was to initially be titled “Sheep.” A little over a year and $65,000 later, “Nevermind” was complete, and it was unlike anything anyone had ever heard. The album starts off with a riff that sparked an era. Thousands of kids around the world developed an urge to learn the guitar after they heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The phrase came from Kathleen Hanna, who was a friend in the band Bikini Kill. Hanna spray-painted “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on a wall because Teen Spirit was the deodorant brand Cobain’s girlfriend at the time, Tobi Vail, wore.

The rest of the album features heavily distorted guitars, intense drumming and bouncy basslines backing a range of emotions in Cobain’s lyrics. With lines ranging from “When I was an alien, cultures weren’t opinions” and “I’m so happy ‘cause today I found my friends, they’re in my head,” it’s hard to know what to expect next on the album. While most of the songs fall into Nirvana’s iconic grunge sound, tracks like “Polly” and “Something in the Way” showcase a softer side of Cobain and the band’s versatility.

The album has 12 tracks on the surface, but if you wait through about 10 minutes of silence after “Something in the Way,” there is a hidden track by the name of “Endless, Nameless.” The song is a jam that was recorded on an outtake of “Lithium” that goes on for almost seven minutes. The track is very distorted and aggressive, and Cobain even smashed his guitar during the recording, the only left-handed guitar that was at the studio.

“Nevermind” has reached diamond status, as recognized by the Recording Industry Association of America, selling over 10.5 million copies in the United States alone and over 30 million worldwide. While the band split after Cobain’s untimely death in 1994, they have not been anywhere near forgotten. Whenever grunge is mentioned, Nirvana is sure to be mentioned as well. Their music not only paved the way for other bands in the ‘90s, but their lifestyles changed the lives of millions. Even today, people are still fans of Nirvana and the grunge scene, keeping their legacy alive for years to come.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Sydney Wagner, email

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