It was 20 years ago this week that frontman Kurt Cobain took his own life. Here are some Nirvana facts you might not have known about the one of the most influential bands of their generation.
- When Nirvana signed to Geffen Records in 1991, it was in the wake of Operation Desert Storm, and a subsequent wave of patriotism. The left-wing, punk-rock oriented members of Nirvana disagreed with the war effort, and privately referred to pro-war people as “sheep.” Cobain almost titled the band’s first major-label album Sheep, before deciding on Nevermind, referring to the philosophically central lyric in the album’s first single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
- In 1991, Cobain briefly dated Tobi Vail, drummer for the band Bikini Kill. One night, Vail’s bandmate Kathleen Hanna was hanging out at Cobain’s apartment, listening to him complain about his broken heart, and she got so fed up she took a can of spray paint and wrote the words “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” on the walls. Teen Spirit was a popular brand of deodorant in the ‘90s, and Vail wore it. The phrase stuck with Cobain, and he used it for the name of Nirvana’s most famous and popular song.
- Another inspiration for “Smells Like Teen Spirit”: Cobain claimed it was just a minor key, slight reworking of Boston’s 1976 arena rock classic, “More Than a Feeling.” In fact, Cobain tired of playing “Teen Spirit” live, and would instead play a few bars of the Boston original.
- Dave Grohl (now of the Foo Fighters) was not the band’s first drummer. Nor was Chad Chadding, but he was the first to record anything with the group. He played on the band’s 1989 independent release Bleach was fired in 1991…just before Nirvana became hugely successful.
- Cobain said that he knew Nirvana “made it” when “Weird Al” Yankovic asked to parody their hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
- What “news” outlet reported Cobain’s death in April 1994? MTV News.