It is rumored that their first studio album, Bleach (1989), cost a mere $606.17 to record, yet Jason Evernman, a guitarist who was briefly a member, was the only person in the band with enough money to pay. But on September 24, 1991, Nirvana released Nevermind, their second studio album and a quite incredible phenomena followed, creating an unprecedent mainstream craze for the band and genre of alternative rock. In only a few months’ time, the album shot up the charts, landing at number one by January 1992 and selling over 30 million copies worldwide, making the band and its lead singer/songwriter, unfathomably famous.
The most popular song on the album, the infamous single “Smells like Teen Spirit”, peaked at number on the top charts in the United States and is often dubbed as ‘The Anthem for a Generation’. In 2004, Rolling Stone released a special issue which listed the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” with “Smells like Teen Spirit” at number nine. Money, success, or popularity was not something this band, which also included bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl, were accustomed too. The bands originated in the small, blue collar town of Aberdeen, Washington, the birthplace of Kurt Cobain. Cobain, the face of the band, grew up as a social outcast in an already small town, but found refuge in music, particularly in what critics refer to as “grunge”, as he hated the over commercialized sound popular music at the time.
This refusal to be commercialized was a lifestyle for Cobain, who would often get his guitars from pawn shops and only purchase close from thrift stores, and clearly was the mantra for the band. In 1992, the band took the opportunity to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, but only with Kurt Cobain donning a hand-made white t-shirt with the words “COPORATE MAGAZINES STILL SUCK” etched on the front in black sharpy. Cobain was no stranger to making a statement and as Nirvana did a year when it went on to BBC’s “Top of the Pop”, the UK’s most prominent music chart show.
The producers of the show instructed that the band to mime, or act like they are playing their instrutments, but in reality, all of the music would be coming from a pre-recording that was being played except for the Cobain’s vocals. So, in front of a live crowd and live on BBC, the three man band of Cobain, Novoselic, and Grohl bombed. Cobain never attempt to even strum a real note besides the few swipes he takes at the cords while trying to mimic a robot, while he sang in an octave lower than usual and changed the opening lyrics to “Load up on guns, kill your friends”. Grohl spent much of the performance with his drumsticks waving in the air, while Novoselic danced around franticly. The entire performance was the band openly mocking the commercialization of music and put their reputation on the line to do it.
Obviously, Cobain was not afraid to voice his opinion and the popularity of “Smells like Teen Spirit” began rubbed him the wrong way. He did not appreciate the mainstream notoriety the band gained from the song and thought it attracted too many people like those he hated in high school, the jocks and popular kids. Nirvana eventually removed their most popular song from their set list for many of their tour dates. In 1994, while headline one of the most popular music festivals in the world in Reading, England, the band began playing the song before switching into “More Than a Feeling” by Boston, duping a crowd of a 100,000. Nirvana, led by their front man Kurt Cobain, refused to sacrifice authenticity for money, fame, and notoriety, and by doing so they gained a substantial bit of all three.