THE BATTLE IN SEATTLE!!!!
Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Greg Prato
Prior to Nirvana, alternative music was consigned to specialty sections of record stores and major labels considered it to be, at the very most, a tax write-off. After the band's second album, 1991's Nevermind, nothing was ever quite the same, for better and for worse. Nirvana popularized punk, post-punk, and indie rock, unintentionally bringing it into the American mainstream like no other band before it. While its sound was equal parts Black Sabbath (as learned by fellow Washington underground rockers the Melvins) and Cheap Trick, Nirvana's aesthetics were strictly indie rock. They covered Vaselines songs, they revived new wave cuts by Devo, and leader Kurt Cobain relentlessly pushed his favorite bands -- whether it was the art punk of the Raincoats or the country-fried hardcore of the Meat Puppets -- as if his favorite records were always more important than his own music. While Nirvana's ideology was indie rock and melodies were pop, the sonic rush of their records and live shows merged the post-industrial white noise with heavy metal grind. And that's what made the group an unprecedented multi-platinum sensation. Jane's Addiction and Soundgarden may have proven to the vast American heavy metal audience that alternative could rock, and the Pixies may have merged pop sensibilities with indie rock white noise, but Nirvana pulled at all together, creating a sound that was both fiery and melodic. Since Nirvana was rooted in the indie aesthetic, but loved pop music, they fought their stardom while courting it, becoming some of the most notorious anti-rock stars in history. The result was a conscious attempt to shed their audience with the abrasive In Utero, which only partially fulfilled the band's goal. But by that point, the fate of the band and Kurt Cobain had been sealed. Suffering from drug addiction and manic depression, Cobain had become destructive and suicidal, though his management and label were able to hide the extent of his problems from the public until April 8, 1994, when he was found dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound. Cobain may not have been able to weather Nirvana's success, but the band's legacy stands as one of the most influential in rock & roll history.
Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar) met Chris Novoselic (born Krist Novoselic) (bass) in 1985 in Aberdeen, WA, a small logging town 100 miles away from Seattle. While Novoselic came from a relatively stable background, Cobain's childhood had been thrown into turmoil when his parents divorced when he was eight. Following the divorce, he lived at the homes of various relatives, developing a love for the Beatles and then heavy metal in the process. Eventually, American hardcore punk worked its way into dominating his listening habits and he met the Melvins, an Olympia-based underground heavy punk band. Cobain began playing in punk bands like Fecal Matter, often with the Melvins' bassist Dale Crover. Through the Melvins' leader Buzz Osborne, Cobain met Novoselic, who also had an intense interest in punk, which meant that he, like Cobain, felt alienated from the macho, redneck population of Aberdeen. The duo decided to form a band called the Stiff Woodies, with Cobain on drums, Novoselic on bass, and a rotating cast of guitarists and vocalists. The group went through name changes as quickly as guitarists, before deciding that Cobain would play guitar and sing. Renamed Skid Row, the new trio featured drummer Aaron Burkhart, who left the band by the end of 1986 and was replaced by Chad Channing. By 1987, the band was called Nirvana.
Nirvana began playing parties in Olympia, gaining a cult following. During 1987, the band made ten demos with producer Jack Endino, who played the recordings to Jonathan Poneman, one of the founders of the Seattle-based indie label Sub Pop. Poneman signed Nirvana, and in December of 1988, the band released their first single, a cover of Shocking Blue's "Love Buzz." Sub Pop orchestrated an effective marketing scheme, which painted the band as backwoods, logging-town hicks, which irritated Cobain and Novoselic. While "Love Buzz" was fairly well-received, the band's debut album, Bleach, was what began the ball rolling. Recorded for just over 600 dollars and released in the spring of 1989, Bleach slowly became a hit on college radio, due to the group's consistent touring. Though Jason Everman was credited as a second guitarist on the sleeve of Bleach, he didn't appear on the record; he only toured in support of the album before leaving the band at the end of the year to join Soundgarden and then Mindfunk. Bleach sold 35,000 copies and Nirvana became favorites of college radio, the British weekly music press, and Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, and Dinosaur Jr., which was enough to attract the attention of major labels.
During the summer, Nirvana released "Sliver"/"Dive," which was recorded with Mudhoney's Dan Peters on drums and produced by Butch Vig. The band also made a six-song demo with Vig, which was shopped to major labels, who soon began competing to sign the group. By the end of the summer, Dave Grohl, formerly of the D.C.-based hardcore band Scream, had become Nirvana's drummer and the band signed with DGC for $287,000. Nirvana recorded their second album with Vig, completing the record in the summer. Following a European tour supporting Sonic Youth in the late summer, Nevermind was released in September, supported by a quick American tour. While DGC was expecting a moderately successful release, in the neighborhood of 100,000 copies, Nevermind immediately became a smash hit, quickly selling out its initial shipment of 50,000 copies and creating a shortage across America. What helped the record become a success was "Smells Like Teen Spirit," a blistering four-chord rocker that was accompanied by a video that shot into heavy MTV rotation. By the beginning of 1992, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" had climbed into the American Top Ten and Nevermind bumped Michael Jackson's much-touted comeback album Dangerous off the top of the album charts; it reached the British Top Ten shortly afterward. By February, the album had been certified triple platinum.
Nirvana's success took the music industry by surprise, Nirvana included. It soon become apparent that the band wasn't quite sure how to handle their success. Around the time of Nevermind's release, the band was into baiting their audience -- Cobain appeared on MTV's Headbanger's Ball in drag, the group mocked the tradition of miming on the BBC's Top of the Pops by Novoselic constantly throwing his bass into the air and Cobain singing his live vocals in the style of Ian Curtis, and their traditional live destruction of instruments was immortalized on a Saturday Night Live performance that ended with Novoselic and Grohl sharing a kiss -- but by the spring, questions had begun to arise about the band's stability. Cobain married Courtney Love, the leader of the indie rock/foxcore band Hole, in February of 1992, announcing that the couple was expecting a child in the fall. Shortly after the marriage, rumors that the couple were heavy heroin users began to circulate and the strength of the rumors only increased when Nirvana canceled several summer concerts and refused to mount a full-scale American tour during the summer. Cobain complained that he was suffering from chronic stomach troubles, which seemed to be confirmed when he was admitted to a Belfast hospital after a June concert. But, heroin rumors continued to surface, especially in the form of a late-summer Vanity Fair article which implied that Love was using during her pregnancy. Both Love and Cobain denied the article's allegations, and publicly harassed and threatened the article's author. Love delivered Frances Bean Cobain, a healthy baby girl, on August 18, 1992, but the couple soon battled with Los Angeles' children's services, who claimed they were unfit parents on the basis of the Vanity Fair article. The couple was granted custody of their child by the beginning of 1993.
Since Cobain was going through such well-documented personal problems, Nirvana was unable to record a follow-up to Nevermind until the spring of 1993. In the meantime, DGC released the odds-and-ends compilation Incesticide late in 1992; the album reached number 39 in the U.S. and number 14 U.K. As the group prepared to make their third album, they released "Oh, the Guilt" as a split-single with the Jesus Lizard on Touch & Go Records. Choosing Steve Albini (Pixies, the Breeders, Big Black, the Jesus Lizard) as their producer, Nirvana recorded their third album, In Utero, in two weeks during the spring of 1993. Following its completion, controversy began to surround Nirvana again. Cobain suffered a heroin overdose on May 2, but the event was hidden from the press. The following month, Love called police to their Seattle home after Cobain locked himself in the bathroom, threatening suicide. Prior to debuting In Utero material during the New Music Seminar at New York's Roseland Ballroom in July, Cobain had another covered-up overdose. By that time, reports began to circulate, including an article in Newsweek, that DGC was unhappy with the forthcoming album, accusing that the band deliberately made an uncommercial record. Both the band and the label denied such allegations. Deciding that Albini's production was too flat, Nirvana decided to remaster the album with R.E.M.'s producer, Scott Litt.
In Utero was released in September of 1993 to positive reviews and strong initial sales, debuting at the top of the U.S. and U.K. charts. Nirvana supported it with a fall American tour, hiring former Germs member Pat Smear as an auxiliary guitarist. While the album and the tour were both successful, sales weren't quite as strong as expected, with several shows not selling out until the week of the concert. As a result, the group agreed to play MTV's acoustic Unplugged show at the end of the year, and sales of In Utero picked up after its December airing. After wrapping up the U.S. tour on January 8, 1994, with a show at Center Arena in Seattle, Nirvana embarked on a European tour in February. Following a concert in Munich on February 29, Cobain stayed in Rome to vacation with Love. On March 4, she awakened to find that Cobain had attempted suicide by overdosing on the tranquilizer Rohypnol and drinking champagne. While the attempt was initially reported as an accidental overdose, it was known within the Nirvana camp that the vocalist had left behind a suicide note.
Cobain returned to Seattle within a week of his hospitalization and his mental illness began to grow. On March 18, the police had to again talk the singer out of suicide after he locked himself in a room threatening to kill himself. Love and Nirvana's management organized an intervention program that resulted in Cobain's admission to the Exodus Recovery Center in L.A. on March 30, but he escaped from the clinic on April 1, returning to Seattle. His mother filed a missing persons report on April 4. The following day, Cobain shot himself in the head at his Seattle home. His body wasn't discovered until April 8, when an electrician contracted to install an alarm system at the Cobain house stumbled upon the body. After his death, Kurt Cobain was quickly anointed as a spokesman for Generation X, as well as a symbol of its tortured angst.
Novoselic and Grohl planned to release a double-disc live album at the end of 1994, but sorting through the tapes proved to be too painful, so MTV Unplugged in New York appeared in its place. The album debuted at the top of the British and American charts, as a home video comprised of live performances and interviews from the band's Nevermind-era, titled Live! Tonight! Sold Out!, was issued at the same time (the project began prior to Cobain's passing and was completed by surviving bandmembers).
In 1996, its electric counterpart, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, was released, debuting at the top of the U.S. charts. Following Cobain's death, Grohl formed the Foo Fighters (early rumors that Novoselic would also be a member of the band ultimately proved to be false) -- releasing their self-titled debut album in 1995, followed by The Colour and the Shape in 1997 and There Is Nothing Left to Lose in 1999. Novoselic formed the trio Sweet 75, releasing their debut in the spring of 1997, and also appeared along with former Dead Kennedys' frontman Jello Biafra and former Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil on the 2000 live set Live From the Battle in Seattle under the name the No W.T.O. Combo.
By the late '90s, research began by Novoselic for a proposed box set of previously unreleased songs from throughout Nirvana's career. The project was supposed to surface in the fall of 2001 (to coincide with the tenth anniversary release of Nevermind), but legal problems began to surface. In 1997, Grohl and Novoselic formed the Nirvana L.L.C. partnership with Courtney Love (who manages Cobain's estate) -- a company that required a unanimous vote by all three regarding future albums, photos, and anything else Nirvana-related. When all three couldn't agree on the songs to be included on the box set, the matter was taken to court as Love attempted to dissolve the partnership. The project was ultimately shelved indefinitely as any legal decision was tied up in court.
Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Pearl Jam rose from the ashes of Mother Love Bone to become the most popular American rock & roll band of the '90s. After vocalist Andrew Wood overdosed on heroin in 1990, guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament assembled a new band, bringing in Mike McCready on lead guitar and recording a demo with Soundgarden's Matt Cameron on drums. Thanks to future Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons, the demo found its way to a 25-year-old San Diego surfer named Eddie Vedder, who overdubbed vocals and original lyrics and was subsequently invited to join the band (then christened Mookie Blaylock after the NBA player). Dave Krusen was hired as the full-time drummer shortly thereafter, completing the original lineup. Renaming themselves Pearl Jam, the band recorded their debut album, Ten, in the beginning of 1991, although it wasn't released until August; in the meantime, the majority of the band appeared on the Andrew Wood tribute project Temple of the Dog. Ten didn't begin selling in significant numbers until early 1992, after Nirvana made mainstream rock radio receptive to alternative rock acts. Soon, Pearl Jam outsold Nirvana, which wasn't surprising -- Pearl Jam fused the riff-heavy stadium rock of the '70s with the grit and anger of '80s post-punk, without ever neglecting hooks and choruses; "Jeremy," "Evenflow," and "Alive" fit perfectly onto album rock radio stations looking for new blood.
Krusen left the band shortly after the release of Ten; he was replaced by Dave Abbruzzese. Pearl Jam's audience continued to grow during 1992, thanks to a series of radio and MTV hits, as well as successful appearances on the second Lollapalooza tour and the Singles soundtrack (Stone Gossard also embarked on a side project called Brad, which released the album Shame in early 1993). Despite their status as rock & roll superstars, the band refused to succumb to the accepted conventions of the music industry. The group refused to release any videos or singles from their second album, 1993's Vs. Nevertheless, it was another multi-platinum success, debuting at number one and selling nearly a million copies in its first week of release. On their spring 1994 American tour, the band decided not to play the conventional stadiums, choosing to play smaller arenas, including several shows on college campuses. Pearl Jam cancelled their 1994 summer tour, claiming they could not keep ticket prices below 20 dollars because Ticketmaster was pressuring promoters to charge a higher price. The band took Ticketmaster to the Justice Department for unfair business practices; while fighting Ticketmaster, they recorded a new album during the spring and summer of 1994. After the record was completed, the group fired Dave Abbruzzese, replacing him with former Red Hot Chili Peppers and Eleven drummer Jack Irons.
Vitalogy, the band's third album, appeared at the end of 1994. For the first two weeks, the album was only available as a limited vinyl release, but the record charted in the Top 60. Once Vitalogy was available on CD and cassette, the album shot to the top of the charts and quickly went multi-platinum. Pearl Jam continued to battle Ticketmaster in 1995, but the Justice Department eventually ruled in favor of the ticket agency. In early 1995, the band recorded an album with Neil Young. Meanwhile, Vedder toured with his wife Beth's experimental band Hovercraft in the spring of 1994 as Stone Gossard founded an independent record company; Mad Season, Mike McCready's side project with Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, released their first album, Above, in the spring of 1995. Comprised entirely of Neil Young songs, Mirror Ball appeared in the summer under Young's name; although the individual members of the band were credited, the name Pearl Jam did not appear on the cover due to legal complications. Pearl Jam released a single culled from the sessions, titled Merkinball and featuring the songs "I Got Id" and "Long Road," in the fall of 1995.
In late summer of 1996, Pearl Jam released their fourth album, No Code. Although the album was greeted with fairly positive reviews and debuted at number one, its weird amalgam of rock, worldbeat, and experimentalism dissatisfied a large portion of their fan base, and it quickly fell down the charts. The record's performance was also hurt by Pearl Jam's inability to launch a full-scale tour, due both to their battle with Ticketmaster and a reluctance to spend months on the road. The band spent most of 1997 out of the spotlight, working on new material; Gossard also released a second album with his side project Brad, titled Interiors. By the end of the year, Pearl Jam had completed a new, harder-rocking record entitled Yield. The album was greeted with enthusiastic reviews upon its February 1998 release, but its commercial fortunes weren't quite as clear cut. While their sizable cult embraced the album, sending it to number two its first week of release, Yield quickly slipped down the charts. Pearl Jam supported the record with a full-scale arena tour in the summer of 1998, issuing the concert LP Live on Two Legs at the end of the year; Jack Irons did not participate due to poor health, and was replaced by ex-Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron. In 1999, Pearl Jam scored an unlikely pop radio smash with their cover of the J. Frank Wilson oldie "Last Kiss," originally released as the seventh in a series of fan club-only singles that had also featured several incongruous covers in the past. Demand from fans and radio programmers resulted in the nationwide release of "Last Kiss," and it eventually became the band's highest-charting pop hit to date, peaking at number two and going gold. The group returned in 2000 with the Tchad Blake-produced Binaural. In order to circumvent bootleggers, their subsequent European and American tours were recorded in full and released in an unprecedented series of double-CD sets, each of the 72 volumes featuring a complete concert.