Behind the Meaning of the Band’s Name: Nirvana

If Kurt Cobain were alive today, what would he think?

The co-founder of the iconic grunge band, Nirvana, might be appalled. Is his band still famous? Almost as famous as ever? How is it possible ?

Well, it starts with great songs. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” will last forever. But it’s also a matter of image, heritage and, yes, even the band name.

But what is the story behind Cobain’s band name? Nirvana? Let’s dig.


Before entering the group name, let’s enter the group.

Nirvana is an American rock band formed in Aberdeen, Washington, about two hours from Seattle. The band officially formed in 1987, founded by Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic.

Famously, Nirvana went through several drummers, from Chad Channing to several others, before landing on Dave Grohl in 1990. Grohl was from California but Cobain had seen him play at a show and knew he was the guy.

Nirvana was part of Seattle’s grunge scene, one of many bands that included Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and more. The group released their first LP, Bleachon the Sub Pop label in 1989, produced by “The Grungefather”, Jack Ending.

When the band released their album, Not serious, in 1991, it became the before/after moment for Emerald City and its grunge bands, notably Nirvana. They were officially gods on Earth, never to live a normal life again.

The fame grew so great that Cobain retreated into seclusion and drug use. He came out of the mist for the band’s third LP, In uteroin 1993, shortly before his death, officially by suicide in 1994. But before his death, Nirvana recorded a now famous MTV Unplugged album, also in 1994, which remains perhaps the most famous of these middle sessions. 90s. The band’s MTV Unplugged album won Best Alternative Musical Performance at the 1996 Grammy Awards.

The name

Cobain and Novoselic met at Aberdeen High School. The pair quickly became friends, with the lightweight Cobain looking down on the towering Novoselic. They practiced often, sometimes with Cobain staring straight into a wall, his nose practically touching him. There was the ambition to act but not always to be famous.

At first, Cobain, who had long wanted to form a band, gave Novoselic a demo tape of his band, Fecal Matter. Three years after they met, Novoselic said he finally listened to the tape and they started a project.

Funnily enough, their first band, called The Sellouts, was a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band. Novoselic on guitar and vocals, Cobain on drums. Steve Newman played bass. This group soon collapsed, however, and other groups were to follow.

In 1987, Cobain and Novoselic brought in drummer Aaron Burckhard and together the trio worked on material from Fecal Matter. The group went by several names, including Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew and Ted Ed Fred.

Eventually, however, they settled on Nirvana because, Cobain said, “I wanted a name that was kind of nice or nice and pretty instead of a mean, raunchy punk name like the Angry Samoans.”

The word Nirvana, of course, is defined as “a transcendent state in which there is no suffering, no desire, no sense of self, and the subject is freed from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth It represents the final goal of Buddhism.


Later, Novoselic and Cobain moved to Tacoma and then Olympia, respectively, and temporarily lost contact with Burckhard. They recruited drummer Dale Crover from local band, the Melvins, and recorded their first demos in January 1988.

Other drummers followed.

Glory and notoriety too.

Then sadness.

To fall

Cobain died in 1994. He was one of many legends of Pacific Northwest music to die tragically, from Layne Staley of Alice in Chains to later Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. Others who may not have been as famous, like Andrew Wood, also died in the 90s.

The town is still reeling from their loss.

But, unlike fitness, names still live. And nothing more than Nirvana.

About Joan J. Hernandez

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