If ever there was a band that shook the world to its very foundations, it's Nirvana. Decades after its demise, it remains one of the most influential bands of all time, the perfect combination of nerve and melody. A fury that began in Seattle and took an entire generation of rebellious teenagers with it.
The leader of this jemenfoutism elevated to the rank of art, Kurt Cobain lends his melancholic, hoarse, flayed voice to a muted, visceral rebellion. The sound is rarely clean, lyrics are sometimes written in five minutes, studio takes are few and far between. But it doesn't matter. The rumbling music of Cobain and his band, Krist Novoselic on bass and Dave Grohl behind the drums, is so striking that we forgive it everything. Like the day when MTV almost went off the air in front of the intro to Rape Me (instead of Lithium), still banned from live performance. Like the day Cobain recorded Come as you Are in one go, before slamming the studio door for good.
Such was his genius that he didn't fit into the boxes of the time, and single-handedly defined a new style: grunge. His trademark is that filthy sound and look, the perfect combination of Californian rocker's gear and antiques found in a forgotten grandmother's wardrobe. Not forgetting the rage and rebellion, of course. And a mix of sounds as brutal as they are melancholy, as abrasive as they are melodic, that grab you by the gut and send you into a whirlwind of emotions.
Because that's what Nirvana is all about: animal energy and concerts that always end in total anarchy. We've lost count of the number of guitars shattered on stage, the number of drums pierced and microphone stands savagely sacrificed. A protest claim, a tragic end and a unique style that have become legend and left an indelible mark on music history.
Nobody expected anything from Aberdeen, Washington. And yet, it was here that Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, joined a little later by Dave Grohl, invented a genre of which they were virtually the only representatives. In 1989, two years after the birth of Nirvana, they released Bleach on an independent label. The album didn't take off in the U.S., but the band toured across the Atlantic anyway. And their rage paid off, as they went from smashing guitars on stage to becoming a household name. They quickly went from penniless to ambassadors of grunge. Sales of Bleach took off, and the album went on to become one of the most successful independent debuts ever.
With their second album, Nevermind, the band is already at its peak. Its first single, Smell Like Teen Spirit, was played over and over again on MTV and became the anthem of an entire generation, much to the chagrin of Kurt Cobain himself. In less than six months, the album sold 3 million copies, sometimes at the impressive rate of 300,000 a week. In January 1992, it displaced Michael Jackson's Dangerous at the top of the Billboard 200. The grunge wave was unstoppable, and the band gave a legendary concert at the Reading Festival in August of the same year. Thumbing his nose at rumors that the singer, addicted to illicit substances, was already finished, Kurt Cobain arrived in a wheelchair, dressed in a hospital gown, and the band delivered one of their best performances ever, with furious energy.
They wanted a more confidential album, hoping to revive their success. Despite the lack of publicity, In Utéro debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Forty-five dates were then scheduled in the U.S., and to boost ticket sales, the band agreed to take part in MTV Unplugged. The acoustic versions of their songs struck a chord, and the recording of this intimate concert sold over 6 million copies. In spite of themselves, the commercial success was unprecedented, and they embarked on a world tour, including a final date in France on February 12, 1994 at the Zenith in Toulon.
Hardly any other band can boast of having gone from unknowns to legends in just five years. Nirvana did, concentrating in five years what others can't achieve in a lifetime. On April 5, 1994, the rockers were in mourning: Kurt Cobain had taken his own life. The other band members decided to call it a day and go their separate ways, Dave Grohl becoming lead singer and guitarist of the legendary Foo Fighter. But Nirvana's music has endured and endured, leaving its mark on rock history.
Nirvana in concert was like flipping a coin. On the flipside, it could be a disaster, with Kurt Cobain struggling to stammer out his lyrics, or the band giving up after four songs. But on the flip side, we were witness to an explosion of raw energy, pure rage, and songs chanted like the anthems of an entire generation. You had to be there to see what Nirvana represented for its fans: the symbol of a liberated youth, against established norms.
It's hard to talk about the legend that is Nirvana and the storm of energy they unleashed when they played on our French stages. Their music, their message, their melancholy and their anger were universal. Their legacy is immense, and their creations continue to inspire far beyond the boundaries of rock.
Thirty years after its release, Nirvana's Nevermind remains one of the most exhilarating albums of all time. Not only did it represent a breakthrough for the band, it also helped establish grunge and alternative rock as the dominant sound on radio and MTV. It made Kurt Cobain the voice of a generation, three years before his death.