"Smells Like Teen Spirit," part 1

Back in the fall of 1990, when Nirvana only had one album to their credit and were only beginning to make a name for themselves on the Washington state music scene, Kurt Cobain was dating a woman named Tobi Vail.  She was the drummer for one of the original "riot grrrl" bands, Bikini Kill. They were a loud and vigorous punk rock group that could work up quite a sweat with their agenda to reshape the world.

One night after getting together to paint the outside of a pro-life pregnancy clinic with protest messages, Kurt and Bikini Kill's lead singer and songwriter, Kathleen Hanna, were hanging out in his motel room, talking about things like anarchy, punk rock, and politics. Once Kurt had fallen asleep, Kathleen took a Sharpie and playfully scrawled a message on his wall: KURT SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT.

At the time, he took it to be a visionary statement. So powerful, in fact, that it inspired the lyrics to a song that he would eventually create and include on Nirvana's next album, Nevermind.
It was only later that he learned that Kathleen was merely commenting on how the aroma of her bandmate Tobi's favorite deodorant, a Mennen brand called Teen Spirit, left a detectable trace on Kurt.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit," part 2

“That song changed pop culture.  Just like…’boop’…out with the hair bands, in with Nirvana.”
    —Liz Phair

“As a musician in Seattle, you listened to it and you’re just like, ‘What am I gonna do now?’”
    —Chris Ballew of The Presidents of the
        United States of America

“The title itself:  it’s not about punk.  It is punk.”
    —Wayne Kramer of MC5

“Kurt Cobain and the Seattle scene tapped into a vast chunk of American white youth who were depressed [and] bummed out,…and here [comes] a guy who looks like them, comes from them, sings for them, about them, and to them, and all of a sudden you’ve got a Nirvana shirt on.
    —Henry Rollins

“You know what happened [in England] is that punk said, ‘We’re fed up with Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin.  Let’s have some music from the street.’  And what’s happened in America in 1991 and ’90 is that you finally got your own punk.”
    —Robert Plant


Getting the call

Three events on January 11, 1992 proved that Nirvana had completely made the unprecedented transition from underground punk band to universally beloved supergroup.

1.  Nevermind was #1 for the first time on that day’s Billboard 200 Albums chart.

2.  Nirvana made their Saturday Night Live debut performing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and one other song.

3.  And while they were in New York City preparing to perform, they got an unexpected phone call in their dressing room.  ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic wanted to do one of their songs.  As Dave Grohl put it, “You know you've arrived when [you hear from] ‘Weird Al.’”


Kurt Cobain on Kurt Cobain


“I have to admit I've found myself doing the same things that a lot of other rock stars do or are forced to do. Which is not being able to respond to mail, not being able to keep up on current music, and I'm pretty much locked away a lot. The outside world is pretty foreign to me.”

“Sometimes I wish I had taken the Bob Dylan route and sang songs where my voice would not go out on me every night, so I could have a career if I wanted.”

“I really miss being able to blend in with people.”

“I don't blame the average seventeen-year-old punk-rock kid for calling me a sellout. I understand that. And maybe when they grow up a little bit, they'll realize there's more things to life than living out your rock & roll identity so righteously.”

“I didn't know how to deal with success. If there was a Rock Star 101, I would have liked to take it. It might have helped me.”