1. Buddhism a transcendent state in which there is no suffering or desire, and no sense of self.
2. a state of perfect happiness.
– ORIGIN from Sanskrit nirvāṇa, from nirvā ‘be extinguished’, from nis ‘out’ + vā- ‘ to blow’.
Stevenson, A and Waite, M. 2011. Concise Oxford English Dictionary. 12th ed. New York: Oxford University Press. p.969
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun nirvana as being a state of total bliss. Interestingly, the term originated from Sanskrit nirvāṇa meaning to ‘blow out’ – a release of all a person’s suffering, desires and the endless state of reincarnation known as saṃsāra.
Nirvana – a clever band name. Particularly for a band fronted by Kurt Cobain. A troubled man who battled with drug addiction, was often misunderstood by the media, and performed frequent public releases of anger and frustration until his tragic death on 5th April 1994.
From the early age of four I remember being sat outside my brother’s door who would play the classics from Nirvana’s second studio album Nevermind. I remember being mesmerised by the video to Smells Like Teen Spirit. “Hello, hello, hello, how low”, and the Janitor moves in time to the words swaying from right to left with a broom in his hand. “Entertain us”, and the camera draws out to show the crowd headbanging while seated in a sports hall. The cheerleaders come on screen with their pom poms and the crowd gets more lively, and by the second chorus the moshing begins. The end of the video sees the crowd takeover the performance and instruments get smashed. The final shot is of the teacher wrapped up in string wearing a dunces hat. The video is a build up to total chaos and the whole feel is effortless. The band are not putting in any effort to look cool, sexy or rock n’ roll – they’re just a band playing their music, their way. Kurt is wearing a green striped t-shirt over a long sleeved white top and jeans. His hair is its usual messy, blonde and he wears a constant expression that suggests he’s not even trying. The lyrics make no sense and feature a mulatto and a mosquito, but everyone sings along anyway. This band has remained a constant in my life and all of my musical passion has always rooted back to Nirvana.
Throughout their career, Nirvana produced some of the most iconic sounds of their decade. The drum intro to Smells Like Teen Spirit, the riff in Come As You Are or the “Hey! Wait!” from Heart-Shaped Box. Whatever Nirvana song you pick, there is always a reason for it being so memorable. They were not short of controversy either with songs like Rape Me, which was often misinterpreted as a song about their anger towards the media. The song was actually a record about sexism with the intent of being as blunt as possible. This was an aspect of fame that Kurt often struggled with. He rarely wrote songs with any intent or meaning, and people would always try and decode the lyrics when he would often just write whatever came to mind. An interesting example is Scentless Apprentice. A song based on a book called Perfume by German author Patrick Süskind. Cobain based the song on this story because he felt he was running out of song ideas and decided to write a song that was actually about something.
Portrayed as angry, uncooperative and sometimes stupid, Kurt Cobain suffered from being misunderstood. However, one thing is for certain – he was far from stupid. The whole of Nirvana had a critical view of the world that translated into their art and allowed them to ask questions and focus on real world problems. They played many benefit concerts and raised money to help those in need. Nirvana also had a sense of humour that much of the media refused to see.
One of their most memorable performances is a cover of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World that was so good many people, even at the time, didn’t know it was a cover. Having produced only three studio albums of original content, it feels a waste to know that the world lost Kurt Cobain at such a young age and the music of Nirvana ceased to be produced. However, it could be thought that Kurt has now reached his Nirvana because he has been freed from his problems and the hostilities of the world.