"Seattle, Washington, USA. In the early 1990s the music capital of the world. Home to grunge, teen spirit and the kings of alternative rock, Nirvana, the band that brought the sound of the American underground to a mass audience." Alternative rock was a reaction to the shock treatment of Reaganomics, leading to Generation X, that couldn't identify with the studio-polished rock that filled mainstream radio and MTV. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic were part of this generation and inspired by groups such as Black Flag, who played a more fitting musical style, hardcore punk. Alternative rock was in the early 1980s called college rock because it was mostly played by campus radio stations, who broadcasted in the lower bandwidths that were not shown on the dials of radios, so listeners had to turn the knob 'left of the dial'. These were also forced to tour constantly and play in small venues with groups such as The Replacements and Sonic Youth.
The founding band of alternative rock, R.E.M., toured non-stop from 5 April 1980 to the end of 1989, so they laid down their guitars and Peter Buck picked up a mandolin, resulting in the song "Losing My Religion", that would be the start of the sound that gave them worldwide fame. Nirvana experienced a similar change, starting with Cobain's song "About a Girl", which he was unsure about because it was so 'poppy'. Another inspiration for their new sound was the way they started every recording session, taking half an hour for a free-style jam, in which they experimented with how soft or how loud they could play. Cobain liked the contrast and had always wondered what it would sound like if one mixed Black Sabbath with The Beatles. He dreamed of noise and melody, hard guitars and harmonies. Nirvana created a sound that blended the fury of grunge with a new feel for melody and the mass commercial appeal of R.E.M., leading to what would become alternative rock's anthem, "Smells Like Teen Spirit". There were some reservations about the song because it sounded like a Pixies rip-off, a band that had been playing exactly that dynamic mix of soft and loud music. Thanks to the success of Nirvana, R.E.M. and Mudhoney, Alternative Rock and Grunge went mainstream and record companies bought up as many of these small bands as possible, leading to the commercial success of groups such as Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, The Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam.
Nirvana put Seattle on the map, so REM went there too. There was even talk of the two bands performing together; however, Kurt Cobain's untimely death prevented this collaboration from happening. Cobain admired R.E.M., as they had achieved everything without compromise, while he had become part of the machine he despised. After he had already become rich, he still bought clothes in Salvation Army stores. Fans knew this, so there would be some 80 of them waiting at the store, just to watch what clothes he would buy, even cracking the window as they peeked in. Some can handle that sort of attention, some can't. Kurt couldn't. He joked about naming their new album I Hate Myself And I Want To Die (instead it would be called In Utero). Five months after Nirvana's famous unplugged session, in April 1994, he killed himself, despite efforts by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe to get him back on his feet again. Cobain's suicide note read the words of Neil Young "It's better to burn out than to fade away".