• Kurt Cobain performs in this Dec.13, 1993, file photo. (AP Photo/Robert Sorbo/FILE) (AP)Source: AP
Kurt Cobain found the words "Smells Like Teen Spirit" inspiring, but didn't find out what they meant until months after the song's release.
Simon Vandore

24 Nov 2017 - 10:02 AM  UPDATED 24 Nov 2017 - 11:03 PM

“Here we are now, entertain us.”

Okay then.

In 1990, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain had a girlfriend called Tobi Vail. She was in the punk band Bikini Kill with a woman named Kathleen Hanna.

One day, on the wall of Cobain’s home, Hanna spray-painted the words “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

Inspired by the seemingly revolutionary graffiti, Cobain named what would become the most famous song of the 1990s: Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. He had written it trying to mimic the sound of alternative rock band The Pixies, but until then it had no title.

Months later, as the unexpected global hit turned Nirvana into one of the world’s most famous bands, Cobain found out what Hanna had really meant.

Teen Spirit was a deodorant Vail had used. Hanna simply meant Cobain smelt like his girlfriend’s deodorant. Cobain had been unaware of the brand.

You may know that Nirvana remained perhaps the most prominent US band of the early 1990s until Cobain died by suicide, aged 27, on April 5, 1994, survived by his wife Courtney Love and daughter Frances Bean Cobain.

Tobi Vail and Kurt Cobain split up soon after the song was named, but reportedly remained friends. Bikini Kill became icons of the radical feminist riot grrrl movement, but Vail also started less political band The Frumpies. She became a freelance writer and now has a musical project called Spider and the Webs.

Spray-paint perpetrator Kathleen Hanna went on to front the band Le Tigre and now performs solo as Julie Ruin. She is married to Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys.


Nirvana and their music feature in new series The Nineties on SBS and SBS On Demand. Stream the series now:

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