8 Perfect Nirvana Songs to Add to the Soundtrack of Your Life

I first added Nirvana's music onto the private soundtrack of my life when I entered middle school in 1995 (just months after Kurt had died). Kurt Cobain's voice quickly became my companion during evenings sitting on my bunk bed, writing in my journal and struggling to find words for feelings I couldn't yet name. He was with me when I needed to cry myself to sleep, and when I wanted to feel brave. His voice played in my head as I navigated those new and foreign hallways that would eventually lead into adulthood. And since then, he has sung me through so much, past my teen years and into my grown-up life. It's hard to believe that it has been more than 20 years since Kurt Cobain left this world, as his spirit and music still feel so very present. One doesn't need an occasion to listen to Nirvana, but their songs provide a perfect accompaniment to many of our moments.

  • “Lithium:" Perfect for when you need to keep yourself from cracking
    We’ve all had those days when we feel like we are fraying: The line at the post office is just too long, and so is the line at the bank. The roads are crowed and another driver just gave us the finger, and we think we might scream at someone or break down crying. Everything’s adding up, and whatever it is that’s really wrong is threatening to break through the surface. Instead of losing it in line at the grocery store, get back in your car and put on “Lithium” and shout along. Find the friends in your head. Tell yourself I’m not gonna crack. And with Kurt nearby, maybe you just won’t. Or maybe you will, in all the right places, and for all the right reasons. And then this song might just help you pick the pieces back up.
  • “Love Buzz:” Perfect for a midnight drive
    When you’re on the final leg of that road trip and the last cup of gas station coffee isn’t cutting it, try “Love Buzz,” off of Nirvana’s first album, Bleach. It’ll give you just the jolt you need. Sing along as you look ahead at the dark road, out the window at the stars or flecks of snow or lights of an approaching city, and when Kurt asks, Can you feel my love buzz, you’ll want to shout, YES!
  • “All Apologies:” Perfect for the post mortem of a bad break up
    It’s over and you don’t want to admit it. It’s over and you blame yourself. It’s over and you are angry at the rest of the world for looking so sunny. Angry at the sun for even shining, because it should be raining and you should be in bed. Put this song on your headphones, and let it accompany you as you pick up that pint of ice cream from the grocery store. It may not take away the pain, but at least you’ll know you’re not alone with the feeling. Kurt’s repeated, bereft monotone at the end of the song: All in all is all we are, is a perfectly simple but profoundly beautiful elegy to the end of something.
  • “Dumb:” Perfect for when you want to forget your problems
    If things ain’t exactly right in your life, sometimes the best remedy can be to forget about it, at least for a little while. Play “Dumb” and find your own version of the sun. Maybe you’ll find that you feel happy. If nothing else, you’ll find yourself loving that perfect chorus.
  • “Come As You Are:” Perfect for when you are filled with longing
    We’ve all known the pleasure-pain of longing deep in our guts, and “Come As You Are” perfectly expresses this complicated emotion. Kurt seems to be looking forward, backwards, and inwards at once as he sings, Come, as you are, as you were, as I want you to be. Whether you are anticipating the return of a beloved, or feeling the ache of uncertainty about whether she will ever arrive, whether you are lying in bed watching the rain, running in the early morning light, or staring at a sunset in the rearview mirror, this song is a perfect accompaniment to that poignant feeling of desire that takes so many forms.
  • “Heart Shaped Box:” Perfect for when you need to access your anger
    Sometimes a little rage can do us good. It can give us energy. It can be empowering, when used wisely. If we find ourselves in a bad situation, it can help us get out. “Heart Shaped Box” starts out downtrodden, but quickly explodes into an essential outburst: Hey, wait, I’ve got a new complaint. If you’ve got something in your life that feels wrong, don’t stay locked inside of it. Shout along with Kurt. Find the inner demons and let them out. Run with them.
  • “Something in the Way:” Perfect for crying into your pillow
    The MTV unplugged version is pure, beautiful pain. Kurt’s gentle, haunting vocals on this song are the perfect accompaniment to those moments where you just need to bury your head and cry it out.
  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit:” Perfect for a solo grunge fest dance party
    This is the Nirvana song, and one can’t deny its perfection. This classic will bring you right back to the early 90s--maybe you even remember watching the music video on MTV, standing close to the screen and banging your head around, feeling part of the crowd of outsiders. After a long day at work, kick off your shoes and crank up the speakers. Pretend you’re one of those cheerleaders with the anarchy symbol on her outfit. Grab a broom and bang it onto the floor, acting out the janitor’s part. Feel yourself in that smoky, sweaty high school gym, in the crowd of kids whipping their hair around. Do it in your underwear if you want. Jump. Dance. Lose your sh*t. And if you need an extra excuse, flip off the lamp: With the lights out, it’s less dangerous.

Ava Dellaira is the author of the new book Love Letters to the Dead.