The smiley face is an image you’ll find doodled in the margins of many notebooks in all its fascinating variations. It’s an expression we all relate to and respond to best.
One such deviation that stirs excitement in many rock fans is Nirvana’s smiley face logo. The band’s fame is widely associated with this seemingly inebriated face.
So how did a simple image become an icon associated with this epic grunge band? There are many theories about it, so let’s find out.
We’ll also delve into some interesting facts about the famous Nirvana smiley face logo and the band itself.
The History Behind the Smiley Face Logo
Many companies, like Band-Tees, source branded merchandise for bands like Nirvana, Grateful Dead, Guns ‘n Roses, and The Ramones. The smiley face t-shirt design is among the most popular items for music fans.
Over the years, the coveted design has become the point of contention as to who owns the smiley face logo. So who really thought up this quirky little face?
There are numerous theories as to who designed it and what the inspiration is behind it. The most popular argument is that Kurt Cobain drew it himself.
The story goes that he got the inspiration from the image used by the Lusty Lady, a strip club in Seattle. Along with its cheeky wording, the club sign features a smile and the phrase “Have An Erotic Day!”
Another theory is that he drew the smiley face as his interpretation of Axl Rose from Guns ‘n Roses.
Since Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic claim not to know about the logo origin, it seems Kurt Cobain was the only one with the answer. Unfortunately, we’ll never really know the truth.
The theories of who created the Nirvana smiley face design and what it means keep on coming. Here are a few of the versions that fans like the most:
- The Acid House smiley inspired it.
- It represents someone who’s drunk or on drugs.
- The logo depicts the look of pleasure that fans had after a Nirvana show.
Let’s look at some other interesting facts about the band and its memorable logo.
The Smiley Face, The Band, A Groundbreaking Album—Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know
A Rapid Yet Short-Lived Success
Having originally formed in 1987 by Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain, Nirvana found its missing piece in 1990 when drummer Dave Grohl joined the group. The band’s second album, Nevermind, opened the door for unexpected success as alternative grunge rock legends.
The release party for the album also saw the beginning of the X-eyed, wobbly mouth smile. The image was used on the poster for the launch party, marking it as what we consider the Nirvana smiley face today.
Music That Unites Generations
Nirvana had a knack for blending melodies and sounds to themes that spoke to many teens worldwide. Songs like “Come as You Are” and “Lithium” had many fans headbanging and starting their own mosh pit.
More than three decades later, fans across generations are still rocking out to anthems like “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
From T-shirt to Book
The smile’s first appearance as a t-shirt design came with a catchy quote, “Flower Sniffin’ Kitty Pettin’ Baby Kissin’ Corporate Rock Whores”.
The motto later became the title of a book titled Nirvana: Flower Sniffin’ Kitty Pettin’ Baby Kissin’ Corporate Rock Whores. The book, written by Britt Collins and Victoria Clarke, was about the band, especially Kurt Cobain and his wife, Courtney Love.
The book sparked a fire of rage within Courtney, Kurt, and the rest of the band due to the sources that the writers opted to consult.
Ongoing Court Battles for Rights to Use the Smiley
As mentioned earlier, there are many theories and claims as to who really created the Nirvana smiley face logo. Unfortunately, the only person who can genuinely confirm the validity of these claims is no longer with us.
Nirvana obtained a copyright registration for the design that they referred to as “Happy Face.” For thirty years, we’ve seen this image plastered on everything from a tee shirt or belt to travel mugs and face masks.
In 1993, Nirvana LLC started its first legal battle against designer Marc Jacobs for trademark infringement. The fashion company launched a grunge collection featuring Nirvana’s smiley face.
The battle continued in 2018 when Marc Jacobs launched the Bootleg Redux Grunge Collection with a “slightly modified” logo. The line features the black and yellow color scheme with M and J letters instead of the X-eyes. It also has the word “Heaven” above the image.
The 2018 lawsuit saw Nirvana LLC sue Marc Jacobs International, the Neiman Marcus Group, and Saks Incorporated for trademark infringement.
Though the court sided with Nirvana LLC, the Marc Jacobs fashion brand has since filed a countersuit to invalidate Nirvana’s copyright registration.
Nirvana Inc. did the original registration then transferred it to Nirvana LLC. The new suit claims that this transfer rescinds the band members’ rights to the logo.
“Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile / I found it hard, it’s hard to find / oh well, whatever, nevermind.” – Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl
Better Left a Mystery
Did the X-eyed smiley face come from an acid-frenzied inspiration or Kurt Cobain’s favorite strip club? We’ll never know. It’s one of those mysteries that the troubled singer took with him to his grave—and that’s perfectly alright.
The fact is that no matter what anyone else claims, the smiley face logo is an iconic image in the alternative grunge rock music scene. The quirky little face with the spaced-out X-eyes will forever belong to the epic band.
We may never know what it means or who created it—who cares? The only thing that really matters about Nirvana’s smiley face is how it makes you feel, what memory it sparks within you, and what it means to you.
If you’re a hardcore grunge fan, be sure to join the sea of smiley faces with one of the licensed branded t-shirts from Band-Tees.
Featured Image from: wallpapersafari.com