By Kyle Anderson
Updated November 12, 2012 at 10:43 PM EST
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Finding Nirvana 03
Credit: Bruce Pavitt
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Most of the narratives associated with legendary Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain are steeped in tragedy: He was painfully self-conscious about selling out, suffered from a debilitating undiagnosed stomach ailment, struggled with drugs, and ultimately took his own life, leaving an infant daughter behind.

But all those tales came after Nirvana became the biggest band in the world following the overwhelming success of 1991’s Nevermind. There are plenty of stories to be told about the band prior to its ascendence, when they were just another loud bunch of punk kids from Seattle making noise because it was fun.

One of those narratives arises in Experiencing Nirvana, a new ebook (available Tuesday, November 13) featuring photos and recollections by Bruce Pavitt, who co-founded Sub Pop Records, Nirvana’s original label. The book centers around a series of pictures taken by Pavitt over the course of an eight-day run across Europe in the fall of 1989.

Nirvana was on the road with fellow Sub Poppers Tad, both of whom were on a collision course with Mudhoney as part of the label-curated Lamefest UK at London’s Astoria Theatre. The show ended up being a definitive moment for Nirvana; they managed to capture the attention of the taste-making British music press, an accomplishment that built buzz exponentially and started a domino effect that eventually led to the hugeness of Nevermind.

Pavitt’s photos, taken on the fly with a pocket-sized Olympus, reveal a would-be superstar still in development. Though the tour was brief, there was still plenty of time for intrigue. “Within the first six hours of my arrival to meet them in Rome, the band was going to break up,” Pavitt tells EW. “Two days later Kurt’s passport got stolen, and we had to find him a new guitar because he kept breaking them. It’s an epic micro-history.”

Most importantly, Experiencing Nirvana finds Cobain free of the burden of fame that would plague him only a few years later. “I think Kurt’s death is very traumatizing for a lot of people, and it was hard for me to even listen to the music for a long time,” admits Pavitt. “When I went through the pictures I realized they told a story, and it was a Nirvana story with a happy ending. I thought the world could use a Nirvana story with a happy ending.”

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Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC
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Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC
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Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC
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Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Following the Lamefest UK show at London’s Astoria Theatre, the three bands on the bill—Mudhoney, Tad, and Nirvana—went to an in-store signing event at Rough Trade Records, perhaps the most influential independent record store in the world. “I thought that was such a powerful image,” says Pavitt of the picture of Cobain signing albums and chatting with fans. “You’ve got one of the world’s most famous rock stars ever, and here is this innocent period where he’s just talking about music. It’s a very sweet image, and to go back in time to see people just relating to each other as bands, as friends, as community, it’s really powerful. This is the big rock-star moment of the whole book, and it’s him signing an autograph in a tiny story to a handful of customers. He wasn’t cleaning toilets in Aberdeen, he was signing his record. That’s a big lifestyle shift in six months.”

Read More on EW.com:

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