There have been many feuds in the history of the MTV Video Music Awards — RuPaul vs. Milton Berle, Tommy Lee vs. Kid Rock, Miley Cyrus vs. Nicki Minaj, Eminem vs. Moby (and, um, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog), Madonna vs. Courtney Love. But after Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift, perhaps the biggest brawl in VMA history took place between Love’s husband, Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, and Axl Rose, Nirvana’s Geffen Records frontman Guns N Roses.
It’s a legendary rock ‘n’ roll story, and Nirvana’s manager from 1990 to 1994, Danny Goldberg, was there to see all the chaos unfold 30 years ago.
At the time of the 1992 VMAs, Nirvana and GNR represented two polar opposite worldviews in rock, with Nirvana and other Seattle grunge bands signaling a changing of the guard at the previously metal-dominated MTV network. Goldberg, author of the 2019 memoir Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobainnsays Rose was a Nirvana fan at first after hearing an early copy of Nirvana’s groundbreaking second album Does not matterbut that “didn’t last long.”
But ironically, Goldberg tells Yahoo Entertainment that he believes that if Cobain were still alive, Cobain and Rose would be friends today.
“Kurt and Nirvana, you know, had a real sense of fear of differentiating themselves from the commercial rock ‘n’ roll scene that was dominant before they got to the so-called hair bands,” Goldberg explains. “I don’t think it’s exactly fair to call them ‘hairbands.’ everyone plays music, Axl Rose is a great singer and Guns N’ Roses is a great band. But there was definitely a macho identity in these bands that was really diametrically opposed to the idea of masculinity and integrity that Kurt and Nirvana and bands like Pearl Jam had. … Kurt’s whole thing about being a feminist, this was at a time when Guns N’ Roses had a song [“One in a Million”] it was on one of their big albums that referred to n*****s and f*****s. And we couldn’t have had anything more insulting to someone like Kurt than that. So they were just culturally in different camps at the time.”
The 1992 VMAs coincided with the release of an infamous and extremely damaging Vanity fair story about Love, which claims the Hole singer took heroin while pregnant with her daughter with Cobain, Frances Bean. “After the Vanity fair article came out, Rose said something really rude, like Courtney should be in jail or something. It was pretty bad,” says Goldberg. (Rose’s exact quote was: “The only thing it means to me is someone like Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, who basically has a nanny with a junkie wife and if the baby is born deformed, I think they should both go in prison.”)
“And right after that… Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses both performed at the MTV Awards, the first of the MTV Awards that followed Does not matter it was a great record,” Goldberg continues. “This was a week or two after Axl Rose had said these nasty things about Courtney, regarding Vanity fair and what kind of baby they would have.”
And afterward Cobain and Love appeared at the ’92 VMAs with baby Frances, who was less than a month old at the time. When Love spotted Rose in the backstage hospitality area, she couldn’t resist taking on the GNR singer, in her own sarcastic way. “He said, ‘Hey Axl, do you want to be our baby’s godfather?'” Goldberg laughs. “Well, he had a girlfriend at the time, I think her name was [supermodel] Stephanie Seymour, boringly saying to Courtney, “Um, are you a model?” And without missing a beat, Courtney says, “Are you a brain surgeon?” (In her Vanity fair interview, Love had described Rose as an “ass” who “dates models.”)
“Well, Axl Rose had these huge bodyguards and he had someone with a camera documenting behind the scenes, probably doing some future documentary. So he, the bodyguards and the cameraman come over to the table where we’re at and he says, “Shut up your wife or I’ll kick you to the curb!” A beat goes by and Kurt looks at a Courtney and such a relaxed voice. And he’s like, ‘Shut up, bitch!'” — like, comedy this request. And we all cracked up, because he was making fun of it. And Axl left in a big huff,” Goldberg recalled.
Various rock ‘n’ roll A-listers, including nominees Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and the Black Crowes, all witnessed this tension alongside Goldberg. Former Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman, whose backstage trailer was sandwiched between Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses trailers, told Uproxx in 2016, “There was just this war going on in the air. I remember the atmosphere was really very serious. Do people really care that a bigot and a poser are going to fight? I imagine it now as Anchorman battles.”
The 1992 MTV Video Music Awards ceremony was memorable in many other ways for both Nirvana and GNR. When Nirvana appeared, they resisted the producers’ orders to play their smash hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and instead played a few seconds of their controversial track “Rape Me,” from their as-yet-unreleased studio album. In the womb, before entering “Lithium”. At the end of the performance, Novoselic threw his bass guitar in the air and it landed with a loud thud on his skull. (Luckily, he wasn’t seriously injured.) Guns N’ Roses also performed their epic power ballad “November Rain” with Elton John. In the end, Nirvana won two Moonmen — Best New Artist and Best Alternative Video for “Teen Spirit” — while GNR won Video Vanguard’s lifetime-achievement award, presented by Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor.
That night, the two bassists for the warring bands, Novoselic and GNR’s Duff McKagan, reportedly arrived backstage just before Nirvana’s set, and Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl gleefully taunted Rose on air. But Novoselic and McKagan later became friends, and Goldberg believes Cobain and Rose might have patched things up, too, had Cobain not killed himself in 1994.
“I think if Kurt was alive … I’ve noticed that Rose has been supporting the Democrats lately, and I’m sure he’s been through a lot in his life, and it’s just as likely that they’d be friends if Kurt were alive today,” Goldberg says. , referring to how Rose has become so politically vocal on Twitter in recent years that it inspired a hashtag, #wokeAxl. “But at the time, it was like two conflicting philosophies.”
The 2022 MTV Video Music Awards take place this Sunday, August 28, at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. While no members of Guns N’ Roses or Nirvana will be performing, the aforementioned Red Hot Chili Peppers are set to return to the VMAs stage — 30 years after winning the first three Moonperson trophies for “Under the Bridge” and ” Give It”. Away” and witness the Kurt/Axl kerfluffle — to accept the Global Icon Award. In the meantime, watch Danny Goldberg’s full interview with Yahoo Entertainment about the life and career of Kurt Cobain below.
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