Guns N’ Roses tried to approach Nirvana. They admired them. But it wasn’t a mutual feeling. For Cobain, “this was a band that had absolutely nothing to say” and disapproved of their behavior. Despite the invitation, they refused to share a tour with them. And Axel Rose, offended, showed all his verbal rudeness. On September 8, 1992, a face-to-face happened… and the dialectical war broke out.
The admiration was not mutual
Despite their stark differences – in sound and attitude – Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses were two major rock bands with a fundamental impact on the ’90s. They could agree or even work together. But events took a completely different turn. When Nevermid catapulted the Aberdeen band into the music sensation of the moment in 1991, they quickly made sure they wouldn’t be lumped in with the California group. Cobain was an avowed champion of equality and feminism, far removed from the sexist lyrics Axel sang with his band.
However, Rose was a die-hard fan of Nirvana and repeatedly asked for a collaboration with the representatives of alternative rock. Even during an interview filmed during the filming of the video for Don’t Cry, Axel Rose wore a blue baseball cap with the NIRVANA logo on the front. The same hat that appears next to him in a scene from the clip when he is lying in the psychiatrist’s office. Unfortunately, it was an unrequited love. The admiration was not mutual. And the answer he got was not what he expected.
Kurt Cobain was determined to distance himself, pointing to Guns N’Roses as the antithesis of Nirvana’s values and spirit.. As Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett would later say, he wanted nothing to do with Axl, “because I did not approve of his behavior“. This quote from Kurt during a promotional tour is famous: “We are not like Guns N’ Roses, the typical band that has nothing to say”.
“Shit! Axel Rose keeps calling me.”
Although Nirvana went to great lengths to publicly display their animosity, Axel Rose did not give up his efforts and offered to open the concerts of his stadium tour with Metallica (between July and October 1992). As expected, Cobain’s band rejected the offer. “…they wanted us to open for them,” Dave Grohl recalls. “So Axel has been calling Kurt non-stop. One day we were walking to an airport and Kurt said, “Shit! Axel Rose keeps calling me. I think it represents something else. Nirvana didn’t want to become Guns N’ Roses, so Kurt started spewing crap in interviews and Axl started talking back to him. It was like exchanging teenage nonsense.
“Both should go to jail”
Axel Rose was angry and tired of the disrespect he received from his colleagues. On September 2, 1992, during one of the stops on his tour with Metallica at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando (Florida), he demonstrated incredible cruelty on stage. A story in US tabloids accused the Hole singer of using heroin while pregnant. Axel crossed all the lines saying: “To me, basically, he’s a fucking junkie with a junkie wife. If the baby is born deformed, I think they should both go to jail.” (Little Frances Bean was two weeks old by then)
Inevitable face to face
The fuse, already quite hot, blew just a week after Rose’s ill-fated comments. On September 8, 1992, the MTV Video Music Awards took place, and coincidentally, both bands were nominated and matched at the Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. His performance was also scheduled during the gala: Nirvana played Lithium and Guns N’ Roses closed the event with a duet with Elton John from November Rain. The meeting was inevitable.
Kurt Cobain in a 1992 photo / Getty Images/Paul Harris
The Metallica guitarist was caught in the middle and recalled face-to-face in an interview with Revolver: “I was sitting backstage talking to Kurt and all of a sudden Axl shows up and he looks at me and he looks at Kurt. And I thought “Oh no!” And he went straight to Kurt and said, “What’s wrong with you son of a bitch? what problem do you have? And Kurt said, “whatever man”. And Axel: “I’ll kick your ass!” Come on. Let’s go!. And Kurt kept saying, “Everything, man.” … Axel ran off and Kurt looked at me like, “Man, I don’t know. This man is crazy’. I was shocked. I told him, “I have to get out of here.” And he said, “Yeah, it was all so weird.”
“Shut up bitch or you’ll end up on the floor!”
The most famous verbal spat occurred when Courtney Love asked Rose (mockingly) if he would be the godfather of her newborn baby. “She yelled at him, ‘Axl, Axl, you’re going to be the best man!'” Krist Novoselic (bassist) wrote afterward. “When Axel heard that, he got really mad and went over to Kurt and threatened him.” “Shut up, bitch, or you’re going to end up on the floor!” Cobain walked up to his wife and sarcastically yelled, “Shut up, bitch!” Courtney and Stephanie Seymour (Rose’s girlfriend at the time) also traded some insults, and musicians from both groups (Krist Novoselic and Duff McKagan) almost came to blows moments before Nirvana took the stage to sing Lithium.
“I spit on Axel’s keyboard, it was either that or I kicked him in the ass”
Later, when we were preparing the two pianos for the final performance of Guns N’Roses with Elton John… I spit on Axl’s keyboard, it was either that or I nailed him. Cobain said. “I saw his piano there and had the opportunity to spit out the whole keyboard.” But he was wrong. The piano that ended up with Kurt’s saliva was Elton John’s. He was shot in the ass. In response, several members of the Los Angeles crew tried to turn Nirvana’s trailer around, but the only ones inside were newborn Frances Bean and her nanny. Supposedly, as soon as they found out, they stopped, but the “joke” could have had a dramatic ending. At least no band left tonight empty-handed.
“This guy is a fucking sexist, racist and homophobe“
Of course, the confrontation did not end there. For example, in an interview with The Advocate (an LGBTQ+ publication), Cobain argued with a fan who asked him to reconcile with his “enemy”: “No kid, you’re dead wrong. This guy is a fucking sexist, racist and homophobe and you can’t be on his side and be on our side at the same time.”
in turn Axel Rose burned his famous baseball cap with the Nirvana logo. He did it publicly, at one of the concerts of the Use Your Illusion tour, and organized a whole cremation ceremony. When the garment was engulfed in flames, he left it on the stage, smiling. Smells like teen spirit played in the background.