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The Pettiest Feud of 90s

The longlasting controversy between Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses.

By Katie Tarnutzer

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Given most people's common knowledge, Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain should have gotten along. The frontmen of Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana both grew up in broken, small-town homes and found solace in their enduringly iconic music. As both bands released their second LPs within a week of each other, they separately took over the rock culture of the 90s. Despite their similar upbringings, Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain found themselves on opposing sides of a rock-n-roll feud.

But this wasn’t always the case; in fact, Axl was once a big fanboy of Nirvana himself and considered himself one of the band’s earlier fans. Prior to the release of Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind, Axl Rose could be seen in his "Don't Cry" music video sporting a hat with the Nirvana logo. This gesture only embarrassed Cobain, who wanted to be as separate from Guns N’ Roses as possible. In his mind, Guns N’ Roses, specifically their frontman Axl Rose, represented everything about rock and music that he hated.

Kurt Cobain made a concerted effort to distance himself from the band. When Axl called him to get him to perform for his 30th birthday, Kurt refused. When Axl asked Nirvana to tour with them and Metallica, Kurt once again refused. When Axl came to a Nirvana concert and asked to come backstage, Kurt disappeared so he didn’t have to see him. In interviews, Cobain would say, “I think Guns N’ Roses are promoting the wrong values, like sexism and the way they do drugs. I mean, what are they rebelling against? I don’t think this is rebellion. Rebellion is standing up to people like Guns N’ Roses.”

This behavior from Cobain hurt Axl Rose’s feelings. He began slandering the band and Cobain himself both in interviews and on stage. Rose infamously went on a rant about Kurt Cobain and his wife, Courtney Love, where he called them junkies and told them they should go to jail if their baby came out deformed. This was right after a Vanity Fair article came out slandering Kurt and Courtney for their drug use and questioning the health of the baby throughout the pregnancy. Of course, this is the exact behavior that made Cobain dislike Axl Rose.

The night this all came to a head was the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. As Axl walked past Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love backstage, he was in a bit of a mood. This was only exacerbated by the pair shouting at him, “Axl, will you be the godfather of our child.” According to Cobain’s later recounts, Axl turned around, pointed a finger at them, and told Kurt to “shut his b***h up,” which prompted Cobain to turn to Courtney and tell her to “shut up b***h” to further antagonize Rose.

Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan and Krist Novoselic got into a verbal altercation before Nirvana took the stage to perform "Lithium," but there were no physical blows exchanged. At the end of Nirvana’s performance– which is iconic for more than just this, Dave Grohl took the mic and heckled Axl Rose in the audience. Guns N’ Roses were set to perform “November Rain” with Elton John, Axl Rose’s childhood hero. Kurt Cobain eyed the pianos for this as he was leaving the stage and, in his emotionally mature way, decided to spit all over Axl’s piano– only to later realize in horror that it was in fact Elton John’s piano instead. This was all enough for McKagan and guitarist Gilby Clarke to decide to target and shake the band’s trailer. However, the thing they did not account for was that the only people in the trailer at that time were baby Frances Bean and her nanny. This was the night of the most confrontations.

Two years later, in a twist of fate, McKagan and Cobain found themselves seated next to each other on a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle. During the flight, the two talked for hours. They spoke of addiction, struggles, and any previous animosities. McKagan debated whether or not to invite him over for dinner, but Cobain disappeared before he could. This was only months before Cobain’s tragic suicide. Following this heartbreaking event, Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum was one of the first people to reach out to Dave Grohl and see how he was doing.

Since then, the groups have made amends, and some of the members have played together on multiple occasions. Dave Grohl has even lent his iconic guitar throne to Axl Rose when he broke his foot on tour. Despite the long-time feud, the two bands were ultimately able to make up in the end. These bands provided solace for lost souls in alternative rock who needed a group to call their own.


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