Few bands defined the 1990s like Nirvana and Guns N Roses. While they had wildly different sounds, they are still considered some of the very best of their respective genres. It didn’t bring them close together though, as the attitudes and sounds of the groups clashed on more than one occasion. It all started in 1991 when Nirvana released the album Nevermind. Despite GNR lead singer Axl Rose publicly stating he was a fan of the band, Kurt Cobain was quick to distance himself from his rival’s group. He insisted: “We’re not your typical Guns N Roses type of band that has absolutely nothing to say.” It was a miraculous coincidence that he and GNR’s bassist Duff McKegan would meet one another just days before his untimely death.
The rivalry between the two reached a boiling point in 1992 after Rose repeatedly tried to get Nirvana to tour with him, but Cobain continue to reject the idea. The GNR singer then took to the stage in one of his concerts, telling the crowd that Cobain and his wife Courtney Love were “f*****g junkies”.
It only got worse from there, as later that year they met each other backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards. Rose was approached by Love, who jokingly asked him if he would be the godfather to her daughter, Francis Bean Cobain.
While the confrontation was first between Love and Rose’s wife Stephanie Seymour, he and Cobain quickly joined in. Rose said: “You shut your b***h up, or I’m taking you down to the pavement!” Cobain then turned to his wife, telling her to “shut up, b***h,” sarcastically. (via Seattle Weekly)
There had been numerous occasions for the two groups to collaborate; Nirvana’s drummer turned Foo Fighters singer Dave Grohl recalled one such opportunity. He recalled: “Guns N Roses was about to do this massive stadium tour with Metallica, and they wanted us to open.
“So Axl had been calling Kurt nonstop. One day we’re walking through an airport and Kurt says, ‘F**k. Axl Rose won’t stop calling me.’ I think it represented something bigger. Nirvana didn’t want to turn into Guns N’ Roses. So, Kurt started talking s**t in interviews, and then Axl started talking back. It went back and forth like tenth-grade bulls**t.”
While the 1992 MTV fiasco was the peak of their rivalry, it continued to fester all the way up until months before Cobain’s suicide in 1994. In the week leading up to his death, the Smells Like Teen Spirit singer was checked into a rehab clinic by Love and his family. It followed after the musician had overdosed on pills, but the facility wasn’t informed about this attempt on his life.
On March 31, 1994, the singer jumped the clinic’s six-foot-high fence and left. He caught a flight back to Seattle, which is where he had a chance encounter with GNR’s Duff McKagan. After all the years of animosity between the two, the bassist recalled that Cobain “seemed happy” to see him.
McKagan explained: “I was really f**ked up [on that flight]. [We only exchanged], like, 87 words. We were both f**ked-up… we were just two f**ked up guys, but we were both in big bands and we landed at the airport and we kind of talked about it.” (via. Mulatschag)
“My pancreas blew up four weeks later. He died two days later. So that’s where we were both at in our lives, at the end of our ropes,” he continued.
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The musician also explained how he reacted to news of the singer’s death. McKagan said: “I didn’t have a sense that he was gonna die in two days, but… a lot of my friends and peers were dying or had died and I was getting numb to it, getting used to it. And… when I got a call that he died, I didn’t fall out of my chair. It just happened. And I was too f**ked up to really take it in. I was, like, ‘Oh, another one fell.'”
Much of their initial bitterness sprang from Cobain’s political beliefs. A champion for equality and feminism, he believed they were at odds with GNR’s “sexist” lyrics at the time. In 1993, he told the LGBTQ+ publication The Advocate about a fan that pleaded with him to put aside his differences with the group and collab. He replied: “No, kid, you’re really wrong, those people are total sexist jerks, and the reason we’re playing this show is to fight homophobia in a [really] small way. The guy is a f*****g sexist and a racist and a homophobe, and you can’t be on his side and be on our side.”
Eventually, the two groups appeared to leave their rivalry behind them, though at that point it was too late to see any potential collaboration. On April 8, Cobain was found dead at his Lake Washington Boulevard home. Today, he is still beloved by countless fans with Nirvana selling 75 million records worldwide.