Close menu

Want to support us? Click here how to find out how!

Nirvana were punkrock

This week (the 20th of February) it was Kurt Cobain’s 45th birthday, if he still lived that is… I might be a huge Nirvana fan, but days like that don’t do much for me. I didn’t even remember until I saw some posts on Facebook passing by (Man, I would have missed a lot of birthdays if not for Facebook haha). Anyway, as usual you would see some “I Miss The Kurtz” posts (come on…), the “Junkie” posts (let’s face it, he was), but the funniest thing to me is when people say Nirvana wasn’t a punk band. I don’t care much about labeling music, but I couldn’t disagree more with a statement like that. So I decided to write this column. Worst-case scenario? A nice list of interesting Nirvana moments and above all I get to ramble about Nirvana again. Yay!

When I talk about punkrock, hardcore or whatever you call it, I have to say it has always been more about the attitude than about the music to me. And while Nirvana had plenty of punk songs (Territorial Pissings, Tourettes, Stay Away etc.), attitude wise they were definitely more punkrock than your average punk / hardcore band. Please let the walking Nirvana encyclopedia (me) enlighten you with some examples:


The 1992 MTV Video Awards incident

MTV demanded Nirvana to perform “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but the band preferred to play new songs “Rape Me” and “Tourette’s”. MTV wasn’t feeling it and was threatening to throw them off the show if they didn’t play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and also mentioned “repercussions down the line”. Which could mean a boycot of Nirvana and/or the people they worked with. That’s how it works people. Finally, a couple of hours before the show they gave them the choice to either play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or go with “Lithium”. The band accepted (feeling like whores). But during the liveshow Nirvana started the first couple of chords and lines of “Rape Me” anyway. The MTV bosses were horrified, just as they were ready to break in with a commercial the band started playing “Lithium”. It also looks like Krist Novoselic is saluting. I always liked this little moment of rebellion. If you keep watching until the end there’s some great moments too: you’ll see Krist tossing his bass in the air (because the amplifier stopped working) and catching it with his head and Dave calling out for Axl (Rose), but that’s a whole different story haha.


Playbacking at Top Of The Pops

The network said they had to playback their, at the moment number one, hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the band didn’t want to do that (who would want to do that anyway, playbacking is bullshit) so they asked to play live. When that was refused they decided to have a little fun with the song. Aside from them all obviously playbacking, Kurt changed the lyrics a bit: “Load up on drugs and kill your friends”, “And for this gift I’ve been incest” etc. and sang the whole song a lot lower than usual. In the Napster days this song was usually labeled “Morrisey version”. Anyway, another great moment of rebellion.


Nirvana on the Jonathan Ross show

Another case of the network asking them to play a song and them deciding differently. In this case they were asked to play “Lithium” live on the Jonathan Ross show. He even announced “Lithium” but instead they went full force into Territorial Pissings and trashed the set when they were done. Jonathan Ross reacted to that pretty classy saying the band were also available for children birthday parties and Bar Mitzvah’s.


Making out on Saturday Night Live

To piss off all the homophobes Krist made out with Dave & Kurt live on television. How’s that?


Corporate magazines still suck

For a 1992 Rolling Stone cover story the photographers arranged to have the band wear suits to illustrate their sudden success. But according to Mark Seliger (the photographer) Kurt really wasn’t into the idea. “He didn’t want to be publicized. He didn’t want anything but to be true to his fans and to the music.” Instead Kurt showed up with a t-shirt with the text: “Corporate Magazines Still Suck.”


In Utero

In Utero, aside from probably being my favorite Nirvana record, was in a way an attempt to shake off the “He’s the one/Who likes all our pretty songs/And he likes to sing along/And he likes to shoot his gun/But he knows not what it means” (In Bloom) fans. “I have a feeling that with our next record we’re going to lose a lot of our audience” Kurt said.They picked Steve Albini to record with, who wasn’t exactly known for his subtle and slick mixes. As a result the label refused to release In Utero at first. In the end a comprise was made and they let Scott Litt remix and master 3 songs (and added an extra acoustic guitar and some backgroundvocals to Heart Shaped Box). Label’s gotta have their hitsingle right?


Oh and here’s some bonus hardcore / punk related Nirvana trivia:
Krist Novoselic wearing a SSD shirt

During the MTV’s Live & Loud show in ’93 (can we get the full show on DVD please?) you can see Krist Novoselic rocking a nice SSD shirt.
Punk records in Kurt Cobain’s top 50 albums

Kurt Cobain had MDC, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Void/Faith, Rites Of Spring and Fear amongst others in his all time top 50 albums. Check (Angelfire? Man… those were the days) for the full list.
Dave Grohl & Pat Smear played in hardcore bands

Guess everyone knows this, but still: Pat Smear played in the Germs and Dave Grohl was in Scream.


So yeah, Nirvana were pretty punkrock. Although they described themselves like this:


Back to specials overview