100 Greatest Artists

30

Nirvana

Illustration by Tim O'Brien

By Iggy Pop

The first time I saw Nirvana was at the Pyramid Club, a rank, wonderful, anything-goes dive bar on Avenue A in New York. It wasn't known for having live bands; it was known more for cross-dressing and bar dancing. I had a photographer friend, and he told me, "There's a really hot band from Seattle you have to see. They're gonna play the Pyramid, of all places!"

You could smell the talent on Kurt Cobain. He had this sort of elfin delivery, but it was not naval gazing. He was jumping around and throwing himself into every number. He'd sort of hunch over his guitar like an evil little troll, but you heard this throaty power in his voice. At the end of the set he tossed himself into the drums. It was one of maybe 15 performances I've seen where rock & roll is very, very good.

After that, I bought Bleach, and listened to it in Europe and Asia on tour. I still like this album very much, but there was one song, "About a Girl," that's not like the rest of the album. It sounded like someone gave Thorazine to the Beatles. And I thought, "If he puts out a record full of that, he's gonna get really rich." And sure enough ...

I met Kurt at a club in L.A. right before Nevermind came out. We took a picture and he said, "Come on, let's give the finger!" So we did. I bought Nevermind and I thought, "This has really got it." Nirvana genuinely achieved dynamics. They took you down, they took you up, and when they pressed a certain button, they took you over. They rocked without rushing and they managed melody without being insipid. It was emotional without sounding dated or corny or weak.

Some time later, Kurt reached out to me. I missed the call, but my wife took the message: "Kurt Cobain wants to go into the studio with you." See, I'm 113 years old now; I was about 72 in the Nineties, so I was going to bed at, like, 10 p.m., and he was just getting going around 11. I did call him back a couple of times. The number was from the Four Seasons in L.A., and I would get these responses like, "Mr. Cobain has not left the room for three days" or "Mr. Cobain is under the bed."

As for his legacy: He was Johnny B. Goode. He was the last example that I can think of within rock & roll where a poor kid with no family backup from a small, rural area effected a serious emotional explosion in a significant sector of world youth. It was not made in Hollywood. There were no chrome parts. It was very down-home at its root. Somebody who is truly nobody from nowhere reached out and touched the world. He may have touched it right on its wound.

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