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Kurt Cobain, 20 Years Later: Photographer Kevin Mazur Remembers

A look back at iconic images of the Nirvana singer

Kurt Cobain and Honoring Nirvana, 20 Year

Kevin Mazur Courtesy of Rock Paper Photo

On September 9th, 1992, photographer Kevin Mazur went to the MTV Video Music Awards on assignment for Rolling Stone. "When I got there, they told me, 'Listen, we're having some difficulty with Nirvana,'" Mazur recalls. "'Whatever you do, do not photograph them. Do not piss them off. Stay clear of them.'"

The network was freaking out over Kurt Cobain's plan to play the provocative new song "Rape Me" on live TV that night. (A report alleging that Courtney Love used heroin while pregnant with their infant daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, had caused further tension that fall.) But Mazur found grunge's first couple in a surprisingly friendly mood when he ran into them backstage later.

"Courtney pops her head out from the trailer, holding Frances, and she goes, 'Who are you?'" Mazur says. "Without missing a beat, she goes, 'He seems cool, Kurt.' She goes, 'You want to take a picture of the three of us?' That’s where my relationship started with Kurt."

Rock Paper Photo is marking the 20th anniversary of Cobain's death with a new collection of Nirvana photos – including several by Mazur, like the one at left, which shows Cobain schmoozing with Peter Gabriel backstage that first day at the 1992 VMAs. Click through for more of the stories behind Mazur's Nirvana photos.

Photos by Kevin Mazur

Interview by Simon Vozick-Levinson

Kurt Cobain and Honoring Nirvana, 20 Year

Kevin Mazur Courtesy of Rock Paper Photo

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Cobain hangs out with bandmates Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic at the 1992 VMAs. "They were having a ball," Mazur says. "These guys were always having fun. The funny thing is, if you look, Krist’s strap broke on his camera. As soon as we got done taking pictures and he walked away, the camera went right to the ground. I went, 'You were so lucky that we were standing on grass,' and he’s like, 'I know.'"

Kurt Cobain and Honoring Nirvana, 20 Year

Kevin Mazur Courtesy of Rock Paper Photo

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A year later, in October 1993, Rolling Stone sent Mazur to cover two nights on Nirvana's In Utero tour. This image comes from the band's soundcheck before a gig at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom. "I was so excited when I got this assignment," Mazur says. "I showed up early to get these casual shots. Kurt’s got his beat-up old Keds on. The thing I loved about these guys was that they didn’t have to worry about what they were wearing or makeup – they didn’t care. That’s the best rock & roll attitude of all time."

Kurt Cobain and Honoring Nirvana, 20 Year

Kevin Mazur Courtesy of Rock Paper Photo

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Mazur was blown away by the Chicago gig. "I remember Kurt jumping and flying in the air into the audience, and security just going crazy trying to get him," he says. "It seemed like he was up in the air forever."

The next day, he rushed to get his film processed. Here, Cobain looks through his live photos from the previous night. "We were talking about how great that show was – he was saying it was a great crowd, and the energy was amazing," Mazur says. "He was going through pages and pages of slides, and he said, 'I love them all. There's not one bad photo here.' That was the ultimate compliment for me."

Kurt Cobain and Honoring Nirvana, 20 Year

Kevin Mazur Courtesy of Rock Paper Photo

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Cobain soundchecks before Nirvana's next gig, at the MECCA Auditorium in Milwaukee. Note his dirty socks. "When Kurt finally crawled back out of the crowd in Chicago, he had no sneakers," Mazur explains. "He lost them. The next day, he was still walking around with no shoes."

Kurt Cobain and Honoring Nirvana, 20 Year

Kevin Mazur Courtesy of Rock Paper Photo

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Mazur took this image right after Cobain encountered a fan backstage in Milwaukee. "Kurt noticed him and said, 'C'mere, man! What do you want – an autograph or something? And the guy goes, 'No, no. I just wanted to give you this.' It was a coin that said the guy was clean for a year. They spoke for a good, long time about that. When the guy walked away, Kurt told me, 'This really, really means a lot to me, because I’m clean right now. I’m even trying to quit smoking cigarettes.'"

Kurt Cobain and Honoring Nirvana, 20 Year

Kevin Mazur Courtesy of Rock Paper Photo

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A happy moment between Cobain and his year-old daughter Frances in Milwaukee. "This is one of my favorite photos of him," Mazur says. "Everybody talks about Kurt as the great musician who was tortured and talented. They talk about his drug addiction and they talk about the dark side of him. But I got to experience another side. This was such a cute moment, playing with Frances. He loved her."

Kurt Cobain and Honoring Nirvana, 20 Year

Kevin Mazur Courtesy of Rock Paper Photo

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At some point between soundcheck and the show, someone brought Cobain a new pair of sneakers. "He was just sitting there, having a moment, and I started taking pictures," Mazur says. "He looked at me and said, 'You know what? Not now. Sorry.' I left him alone after this."

Kurt Cobain and Honoring Nirvana, 20 Year

Kevin Mazur Courtesy of Rock Paper Photo

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Onstage in Milwaukee. "He was just goofing around with the crowd," Mazur says. "I love that he's wearing his pajama top, too. It was all about the music with him – he didn't care what he looked like."

Kurt Cobain and Honoring Nirvana, 20 Year

Kevin Mazur Courtesy of Rock Paper Photo

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After the Milwaukee show, Cobain invited Mazur to join Nirvana on the road for a few more days. "I said, 'Oh man, I have another assignment for Rolling Stone magazine. I gotta fly back early in the morning,'" Mazur says. "It killed me."

Mazur met back up the band a few weeks later, in December 1993, when they played Seattle for MTV's Live and Loud broadcast. "This is during soundcheck," Mazur says. "It was in a damp, dingy warehouse – that’s why he’s wearing the sweater. . . So I'm shooting Kurt, and I notice the wings behind him. I started moving around to position myself so the wings look like they’re attached to Kurt. It's eerie."

Kurt Cobain and Honoring Nirvana, 20 Year

Kevin Mazur Courtesy of Rock Paper Photo

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"As soon as they hit the stage, it was total mayhem," Mazur says of the Live and Loud show. "There were kids moshing all over the place. It was the hottest ticket in the town."

But he couldn't help notice a difference in the singer's mood. "He wasn’t the Kurt Cobain that I was with in November," Mazur says. "When I saw him in December, he was changed."

Four months later, Cobain was dead. "When he killed himself, I was going back, looking through my photos," Mazur says. "I came across these ones and got really choked up. I just couldn’t believe it."

In This Article: Kurt Cobain, nirvana

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