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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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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."

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