Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain were once alike in many ways: two messed-up small-town guys whose lives were changed forever by aggressive, rebellious rock music. But though Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses both found fame by blurring the lines between punk and metal, Rose and Cobain found themselves on the opposite side of the rock culture wars of the alternative era. But that was long ago. Immediately after Guns N’ Roses’ Las Vegas show on Saturday, Axl Rose fired off a tweet of gratitude, crammed full of emoji and exclamation points, at former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, who lent the injured GN’R singer the throne he’d used on the most recent Foo Fighters tour. Here’s a timeline of the sometimes absurd, often hilarious and always fascinating feud between Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses — and how it eventually wound down.
1991-1992: Kurt Badmouths Guns N’ Roses
Axl was initially a Nirvana fan, even wearing a hat with the band’s logo in the video for “Don’t Cry,” but the feeling apparently wasn’t mutual. Promoting Nevermind in 1991, Kurt made every effort to draw a sharp line between what the two bands meant. “We’re not your typical Guns N’ Roses type of band that has absolutely nothing to say,” Kurt told Seconds. The following year he told a Singapore publication, “Rebellion is standing up to people like Guns N’ Roses.”
1992: Kurt Refuses to Tour With GN’R
Despite Kurt’s trash talk, Axl was determined to bring Nirvana on tour with GN’R. “Guns N’ Roses was about to do this massive stadium tour with Metallica, and they wanted us to open,” Dave Grohl would later recall. “So Axl had been calling Kurt nonstop. One day we’re walking through an airport and Kurt says, ‘Fuck. Axl Rose won’t stop calling me.'”
1992: Axl Calls Kurt and Courtney “Fuckin’ Junkies”
Eventually, Kurt’s negative comments got to Axl. And as was his style, Axl tore into Kurt from the stage, referencing widespread rumors that Frances Bean Cobain had been born with birth defects because of Courtney Love’s drug use. Essentially calling Kurt a snob, Axl mocked the term “alternative,” saying “the only thing that means to me is someone like Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, who is basically just a fuckin’ junkie with a junkie wife. And if the baby’s born deformed, I think they both oughta go to prison — that’s my feeling.”
September 1992: Showdown at the VMAs
The feud hit its boiling point at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. Backstage, Axl and his current girlfriend, model Stephanie Seymour, strolled past Kurt and Courtney, who were sitting with their newborn daughter. Courtney taunted Rose, asking him to be Frances’ godfather, and Axl exploded at Kurt: “You shut your bitch up, or I’m taking you down to the pavement!” An incredulous Kurt turned to Courtney and barked sarcastically, “Shut up, bitch!” (The bands’ respective bassists, Duff McKagan and Krist Novoselic, would also exchange “terse words” backstage.) After Nirvana’s performance of “Lithium,” drummer Dave Grohl further needled the GN’R singer repeatedly whining “Hi, Axl!” into the mic.