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Guns N’ Roses vs. Nirvana: A Beef History

Team Axl and Team Kurt go head to head — and finally make peace

Team Axl and Team Kurt go head to head — and finally make peace

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 rumours 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. 

December 1992: Kurt Blasts Axl in The Advocate
In a high-profile interview with LGBT publication The Advocate, Kurt recounted the backstage encounter with Axl and again insulted Guns N’ Roses, as musicians and as people. He also called Axl “a fucking sexist and a racist and a homophobe, and you can’t be on his side and be on our side. I’m sorry that I have to divide this up like this, but it’s something you can’t ignore. And besides they can’t write good music.”

March 1994: Kurt Cobain and Duff McKagan Speak Peacefully on a Plane
Days before the Nirvana frontman’s suicide, Kurt Cobain found himself sitting next to Duff McKagan on an airplane back to Seattle. The musicians discussed rehab and addiction, and they discussed mutual friends they shared. “We were talking about what it feels like to be going back home,” the bassist later said. “That’s what he said he was doing, ‘going home.'” McKagan wanted to offer Cobain a ride home, but the Nirvana singer disappeared before he could offer. Cobain biographer Charles R. Cross wrote in Heavier Than Heaven that despite the bad blood between the groups, Cobain was happy to see the bassist.

1994: Matt Sorum Calls Dave Grohl With Condolences After Kurt’s Suicide
Then, just as quickly as it had arisen, the feud largely died down. And following Cobain’s suicide in April 1994, at least one GN’R member reached out to the Nirvana camp. “After Kurt died, one of the first phone calls I got was from Matt Sorum,” Grohl told Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. “He left a message and said, ‘Man, I’m really sorry, and I hope you’re doing well.’ I thought that was really cool.”

February 2010: Duff McKagan Apologises for Threatening Krist Novoselic at VMAs
In the column he wrote for the Seattle Weekly, GN’R bassist Duff McKagan apologised for his behaviour during the 1992 VMAs. “I blew my lid when I perceived a slander toward my band from the Nirvana camp,” McKagan wrote. “In my drunken haze and drug-induced mania, I heard what I wanted to hear, and I went after Krist Novoselic backstage. I had no control of myself then. And Krist, I am sorry for that day.”  

April 2010: Dave Grohl and Slash Back Lemmy in “Ace of Spades” Performance 
Who can settle differences better than Lemmy? When the Revolver Golden Gods Awards gave Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister a Lifetime Achievement award, the gravel-throated singer joined Slash’s band for a rendition of his biggest hit – with guest drummer Dave Grohl. They roared through the song together with no apparent animosity.

April 2016: Axl Borrows Grohl’s Throne
The Guns N’ Roses reunion got off to a rough start when Axl broke a bone in his foot during a warm-up gig in L.A. and required surgery. Rather than reschedule the upcoming tour dates, though, Axl borrowed the throne that Dave Grohl used for the last Foo Fighters tour when he’d broken his leg. As if we needed more evidence that bygones were finally bygones. Unless Courtney has something to say, that is…