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At Their Peaks, Guns N' Roses And Nirvana Hated Each Other - But They Found Common Ground In Rock

Updated June 14, 2019 98.2k views14 items

Even before Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift, rock and roll feuds tore both bands and fans apart. The transition from big hair in the late '80s to dirty hair in the early '90s created one of the most memorable rock beefs in history: Guns N' Roses (GNR) vs. Nirvana. Though the two bands shared many of the same fans, GNR and Axl Rose clung to excess in both lifestyle and performance, while Nirvana considered themselves the alternative, criticizing anything that seemed mainstream or aligned with corporate greed.

The feud between the two bands hit a high point at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, but their beef started long before that. GNR were known for their riff-heavy, stadium-filling hits as much as their wild and hard-partying ways. Nirvana came together in Washington state around the same time but adopted an entirely different set of values - despite participating in plenty of wild antics themselves.

The animosity between both bands grew to epic levels during the early 1990s. Ultimately, it was the power of music that squashed their epic rock grudge.

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  • 1992 VMAs: Duff McKagan And Krist Novoselic Almost Brawl Before Nirvana's Performance

    The lead singers of Nirvana and GNR weren't the only ones to have a heated exchange - their bassists got into an altercation as well. GNR's Duff McKagan heard about Axl Rose's run-in with Kurt Cobain and felt disrespected by Nirvana.

    Fueled by alcohol, McKagan spotted Krist Novoselic as the Nirvana bassist approached the stage to perform. McKagan admitted, "I was mad and insane then. My scope of dealing with any sort of conflict had narrowed down to bar-room brawling."

    Along with a few bodyguards, McKagan approached Novoselic and taunted him, pushing him in the process. Novoselic was in an altered state of mind himself, and he was all too ready to brawl. The production crew had to pull the men apart and calm things down before Novoselic and Nirvana could continue on stage to perform.

    "I was already a little bent of out shape and instantly replied with the same sentiment. The production people grabbed me, and we continued toward the stage," Novoselic recalled. 

  • 1992 VMAs: Dave Grohl Taunts Axl Rose On Stage

    After several near-fights before Nirvana's performance at the VMAs, the beef between the two rock bands continued on stage. As Nirvana played "Lithium," Krist Novoselic continued a tradition of throwing his bass guitar high into the air before catching it. Unfortunately, this time the stage lights blinded him and the instrument hit him in the head, causing him to fall to the ground.

    Novoselic remembered, "I was fine, but I faked like I was knocked out, perhaps expressing my inner torment over a taxing evening. Maybe I was just embarrassed."

    As the song finished, Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl proceeded to trash the stage and their instruments while Novoselic left. Amid their raging, Grohl ran up to the microphone and began taunting Axl Rose once again, yelling, "Hi Axl! Hi Axl! Where's Axl? Hi Axl!"

  • 1992 VMAs: Kurt Cobain Tries To Spit On Axl Rose's Piano

    1992 VMAs: Kurt Cobain Tries To Spit On Axl Rose's Piano
    Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Contributor / FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

    Perhaps on a high from their performance, Kurt Cobain went below the 1992 Video Music Awards stage to mess with Axl Rose some more. Rose was scheduled to close the show with a duet of "November Rain" alongside Elton John, and the crew had set up two pianos below stage on hydraulic lifts.

    "I spat on Axl's keyboard... it was either that or beat him up," Cobain recalled. "I saw his piano there, and I just had to take this opportunity and spit big goobers all over his keyboards." To his horror, Cobain later learned the piano he spat on was Elton John's.

    Although the events of the evening widened the rift between GNR and Nirvana, Cobain took the opportunity to patch things up with another rival, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. As the two men slow danced to Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven," Cobain told Vedder he respected him as a person despite his dislike of Pearl Jam.

  • 1992 VMAs: Some GNR Members Try To Knock Over Nirvana's Trailer

    1992 VMAs: Some GNR Members Try To Knock Over Nirvana's Trailer
    Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Contributor / FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

    After Nirvana's performance at the 1992 Video Music Awards, several members of GNR decided to pay a visit to the band's trailer. No members of Nirvana had returned yet, but Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love's infant daughter was inside along with her nanny.

    MTV's director of music programming, Amy Finnerty, remembered arriving at the trailer to find McKagan and others attempting to tip it on its side. She claimed Rose was present but not helping them. Finnerty recalled:

    They didn't know Frances was in there, so I totally freaked out on them and called security. As soon as they realized Frances was in there, they stopped. It was just their idea of a joke.

    Luckily, no one was hurt in the incident.