Almost three decades after his tragic passing, Kurt Cobain still continues to inspire new generations of musicians. And it goes beyond the music he’s written and new standards in guitar playing that he set.
Kurt’s rebellious attitude and overall anti-conformist views complemented Nirvana’s music and lyrics, proving that he was super-honest about his work. And you don’t find that often.
This, of course, came with a bunch of practical pranks during his career, something we all love to remember. Let’s take a moment to remember and appreciate Nirvana’s response to mime to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for their appearance on Top of the Pops.
In a recent chat with American Songwriter, Nirvana’s former soundman Craig Montgomery looked back on a couple of weird, yet pretty innovative, things that Kurt did back in the day.
Just for a bit of a background, back in 1991 and 1992, the guys from Nirvana were pretty much exhausted by their touring schedule. In 1992, they weren’t doing as many live shows as the public would expect of them. Needless to say, the tabloids picked up on this and interpreted it as if the band was struggling and that Kurt’s health was deteriorating.
As soundman Craig remembers, Kurt decided to treat all the journalists by giving them something to write about. For the 1992 performance at the Reading festival, Kurt came out on stage in a wheelchair. Montgomery recalls:
“That all pertains to the second time they did the Reading Festival. And there were a lot of other factors that went into that because that second Reading Festival, the band hadn’t played for a long time.“
“So, there was kind of a lot of hype and external pressure about that show. So, that one didn’t really fit into a normal run of shows. We all flew over there just to do that show.“
“But yeah so that was the show where he did the wheelchair stunt with [English music journalist] Everett True. It was in response to a lot of tabloid speculation about whether the band was going to be able to play. And speculation about [Kurt’s] health, and things like that.“
“So, that was a joke about that. Like I said before, the main thing that was on their mind was ‘What could we do that was funny.’ Even in some pretty trying circumstances or pretty trying times, they still had a sense of humor.”
In case you’re wondering what that looked like, you’re in luck – the wonders of the internet allow us to relive this moment. You can check it out in the embedded player below.
Elsewhere in the interview, Montgomery also remembered a prank that Nirvana pulled on the Ramones and Black Francis. Taking place in Belgium over at the Pukkelpop festival, the engineer remembered:
“I think one of the earliest ones we did was Pukkelpop in Belgium. And I think that was part of the run of dates with Sonic Youth, even though Sonic Youth would have been playing much later in the day because they might have been headlining that day. But I remember that day quickly became a lot of fun because we were done playing but we still got to hang out there all day. So, we got to eat food and drink beer and hang out with people from other bands and other crews, and stuff.”
“Kurt and I went down into the photo pit, like right in front of the stage behind the barricade when Black Francis was playing. I remember that. He and I were both pretty drunk. I had a camera hanging around my neck and he just grabbed the camera off my neck and was just taking pictures with it. Even with it still, like, strung around my neck. So, we were excited to see Black Francis and I think the Ramones played that day.”
“Part of that was also one of my favorite pranks [laughs]. So, Black Francis was just traveling with, like, two people. But the Ramones had a big touring party band and crew. And in catering, they had these tables set up for each group with placards on them. And they switched the Black Francis placard with the Ramones placard. So, Black Francis had this giant table for 20. And the Ramones had a small table for two. Somebody probably figured that out before too long, but that was a funny prank.”
Photos: Kurt Cobain 1991 cropped by Julie Kramer, YouTube screenshot