Nirvana taped their appearance on MTV Unplugged 20 years ago today and made it the most memorable episode of that show. The performance is also regarded as one of rock’s best live albums ever. Kurt Cobain died five months later, so this performance became his most special.
The reality is that even though the shoe went down so smoothly, it flirted with disaster, with major drama going on behind the scenes between Cobain and MTV, Cobain and his bandmates and Cobain with himself.
Dave Grohl said: “I had this small cocktail drum set and these really light sticks. In rehearsal, we would do a song, and Kurt would turn to me and say, ‘Hey, do you think you could play it a little bit lighter?’ ‘Oh yeah, I’ll try.’ So we’d do another take, and he’d turn around and go, ‘Could you bring it down just a little bit more?’ And we’d do another take, and he’d say, ‘You know what, just still, could you bring it down?’ And I was like, ‘Should I even f—ing be here?’”
Someone from MTV, someone gave Dave a set of sizzle sticks as well as brushes. Those sticks saved the entire show.
The execs at MTV also freaked out when they learned Nirvana had no plans to include “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” In fact, almost half the setlist was made up of obscure cover songs.
The day before the taping, Cobain told MTV he was pulling the plug. But the next day, the band did a dress rehearsal a few hours before the real taping. It went so bad that MTV execs thought they should go ahead and do what Kurt wanted to do and pull the plug themselves.
Kurt Cobain was also distracted from physical pain, mostly from his gastrointestinal problems and withdrawal from heroin.