The relationship between Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder was always complicated. Although the public saw them as peers in the rising Seattle rock scene of the 1990s, Cobain was never shy about lobbing insults towards Vedder and Pearl Jam. After labelling them and Alice in Chains “corporate puppets” in a 1992 interview with Flipside, Cobain expanded on the separation between his music and some of the other Seattle bands.
“Those bands have been in the hairspray/cockrock scene for years and all of a sudden they stop washing their hair and start wearing flannel shirts,” Cobain explained. “It doesn’t make any sense to me. There are bands moving from L.A. and all over to Seattle and then claim they’ve lived there all their life so they can get record deals. It really offends me”.
Cobain would eventually soften his stance after meeting Vedder in person, denying the idea that there was a feud between them. “There never was one. I slagged them off because I didn’t like their band,” Cobain told Rolling Stone. “I hadn’t met Eddie at the time. It was my fault; I should have been slagging off the record company instead of them. They were marketed, not probably against their will, but without them realising they were being pushed into the grunge bandwagon.”
For his part, Vedder always remained diplomatic about the whole thing, praising Cobain in interviews and paying tribute to the singer on a number of occasions, including in a few performances immediately after Cobain’s 1994 death. On April 16th of that year, Pearl Jam appeared on Saturday Night Live to play three songs from their forthcoming third studio album, Vitology. Cobain had been found in his Seattle home only eight days prior, and Vedder decided to pay tribute to Cobain with two different obscure gestures throughout the night.
During the band’s performances where Vedder played guitar, like on the song ‘Not For You’, the name “KURDT” can be read on the headstock of Vedder’s guitar. Cobain had been credited as “Kurdt Kobain” in both the liner notes for Bleach and for the artwork in Nevermind. At the end of the night, Vedder lifted his jacket to reveal a “K” written over his heart, another tribute to Cobain.
It wound up being the second time in a week that Vedder paid tribute to his fallen peer. On April 11th, during Pearl Jam’s first show after Cobain was discovered, Vedder gave a short speech praising the singer and his impact on the alternative rock boom. The band also played ‘Come As You Are’ after the emotional upheaval of their Ten-era ballad ‘Black’, giving Cobain a major sendoff. Vedder would continue to be effusive in his praise for Cobain, even if the adulation was mostly one-sided during the time when both singers were alive.