Nirvana’s night at the MTV Awards on September 9th, 1992, was a spectacular disaster despite the legendary trio delivering a raucous version of their song ‘Lithium’. The night went particularly bad for bassist Krist Novoselic who infamously knocked himself out with his own bass guitar during the group’s performance.
The evening was one to remember and one to forget in equal measure for the band as they took home two awards for New Artist and Alternative Video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’—a mark of their looming worldwide success. On top of that, they were nominated for a further two awards for Video and Viewer’s Choice but the evening was anything but plain sailing for the Seattle rockers.
In 1992, there was no band bigger than Nirvana. The group had swept up MTV with their incredible video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and had become the voice of the disenfranchised youth. Arriving at the awards show, they must have felt a least a little pleased with themselves—but things wouldn’t work out so well. The band initially planned to perform ‘Rape Me’ from Nevermind but, after a tug of war with the producer’s about the track’s expletive content, Nirvana reluctantly gave in and performed ‘Lithium’ instead.
This wasn’t something that they wanted to do but succumbed to the pressure to perform at such an event of mass scale. “To resolve the song controversy, we said we were going to do ‘Lithium’, but we decided among the band to pull a prank and play a few chords of ‘Rape Me’ at the beginning,” Novoselic wrote about the evening’s event some years later in his column in Seattle Weekly. “Even though the issue was resolved, the back and forth between their people, our people, us and them, or whoever — it was draining,”
Before they even arrived on stage the event had already got off to a nightmare start when they found themselves in the middle of a fracas with Guns ‘N’ Roses. It started after Courtney Love jokingly offered to make Rose the Godfather of Frances Bean Cobain. Rose then threatened Cobain, telling him to shut his wife up before the Hole singer and Rose’s then-girlfriend Stephanie Seymour exchanged some vicious words at one another.
Krist Novoselic and Guns ‘N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan then almost came to blows mere moments before Nirvana took to the stage. Cobain then raised the dispute in post-show interviews at the VMA and made the beef a very public matter. “She yelled, “Axl, Axl— you’re the godfather!” Novoselic wrote. “Upon hearing this, Axl apparently got very annoyed, walked over to Kurt, and demanded that he keep his woman in line. Kurt turned to Courtney and sarcastically asked his woman to keep in line and left it at that. Axl then split,” Novoselic said on the incident.
If the pre-match disaster hadn’t already put Novoselic in a terrible mood then things were about to go from bad to worse during the performance of ‘Lithium’ when he accidentally knocked himself out. The bassist swung his guitar as high up as the guitar up as the eye could see which ended catastrophically for Novoselic as we all know, what goes up must come down, and it just so happened to come down on his head. Hard.
“I always try to get good air — I bet I hit over 25 feet, easy! But no matter how high it went, I was not on my game— the only time I’ve ever dropped it was then in front of 300 million people. Ouch! I was fine, but I faked like I was knocked out,” the former Nirvana man stated.
After paramedics showed up to treat him, he was then greeted by Queen guitarist Brian May of all people who casually presented him with a glass of chilled champagne in the bathroom. “Moments later Dave Grohl burst in. He’d been looking all over for me, only to find me enjoying a calm glass of bubbly with Mr May. It was a relief for all,” he playfully said.
God bless Brian May and his delightful head of hair for being there at Novoselic’s hour of need, what a man.