Nirvana were not known for their corporate credentials. The band actually made a name for themselves as the anti-establishment and anti-consumerism poster boys. It would ironically sell millions of records and make the band—and Kurt Cobain—household names.
But while the record sales steadily came through the door, the band were still rebels at heart. One such moment of frivolous rebellion came when the band were kicked out of their own party celebrating the release of their 1991 seminal album Nevermind after they started a mass food fight.
The moment came following the release of the band’s now-iconic 1991 second studio album. It was a huge moment for both the band—who with Bleach had set out the stall for their success—but also their record label, the hard rock arm of Geffen Records. The label must’ve felt a departure from the grassroots scene they had left behind in Seattle with their previous company Sub Pop.
The band were ready for the upgrade in lifestyle and the release party at Seattle’s Re-Bar was set to mark the transition with a glitzy shindig. The bar would eventually become “a cherished home for grunge punks, misfits, weirdos, drag queens, poets, freaks, and celebrities, [which] has long stood as a crown jewel of Seattle’s LGBT community” but for the time being was a small beer and wine joint and the scene of one of the biggest bands in the world and the party for their mega-album-in-waiting.
The event’s invitation read:
On Friday the 13th,
join Nirvana and DGC Records
for a release party in honor of Nirvana’s
DGC debut album Nevermind.
Edible food, drinks, prizes you might
want to take home, a few surprises,
people to meet, the band to
greet … But nevermind all that, the
important part is the music. Hear
Nevermind in its entirety and loud.”
While the modest setting was right up Nirvana’s street, the guest list and the party was far out of the band’s comfort zone. They were promised something far more low-key and yet found themselves accosted by cocktails, canapes and schmoozing—but being well-brought-up lads the band were cordial enough. They signed autographs, made chit chat and generally enjoyed the merriment. However, everybody has a breaking point and Nirvana’s was getting closer with every single double-kiss greeting.
Following two spins of the band’s album Nevermind, the mood in the room begun to change when Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl began asking for different songs to be played. Steve Wells later recalled, “I noticed that Kurt, Krist, Dave, and others kept going up into the DJ booth, and they were obviously getting drunker and drunker… way more than they could on beer. Then the free beer ran out, and things started to get kinda rowdy.”
It was at this point—following a few big bottles of Jack Daniels—that the band and their friends began to kick things up a notch. One account says that “after the band finished ripping all the posters off the walls [Krist] heaved a tamale at Kurt and [their old pal, and guitarist/vocalist with Earth] Dylan Carlson. Kurt remembers retaliating with a salvo of guacamole… Soon food was flying everywhere, with no regard for the industry geeks whose suits were getting splattered.”
“I guess I freaked about the whole situation,” Wells later recalled, “rounded them up, including Bruce, and with the help of the doormen, got them out of the door just in time for them all to barf on the curb” this image remains burned in our souls and one of the very best. The brightest sparks in rock and roll for many years, covered in guacamole, tamales and other south-western delights, throwing up their drinks on the side of the road. Expelled from their own celebration. “We were laughing,” Novoselic remembers. “Oh my God, we just got kicked out of our own record release party!”
It works as a sort of metaphor for the faulty connection they held with the music industry. At once they brought massive sales and were generally lauded as the saviours of guitar music, but they would also always be pulling against the heads of the scene. Always trying to forge their own way through the desert of monetised music. They were always the band to have a food fight at their own release party.