1991 makes a strong claim for being the best year in music ever. Whether it be Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik or even Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, the amount of iconic and influential albums that dropped that year is genuinely astounding. It was the year where music moved into the future, with the guitar and electronic instruments both at the top of their game and often crossing over, as in the case of My Bloody Valentine’s seminal record, Loveless.
Things were so great in 1991 that music fans were sometimes even lucky enough to catch their favourite bands on the road together. For American fans, in December, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers embarked on a mini-tour, that was sandwiched into the Chili Peppers’ much larger Blood Sugar Sex Magik run. Remarkably, Pearl Jam opened, Nirvana performed in the middle, and Red Hot Chili Peppers closed proceedings.
During a recent interview on The Howard Stern Show, Red Hot Chili Peppers remembered their time with Nirvana and provided some insight into what Kurt Cobain was really like, and their account echoes the widely accepted notion that he was shy, energetic and a total legend.
Bassist Flea recalled: “I remember just feeling like, you know, they’re good bands, but Nirvana, they were really carrying a heavy magic with them, just this feeling like they are a powerful entity to be respected.”
Making somewhat of a digression, speaking of musical energy, guitarist John Frusciante described: “When we were playing together in ’88, ’89, when we were still playing in clubs, it really felt like a life or death thing that we had to succeed at what we were doing, not just commercially, but like, our shows had to have an energy, our shows had to move people, people had to be dancing. Our styles were in large part developed because we put ourselves under that pressure of wanting to be good.”
Coming back to the run with Nirvana, frontman Anthony Kiedis replied: “You know who was good? Nirvana. When we played with them, they were just good. I mean, that was life-changing.”
Asked what he meant by “just good” by Stern, Kiedis stated: “I feel like some of this is a natural thing, like John has a very clear understanding of dynamics, and then for me, that feeling that John is so beautifully describing, it was just natural, the first time that we ever played. It was just natural to have an energy, to have a passion, and have a live or die aesthetic to everything that we did – but I feel like Nirvana had that naturally as well. They were certainly good at their instruments and songwriting and chemistry and all that, but they also just had a combustibility that came with birth, or came from God or came from the planets or something.”
Asked if he got to hang out with Cobain and talk about being a frontman, Kiedis said no, and revealed that he was actually “pretty nervous” whenever he was with the Nirvana man because he was just “in awe” of his work. He also remembered that Cobain “wasn’t the type who wanted to discuss being a frontman, he was just kind of shy and in his energetic state.”
However, Kiedis cast his mind back on a lovely moment, that he and Flea shared with the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ mastermind: “Flea and I had some nice moments with him at some MTV show where we snuck away and went backstage and just sat with him while he was getting ready to play, and that was a nice experience.”
He concluded: “He was loose, and warm and inviting and relaxed. It wasn’t like he had been on tour for a long time and was all, you know, emotionally chaotic. He was quite within himself and said, ‘Yeah, come and sit’. He was a beautiful dude, and he left us with a tonne of unbelievable music and energy.”
It’s astounding to think that Anthony Kiedis gets nervous, but when it comes to Kurt Cobain, it is easy to understand why. He was a once-in-a-generational talent, and everyone around him knew it, making his loss even harder to accept. However, as Kiedis said, Cobain lives on through his incredible music and will continue to do so long after we’ve all left this realm.
Watch Red Hot Chili Peppers remember Nirvana and Kurt Cobain below.