Nirvana and Pearl Jam are the two leading lights of the historic Seattle grunge scene. If you believed the popular narrative regarding the new musical movement, these two acts shared the same path. However, the truth is somewhat different. Kurt Cobain was never a devoted fan of Pearl Jam and, in reality, he didn’t appreciate the comparisons between the two.
The collective grunge group was depicted as a tight, cosy scene, with each contributing group on the same team fighting the good fight together. However, it was a lot more insular than the press painted it from the outside. When Nirvana emerged in the mainstream following the release of their breakthrough album Nevermind, soon enough, the sound they’d ushered in from the underground suddenly became global.
When Nirvana signed with Geffen Records to release their now-iconic album, it may have appeared as though they ‘sold out’ to their fans, but their success resulted in more eyes than ever drawn to the dark lights of the grunge movement. Their success also led to other non traditionally mainstream acts finding their way onto major labels without compromising their artistic integrity at the same time. However, not every band who emerged throughout this time had Cobain’s seal of approval.
In an interview with Flipside in 1992, Cobain explained why he rejected the opportunity to support Guns’ N’ Roses and why that side of rock music offended him. It wasn’t just Axl Rose’s clan who would feel the wrath of Cobain, though — the frontman unleashing an onslaught of vitriol against the scene.
“Right, we turned down Guns’ N’ Roses. That would be a big waste of time,” Cobain explained. “I can’t comment on Soundgarden because I know them personally, and I really like them a lot, but I have strong feelings towards Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains and bands like that. They’re obviously just corporate puppets that are just trying to jump on the alternative bandwagon – and we are being lumped into that category.
“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. 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 vehemently added.
The Nirvana frontman’s rant didn’t stop there. He went on to lash out further against the whole Lollapalooza crowd, which he beautifully brandished as “false alternative macho metal”. Everything that Cobain did had authenticity at its core, and he had a nose that could sniff out when something seemed manufactured. Cobain added: “Especially Pearl Jam. I can’t really call Pearl Jam’ macho’ but it’s not the kind of stuff that I am into.”
A year later, Cobain was still not converted to Pearl Jam’s music, but he admitted that his comments were out of line and revealed that he’d since formed a friendship with Eddie Vedder. “There never was one. I slagged them off because I didn’t like their band,” he 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 realizing they were being pushed into the grunge bandwagon.”
Cobain’s attack on Pearl Jam was never personal, he just felt as though they weren’t as legitimate as Nirvana, but it wasn’t anything against Vedder. The Nirvana frontman noticed how major labels were attempting to replicate his band’s formula from a marketing standpoint, which he took umbrage with rather than with the band itself. Although he did come round to them as people, Pearl Jam’s music was another matter.