“PEOPLE ALWAYS ASK ME, ‘What was Kurt Cobain like?’” says photographer Steve Gullick. “I never know what to f**king tell them. It’s a conversation stopper.” In the early ’90s, Gullick travelled the globe photographing the great, good and downright gnarly of the ‘grunge’ era for magazines like Sounds, Melody Maker and Siren, befriending and witnessing the rise of groups like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Mudhoney from the photo-pit and tourbus.
Along the way, he had a worm’s eye view of the characters and controversies that would later be blown up into legends.
“There was a lot of bad feeling between Kurt and Pearl Jam. I did ask Kurt not to be a c**t about it, because Eddie’s a lovely lad.”
“There was a lot of bad feeling between Kurt and Pearl Jam,” recalls Gullick. “Kurt didn’t like to be associated with bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden because I think he considered Nirvana to be a punk band, and he saw them as being a bit ‘hair rock’. I knew both bands on a personal level, and I liked them both. I did ask Kurt not to be a c**t about it, because Eddie’s a lovely lad, and he certainly didn’t deserve it. Kurt was indier-than-thou.”
Gullick’s forthcoming tome Nirvana Diary collects together his finest work from this era, including iconic shots and hitherto-unpublished photography of Nirvana – along with the groups who followed them out from the underground during those heady days, including Sebadoh, Pavement, Afghan Whigs, The Jesus Lizard, Mercury Rev, and many more.
“I see loads of kids today wearing Nirvana T-shirts,” adds Gullick. “These kids should be exposed to the other stuff as well. You don’t wanna listen to just Smells Like Teen Spirit; you wanna hear The Melvins, and Mudhoney, and Oxbow. That’s what this book’s about. Even though it’s a Nirvana book, Nirvana’s only part of the story. It’s also about all those great bands that surrounded them.”
And check out some selected, annotated photographs below.
All images © Steve Gullick