I didn’t have MTV until 1994, by which time I was 18 years old. Well, slight correction-there was MTV available in my various residences from 1984-1994, but I wasn’t allowed to watch it on the rare occasions when I was even allowed to control the TV that had cable (long story). I was lucky, however, because for a few years in the late Eighties and early Nineties, the MTV VMAs would run on network TV (usually Fox, but I could be mistaken) a couple of weeks after their initial airing, with some editing done post-production.
1992 was a pretty interesting year-it was the symbolic “changing of the guard” year, when “alternative” went mainstream. Or was it? Although Nirvana is often credited with crashing down the doors of the pop establishment, that’s not entirely true. I mean, the far less commercial R.E.M. scored a #1 album six months before “Nevermind” (don’t agree with that statement? Play “Smells Like Teen Spirit”…and then play “Losing My Religion”), and until the more corporate-seeming Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots broke through in late ’92/early ’93, Nirvana were kind of holding down the whole “grunge” movement by their lonesome. Check out the YouTube clip below, listen to the list of artist appearances, and you tell me how much Kurt and co. killed the big bad pop animal (I will, however, give them credit for killing hair metal altogether, with the exception of G’N R, Def Leppard and Bon Jovi).
Anyhow, this article isn’t about my attempts to put revisionist history in it’s proper context, it’s about Nirvana’s performance on that fall 1992 evening. The oft-told tale is that Nirvana wanted to play a new song (“Rape Me”), but MTV execs wouldn’t allow it, either because of the song’s controversial title, or because the song was completely unknown (and wouldn’t be released commercially for another year). Either way, Nirvana cheekily played a couple bars of “Rape” anyway, before jumping into the “Nevermind” track “Lithium”. It’s a pretty sick performance-I would have loved to have seen these guys live. Although I’ve gotta say that the key moment in this performance is when Krist Novoselic tosses his bass in the air, only to have it land right on his noggin. The gargantuan guitarist is laid flat by his instrument for a few seconds-probably the only time in music award show history that someone’s been knocked out cold by their own equipment (or anyone’s equipment, for that matter). I’m pretty positive that this was Nirvana’s ONLY award show performance ever-Kurt would be dead just over 18 months later. Still, this goes down as one of MTV’s most talked about moments ever, and it was one of the only truly “did you SEE that?” moments to occur on that show before it descended into a 3-hour long publicity stunt.