Seeing as this is the one-year anniversary of my column for SeattleWeekly.com, I thought I’d do something different this week and tell the whole story behind the 1992 MTV Music Video Awards when my bass came crashing down on my head.
Nirvana showed up for the production of the awards show early in the day at UCLA, west of Hollywood. The show was in the sports arena, and there were mobile houses set up for the performers off an athletic field.
We settled into our trailer. In the music world, you show up on time only to wait around a lot. Why not have a beer to take the edge off? Instead of a cold, sudsy treat, I found cans of warm cheap beer. Arg! Might as well let it cool down in the mini-fridge for a while.
I walked around and checked out the stage area. Other bands were showing up. I said hello to the fellows in Pearl Jam and the Black Crowes. Sammy Hagar said hi. There was Howard Stern in a suit made to let his bare buttocks hang out.
I eventually made it to the food service area, where Kurt and Courtney were at a table with their newborn daughter, Frances. They told me that Axl Rose had walked by and Courtney started teasing him. She yelled, “Axl, Axl—you’re the godfather!” Upon hearing this, Axl apparently got very annoyed, walked over to Kurt, and demanded that he keep his woman in line. Kurt turned to Courtney and sarcastically asked his woman to keep in line and left it at that. Axl then split. Of course, Kurt and Courtney were musing over Axl’s response in the context of society’s patriarchal tendencies. My thought was that Rose shouldn’t have gotten bent out of shape. He should have walked over and asked to kiss the baby or something!
At the same time, Kurt wanted to play the tune “Rape Me” and was adamant about it. The MTV people were upset. We were being asked from all corners not to. I thought we should play something off Nevermind, do the gig, and leave. Easy, right? No. Kurt was very stubborn and refused to play another tune. There was quite a swirl around this issue.
I went back to the trailer and had a still-warm beer. Yuk, but I drank it anyway. To resolve the song controversy, we said we were going to do “Lithium,” but we decided among the band to pull a prank and play a few chords of “Rape Me” at the beginning. Even though the issue was resolved, the back and forth between their people, our people, us and them, or whoever—it was draining.
I was walking toward the stage and came across my now-friend and colleague, Duff McKagan. I think Duff was also under the influence. He must have heard something from Rose and had a terse word for me. I was already a little bent out of shape and instantly replied with the same sentiment. The production people grabbed me and we continued toward the stage.
I was now even more shook up. One should take the stage in a good frame of mind, but I wasn’t there. Nirvana gets introduced, and we start playing our prank, then switch into “Lithium.” I’m plugged into some awful bass rig that’s distorting terribly. I can barely hear what I’m playing, and the tone deteriorates into an inaudible mess. Fuck it—time for the bass-toss schtick. Up it goes!!!!! I always try to get good air—I bet I hit over 25 feet, easy! But no matter how high it went, I was not on my game— the only time I’ve ever dropped it was then in front of 300 million people. Ouch! I was fine, but I faked like I was knocked out, perhaps expressing my inner torment over a taxing evening. (Maybe I was just embarrassed.)
I stumbled offstage toward the green room with my hands on my forehead. I walked straight into the bathroom and looked at a bloody forehead in the mirror. I washed my face off and put a paper towel to my head. Paramedics came in and put a little bandage on, then handed me a long medical release form to sign. Standing behind them was Brian May, the guitarist of Queen, with a glass of chilled champagne. I signed the release just to get the medics away from me so I could take a sip of Mr. May’s wonderful medicine. Ahh, yes!!! Moments later Dave Grohl burst in. He’d been looking all over for me, only to find me enjoying a calm glass of bubbly with Mr. May. It was a relief for all!
I met Duff properly in the late 1990’s. And it was a nice exchange—considering we had met quite improperly in 1992. I’ve had a great year here at the Weekly. One of my best days was when I unexpectedly came across Duff’s new column—what a pleasant surprise!
I hope you like the story of that infamous moment in rock music. I still have that bass guitar, too. I don’t play it much. The neck is a little bent!!!