‘Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses’ Sneak Peek: Remnants Of The Early Days

Over the next few days, MTV’s Newsroom will be featuring items from the upcoming Experience Music Project special exhibit, “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses,” which opens at the Seattle museum on Saturday (April 16). Today’s artifacts include the story of the first guitar broken onstage by Kurt Cobain and the first show poster billing the band as Nirvana. The commentary on these objects are provided by exhibit curator Jacob McMurray.

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The Broken Guitar: “This is an extremely rare piece. This is actually the first guitar that [Kurt Cobain] ever broke. What I love about this guitar — besides the fact that it has the Mod Squad on it, the Jackson Five and a Monkees logo — is that he broke this at an Evergreen State College party on Halloween of 1998. At this party, they were basically playing to 50 people total. This isn’t Jimi Hendrix or the Who at the height of their power. These guys can’t even pay rent, yet he, in some fit of emotion, decides to smash his guitar in the middle of the room. What’s even greater to me is that somebody at that show was so excited that they kept that guitar fragment for over a decade until we got it into our collection.”

Check out photos from the exhibit.

In addition to the taped-on images from pop culture, the guitar, a Univox Hi-Flyer, also has some scrawled words on the back, including, “Poem, “Wasp” and “We are scary posers.” The gig was a Halloween-themed performance with Lush and Lansdat Blister at a dorm on the Evergreen State College campus, and bassist Krist Novoselic performed shirtless with fake blood dripping down his face and chest. Cobain, also splattered with fake blood, smashed his guitar to bits at the end of the performance in an anarchic act that would become a signature of the band’s shows. Only, the difference curator Jacob McMurray notes in a companion book from Fantagraphics, “Taking Punk to the Masses: From Nowhere to Nevermind,” was that unlike earlier rock stars like Jimi Hendrix and the Who, “who could afford to smash things … Nirvana were broke at the time. The destruction of their instruments wasn’t a casual, throwaway gesture, but a vital component of the music.”

First Nirvana Show Poster: “Nirvana went through several different names before they settled on Nirvana. They went by Ted, Ed, Fred, Bliss, Pen Cap Chew, Skid Row, and so this was the first time they were ever officially called Nirvana, March 19, 1988. Kurt Cobain illustrated this poster and you can see it’s this weird cross between the Virgin Mary and Alice Cooper. Krist Novoselic tells me they used to go to cemeteries and steal the Virgin Mary dolls, so Kurt had these physical dolls that he would paint with Alice Cooper-y makeup.”

The gig was at the all-ages Community World Theater in Tacoma, which was open for a only year, but became a vital focal point for bands from Seattle and Olympia to play. At that show, Nirvana asked borrowed a drum kit from Chad Channing, who was then playing in a group called Tick-Dolly-Row with future Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd. It was their first introduction to Channing, who would go on to play drums for Nirvana from 1988-1990 and appear on their Sub Pop debut, Bleach. Also, according to a quote from scene photographer Alice Wheeler in the “Taking Punk to the Masses” book, Cobain wore some “really, really funny” clothing at the show: satin pants that she said were “sort of David Bowie, like 1974 or something.”