The Inside Story of Rare Kurt Cobain 'Nevermind' Photo

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Kurt Cobain performs in March 1991 (Photo: Charles Peterson/Retna)
WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

On October 28, 1991, just as Nirvana were tearing up the rock'n'roll rule book with their major label debut Nevermind, photographer Kirk Weddle was commissioned to shoot the band for photos to promote the impending blitz. His idea? Toss the band into a swimming pool to mimic the album's infamous naked baby cover image.

But when the band showed up for the session at a Los Angeles pool, they were hardly in the mood. Call time was 10 A.M. The weather was unseasonably cold for an outdoor swim. And Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl were wiped out from a string of West Coast concerts. (Cobain was so exhausted, he even took a nap.) "I remember Kurt was like, 'Fuck! I have to get in the pool?'" recalls Weddle. "He was not a water guy at all."

But Weddle, known as one of the industry's best underwater photographers, was able to convince the band to take the plunge and he snapped some 200 images - many of which have remained unseen. "I've just kept them stacked in a closet, unorganized," says Weddle.

The most striking photo taken from that shoot is a haunting, strangely prescient one of Cobain floating, seemingly lifeless. That image graces the cover of SPIN's August issue, where we look back on the album that changed everything on the eve of its twentieth anniversary. (Click on the image to the right to enlarge it.)

"I loved the compositional weirdness of the floating head and foreshortened body," says SPIN photography director Michelle Egiziano, who selected the picture. "And this photo makes an intriguing connection between the album cover and a Kurt that not many fans have seen."

Inside our issue (on sale at newsstands July 26 and available via SPIN Play for the iPad on July 19), we take a look back at the album changed everything. Highlights include:

Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, Jeff Tweedy, Henry Rollins, Wayne Coyne, Nirvana manager Danny Goldberg, Flea, and others who witnessed first-hand Nirvana's rise reflect on the heady days of grunge and the album's lasting impact.

Current artists like Girl Talk's Gregg Gillis, the Black Keys, Titus Andronicus' Amy Klein, Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes, Mark Ronson, Thursday's Geoff Rickley, Against Me!'s Tom Gabel, and more open up about how the album impacted their youth - and shaped their future approach to music.

SPIN has tapped artists like EMA, Meat Puppets, Titus Andronicus, the Vaselines, Surfer Blood, and more to cover one track each from Nevermind. In the issue, the artists talk about the process of tackling Nirvana's classics. The album will be available for free download on SPIN's Facebook page on July 19.

Journalist and author Latoya Peterson goes in-depth to examine why angst has disappeared from youth culture in a thought-provoking essay titled "Teen Esprit Revisited." What made skepticism, political awareness, and soul-searching so uncool?

SPIN's Brandon Soderberg on how Kurt Cobain's music, lyrics, and rebellious nature made him a grungy thug lifer within hip-hop culture.

Nirvana inadvertently helped take the flannel and torn jeans look from the thrift store to the runway. That dalliance with haute couture may have seemed ridiculous at the time, but grunge's come-as-you-are look left a permanent mark on the fashion world.

Nirvana's label Universal is also planning a deluxe anniversary edition of Nevermind, a 4 CD/1 DVD set of b-sides, a live concert, and other unreleased rarities. Details about that edition have yet to be announced, but fans can pre-order the 2-CD version over at Amazon.

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