“Kurt said some stuff about us that was a real bummer. I thought Nirvana were a good band. Our response to their criticism was, Dude, why are you being such a dick?” Pearl Jam look back on their 'feud' with Nirvana

Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam
(Image credit: Niels van Iperen/Getty Images | Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)

Back when the UK had weekly music magazines - NME, Melody Maker, Sounds, Kerrang!, Record Mirror, etc,. - nothing sold issues quicker than wars of words between mouthy rock stars. So when Nirvana's Kurt Cobain decided that he had “strong feelings towards Pearl Jam” and went on to dismiss the band as “corporate puppets that are just trying to jump on the alternative bandwagon”, there was much excitement in London media offices... and a fair amount of bemused head-scratching in the Pacific North-West's music community. 

Everyone in the Seattle scene knew that Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament were punk rockers at a time when Kurt Cobain was buying tickets for Sammy Hagar concerts and drawing Iron Maiden's mascot Eddie in his notebooks, so the notion that Pearl Jam - signed to Epic Records - were somehow less 'alternative' than Nirvana - signed to Geffen - seemed curious. But Cobain's antipathy towards his grunge peers may have had its roots in the fact that, when Gossard and Ament were members of Sub Pop band Green River alongside Mark Arm and Steve Turner, later of Mudhoney, they had hoped that they might be able to - the audacity! - make a living from music, and had courted major label attention. Kurt Cobain was a fully paid-up Mark Arm fanboy, and his outbursts against Pearl Jam may have been less about his personal feelings about the band, than about his desire to look 'punk' to his beloved Mudhoney. 

In a new [paywalled] article in the Irish Times newspaper, writer Ed Power reflects upon this one-sided rivalry with Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready, and finds both men somewhat confused by it all. Vedder suggests that Cobain's attacks may have been his way of deflecting attention away from Nirvana's own 'alternative' credentials, stating “The criticism we had from Kurt – he was getting it too, from other people. From the punk side of things,” and noting “It was a funny time” while guitarist McCready points out that Cobain didn't even know Pearl Jam very well.

“Kurt said some stuff about us that was a real bummer,” he tells Power. “Because of that there was a perceived thing between us and Nirvana. We didn’t really know him. I thought Nirvana were a good band. Our response to their criticism was, ‘Dude, why are you being such a dick? Why would you say that?’”

Ultimately, the war of words didn't last long. In Pearl Jam’s 2011 documentary Pearl Jam Twenty, Vedder and Cobain could be seen slow dancing together at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1992 as Eric Clapton performed Tears In Heaven above.

“I remember the sound of his voice but I don’t remember what we talked about,” Vedder says in the film, “just real normal stuff.”

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.