The gods of grunge: From Nirvana and Pearl Jam to Soundgarden and Alice In ...

Much like the punk explosion that spat in the face of the 1970s' self-indulgent prog rock groups, grunge music moped onto the scene in the early 1990s and blew the hair metal bands off the face of MTV.

By the end of the '80s, LA-based bands such as Poison, Skid Row and Motley Crue had begun to outstay their welcome as younger fans hungered for something more than the hairspray and headbands acts could provide.

In their place emerged a new musical movement, mostly out of Seattle, Washington, were forming into a fast-growing movement and screaming about stuff that disaffected youth could actually relate to.

The gods of grunge: '90s rock legends Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains have again taken centre stage in a new exhibition by renowned photographer Chris Cuffaro. Pictured from left: Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl, July 22, 1991

The gods of grunge: '90s rock legends Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains have again taken centre stage in a new exhibition by renowned photographer Chris Cuffaro. Pictured from left: Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl, July 22, 1991

While Poison wailed about having Nothin' But A Good Time, Nirvana sang of Lithium and depression, while wearing very un-glamorous plaid shirts, ripped jeans and mud-stained Converse sneakers.

Depression, anxiety, and alienation were given expression by bands with a hard and heavy yet melodic sound, as the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Mudhoney began to dominate radio playlists. 

And renowned photographer Chris Cuffaro was there to capture it all. On the eve of his first Australian exhibition, Greatest Hits: Grunge, Chris reveals the stories behind the photos which have become iconic mementos of what was arguably rock's last revolution. 

Sleepless in Seattle: Much like the 1970s punk explosion that spat in the face of that era's self-indulgent prog rock groups, grunge moped onto the music scene in the early '90s and blew the hair metal bands off the face of MTV. Pictured: Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, August 28, 1991

Sleepless in Seattle: Much like the 1970s punk explosion that spat in the face of that era's self-indulgent prog rock groups, grunge moped onto the music scene in the early '90s and blew the hair metal bands off the face of MTV. Pictured: Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, August 28, 1991

Nirvana, formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987, and led by the tortured and depressive Kurt Cobain, quickly became the poster boys for grunge as it burst upon the world stage with its 1991 album Nevermind and defined the 'loud bit, quiet bit' song pattern. 

'I first met Nirvana in March of 1991,' said Chris. 'I was in Seattle and had a day off with nothing to do. I contacted the manager of Nirvana, who is a good friend of mine, and just asked him if I could shoot them and he said, great, they need photos. They just got a new drummer. Dave [Grohl] had just joined the band.' 

'That was a really, amusing fun day. They were really hungover from the night before so I took them to a diner and fed them,' Chris revealed.

'Back in those days in Seattle, the bands were all so poor. They had nothing.'

'That was a really, amusing fun day. They were really hungover from the night before so I took them to a diner and fed them,' said Chris of Nirvana (above), March 30, 1991. Left to right: Kris Novoselic, Dave Grohl, Kurt Cobain.

'That was a really, amusing fun day. They were really hungover from the night before so I took them to a diner and fed them,' said Chris of Nirvana (above), March 30, 1991. Left to right: Kris Novoselic, Dave Grohl, Kurt Cobain.

One of Nirvana's most iconic photos is of the trio standing in a bathtub while drummer Dave pretends to do pull-ups on the shower curtain rod.

'That session was at my apartment in Los Angeles,' revealed Chris. 'The guys would walk in and I'd go, "So OK we're going to go in my bathtub", and they'd go, "OK, Chris." And I'd say, "Yeah come on, get in the bathtub, let's go!"'

He added: 'I also took Nirvana into the alleyway behind my apartment. It was just an easy place to go. Bands didn't have money to go rent a location, we just had to really make it work. At that time Nevermind had just come out, and it was starting to build. I felt the momentum.'

'I also took Nirvana into the alleyway behind my apartment. It was just an easy place to go. Bands didn't have money to go rent a location we just had to really make it work. At that time [their album] Nevermind had just come out, and it was starting to build. I felt the momentum,' said Chris. Pictured: Nirvana, March 30, 1991

'I also took Nirvana into the alleyway behind my apartment. It was just an easy place to go. Bands didn't have money to go rent a location we just had to really make it work. At that time [their album] Nevermind had just come out, and it was starting to build. I felt the momentum,' said Chris. Pictured: Nirvana, March 30, 1991 

Chris had become well known around Seattle for his photography and became fast friends with many of the bands, including locals Pearl Jam, who formed in 1990.

He ended up photographing the megastars in numerous locations, including Dallas.

 'I shot them in 1991 in a field in Dallas. Back in the day when the labels had money, when they spent money on bands, every band would get a photoshoot for the album cover and a photoshoot for publicity,' Chris said.

'That was in 1991 in a field in Dallas. Back in the day when the labels had money, when they spent money on bands, every band would get a photoshoot for the album cover and a photoshoot for publicity.' Pictured: Pearl Jam, December 11, 1991

'That was in 1991 in a field in Dallas. Back in the day when the labels had money, when they spent money on bands, every band would get a photoshoot for the album cover and a photoshoot for publicity.' Pictured: Pearl Jam, December 11, 1991

'If you look at a lot of pictures, I'll have people sit down, because people aren't sure of themselves. They wonder,

'If you look at a lot of pictures, I'll have people sit down, because people aren't sure of themselves. They wonder, "Where do a put my hands, how do I not look stupid?" So the first thing I'd always tell people is sit down It always makes people feel comfortable. It makes people forget about what they’re doing there.' Pictured: Pearl Jam, December 11, 1991

He continued: 'In those days you kept things simple. Bands didn't like doing photoshoots and the big trick was them liking me. If they liked me the I could get them to do things like stand in the middle of a field while it's freezing cold.'

Chris said one of his ways to break the ice with any new bands was to ask his subjects to simply sit down. 

'If you look at a lot of my pictures, I'll have people sit down, because people aren't sure of themselves. They wonder, "Where do I put my hands, how do I not look stupid?" So the first thing I'd always tell people is sit down. It always makes people feel comfortable. It makes people forget about what they're doing there,' he said.

'Beginning of 1992. 'One day Eddie and his girlfriend Beth and I were sitting at their house just shooting the s**t talking and Eddie was just playing his bass. He just played and I shot, having fun.' Pictured: Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, January 18, 1992

'Beginning of 1992. 'One day Eddie and his girlfriend Beth and I were sitting at their house just shooting the s**t talking and Eddie was just playing his bass. He just played and I shot, having fun.' Pictured: Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, January 18, 1992

One of Chris' most beloved set of shots is of Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder playing bass by himself in a bedroom. 

'It was the beginning of 1992. One day Eddie and his girlfriend Beth and I were sitting at their house just shooting the s**t, talking, and Eddie was just playing his bass. He just played and I shot, having fun.'

In another memorable shot, Eddie is grinning malevolently while playfully raising his middle finger at Chris, as if to sum up the grunge movement's attitude to the world at large.

 

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