When it came time to snap some promotional shots for Nevermind, Kurt Cobain took one look at the dirty hotel pool where the shoot was supposed to take place and said, "f--- that," and then ran off and disappeared.
"They dragged him out of the back of the tour van and he just took off," Steven Walker, owner of Austin, Texas', Modern Rocks Gallery, told MTV News. "They were knocking on hotel doors and checking in diners and the found him around back near the baskets of dirty towels where he'd made a bed for himself and slept for two solid hours."
According to Walker, that was the inauspicious beginning to the legendary October 28, 1991 photo shoot that begat some of the images used to promote one of Nirvana's most iconic records.
And now, on the heels of the debut of the Cobain documentary, "Montage of Heck," Walker told MTV News that he has just opened a show featuring 200 never-before-available outtakes from that shoot, which was photographed by Kirk Weddle.
"It was the record label's idea," Weddle told MTV News about the concept of photographing the band in a pool to mimic the cover of Nevermind, which was released a month earlier. "'Hey, the baby shot was great, let's shoot the band underwater!'"
But here's the thing: getting a hard-touring young band into a dirty pool at 10 a.m. for a gimmicky photo shoot is hard. Getting their publicity-shy singer to get wet is even harder.
"The guys weren't afraid. Kurt just didn't want to get in the water," Weddle said. "I don't even think he knew he was getting wet that day. The record execs don't deliver bad news... they leave that to others."
The resulting photos, however are pretty awesome -- and it's incredible that they JUST resurfaced this year.
So how, exactly, did that happen? Well, Walker, former guitarist for British new wave legends Modern English ("I Melt With You"), said he recently found out that Weddle also lived in Austin and that he had hundreds of outtakes from the promotional photo sessions featuring the trio floating in a pool. The rest, as they say, was history.
Twenty-four years ago, however, Weddle was a little out of his league when he met the band. "He was not your average rock band photographer, in fact he got the gig because he was an underwater photography expert and he'd never worked with a band before or since," Walker said. The whole shoot was pretty DIY.
"They strapped [Dave Grohl's] drum set to a ladder and tied it down with rope and duct tape and laid it across the pool," Walker said. "You see the pictures and think, 'glamorous L.A. soundstage with a huge pool,' but it was really a sh---y Motel 6 by the side of the freeway."
The gear was rented from a place in the Valley and Weddle said the guy who rented it to him was "super chill" because he had heard of the band and encouraged the photog to just go for it. "I may not have mentioned the gear was going into the pool," Weddle said. "We dried them off real good before returning them."
Nirvana were pulled off of a tour for the shoot and Walker said Weddle told him that what you don't see is the band's stinky laundry and socks hanging on every available surface in the background and the tiny dimensions of the pool they were crammed into for the shoot.
Weddle said the shoot was, quite simply, "a bitch. It was damn near impossible to get three guys in one frame looking good. They can't see, they can't breathe, ya can't talk to them underwater... f---ing hard." And that was back in the day before auto-focus and digital playback to make sure you got the shot.
"I shot a lot. I shot everything I could [and] it was crazy," Weddle recalled. "I shot the guitar by itself; I shot Kurt sleeping. My crew was trying to rig the instruments and I would shoot Dave over on the side of the pool." And then... the images sat in his closet for 20 more than years.
"I didn't know [I had captured something special]," Weddle said. "I knew that it was going to be difficult to give my art director [Robert Fisher] what he wanted: a large selection of three guys looking cool underwater. They hated the pictures at the label. Robert pasted together one image and it ran in the L.A. Times and on a poster I believe." And that was that.
Now, however, you can check them out at Walker's gallery -- and above.