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20 Years Ago, I Watched Nirvana's Penultimate Show in Slovenia

02/27/2014 12:26 EST | Updated 04/29/2014 05:59 EDT

It was February 27, 1994 and Nirvana was headed into the fire of the Yugoslav war, no one knowing it would be their second last show. While we waited for our names to be checked at the backstage entrance of a Slovenian arena, we felt a wave of excitement around us as Kurt Cobain and his entourage passed by the glass doors inside. Rolling Stone had recently proclaimed him to be the spokesman of my generation and he was playing the part, decked out in a fur coat and shades. I was representing Geffen Records in Prague where Nirvana would soon be playing a show and where they'd also be spending a week off. I'd come here to Ljubljana, Slovenia to help the band work out their holiday plans.

A concert promoter friend and I slapped our Access All Areas stickers onto the thighs of our jeans as we were directed towards Nirvana's dressing room. It was a dank space being shared by the band and their crew, with a few industry folk scattered about and guys with walkie talkies dashing in and out. Platters of rank coldcuts, and withered fruit lay out alongside bottles of water, beer, and liquor. We could hear the muffled roar of 6,000 Yugoslav concert virgins filling the arena, yet back here, it was hushed tones and tension.

Kurt sat facing his friend and bandmate, Krist Novoselic, in the far corner. They were talking quietly and intensely, Kurt with his head bowed down despondently, arms resting on his knees, Krist listening, nodding. It was as if a dark cloud were hanging over them. In fact the vibe was so bad we just wanted to get out of there fast and meet them another time. As we turned to go, their ever affable drummer Dave Grohl came sauntering in flashing us his toothy smile, so we introduced ourselves to him.

"You guys live in Prague? How cool. Aw, but man, last night we canceled the plan to spend our vacation there," Dave said, playing with his ponytail. "We're all a bit homesick so most of us are going back to the States for our break." We chatted to him a bit more, and then headed off to use the bar before the show started.

As the band stepped on stage, Krist, who'd spent part of his childhood in Croatia, went to the mic and greeted the crowd with a perfectly pronounced, "Dobra večer!" ("Good evening"). And in that moment the atmosphere went supernova. An arena full of youth pumped on wartime nationalism with the biggest band of the day talking to them in their own language, Nirvana at their peak with Kurt playing like a man about to kill himself, and this was most of the crowd's first ever concert experience.

All night Kurt said not a word, leaving Krist to carry out the between song banter in Croat. He'd wanted this show to happen in neighbouring Croatia, but insurance wasn't possible due to the the war raging on there. While the night's set didn't include "Smells Like Teen Spirit," they did play a Croat song, "Stojim Na Kantunu," with the crowd singing along, taking the feeling even higher. None of us suspected we were witnessing the band's penultimate show. They played a smaller gig in Munich the next evening, and while the rest of the group flew home, Kurt went to meet Courtney Love in Rome where he OD'd a few days after.

Six weeks following, I was in Thailand, sitting under the ceiling fan of a Khao San Road eatery, looking at the Bangkok Times. On the front page was a picture of a little girl in a garden, captioned "Francis Bean Cobain After Her Father's Death." I read the caption a good 10 times before making my way on to the news that Kurt had killed himself. I was in disbelief, then floored, then back to disbelief -- I mean hey, it's a Thai newspaper and I don't even trust papers in my own country. Then I understood all the people who didn't want to believe Elvis was dead, because I really didn't want to believe this. The spokesman of my generation shot himself in the head.

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