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Inside Nirvana's 'Teen Spirit' video shoot

The flyer soliciting fans to participate in the filming of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video
Collection of Gillian G. Gaar

Part two of a look behind the scenes at the making of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video.

When Nirvana fans Kevin Estrada and Rob Cardenaz heard Nirvana was doing a show at the Roxy in LA on August 15, 1991, they made sure to get tickets. “We thought, it’ll probably be the last smallest place we get to see them, you know?” Cardenaz recalled. Nirvana was a band clearly on the rise.

The band was excited about the gig as well; bassist Krist Novoselic gave Estrada a hug when he arrived at the venue. Inside, it was so packed, Estrada couldn’t get to the front to take pictures. “So Kurt [Cobain] walked me down from the dressing room, we walk on the stage, and he goes to the kids right in the front and says, ‘This is our friend Kevin, we want him to take some really good pictures tonight, will you let him in?’” said Estrada. “So they parted and made room for me right there in the very front. I thought that was a really cool moment.”

But Estrada didn’t end up staying in the front too long. When the show began, “the whole venue just imploded and it went crazy in there,” he recalled. “Kids were just flying everywhere, and my camera’s getting banged up, so Kurt pulled me on the stage and I ended up shooting the rest of the show from there.” Cardenaz also pushed his then-wife on stage for safety: “She actually sat on the stage towards the back with Courtney [Love, from Hole] and Jennifer [Finch] from L7 for the whole show while I was having fun out in the pit.”

At one point, Cobain pulled out a flyer. “He said, ‘We’re doing a music video,’ and he read from the flyer in this really funny voice,” Estrada said. “Like, ‘Nirvana needs you! To appear in their upcoming music video!’ That kind of thing.” The video shoot was scheduled two days later, August 17, at GMT Studios in Culver City, and Estrada and Cardenaz quickly made plans to attend. “I had to work that Saturday and I just called in sick,” said Cardenaz. “I’m like, ‘I’m not going to miss this just because I have to work.’”

When the two arrived for the shoot on Saturday morning, they found the studio set up like a gymnasium with bleachers, and Cobain had saved them a spot right in front. It was the first professional video Nirvana had made, and they assumed they’d run through “Smells Like Teen Spirit” twice, then have time to play a short set for the fans that had been drafted for the shoot.

Director Sam Bayer (who later directed the videos for Green Day's "American Idiot" album) had other ideas, and wasted no time in letting the extras know who was the boss — or who would try to be the boss. As everyone settled into their seats, Estrada called out to Novoselic, “Krist, take off your shoes!” (“Because Krist always used to play barefoot on stage and he had his shoes on”). Novoselic duly threw his shoes off and everybody started laughing, which drew a stern rebuke from the director: “Hey, hey, hey! Keep it down, keep it down! Keep it down I’ll throw you guys out of here! I don’t want any of that! I don’t want any nonsense!”

“He’s screaming at everybody,” said Estrada. “And we’re like, ‘Wooo!’ and he’s going, ‘I said stop it!’ Like he was in this really foul mood.”

Bayer then explained what he had in mind for the video. He wanted everybody to watch the band playing, acting bored at first, then becoming more and more excited over the course of the song. “So we started out acting bored and then it just exploded, and everybody just went crazy from the very first take, at the first chorus,” said Cardenaz. “Pretty much right away. You couldn’t contain yourself. Once somebody else was doing it, it just got contagious, and then everybody was just like all over the place.”

Bayer tried to maintain control, telling the audience “No, no, no, that’s not what I want. You guys need to calm down!” “So then we do another take and the same thing happens,” Cardenaz said. “And Sam would come back and scold us; ‘We’re going to lose this audience if you guys can’t calm down and do it the way I want it!’ The thing I remember that I thought was so funny is that Kurt was behind him while he was scolding us, giving him the finger. We were just trying to have fun. So we were laughing and definitely not taking Sam seriously. And at one point, Sam was just like, ‘Whatever, just do whatever.’ Because he never kicked anybody out.”

“The band was just loving it,” said Estrada. “Every time that we would explode and Sam would yell, Kurt and Krist would be cracking up. So they were getting off on it too.”

Read Part One of this story here.

Coming up: Estrada’s photo shoot with the band, and the wrap-up of the video shoot.

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