It was love at first fight.

At least, that's what the legend says. And Courtney Love.

But it does make a certain, cosmic sense that one of rock's most doomed romances would start on the floor of Portland's scuzziest punk club—Satyricon, the mythologized Old Town rats' nest that was demolished in 2011.

Satyricon. IMAGE: Daren C. Hoffman.
Satyricon. IMAGE: Daren C. Hoffman.

No one at Satyricon who saw the two tangled bodies grappling in front of the jukebox could've known what they were witnessing. At the time, the names Kurt and Courtney didn't mean much individually, and certainly nothing together. Within a few years, they'd be mononymously fused, eternally knotted by tragedy and conspiracy theories. But in 1990—or '88 or '89, depending on who's talking—all it looked like was a dude from some Seattle band wrestling with that chick who used to dance at Mary's Club.

(Tricia Hipps)
(Tricia Hipps)

The specifics change every time it's retold, but the most frequently repeated version of the story, captured in the 2001 Kurt Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven, places the date as Jan. 12, 1990.

Six months after the release of their debut album, Nirvana was in town with their buddies the Melvins. Love, who was not yet in a band but was well-known in the Portland scene, came with a friend to see the local opening act. She didn't much care for Nirvana, but she liked their frontman. When he walked by her booth after the show, she tried getting his attention with a sick burn—she said he looked like the singer of Soul Asylum.

Cobain's response was to grab her and, tapping his experience as a high school wrestler, playfully pin her to the beer-soaked floor. He let her up and handed her a sticker as a consolation prize, and she left.

And so began, in earnest, the courtship of the defining couple of the '90s.

Given that the details are sourced from the most unreliable of narrators—a dead man and Courtney Love—it's hard to parse truth from false memories. Love has admitted to fudging the facts over the years, changing the names of the bands on the bill that night and the nature of the comment that sparked their tussle, and even the year it happened. Other biographies, including Michael Azerrad's Come As You Are, published when Cobain was still alive, say that while the two first locked eyes at Satyricon, the flirtatious wrestling match happened later, backstage in LA.

Finding a reliable eyewitness, 30 years on, is almost impossible. One person who was definitely there that night, though, was Melvins drummer Dale Crover. And for whatever it's worth, he says the ballad of Kurt and Courtney didn't start in Portland at all.

"We were pretty close to all that stuff," Crover says, "and the people who write books and do documentaries never really talk to us, or don't believe us."

And why should we believe him?

"I was one of the only people there who was sober." MATTHEW SINGER.