Archive for September, 2013

The centre of Seattle, where the majority of the Nirvana related venues lie, is exceedingly compact. OK, walking round, the truth is you’re going to see the gentrified, commercialised, corporatized face of the city — expect the usual shopping street uniformity rather than some fascinating duck-and-dive through alcoves, alleys and fascinating discoveries. Having said that though, the centre tails off rapidly into the kinds of streets where independent businesses and local moments persist, you’ll find them. Having to find my way just using my own scrawl on a paper map (I’ve not bothered mastering the phone’s map system nor would I have wanted to face the international rates for connecting it up) meant quite a few wrong turns, pauses to play tourist but still all of today’s venues were lashed round within a few hours.

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As ever, I’m drawing my lines starting at the area of the Paramount Hotel and/or Hotel Max simply because that’s where I know best and this is the order I rambled through. I found that the whole walking experience goes best when there’s a regular ‘pay off’ to keep it feeling worthwhile and reward. On this stroll there’s no need to worry; march straight down Pine Street and hook onto Second Street and you’re already scoring.

The first venue is the still-functioning Moore Theater where Nirvana played a show back in August 1990 during Dale Crover’s temporary tenure. From the outside I admit to liking the slight marks left by the years, it’s a nice contrast, turning off the shopping streets, to buildings that have uniqueness by nature rather than uniqueness by design (the difference between lived-in thrift-store clothing and the horror that was ‘grungewear’).

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Looking at the building too, I can’t help but think about the differences — love the big long steel fire-escape, a rarer sight in London, meanwhile I paused at the side to look at the back-exits for bands and equipment. People stated a few times to me, in almost embarrassed tones, about how young the buildings are in America, how they’re not as curious as what exists in Europe where despite our best efforts to bomb them to hell we still wade knee-deep in the past. It’s true that the contrast between buildings has been built up over centuries of change and is the antithesis of the grid built regularity of the American approach which also tends to inflict an ordinariness on the shapes present on each block. On the other hand, Europe suffers from sometimes freezing its past and creating city centres — I’m looking at you Prague — that as artificially perfected as a stroll in Disney’s Epcot Centre. If the grip loosens then there’s nothing that Europe has architecturally that will not someday grace U.S. streets, these buildings are already left to change, fray at the edges, and basically remind me of my favourite European city Lisbon where corrupt politics has ensured there are still bullet-holes from their revolution and even the main square features regular leakage from the fountains.

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A few blocks further on, yes, further than you think but barely far enough to keep you fit, there’s a corner on which the, likewise, still-extant Crocodile Café is open — get a drink (heck, get pizza!), enjoy. It’s almost a surprise leaping two years forward, to 1992, and finding Nirvana indulging in secret gigs for limited audiences in what isn’t a particular large venue. It gives a sense of the band retreating — it’s such an incongruous fit imagining this place alongside the stadium in Buenos Aires just a few weeks later.

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Head down a block and onto First Avenue, you’ll be back nearly to Pine Street before you catch the next target; 1923 First Avenue — the original Sub Pop Headquarters (boy, I hope I got the right building.)

Sub Pop's First HQ_1

I’d always imagined more of a dive, again, I suspect that what I’m looking at owes much to gentrification and doesn’t quite capture the rental values and/or clientele who must have been walking through the doors. This is the hub of the Sub Pop universe, the heart of the ‘Seattle scene’ era and the location for Jonathan and Bruce’s ambitious endeavours. I’ve been very lucky catching all these places during the beautiful weather, gives a very different impression to what these locations must look like on a grey day under light drizzle.

Sub Pop's First HQ_2

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I admit, among my various failings on this trip that I’ll go into later, I didn’t haul over to see the new Sub Pop headquarters — ah well, the list is adding up of places I’ll have to return to see. You’ll walk next past the famous Pike Street Market, nearly a victim of declining commercial fortunes and now resurrected as live tourist location and functioning fascination. Keep walking.

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Next we reach a rarity, a Cobain residence in the centre of Seattle; the Four Seasons. Unless you’re on an unlimited budget or so far out-of-season you’re permanently wrapped in half-a-dozen layers. Just as a side-bar, Seattleites don’t carry umbrellas — I reckon it’s because the darn things blow inside out so rapidly in these canyons formed by the tall buildings — and they tell me it’s because they’re tough, they wear hats, and they simply put their heads down and brazen it out. Oh, I also noted it’s possible to get quite a distance under cover.

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I admit I like this idea, that the closest Cobain ever came to rock-star living was to book into this incredibly expensive location and get himself (and his wife) thrown out as they let their residence degenerate into a wave of burnt bedding and stacked room service remains with Cobain nodding out and ignoring that this have been the most luxurious bed he’d ever slept in; 25 years of bad beds and he gets thrown out of his first truly good one. If you fancy staying, it’s probably gone down now we’re into the Autumn, but I wasn’t up for the $650+ a night bill just to view the quality of blankets left “acne’ed with cigarette burns.”

I’d been working to the assumption that the Central Tavern at which Nirvana played way back in the late Eighties was the same as the modern-day Central Saloon…It’ll have to remain an assumption because I managed to lose track of where I was, misread my faulty map and in the end give up on it. It still shows bands I believe, still serves — can you tell there’s tiredness creeping in? I made a few miscalculations on this trip. The biggest one was switching beds so rapidly night-by-night, never settling in one place, starting each day hauling luggage having ended each day packing it all ensuring nothing was left behind. Next time (and I do think there will be a next time) I’ll settle, pick one place, create a home to come back to. I might take longer over the travel too — the dash through Tacoma, Olympia to Aberdeen was rapid-fire while the return to Seattle came with a feeling of racing toward a finishing line, all surrounded by the desire to try and keep things flowing onto the blog — if you can imagine it, sacrificing a couple of hours of a morning on holiday to scrawl the latest notes or missive for on here, then barrelling back out the door to dump laptop and reload pockets and rucksack for the next mission…

Pier 48_1

Another neat coincidence, Pier 48 is an easy find but under extensive rebuilding and reconstruction — there’s no building there now and plenty of steel gates and fences to ensure no public access. By chance, the doors were open to let traffic in, work was proceeding but I was temporarily defeated by a gentleman on guard duty who stated I wasn’t permitted to photograph the site…OK, no problem.

Pier 48_2

I retreated back to the main road and simply took all there really was to see from there — the site itself is just debris and truck tracks but at least with the gate open I was left in no doubt as to the state of what I was observing. It’s the only area where I felt a slight need to walk fast and keep my camera discreet — walking beneath the overpass, between the legs of the road, fast traffic on one side and streets spilling down onto this one, I kept moving.

OK Hotel_1

Not far, however, the O.K. Hotel is extremely visible but I wasn’t blessed on this occasion with an accidental resident welcoming me in. It doesn’t mean you can’t though, I was aware of the First Thursday Art Walks thanks to the Wikipedia entry for this place (http://www.firstthursdayseattle.com/venues.php) but missed the occasion and couldn’t fathom whether it remains a functioning art venue…I’ll look further.

OK Hotel_2

Strange though, this incongruous little door with barely a sidewalk in front of it, this is where Smells Like Teen Spirit first graced a stage? It’s the pleasure of a walking tour like this, reducing the unfathomably vast, to the manageably small. This is it, Nirvana’s doorway to fame, fortune and an uncomfortable future after which, having already given up what they were, they would cease to exist.

OK Hotel_3

Perversely, I’m going to end not with that door closing (or opening as the press who wish to celebrate bigger-better-popular-known would have it) but with another one…Here’s a copy of Eddie Vedder’s postcard from the night he entered town to commence his own parrallel ride from the Hotel Max to the stars and on…

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Floor 5_Hotel Max

I’m no stranger to obsessive behaviour, as I said yesterday, this site now has the equivalent of four full-length novels on it for example — around 400,000 words in 285 articles (I’ve deleted around 30 recently too). The ‘collector’ urge has seen me rampage the entire discography of one artist after another over some eighteen years now…It occurred to me on an unseasonably hot day in Seattle that I was treating real-life locations the same way.

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In one of those unusual coincidences this trip has been laced with the Hotel Max upgraded me to the ‘rock floor’. The lift doors open and this is the view that confronts one immediately. I was in the next room up from the Cobain door, a shot of Steve Albini playing with Big Black. Genuinely, if you can make it onto the fifth floor, Hotel Max does have a reasonable claim to be the most Seattle-music-friendly hotel in the city; the hotel room came complete with vinyl record player, a stack of Sub Pop-supplied albums, a touch of rock album art on the wall…

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…I admit it, I was pleased. The central location, couple blocks over from the Paramount, made it an ideal starting point for romping round most significant Nirvana sites in Central Seattle. Happy to compliment the place, the staff were a delight and it does make a difference when people are so good. I’d been unsure about the place the first time I stayed — comfy room but building work going on outside the window — and it made a difference to me that when I rebooked it felt like they cared about that and wanted to actually impress me. They did. By this point in the tour tiredness had set in, switching beds night-after-night, humping luggage from one place to the next and realising that increasingly I was breaking my back just to transport dirty laundry…A good bed, in a good room, a touch of comfort — don’t mind saying it appealed.

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In the area around the Experience Music Project there are two sites of primary interest in a Nirvana sense…The first threw me back to April 1994, sitting watching the MTV tributes to Kurt Cobain, footage of soaked kids running through a fountain — I’d forgotten about it entirely, at short notice I can just find the one photo in this article, I’m sure there are tonnes about (http://o.seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/reweb/2014689587_17_years_after_his_death_fans_remember_kurt_cobain_on_twitter.html).

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It’s an impressive monument at any time, a decent stretch of free space in a city centre that doesn’t seem to have many parks (a distinct contrast with London). Still in use of course and long since moved on from memorial purposes to simply being a children’s amusement.

On the same site you’ll find two other Nirvana moments, the former Seattle Center Coliseum, venue for the September 11, 1992 show in support of the Washington Music Industry Coalition.

Coliseum

On April 11, 1995 the city sold the naming rights to KeyCorp leading to its new name; the KeyArena — that’s what you’re looking for. It’s the biggest Nirvana-related site in the State of Washington but, of course, it’s just a stadium after all. Again, you’re not seeing it as it was, a year after Nirvana played there, the site was shut and refurbished and redesigned; life won’t wait and nor will entertainment facilities in the Pacific North-West it seems. I don’t know why, must have been feeling the heat (contrary to popular opinion it can get pretty darn bright and warm in Seattle, I sunburnt on a couple days up there) but I somehow confused it with the next location so ended up not taking photos of the KeyArena/Seattle Center Coliseum…Oops. My bad.

Former Ticket Hall of Coliseum

The photos you’re seeing here actually refer to a location around another corner where you’ll find the Seattle Center Arena, now known as Mercer Arena, an 8,000 seat venue and site of Nirvana’s final shows in Seattle on January 7-8, 1994.

Former Ticket Hall of Coliseum_3

The former entrance is simply closed up and left abandoned now the new entrances/exits have been opened but these are the doors attendees walked through in January ’94 — I was lucky enough to have Tyler Willman, one of the attendees, strolling with me that day to point it out for me.

Former Ticket Hall of Coliseum_2

I think I’ll close down here for the day and head on home. A few more posts to come and yes, at some point I’ll get around to trying to compile, professionalise and clean this all up into something more user-friendly for anyone tempted to go walk the Nirvana steps.

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I keep trying to judge if I’m getting away from my initial decisions about this blog; essentially I don’t have any desire to share myself and my world with the universe — though I’ve enjoyed very much sharing more back-and-forth with a cluster of fellow fans who have taken the time to wave my way and share their own enthusiasms. When I started this blog I decided (a) no personal stuff (b) focus on Nirvana, simple as that (c) no petty personal ‘reviews’ of releases that are simply a personal aesthetic commentary and could as easily be rendered on Amazon or someplace (d) stick to analysis, stick to segmenting and sorting information. So that’s what goes through my head and influences how I end up writing about topics. Today’s post drips over the line into personal, circles around (b), tries to avoid being (c) and barely touches (d.)

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Anyways, yes, back home but not finished writing up the excursion to the Pacific North-West yet — I’ll get on with the next piece tomorrow. Today I wanted to take a moment for the In Utero Twentieth Anniversary release; I mean, heck, it genuinely is a Christmas reminder for me; that cassette at the front? That’s my 1993 Christmas present from mum and dad. And the CD alongside it? That’s the 1995 gift from my aunt and the first CD anyone else ever bought me (my first ever CD purchase was a month or so earlier when I bought the Nirvana singles box-set.) The In Utero album, on a personal level, has a significantly festive vibe to it.

I admit, of course, that overall what makes Nirvana special for me is that it’s a remnant of my childhood and that direct-plug-in back to my thirteen/fourteen year old self. This allows me to easily fall back into the kind of tensely excited ‘waiting for miracles’ that used to accompany birthdays, Christmas, trips to the chip shop on a Saturday or down town with pocket-money (I like to think I was an enthusiastic kid and readily entertained and amused.) This proviso is offered to explain why I worked from home the other day so I could more or less hang out of the window and await the delivery truck. Gods it was a long day. Thank God the plumbers arrived so I could tell myself I wasn’t just running downstairs to check the front door mat. It made me hyper-aware of noise in the neighbourhood today; every time I recognised the purr of a van heading down the street I was there peering out, each motorbike murmuring by had me straining to see if it was heading this way. And then! Suddenly! A van pulled up, a delivery guy got out, he opened the back doors of the van…
…And he was getting out a vacuum cleaner for some bloke down the street. Darn.

Anyways, after a very long day exhibiting my comprehensive gift for patience (re: I have no patience whatsoever, I’m no good at delayed gratification whatsoever), finally it got here just before 7pm. Heck, I even washed my hands before opening the package so now I feel bad about my fetishisation of the product too.

Any comment on the booklet/brochure? It’s a nice item like all these artistically done box-sets tend to be and in terms of its content there are a few points that stuck out for me. Firstly, the inclusion of the studio bill and, more so, of the scribbled sheet explaining the PR plans for the release acknowledge the way in which an album is one expression of an overall master-plan of activities and separate deliverables designed to deliver a business plan and ultimately sales. Wedging these items into a commemorative package celebrating In Utero breaks the focus on it as purely an artistic or personal statement and starkly declares the corporate, commercial reality of the album — this isn’t just a work of art, it’s simultaneously just another product. While that might seem a sad or a grim decision to take I’d argue it has a Cobainesque quality to it; it’s a posthumous echo of his plans for an album called Sheep; it’s as blunt as his Radio Friendly Unit Shifter title — the man at the centre of all this was decisively aware of these currents to what he was doing and whoever designed the Super-Deluxe box-set was sharp enough to integrate that disquieting element here.

The other comment on the brochure is the acknowledgement of Pat Smear’s elevation to full band member. I don’t remember his presence as tour guitarist being so thoroughly open and declared as it is these days at twenty years distance. Again, at first, I wondered whether including him in the line-up of band member photos in the brochure made sense given this album is a pre-Smear product. But, then again, this isn’t In Utero — this is an expanded package at twenty years distance and he’s a presence on the entire DVD element and the accompanying CD version of Live and Loud. He’s a legitimate presence on something that is fundamentally a 2013 item not to be confused or considered synonymous with the 1993 album that ‘inspired’ it and led to this thorough re-rendering.

Anyways, no comment on the songs, everyone will make up their own mind on the remixes and remasterings and demo-worthiness and so on and so forth. I admit I find the 2013 mix a fascinating concept; I’m usually suspicious of remixes because they reek of posthumous tinkering and artificiality. The exercise of inserting material recorded at the time but excluded, switching valid takes for others, that somehow seems to have more legitimacy and a value because what’s being delivered is more original music by the original band — not producer mix effects and not post-hoc material. In a small declaration, while Jack Endino was chatting at breakfast the other week he did say that Michael Meisel who was working on this for Universal, was really pleased to hear that some scrap of vocals was available on the January 1991 take of All Apologies – that made a decisive difference to whether it was included or not apparently, they wanted Kurt’s voice included where possible. In terms of the recording unfortunately, the original masters are lost and so what’s being worked with is a version the band asked for so that they could hear the songs as close to instrumentally as possible so they could examine the music – hence why Cobain’s vocals are pushed down so low. Just a little detail which I think it’s cool to mention at this point.

My big decision was whether to do what I did in 2004 and just listen to two songs a night or just to give up the ghost on that idea and swallow it whole…I’ll let people go find all the reviews online, there are tonnes – Pitchfork says great, another one says the package is just silly, others say the original album is great but they’re not sure about this or that element, what the heck, can’t please anyone. I’m still sitting here thinking its Christmas and that’s good enough for me. Thank you to whomsoever made it happen.

In Utero Angel

I’m regularly beset with questions I find hard to answer. A year ago, if I mentioned I was writing a book, people would ask “oh, you want to be a writer?” as if it was impossible to write or want to hold a book in the band without having some kinda career plan — I used to take the question as an unintentional slight and would explain firmly that it was about enjoying writing not about making it into work. A lot harder has been explaining that I travelled to State of Washington and up until days before I travelled I didn’t have any plans to meet anyone bar a personal friend or two. Then, in a sudden wave, one gentleman put me in touch with Mitch for Aberdeen, another kindly introduced me to John Purkey who in turn did me the privilege of letting me spend time with his friends, my friend Abby introduced me to a lady called Bernie who’s son turns out to be another person of significance…Ty Willman. The only people I deliberately said hi to were Gillian and Jack; the rest of it was bizarrely accidental. Strange but true, I’m much less well-planned that people might imagine — I live in webs of coincidence and life’s humour.

EMP Exterior

Gillian G. Gaar very courteously gifted me two guest passes for the EMP Museum! (Amend: Its in Seattle. http://www.empmuseum.org/) I’m near embarrassed to admit that I had been wondering about skipping the exhibition as time became increasingly strangulated…I know, I know, you don’t need to tell me I was being crazy, Jack Endino told me I had to do it about three times over and he’s much taller than me so I’d have been far too intimidated to ignore such an insistent statement in case he thumped me.

I was similarly lucky to have Mr. Tyler Willman for company. Do I need to introduce Ty? OK, I’m sure I don’t but seriously, this is a man who has been a part of the Seattle music scene for over two decades now and is so significant his band Green Apple Quick Step is on the wall in the Nirvana exhibit in the EMP as you can see here…The nice thing was that he hadn’t realised the band was mentioned there as one of the significant local outfits of the era – really wicked being able to be surprised with someone. That’s the listing of important Tacoma bands – Subvert was John Purkey’s outfit, this has been a real eye-opener of a trip learning how much goes on in Tacoma.

Ty on the EMP Wall

He’s a cap-wearing, Marlboro-smoking regular guy and all-round rock dude who made me feel every ounce the geeky, post-uni, office boy I’m sure I am (you’ve seen the photos, I look like a librarian; “Nick…It is your dessssstiny!”) My favourite conversation went “I write for pleasure, I love it, plus I learnt a while back that I’m useless at making music,” “Jeez, I make music and I’m useless at writing…” He described his ambition in life to always be able to make music so that he can tour as much as possible, that he enjoyed seeing the world and watching people play and getting to spend stage time with them. “I’d like to write a song that moves someone completely.” The emphasis he placed on that last word made me feel what he meant and how deeply Ty believes in the emotional value and power of music. He’s also wonderfully humble about his obvious intelligence, he even had an art exhibition take place over in Tacoma the other year and his work certainly shows a skill at writing.

Ty had spent the morning fishing with his son while I was off for breakfast — yes, this was the same day as yesterday’s post but I can only write so much in a day and I’m trying to break this down logically. I confessed I’d actually wanted to speak to him a long while back regarding a band he was in called Inspector Luv and the Ride Me Babies; yet another set of Tacoma natives who shared stages with a pre-Nirvana-name Nirvana. I’d already heard tell the other day of Ty’s extensive collaborations with Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, of Green Apple Quick Step sharing management with the PJ boys — Ty estimates he’s been in half a dozen Seattle bands now not including less formal collaborations and he doesn’t feel any desire or wish to ever stop creating. An old manager of mine once said to me “Nick, surround yourself with people who challenge and inspire you,” I think he meant in terms of corporate life. The issue is that I’m more inspired by people like Ty who do something that may or may not mean something to anyone other than themselves, but that requires the complete dedication of a life to building, forming and creating something oneself. No matter how much work a job may involve there’s always pre-set structures and organisation, and an objective focused on profit rather than self-expression, that means its in no way the same whole-spirited effort. Ty impresses me with the many collaborations and side-projects and new efforts.

After a long chat — Clay Johnson was right, the North-West does have fantastic beer, the U.K. increasingly has a brilliant market for real ales and likewise for original lagers from across the world, we’re not having to make do with generics; the State of Washington and State of Oregon seem to be the same — we headed on to the exhibition.

Ty Willman at the EMP

The exhibition does a good job of turning something kinetic and vital into glass-cased preservation, while still managing to spark a pulse through those dried synapses. Walking in to immediately see one of Krist’s bass guitars, then the guitar Kurt played at both the September 1990 show at the International Motor Sports Garage and at the O.K. Hotel show in April 1991 where he unveiled Smells Like Teen Spirit, plus Dave Grohl’s drums from the 1993-1994 tour season…Wicked selection.

Cobain_Sept 1990 to Apr 1991

Grohl Drum Kit 93-94

It also finally made sense to me all the comments about Chad Channing’s odd-ball and over-large drum-kit which, oddly enough, is suspended half-way up a wall part way round the exhibition.

Chad Drum Kit Until Feb 1990

It’s not a large exhibition in some ways, don’t go expecting a vast space, if you move swift you could be in and out having glanced at everything inside of half an hour — on the other hand, if you took some time with the extensive multimedia components, played with the various screens and interactive areas allowing access to timelines and interviews and so forth, then you could while away substantial time here. Running round the edge of the exhibit cases you’ll also find a long sequence of personal photographs donated from various sources and wordlessly charting the life and times of the band and their fellow-travellers — just focusing on that piece alone and telling the tale in one’s head would be a fulfilling afternoon of consideration, occasional surprise reminders (I wanted to look more than wave a camera around so no shots of these), a coherent pathway from one end of the exhibition to the other.

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For me what resonated were the surprising reminders of Nirvana’s earliest times. The later era is rendered via one of the rare (and always sparsely used) stage props from the In Utero era…

In Utero Angel

Or via the tour-battered instruments. The middle-age is signified with yet more battered instruments, shards of devastated guitars and a collage of show flyers (Ryan! Your Machine/Nirvana flyer is up there!) But the mass-produced nature of the former, next to the moderately commercial nature of the latter contrasts starkly with the second room. I’m starting to realise that the State of Washington is the land where nothing is ever thrown away.

4 Track and Suit Case Drum

I was most wowed by seeing Aunt Mari’s tape recorder a teen Cobain used for early efforts as well as the beaten-up old suitcase Cobain used as his drum kit for the 1982 Organised Confusion material that has never surfaced.

Original FM

There’s even an original copy of the Fecal Matter cassette Cobain gifted to someone. This all comes on one wall next door to a selection of Cobain’s teenage artworks. It’s the handmade and ‘make do’ aspect to a lot of this early component that resonates with me — there’s a hand-to-mouth aspect to having to use a suitcase, a bygone era feel to the tape recorder, all emphasised by the schoolboy doodles and their casual mischief.

Original Cobain Art

I’m a sucker for books and guides and programmes and brochures so naturally ended up purchasing the Taking Punk to the Masses volume complete with the disc of interviews — I trimmed down the book collection significantly the other month but this is a more than worthy addition. I’ll discuss it more sometime when I’ve had a chance to read it. Anyways, we retired and Ty gave me the tour of the surrounding area that has a few attractions for Nirvana fans…

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Anyways, definitely my bad, but an attempt to run up to the other Cobain residence along Lake Washington coincided with such bad traffic we gave up yet still made the exhibition far too late in the day to do justice to the other exhibits on display. I would have loved to have gone and seen the Women Who Rock piece, or the Jimi Hendrix area…Ah well. Another day, another year…Once I’ve recovered from merrily bankrupting myself this time around…

More to add? I think the EMP throws the issues with coming to State of Washington to peer at Nirvana locations and memorials into stark relief. The exhibition is the most concentrated collection of Nirvana-related items anywhere in the world possessing items that one cannot and will not see other than in books (OK, OK, or on the copious quantity of online resources containing pictures of them.) On the other hand, its hard to create such an exhibition without explicitly freezing the items in time and deleting their real world context. It turns something wild and frenetic into cold unmoving items kept in public storage. Its better than the alternative, of course, private collections that will never be within reach of the likes of you and I – the house on Pear Street and the Melvins tour van are both now owned by the same individual for example…All these things that we’re seeing could have been destroyed like 1000 1/2 East Second Street. On the other hand, Nirvana’s ‘realness’ understandably goes missing when one can’t stroll past the locations, see them changing or even decaying, watch items made decades ago used and reused and gaining new scars as a result. But, that’s not an alternative for many things – its wonderful to have the chance to see what a more formalised response to Nirvana’s legacy would look like. Within that context a beautiful job has been done.

The economy works in strange ways. A crucial component is that arena, for example the art market, that increases value on the basis that others cannot have it regardless of the intrinsic qualities or otherwise of the item concerned. A comrade of mine worked in the perfume section of Harvey Nicholls (a ludicrous shop in London I avoid like the plague because its crammed full of precisely the sorts of people I rarely want to invite anywhere near my life – like the show The Apprentice) and told me that she could explain the virtues of perfumes all day to people, in the end they buy because of two words “new” and “exclusive.” It’s the same process driving hip hop artists to increasingly just wave brand names and labels – its an attempt by individuals to equate their own personal value, worth and achievement with the value and worth of the things they coat themselves in. I would say that if your watch is more interesting than you are then you’re still nothing much no matter what you’ve wrapped yourself in – likewise, showing me someone else’s work and talking to me as if it says anything at all about you, sorry, it just makes me very aware how little you have to say (I’m talking to you all the people who wept over Apple products!) But then, perhaps surrounding myself with books and music is precisely the same process of personal statement conducted via different means? I’ll think about that.

Jack n' Gillian Breakfast

Time has been running away with me and I feel soiled making such a bad pun in the title. There was a chance to meet Kris Sproul, one half of the esteemed duo running the Nirvana Live Guide, but our schedules simply don’t cross — darn! I’ll say it publically and with hand in oath-taking position on heart, no, sorry, heart is on the other side? OK, adjusted, hand now on heart; Mike Ziegler and Kris Sproul are among the half-dozen most committed Nirvana fans who have done the most to locate material, spread information and to keep alive the excitement surrounding the band. God-like status in my eyes.

Two individuals of similarly significant stature — I don’t do ‘people ranking’ — are these peachy-keen and so sweet people who were kind enough to join me for breakfast; Monsieur Jack Endino and Mademoiselle Gillian G. Gaar. Note that they’re both far more photogenic than me, I just can’t do cameras…

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My view on talking to people is always the same; I have the absolute right to ask a question because that’s self-expression, but I have no right to expect or demand an answer because that’s an imposition placed upon others — it’s their right to choose to reply. Also, as I’m not a professional journalist — and therefore addicted to turning life into conflict — or a commercial writer — and therefore needing a touch of soap opera and controversy to penetrate the awful current climate in which already threadbare wages for the majority of authors have been cut even further (Kindle means consumers can access more books, it doesn’t mean anyone can read more than they already did — it’s great for Amazon but a death-knell for living on writing) its been kinda nice drifting around the North-West because I’m just chatting on with people, no deeper motivation. I’m more stuck awkwardly unsure what to say to people beyond “wow…Gillian…Err…You’re the best writer around on Nirvana…Errrr…Jack? I’ve known your name since I was 13 year old…You’re kinda a bit like the sphinx or the statue of liberty in terms of my references to stuff that’s cooler in real life.”

Where was I going? Sorry, lost thread. Anyways, I didn’t particularly have any questions to ask of them and I would have felt gawky muttering spit-flecked drooling requests; “tell me what it was like touching Kurt Cobain…?” / “Did you really get to fondle the original Fecal Matter demo?” So, though some may see this as a lost opportunity I was more interesting in just sitting around early one morning, with two people I admire, enjoying the company and the chat and agreeing that we all think Silvio Berlusconi is the most horrendous individual on the planet and that Italy is a semi-functioning anarchy. It’s why I love Italy, it makes a remarkable amount of the world feel sane.

Jack is a straight-talking, polite and pleasant man with a wonderfully dry sense of a humour — a smile moves his entire face it’s so full. He chuckled at me referring to certain other Nirvana fans as obsessive given he’s seen my predilection for spreadsheets of Nirvana data. Gillian is more gently spoken, instantly warm and friendly from first minute, with such a mind for detail and apposite questions — seeing what was missed, where conversation had jumped a step — I’d say an academic bent except it has the kind of sharpness I’d relate more to a detective. That’s a compliment and I was honoured to be permitted to stand and scan over her phenomenal music and book collection; this lady has such immaculate taste! Check her new work on Elvis; a much underrated figure among modern music fans, as she said; “he missed out on recording a lot of classic material he would have been brilliant with because once his career nosedived copyright holders were unwilling to sell to him.” He was a man who loved music, who may not have written much but was able to haul together good collaborators who made stunning and definitive readings of certain tracks. Heck, this guy wrote in “In The Ghetto”, my favourite song at age six (sharing first place with “Centrefold”.)

Anything that might amuse Nirvana fanatics? Well, I hope Jack doesn’t mind me saying that some time ago, he didn’t specify when and i didn’t ask, he heard a recording of the January 16, 1993 concert in Brazil and in his words “it’s horrible, no one needs to hear that.” Sounds like the known information is correct; an aggressively sullen Cobain ignored the disgust of his band-mates and simply stood there stoned and barely competent for a horrendously lengthy period of time. Apparently even the covers are kinda nasty in a way…Shudders…Isn’t it awful that the completist in me still wants to hear it just once even if only to say “yup, he’s right…”

With reference to the In Utero box-set, again, what the hey. Jack confirmed that the Nirvana barrel is almost entirely scraped and that many long days had gone in to ploughing through tapes. The January 1991 master tape is apparently lost; the material exists on a separate tape done so the band could hear the songs in versions as close to instrumentals as possible. Jack seems to live a charming life in which he works hard during the gray seasons then heads off in search of better climes and more fun during the warm spells – out touring Jack Endino’s Earthworm and generally making the most of life…A nice balance.

Anyways, a pleasant breakfast outing — Americans, do you realise that savoury biscuits never made it to the U.K.? I love these things, the last time I had them was in Washington D.C. at the home of Ronnie and Debbie, by favourite Americans, in April 2003, meaning I’ve been scoffing them wherever possible here. Biscuits, in sausage gravy, with scrambled egg and potato, in the company of two extremely pleasant people whose works have given me tonnes of enjoyment over the years. The least I could do is shell out a few dollars to buy breakfast given what they’ve given for so long.

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Just a cool guitar signed by a whole series of past members of Nirvana including Dave Foster – a very rare autography, he doesn’t do this kind of thing – that they’re preparing for the Aberdeen Museum…The single below was handed to Mitch by Kurt Cobain personally…Oooooo…handled by the man himself! Oooooo…

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Reflecting on the tour so far, reading comments and so forth, a few people have felt a little underwhelmed at what they’ll find if they choose to visit State of Washington in pursuit of Nirvana. My belief, my feeling, is that the issue is nothing to do with the physical reality of the Pacific North-West, nothing to do with the presence/absence of anything — its entirely to do with the inherent craziness of the decision to visit a state of over 70,000 square miles and seven million people in pursuit of, in essence, one long gone man. Once Jack Endino had finished reading the Dark Slivers book he kindly congratulated me including the line “you’re obsessed and insane, but what else is new,” and that sums it up; Cobain fandom of the kind of depth that would lead someone to ramble around the furthest corner of the United States trying to catch glimpses of houses and venues is lunatic — it’s the venture that is at fault not the locales.

There’s also a dichotomy in the sense that the entire point of such a visit is to come closer to the reality of the band and people concerned; yet by reminding oneself of their reality means shedding the ridiculous expectations created by glossy magazine images, illusions of wealth and/or artistic grandeur, plus twenty years of hagiographic coverage. No one tours the brothels and former brothels in which The Beatles learnt their trade while playing two shows a day high on amphetamine; no one goes to stare at the crack-houses Tupac Shakur’s mum frequented — it’s nicer spending a holiday in the Graceland mansion or scrawling on the wall of Abbey Road Studios…It all comes down to whether people would rather turn real life into blue plaques, glass cases and Disneyland style monuments or would rather the locations continued to evolve and change…And die.

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You saw the minimal Aberdeen/Hoquiam maps I prepared the other week — here’s a slightly consolidated version and, of course, you’ll see immediately the value of a local guide; there’s a load of places we’ve looked at the last couple days that I’ve not included. The other venue I took a photo of then deleted (it was a bad shot) is The Pourhouse at 506 E. Wishkah Street, just by the bridge — I’m not even sure it’s the original Eighties venue and I forgot to check (https://www.facebook.com/ThePourhouseAberdeen). That’s a major sin on my part given it’s the one venue in Aberdeen at which Cobain/some precursor or variation of Nirvana ever played (in 1986 and 1988 respectively). Plus it’s nice to know someplace with history to have a drink at. You’ll see I forgot to note the address of the Schillinger house, of the various graffiti locations, of the YMCA, Maria’s Hair Design and so forth — I’ll have to get on this sometime and improve.

I don’t have a hometown. When people ask where I’m from my answer always goes like this; “well, I was born in Newcastle in Northern England, but I’ve lived a lot of places,” which leads into a long description of Low Fell, Gateshead, Clacton-on-Sea, Eaton Socon, Eaton Ford, Kirton, Sidney Sussex, St Neots, Battersea. The place though of which I’ve had the longest experience is St Neots and whenever I’ve been back there I’m always fascinated not just by what’s changed but by what’s survived or remains frozen in time. New facades and businesses appear inside the shells of much older buildings, some buildings become restored to previous glories while others are replaced — it’s not survival OR removal that creates the feeling, simply the tension between change AND stasis.

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Aberdeen looks, in many ways, like a town of a former era — coming from a land where these boarded exteriors are only used for barns on farms the houses look completely foreign to me. So, though I think this post is about stasis, the building that stood out for me was the Radio Shack building; a corporate logo and survivor tying September 2013 to January 24, 1988 (http://www.openculture.com/2013/07/nirvana-plays-in-a-radio-shack-the-day-after-recording-its-first-demo-tape-1988.html) or on You Tube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHbX8Vsyyo8).
It emphasised me the importance of ‘labels’ — somehow a building with Radio Shack emblazoned on it did jolt the head in the way a persistent but anonymous house does not.

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Speaking of the houses though…There are many. On one side of the sports field, opposite Judys and adjacent to the YMCA, here we are at the Schillinger’s residence — a family that seems to have done what they could for a kid who wasn’t exactly good at accepting care; the kind of lashing out as a defensive measure to keep people away and prevent the dangers that arise when you let someone get emotionally close.

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Though I dwelt the other day on the deletion of Cobain’s home at 1000 ½ East Second Street, there’s a lot more still remaining. Walking back from the Schillinger’s carry on past Judy’s and you’ll reach Krist Novoselic’s mum’s former business premises, Maria’s Hair Design, where Nirvana practised. Again, it’s a well kept building, still in residential use.

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I’m often a fan of pointing out where wider cultural, political or social waves moved people rather than placing the emphasis always on individuals shifting the world. But the significance of proximity in the creation of Nirvana (as well as the importance of Melvins) stands out when strolling down the back lane between the following two properties; Aaron Burckhard’s former home is on one side of the street while Dale Crover lived across on the other. Mitch explained the lane was known as “swagger alley” due to the droves of drunken/drugged youngsters weaving back and forth down that stretch. Credit where its due, it’s his theory that the weather over Aberdeen — generally tending toward the gray and wet — made it desirable for kids, in the days before widespread Internet usage and console ownership, to take up instruments and make music simply because it was something they could do indoors. I’m very sure he’s right — admittedly the same would then go for something like writing (requiring hours confined somewhere where one can get words down on paper), or for drug-usage or alcoholism; solitary activities are rarely encouraged by good weather, blue skies and great outdoors. Maybe there’s something in the parental desire to get kids out of the house and doing physical activity…

Most of Cobain’s residences have survived intact and in good condition; I’m not sure what comment to make on them baring the whistle-stop tour between properties…So this is the home of baby Cobain, the young family’s place in the rain…2830 ½ Aberdeen Avenue, Hoquiam.

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A raise allowed the family to move from the small building at the rear into the house at the front — a brief and unspecified origin trailing back to the Grey Harbor Community Hospital….

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…And forward to 1210 East First Street, Aberdeen; the usual progress toward a little more room, a little more comfort. It’s a standard family tale played out in homes that look so small from the outside. There’s nothing extraordinary in the birth circumstance of Kurt Cobain, no horses turning wild or strange omens in the sky — just young people crawling up the ladder. I admit compared to British homes the first home looked strikingly small unless I’m deceived I can’t imagine much privacy or space for anyone concerned; a family life lived out on top of one another. This property though, whatever criticisms readers of the Nirvana bibliography may aim at Don Cobain, was a substantial step forward and I’m glad there was a blue sky to background the home where Cobain describes living out his idyll up to age nine. If you wanted to trail a finger over a physical remnant of Cobain’s presence then this is it; this is the place in which he lived the longest, around eight years with Pear Street, Olympia trailing in second at a mere four. This was the last time Cobain’s life was rigid, before the fluidity of circumstance set in interrupted by the refuge provided by Tracy Marander.

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Keep driving. We’ve switched towns now, we’re at 413 South Fleet Street, Montesano; three and a half years of increasing familial antagonism, fresh relatives and their rejection before his sojourn back over to the trailer and his grandparents.

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From the time he steps off this doorstep in March ’82, a mere fifteen years old, he’s swirling toward the plughole — maybe it’s too easy in retrospect to see he made it but there’s a thousand people twirled and flipped to this same point of departure and many you’ll never hear of again except as bad statistics. He pirouettes from one relation to another so fast there’s little information tracking him around town, winding up back at 1210 East First Street in far less happy circumstance and heading toward couch-surfing before his father tracks him down on a couch in a back-alley and makes one last try at 413.

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Beyond that he hits the Reeds, he heads back out to whatever he can find, then parental subsidy gives him less than six months in the rooms at the back of 404 North Michigan Street.

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Even that first bout of independence is temporary and dependent on cash from mum, the next house is 408 West First Street for another brief period of time living on the sufferance and patience of others (the Schillingers) before crashing in the Melvins’ practice space (I can’t remember if this was still Dale Crover’s house or another place I didn’t picture) then over to 1000 ½ East Second Street, the denouement of his Aberdeen story, prior to the commencement of his spell in Olympia enjoying Tracy Marander’s largesse and enamoured forbearance. It’s a fascinating thought that from birth to age 23 or 24, until the advent of the major label in late 1990-early 1991, Cobain rarely has the wherewithal to stand on his own two feet financially and, therefore, domestically; parents, the Reeds, the Schillingers, Tracy — Cobain benefitted over and again from the affection others had for him and the kindnesses they showed him. It takes a force of will or a deep wound to feel so alone when so many tried to bring him near. Now that’s a sadness. How about we all look away at this picture of one of Krist Novoselic’s homes for a moment…

Krist's Home

Now, I don’t think I’m revealing any secrets when I say that people make a holiday more than places. I also believe that there are some things in life where one simply enjoys the experience and keeps the camera tucked away — I didn’t take many shots of Sleeper Cell playing in Tacoma because I preferred to sink into the moment and enjoy the honour they were doing me. Two similar experiences occurred during the tour of Aberdeen and the surrounding area. Over in Montesano, at the former trailer home of Leyland Cobain, Kurt’s grandfather, I was lucky enough to meet Gary Cobain — Kurt’s youngest uncle — and his long-haired Chihuahua with her pleasingly rebellious streak. This wasn’t tourism, this was just meeting someone — I mainly stayed quiet, let these guys speak to one another (Mitch and Gary), shared a jokey line or two, let it be. Gary clearly isn’t one to trumpet the life and sad end of his nephew and that’s only to be respected. The trailer park had that well-modelled air of a golf course facility, tree-lines, well-tended lawns, tidy driveway branching off to the various homes; a comfy place it must be said. I don’t know what squeezing Kurt, his father, his grandparents into the single caravan must have been like — a little confined must be my nearest guess — but beyond the matter of space it was a pleasant and well kept exterior with a little set of steps to the door, a solid awning creating a porch/garage area, a not unwelcoming place. Again, letting people have their time together just gave me time to observe and agree I didn’t see a deep-set family resemblance.

The second experience of which I took no photos was the visit to the graves of Leyland Cobain, Iris Cobain, one of Kurt’s uncles and a distance relative who died young sometime in the 1920s (1926 I believe it said). Not everything needs recording, not everywhere is a tourist destination or fodder for sharing with the world. I believe there should always be places that are about communion with thoughts, a respectful pause in day-to-day concerns, some insufficient mark of respect for the dead. I didn’t want to do anything but stand, bow a moment, remember that these were real people and that this was their last remnant on Earth. Leyland’s grave proudly declares his time as a marine, flies a small flag, a vestige of what he was proudest of. I hope no one takes a photo of this place — there should be somewhere left that’s sacred. We stood a while — I tried to leave Mitch with his thoughts, Mitch worked for Leyland, they were close companions and having VERY recently lost someone dear to me the least I could do is share the peace. Eventually, nothing more to say or consider, we headed back to the car. It’s a well tended spot, a single stone for three/four relations then the earliest relative sitting a little apart.

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We moved on from there, via Raymond, to a small park, site of the 1991 Cosimopolis Festival at which Kurt’s aunt Mari sang and played. There’s some brief footage of it, undoubtedly someone has a better edition but what the hey…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5hXSXeqk_s
Just a quiet glade, tree canopy, children’s play area and significantly sized covered picnic area which has been elevated by simply adding cement pillars under each leg — it served as the bandstand in 1991 when Cobain popped by to spend time with his family. Was curious picking a spot by the riverbank to stand, one of the rare times that man ever returned to the vicinity of his family and his own personal history. I admit I’m genuinely unsure he would have approved of this kind of ramble through his past — that Foo Fighters’ line, “there goes my hero, he’s ordinary,” feels ever more apt. I guess the motto is be ordinary but choose to do extraordinary things — it’s something anyone can apply if they have a desire plus the guts to fulfil it.

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…Rest. I think I’ve poured out a few thousand words on Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Raymond, Montesano — a lot of memories and (probably too much) thought covering a place at the furthest edge of America away from where I live and breathe my daily air. I know I spluttered indignantly, and not perhaps in a balanced way, about the ups and downs and trials and tribulations of the area — I still need to go back and reduce the levels of inflammatory verbiage, try to move away from hyberbole. It’s both strange and wonderful to attend a place that is the nearest I might ever come to a Lourdes that suits my soul and loves. I really can’t get away from the sad sense of the place so quietly recalling its triumphs, even if I simultaneously acknowledge that this is a small place without the budgets a London or a New York might lavish; heck, when the highest paid academic officials in the U.S. are the football coaches it’s hard to imagine musicians or creative side souls being high on the list of ways to splash cash. I mean that line though, I travelled 22 hours from bedroom to hotel room door to get to Seattle. I trekked from Tacoma, to Olympia and onward over the course of a few days, all to get to Aberdeen; it marked the mid-point and simultaneously the furthest extent of my journey; all this travelling to make it there — that’s how significant Aberdeen is in my cosmology.

Any last thoughts? Not really. It was a physically pretty place with beautiful surroundings, but the declining fortunes of logging, the port, the industry has left it looking a bit baleful — ironic that the things that scarify the landscape and make it ugly make the town sadder for their fall. It maybe shows my naïve side that I’ve never been to a town where I’ve seen needles discarded in a public space, or someone twerking down the street (or on my damn bus!) thanks to whatever they’re on at that time of the morning — in a way it stands out for me because its rare and for good or ill I count rare as a good thing. I’ve also seen, however, good people whether Mitch, Dann and the Aberdeen Museum (check this! Do it! http://www.aberdeen-museum.org/kurt.htm), Gary, Ally from Raymond, Aaron Burckhard, plus all the people who’ve chipped into the blog this past week (I need to write up some of what you’ve all said — thank you Gary Lennon and Steven Friederich!). I’ve also seen the time and energies invested by individuals such as Lora Malakoff and her husband Kim, or by Tori Kovach (non-geezer, true trooper), or Kathi Hoder, or Denny Jackson, or the Kurt Cobain Memorial Foundation or the crew who made the ‘breaker’ happen (replace each ‘or’ with an ‘and’ and amend grammar and phrasing accordingly.) This isn’t an object of study, it’s a real place, with a lot of people putting time and energies into making it a better one. A genuine hope for that. Its also nice to know that Nirvana isn’t yet safe enough that everyone agrees on it – that counts for a lot.

Heck, all very well for me to snipe but given the number of Nirvana fans out there you’d think that a campaign that hooked in LiveNirvana, the Internet Nirvana Fan Club, the thousands of Facebook groups and Twitter feeds, the Tumblrs, the Reddits, all this other gubbins, you’d think there’d be enough loose change for the fans (like me) who give two hoots (I think I do…I’d like the four novel’s worth of words on this hobby site, plus the book, plus the several hundred graphics and photos spread across the 281 articles online and counting, plus the fact I flew across the world to look — all taken into account when judging whether I care or not) to put together enough for something that was a worthy conclusion.

Go to Aberdeen. There’s a walking tour, there are willing guides, there’s a wicked monument in a meaningful location, there’s a sign at the edge of the city, there are surviving properties, there’s a star on the sidewalk…There’s enough to make it worth your while. Go see how your hero lived — it just made me realise there’s not much stopping me doing something amazing too.
Very late night rant concludes here with apologies for late night ranting and with photos of the abandoned nuclear power station complex at Satsop. If they’d finished building it and had put it into operation before realising that a major fault line ran right through it then we probably wouldn’t be touring the area today…

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As an aside, if you want to do the Nirvana tour, I’m really hoping I’ve been putting enough information up here that you can get around — maybe I’ll synthesise it sometime into a reduced PDF and just stick it up for free download, let’s see if I ever have time. As an extended coda to the aside, public transportation note! So, Seattle to Tacoma, you’ve multiple options. I took the Amtrak but there’s also some kinda light railway I never had time to check out that’ll get you all the way into Central Tacoma — get yourself to the King Street Station in Seattle. Cost isn’t exorbitant, the Amtrak was $11 U.S. dollars. Tacoma to Olympia, even easier, there’s a wealth of buses from Commerce Street (603, 605, etc.) and it’s a flat $3 fare — just make sure you have exact change, they’re insistent on it. Olympia’s bus station is the last stop and its central to everywhere you would wish to go bar the college.

Buses

I may have mentioned, but I went up to the information desk at the Olympia bus station and merrily announced “good afternoon, I’m trying to get the bus over to Aberdeen, was hoping you could tell me what I need to do and where?” The lady simply burst out laughing in my face; turns out it was 50% how cute she thought my accent was and 50% the fact I was asking for Aberdeen. You’ll get that a lot; mention Aberdeen and people don’t pay it many compliments; my raving post yesterday probably told you as much. The bus for Aberdeen is easy enough, the 40. I’ve included a deeply unexciting photo of the bus times from Olympia at the top of the page. It’s a gentle ride and, to be honest, peering out at McCleary, or at Satsop, it makes Aberdeen look like the most lively place in the area. All I recall from the bus ride – acknowledging that’s just an impression not a full reality and assessment of a locale – is the odd hair salon, childcare services, a garage or petrol station.

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The view from the hospital is very fine indeed – as usual, impossible to capture in a lens what the eye can take in from up there. It emphasised, in a way that my scrawling over Google Maps had not, how unified Aberdeen/Hoquiam are and the size of the town being looked at. I admit I’d considered spending the night tucked in the emergency waiting room at the hospital to gain some small sense of the Cobain experience in his late teens but frankly it sounded like a horrible way to pass a night, I can’t even get any sleep worth a damn on a plane let alone in the brightly-lit confines of a hospital surrounded by random strangers, during the night hours when the drug/drink/domestic casualities reach their peak craziness, with doors whipping open, staff jogging through, calls going out for people to report/attend/visit…Regardless of whether it was for a few nights here and there or a few weeks at a time, this isn’t a life I’d want. It’s poverty.

Aaron Assistant Manager

I had a perfect night’s sleep at the Guesthouse Inn & Suites on East Heron Street – I crashed so deep I didn’t even notice the trains announcing themselves on the track running past. Part of the benefit of the place is to get there from the bus, so easy, with the station at your back, walk down the main street to the right, take the first left, go past the Jack in the Box and over the steel bridge at the end of the road and its on your right. Room was neat too – spacious, I could actually sit and write comfortably at the writing desk. Bed did my sore back a world of good…Though next morning Mitch greeted me in the carpark with the line “find any needles in yer bed?” Before explaining some incident that had been in the papers in which a kid was put to bed only to be jabbed by a discarded needle (http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Family-Girl-pierced-by-bloody-syringe-left-in-hotel-bed-157362125.html). Ow…Nasty. Anyways, frankly, given my past life in an Events division and my experience of hotels, a story like that doesn’t worry me too much one way or another – hotels are full of bad moments, inevitable with an endless population of transient people, regardless of where it is or how many stars it like to parade. I slept well. It also granted me a view back to the Burger King where Aaron Burckhard was manager – remember a lot changes in an American town, even one as merrily slow moving as Aberdeen. There’s another venue up the road that people mistake for one of Krist’s early places of employment, it ain’t.

Judys

The whole town is scattered with locations of more or less significance to the Nirvana story, names known (or I admit that Mitch usually reminded me of) from the bibliography. For example, the photo above is Judy’s, mentioned in Come as You Are as the location Cobain and co. got old records and so forth from – it’s still there but it’s entitled Judy’s Flea Market and it’s unclear if its still a going concern or simply waiting for someone to take a risk and clear out the mountainous stacks of books from the interior…

Welfare Check

This piece of scrapland meanwhile has no great claim to memorialisation except it served as the address Kurt Cobain had used for a welfare cheque. Taking a photo of it has a certain purposelessness but let’s be real, is there ever a point to the millions of MBs of photos now flooding the world bar shared amusement and personal memorialisation of whatever possesses momentary significance or serves a storyline? Most photos say nothing unless one has a connection to what is being recorded. For me, it simply serves as a reminder of how thoroughly Cobain’s life and movements are woven into the landscape of Aberdeen.

Aberdeen Library

Moving up the scale of references, this is the Aberdeen Library – same building, same location, internal refurbishment – in which Cobain passed time during his semi-derelict days. I admit I’ve never speculated on whether it played any role in the creation of his music, whether any of that dreadfully disjointed time yielded a song, a lyric, a note of later audibility…To me it represents another piece of his itinerant years as well as a gap in knowability, something that cannot be recovered unless someone knows something I don’t (which happens so often I wouldn’t be surprised…)

YMCA

This is the YMCA where Cobain occasionally received casual work – the building is unaltered though the logo is gone from the exterior, I just wish I could find the photo at short-notice where the building is sitting in the background behind the band. Now we’re talking proximity, opposite is the sports-ground where Cobain would act as coach for local little league teams, the Schillinger residence is across on the side at right angles to the YMCA while Judy’s sits opposite and at the other right angle to the YMCA.

Cobain Graffitti Locale

Now we’re into the realms of Cobain’s brief period of teenage delinquency; the building above was tagged along one side with “AiNtGoTnOwHaTcHaMaCaLlIt” as Cobain confessed in a statement written later that evening at the police station, the alleyway in which is cohorts hid in the bins is just alongside and brilliantly, just to emphasise what an amusingly dim-witted act it was, if you walk through the carpark under the building you’ll see the Police Station on the other side. Alas, our ‘hero’ was not always a genius it must be said. Again, thanks to Mitch for linking up these anecdotes for me so flawlessly and giving me a chuckle at Cobain’s expense.

Cobain Graffitti

This was the venue for the cheerily provocative “Homo Sex Rules” incident and then the following…

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Was the building where Cobain was arrested for drunk and disorderly having been found on the roof in a bit of a state. This is where the mugshot image that has been circulating periodically comes from. Oh, and that YMCA building also got tagged at one point too – and Heavier Than Heaven said something about an arrest for underage consumption of alcohol in Seattle. I admit to feeling bad at this point, for all the high points of Aberdeen – the museum, the glorious view from the hospital, the comfy motel, the Cobain park and memorial – I’ve realised I’m a significant way through this second post and I’m recording Cobain’s burgeoning succession of petty misdemeanours. They’re kinda tedious in a way, part of the legend of a man who grew to be something but spent quite some time engaged in acts of such desultory insignificance – I feel bad now criticising the feeble nature of the graffiti decorating the ‘Cobain bridge’ given he himself failed to indulge his finer artistic abilities when set loose on the streets of Aberdeen.

Looking back at the photo of the Burger King where Aaron Burckhard was manager for a while I realise it’d be equally possible to tour Aberdeen on the basis of fast food joints, supermarkets, corner stores and other day-to-day interactions of the Cobain life. It similarly reminds me, however, of the point I made the other day about medieval veneration of the relics of saints; its strange transplanting pilgrimage from the imaginary landscape of medieval shrines, springs, castles and churches to the modern terrain of clapboard houses, anonymous box buildings, blank walls and quietly sleeping grasses. In a further time-travel though, I’m sure more than a few pilgrims, having taken the long treks across the country or continent may have paused and thought “this doesn’t look like anything” before remembering the deeper faiths, desires and venerations that had led them so far.

Weatherwax Building, Aberdeen High School Remains

A final note of amusement and also one putting perspective on Cobain’s less desirable exploits; this sculpture was built from the remains of the Weatherwax Building of Aberdeen High School. The building was burned to the ground by two kids who were so worried about bad report cards that they broke in and tried to burn them only to end up with an out-of-control blaze and the desutrction of the entire building – way to go kids! Brilliantly dim and worth a ‘laugh or you’ll cry’ chuckle! (http://www.komonews.com/news/archive/4030841.html) The fact the town took the time to make something memorable and impressive from the remains is another great positive of Aberdeen – it’s a really wicked piece of work and very much worth a look.
(http://thedailyworld.com/sections/news/local/%E2%80%9Cbreaker%E2%80%9D-dedicated-weatherwax-high-stones-will-live.html) To my point, I actually end up feeling pretty good about the world when I see something like this; not just because of the making of something beautiful from a bad moment in time. What actually fills me with confidence is knowing that civilisation’s young are both smarter than ever and as capable of dim-wittedness as ever; there’s no need to be afraid of ‘the youth of today’ when they’re so similar to the youth of yesterday.

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Very aware a post was due days ago but an absence of time plus an absence of a decent Internet connection has had me on pause, that’s on top of the ongoing travelling.

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Nirvana. World-conquering demi-God band; significant in the short history of recorded music. Indeed, all true. And yet this is where they started…

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A totally ordinary one floor home where they played that first house party in March 1987. 17 Nussbaum Road is a pleasant looking property but the image in my head is trying to count how many people I can imagine cramming into any of the rooms of that house, especially with a band set up in a corner. There might have been a few dozen in the building but barely more than a dozen could have been in the room and enjoying Nirvana.

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I’ve tried to capture a few shots of the area around the house just to give a real sense of how stand-alone and isolated the property is. I’d always imagined some riotous suburban hangout akin to the Caddyshack Nirvana played at later…Couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m always suspicious of rags-to-riches narratives simply because its too easy and simplistic a story-telling mechanism, it’s the application of fiction to real-life. There is a degree of truth though in the humbleness of Nirvana’s beginnings and the fluke of their success which is emphasised when looking at the house.

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Kurt, Krist and Aaron had been practising some six months by the time this show happened; they were comfortable sitting at home rehearsing endlessly. Listening to the recording of the 17 Nussbaum Road show (readily available and in suprisingly high quality) its pretty obvious how well drilled they are; even in the confines of someone’s living room, at a random party and all drunk to various degrees, the songs come through loud and clear with few errors. For sure, Cobain already shows that he was never a soloist in the Jimmy Page tradition, nor would he ever be, but he’s getting it together – scrappy but really fun covers wouldn’t be unheard of in future years either.

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The show didn’t happen though of Nirvana’s own choosing. It happened because Ryan Aigner, after trying for ages to persuade Cobain that it was time for the band to play in front of a wider audience, finally pulled the trigger, turning up on Cobain’s doorstep telling him the show was happening and they needed to get in the van now.

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The arrangement nearly cost Ryan his job given the van was impounded the next morning – he had to beg the pound to open specially on a Sunday to let him have it back. Incidentally, the exact date of the first Nirvana show is seemingly unknown – a shame no one can trace the birthday boy and ask him. For the record though, as it happened on a Saturday it would therefore have been either the 7th, 14th, 21st or 28th…I wonder which!

Anyways, while we’re talking about wrenching miracles and life-changing events from the everyday, this photo is from Montesano:

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This is the location where Kurt Cobain saw the Melvins show that convinced him music was his future goal and destination. Nothing much to look at now but the acorns indeed grew.

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Finally! God bless Starbucks at SW Oak St/SW 4th Ave Portland (including Allison, Diana, Daniella and Mandy) for having decent WiFi service! Thank you guys – perfect service, hope the management knows you’re cool. A full day its taken me to get this uploaded. Phew. Now, let me confess to a serious error of judgment. A few months back I remember the articles about how Aberdeen, WA was considering removing the ‘Come as You Are’ sign outside of town — I thought it was just a case of local authorities drumming up interest and attention; It didn’t make sense to me, the idea of a town choosing to delete its most famous son.

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It makes more sense now. I’m stunned how innocent I’ve been…A certain (small) portion of Aberdeen is genuinely embarrassed by an association with a man they see as a representative of drug culture and nihilism; regardless of the beauties of his art or the scale of his achievement, irrespective of how much inspiration and positivity was bestowed on people who came to love his music. I’d like to thank Mitch at this point for giving me a thorough and informed tour of the town — I couldn’t have been in better hands, he was there then, he’s here now, he knew Kurt and Krist personally and had a long standing friendship with Leland Cobain. If you’re ever thinking of heading to the area and you’re game to pay the man for his time and energies then I can totally recommend him to you. He’s a guardian of history, heritage and local memory.

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My surprise arises from numerous sources, for example, there the statue of Kurt Cobain now located in a motor garage because the town wouldn’t accept it for the park. There is though a Cobain star on the sidewalk where he shares space with a guy who coached the U.S. soccer team for the Olympics and the inventor of the self-cleaning oven.

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And the famous bridge under which Cobain spent time as a teenager, inspiration for the song Something in the Way? A gentleman called Tori Kovach, a man in his seventies who still saw the artistry and talent in the music of Kurt Cobain (albeit only loving the MTV Unplugged in New York performance) took personal responsibility for creating the memorial space and still takes the time day-by-day to clean and maintain it. Firstly, that’s a beautiful thing for a private individual to do, though he states plainly that a degree of support was provided by the town.

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The ultimate expression for me though was how sad it was to see that the old shack at 1000 ½ East Second Street was demolished to leave a barren plot of waste-ground. It was on this site that the song Mrs. Butterworth from the With the Lights Out box-set was recorded and for mere pennies a place that lures many respectful and starry-eyed tourists to the furthest corner of the U.S. could have been purchased, maintained and turned into something of beauty. Instead it was torn down and left as a rutted piece of overgrown scrub.

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I’m quite serious. THis is the site of 1000 1/2 East Second Street – sad isn’t it? Its hard to tell if this is just overzealous town-planning or a deliberate desire to erase Kurt Cobain from the history of Aberdeen. I mean, I was delighted to be able to stand on the exact spot where Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Aaron Burckhard recorded the song known as Mrs Butterworth (plus two other unreleased shreds) but still…Sad!

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Aberdeen is a place with a few problems – perhaps this shouldn’t overshadow the good of the town but remember this was a very brief visit I made and my opinion based on a single day doesn’t add up to the totality of the place. I was still stunned though. I’ve never been to a town where a crystal-meth user got on the bus to town, body twitching and jolting, where I saw another couple as soon as I got off the bus, saw the lady from the bus again the next morning — and that’s not counting the number of alcoholics and visible homeless. The sheer quantity really did stand out; I’d already been surprised by the scale of the homeless situation in the Pacific North-West, I live in a city of ten million and still don’t quite see this many people in need – Aberdeen’s centre, given the scale of the town, seemed quite a magnet for this. Mitch showed me a photo of a doped-up guy naked on top of a Police car – hilarious but…No, hold on, I still think its hilarious. It explains Gillian G. Gaar’s mention of the guy arrested the other year in Aberdeen who kept protesting as he was carted off that he was Kurt Cobain.

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On the other hand, it’s genuinely not an unpleasant place either, I’m not saying its an awful town – it isn’t! I was lucky catching it on a bright, sunny day — so hot my lengthy nose has burned — but the scenery all around is spectacular, the river and sea inlet lend that good vibe that always arises from proximity to waters, the town streets are clean and peaceful. It really did have a good vibe all day long – so quiet too, we drifted quite a distance round town, as you’ll see in subsequent posts, barely meeting a soul out among the houses. A very pleasant lady over by that Cobain address I mentioned earlier took the time to come out and tell us she still has photos of the place as it used to be – I always like it when strangers take the time to talk to me.

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The town has a comfortable uniformity, mostly looking like the buildings are unchanged since the 1920s when a lot of the clapboard houses went up. On the other hand, those same features have their other side; the town streets are quiet because most of the main street is closed up shops. It did look like a town in a slump – this is not to overlook the truly wicked Star Wars shop, of course, the biggest collection of Star Wars I’ve ever seen and apparently a magnet for rich collectors. There’s a certain amount of Nirvana stuff tucked into one of the crammed corners of this place.

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I was a bit surprised by the loan place, religious establishment and porn store sandwiched up next door to one another — it’s stood for me as a bit of a metaphor for that small minority who would refuse to celebrate one of the few spectacular lives to emerge locally then wonders why there’s not more ambition or spirit among its young. Oh, by the way, that’s the main street in Aberdeen I kid thee not!

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There’s also that industrial edge to the place but not enough to keep the town in work and functioning smoothly – the logging activity is down to the bone so what the heck is left…?

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As an example of that mood at work, the plaque by the bridge that Tori maintains, the town authorities took the time to come and demand he scrub the word ‘f*** from a Cobain quotation; yet it looks like its all on Tori to clear up the litter that people leave there. Whenever I mentioned, in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, that I was heading out to Aberdeen, people laughed, it seems to be seen as the scowling alcoholic in the corner everyone makes jokes about — but then, I’m kinda sure a more celebratory attitude and a warmer vibe to the place would really help. I’m sure someone’ll say that its about zero tolerance, about tough love, about self-reliance – frankly all three phrases are euphemisms for fighting the lazy n’ easy battles rather than having the courage or endurance to deal with the hard, complex and lengthy wars; lazy phrases that sound tough but are limp-wristed and lame in practice. It seems that the Cobain memorialisation work has been primarily a private endeavour.

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To be fair, I can understand nervousness about Cobain. I was shocked that under the bridge some people are coming along cooking up heroin and leaving their needles there as a tribute to Cobain. The idea that anyone would look at the absolute decay in his productivity and creativity and decide the moral of the tale is to celebrate drugs is imbecilic in the extreme — almost awe-inspiringly stupid. There’s definite criticism to be made of the truly ignorant fans who would do this.

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But that doesn’t justify attempts to tar ALL Nirvana fans with the same brush (anymore than what I write here is an attempt to get at ALL people from Aberdeen, that’d be ludicrous) – I’ve got two degrees from Cambridge University, have written and published one book, work at a homeless shelter one Saturday a month, love my family and have a desk job for a major corporation; does that make me too normal to be a true Nirvana fan? In the eyes of a certain portion of Aberdeen, fans like me who love the music, are inspired by the man, but don’t approve of all his actions, don’t exist.

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It’s also a tragedy that instead of fans taking the time for true art of the kind their hero dedicated himself to, they’ve reverted to lunk-headed “I was ‘ere” graffiti that lends nothing to any legacy, not even respect. But then, some people will claim its all part of ‘anarchy’ and ‘punk values’…Strange. I look at the music of Nirvana and see energy under control, precisely deployed, practised in a dedicated manner, expressed with polish and poise…Not daubs. For perspective, I love good graffiti art – there’s so much street talent out there; I’d just like to see more of it. Again, its a fair reason to be dubious about drawing yet more people in.

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The positive side is people like the guy we met just as we were leaving who had chosen to come spend a little time in contemplation there, or the Spanish family Mitch met once who flew all the way from Spain to scatter their son’s ashes into the River Wishkah simply because Cobain had meant so much to their son (he died in an auto-accident). Heck, my take on the Cobain story has always been that history doesn’t have to be written by the landed gentry, by the corporate elite, by those with money or power — you can be anyone, from anywhere, and if you put your all into it you can do something amazing whether or not anyone else knows it. Aberdeen, if it chose to formalise and live out that side of the Cobain message could be a true inspiration.

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The local museum was good fun by the way — thanks to Dann for being such a pleasure to hang out with there. It’s fun being in a town so small that they can even tell which was the very first piano in town — that’s incredible to me, wonderful when the origin of an item such as that can be traced so readily to a marriage between founding families.

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The old fire engines were fascinating too; the horse-drawn fire engine was still being used as late as 1944! There’ll be a music exhibit opening at the museum sometime in the near future focusing initially on the Melvins — that’ll be worth seeing. If you do go to Aberdeen do pop in and take a look at the town’s donated items and relics. I did history at uni so browsing old items tickles me. They even have a Mrs. Butterworth jar — ironic that it should become the town’s main monument to that lost song when there was once a tiny place just down the road that could have been so.

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I was told a story while we were in the museum, that a family came from Germany to visit Kurt Cobain locations – parents, two kids, a respectable family. They decided, while here, that they should buy a Nirvana CD in Aberdeen so off they went to the major local supermarket and into the music section where the Nirvana section stood empty…They inquired about whether they had any Nirvana CDs in stock and were told “we don’t stock that crap.” They were stunned. The guys with me didn’t believe it so went back, got the manager, asked again, and received the precise same answer. Stunning… In fact the museum is the only place in town you can buy a Nirvana CD in Aberdeen – they had to order to a different state just to get a few copies of the Heavier than Heaven book.

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I will say though, its easier to explain the more troubled aspects of Kurt Cobain having visited Aberdeen. Its understandable that the vibe of the town, the attitude of certain portions of it toward creative arts types let alone teenager trouble-makers and drug-users (which he was, no mistake) would not have been inviting or welcoming. Beyond the flippant point though he really is a local product; people want to see him as a representative of some kinda wooly drug-addled liberalism when this really is a guy who believes fervently in gun-ownership, who has no truck with ‘hippy types’ and who has a sexually puritan streak in him too. Heck, he marries his girlfriend when he gets her pregnant – the boy from the town that looks like 1950 ends up acting like he is too. Kurt Cobain is Aberdeen’s son no doubt about it. It explains a degree of his self-criticism too; not only does he come from a town that was clear it hated most of what he was, he was sharp enough to know that he exhibited a lot of the same traits as his critics. Just a shame he expressed this complexity in a dour self-destructiveness.

I’ll halt there. More Aberdeen touring tomorrow – I promise I had a GOOD TIME!!! I’m sorry it turned into a bit of a rant but… My thinking is always the same; wishing away the downsides of something just makes one look like a liar, like a child who can’t stand scary stories so still reads kids’ books at age thirty in a pretence that real life isn’t more complex than good/bad, nice/nasty.

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It’d be nice to come back see the city had seized control of Kurt Cobain’s story in Aberdeen; it would give the town the chance to speak and show that there was a lot of good to it — to speak more of the creativity and hard work and positive small town values that took Cobain to the pinnacle of world fame. A proper Cobain exhibit in the museum, a Cobain walking tour making use of the excellent presenting skills and long memory of a number of local residents, a small driving tour and more information online about how to do it, a touch of care and TLC to the places of interest and reinforcement of Tori’s efforts — the authorities in Aberdeen could be true neighbours. I’m serious that something as minimal as the ‘blue plaque’ scheme that operates in London to identify properties of significance could draw attention to the town’s legacy. If the town doesn’t want to attract troubled souls, if it wants to attract a higher-class of tourist, more trade for local restaurants and motels, more chances for local work for local people, mothers and fathers bringing their kids to check out the place where their own childhood hero lived, then the town needs to pick a strategy that isn’t about telling those tourists to piss off. I didn’t see much that was about official efforts rather than local enthusiasts. Both have their place but more of the former would give the community as a whole greater control.

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Similarly, it’d show people locally that regardless of their sins and flaws, the city will live out Christian values by leaving God to do the judging. It would show people that they would be supported and celebrated for the good they do, rather than excoriated and spoken of only in terms of the worst they can be — maybe it’d be a more spirited message to present to the young of a town where there are few jobs and a few problems. I’ve taken out an over-dramatic end line here, I was wrong, it was writing for impact not reality so I’d rather show it by formally saying that a line had vanished in the reediting; I would go back to Aberdeen. And at its best it was a pretty place; for a Nirvana fan it’s a must-see place once in your life.

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I’ll let this stand alone. I can’t believe it!

…As in, I can’t believe I lost at pool. As I said to Aaron, “I don’t care if you were Nirvana’s first drummer, I still wanna beat you!” And I didn’t. Slim margins but he was a deserved 2-1 victor, he should have beat in the first game too if the black ball hadn’t gone down along with the white. We had driven over to a bar on Fourth Avenue in Olympia and after time spent in the yard enjoying the warm night we moved inside to play a bit longer.

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Wish I was feeling more photogenic by the time we took a brief photo, I kid myself I ever look better than that in photos; a whole day trekking round in the car with Mitch had left both of us sun-fried and fuzzy-eyed. An excellent tour.

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Anyways, Aaron has just been brought onboard as drummer for Under Sin with the gentleman who had been handling drums for them preferring to move to guitar. The band’s first show with him will be in October and there are a couple of radio sessions coming up — look out for them, link up to them and enjoy. Aaron played a couple of the band’s songs in the car stereo, we’re talking a more metallic edge than Nirvana, a heavier sound built around precise riffage — you’ll like it. Aaron was very clearly delighted to be involved with them, a sea of compliments about the talent of his new band members, incapable of not drumming along on top of his bag while sat in the back of the car, talking about the plans ahead of them…That’s the impression I’ll take with me, a guy who clearly takes drumming seriously, love to be involved with good musicians and wants to make sure his contribution is pin-perfect. It’ll always be a shame there isn’t more on record of his work (and Dave Foster’s work too actually) with Nirvana.

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And I’m still not happy I lost; this is a holiday sulk! It’s not often I get competitive, and part of me wants to claim I’d have won if it was British pool not American pool we were playing (yeah, right…!), but…Nah, I’ll stop joking. It was fun just shooting the breeze, downing a few beers, enjoying the good company of Aaron and Mitch and just being real people rather than tourist, former Nirvana drummer and former childhood friend of Kurt and Krist.

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