Yeuch, I think I’m going to have to apologise immediately; the title today is very ‘tabloid expose’, how horrible…Read it more that I’m still slightly stunned by good fortune’s turns. Genuinely the most important word these past few days has been serendipity — the moments where the world has clunked together like a Lego kit only for me to realize it’s a Mona Lisa level of Lego beauty. Tomorrow I’ll rewind to Tacoma for a while, there’s more to say about the place.
Today though, the day commenced with a well-earned hangover courtesy of Ryan’s truly excellent homebrew and when the mist departed and was replaced by scorching heat, I discovered immediately I had at least two layers too many on and that towing 25-30kg of luggage with me was going to add a certain piquant delight to my time in Olympia. The bus network in State of Washington is actually superb. $3 dollars got me from Tacoma to Olympia on the 603 bus from Commerce Street, less than an hour’s ride with an extremely cheerful and chatty driver and general comfort. There also turns out to be about three other bus options too.
The bus station in Olympia has a real convenience about it too, a store owner explained to me that the area around Fourth Avenue is the central shopping area; quite a closely clustered and well-packed set of streets. Olympia lived up to its reputation for having an artistic vibe — antique shops, arts and crafts stores, a couple of record stores, a milkshake bar, relaxed cafes. The proximity of the waters (the Budd Inlet) made for a pleasant hour or so chilling in a park in sunshine looking at the trees lining the hillsides on the other side of the inlet.
So, it had to be done. Walk along Fourth Avenue, cross Plum which is a fairly big road, then Pear Street is next up. Number 114 Pear Street NE being literally one block up and within sight of Fourth Avenue. No prizes for recognizing the photo at head of page.
This is where fate decided to play some games. I was lining up a photo which I never got to take because I noticed this young bloke walking toward the house. Realising he wasn’t just another fanatic cult worshipper (like me) and that he actually did mean to be walking toward the front door my gut took over and I hollered. Thus I met Jeff.
Jeff is a student at Evergreen State College and a thoroughly pleasant fella — and Jeff just happens to share 114 Pear Street NE with a number of other student housemates. Hearing what I was up to, about the book and so forth, he was totally wicked and gave me a brief tour in exchange for a copy of the Dark Slivers book. He explained the set up of the house is that its divided into three premises hence when you approach you’ll see a series of numbered boxes at the door with the separate entrance to number three being round at the side in a passageway.
The understanding of the flat-mates is that the young couple lived together in one of the front two sections then Cobain moved into the back area accessible via the side doors – the little side section of the house being where he lived for a time.
We sat in the lounge for a while, chatted on a bit, Jeff explained that on February 20 each year the residents are really used to finding gifts and offerings on the front door — there’s even one that now has pride of place up on one of the ceiling arches in the lounge. Jeff let me look around, I tried to be considerate of the fact this isn’t some museum, nor is it a public space, it’s home to people who are as bemused by the twenty-five year old history of the house as I was to be allowed to walk through its front door — not something I’d planned on or even imagined!
Here’s perspective; though Cobain recorded at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard, there’s no evidence that between January 1994, when he moved in, and his death in April, that he wrote even one song — Do Re Mi may have been recorded that year but there’s no evidence whether it was written in those short days too. 114 Pear Street, on the other hand, can be definitely linked to the writing of around 46-50 songs, a full 75% of Cobain’s total creations.
That’s how significant this house is — its where he writes everything from Smells Like Teen Spirit to early versions of All Apologies, its where he writes the first shot at Big Cheese and probably Beeswax too. Even the Montage of Heck was likely fused together here. It’s a surprisingly lovely home. Large windows let a ton of light in, its south facing, plenty of floor space — just a decent place. The present residents have kindly heaped luggage and junk all over the front room to give it that ‘Cobain clutter’ feel though without the creepy meat collages or the old crosses!
Across the road is the apocryphal Washington State Lottery building that Cobain (and Grohl) used to shoot the windows out of with an air-gun. The flat-mates say that a while back they had a knock on the door and Dave Grohl was stood there with a camcorder and said he was filming a documentary, used to live there and would they mind…? Gee…Did they mind?!
The awareness of the history of Nirvana was heartening, to meet someone and ten minutes later they’re mentioning the video experiments Nirvana attempted at Evergreen State College, or the gig at the library, asking questions about Calvin Johnson and K Records — the new generation knows the past history of creativity in the area just fine. Jeff introduced me to the music of Naomi Punk while he was at it:
I took my leave eventually and headed back toward town; there was no way I was going to make it out to the Evergreen State College, or to Library 4300, so I stuck to town and spent time over at the Capitol Lake Park where Nirvana played support in 1988 to Soundgarden alongside My Name and Swallow. A picturesque place, quite funny imagining grunge bands playing in blissful State of Washington summer on a day like today.
I eventually headed back to the bus station where the lady at the counter laughed openly when I announced my destination — “its not that, I just think your accent is the cutest thing!” Ah bless. Sitting around waiting for the next step on the travels, definitely didn’t see much of Olympia but to be fair it’s a small centre, I’m unsure what more I needed to see and in that heat the walk to the college would potentially have caused frazzled nastiness and sunstroke. My “Tacoma: Love it or Leave it” t-shirt (worn with pride) was already clinging to me. Plenty of small incident in the next twenty minutes; tragically a genuine moron was riding a bike with his dog in a rucksack on his back when the dog slipped out while they were going up a curb and he proceeded to run over the dog’s leg — sad, dog alive but clearly in pain going by the extensive howling. On the other side of me a guy was negotiating to exchange substantial quantities of marijuana in return for some tattoo work from a fella. Life is full of curiosities if one doesn’t mind eavesdropping.
And sometimes it bestows real treats, like getting to shoot the breeze with a cool bloke on the sofa in Kurt Cobain’s house from spring 1987 until mid-1991. Wow. Day over.
9 thoughts on “Nirvana Tour Hits Olympia: Inside Kurt Cobain and Tracy Marander’s Former Home”
Bravo! Great article! Thank you for loving our little city.
Truly, hand on heart, the North West United States is populated by the friendliest and most selflessly helpful people I’ve ever met. Americans can get such a kneejerk bad rep abroad but I’ve always had such excellent experiences with you all – you lot rock! 🙂
jared leto filmed part of Prefontaine around the corner in slyvester park.
That would be the “Washington State” Lottery Building , I have lot’s of interior shots of the two units that Kurt did live in on my facebook page under “Oly Pics”
I’ll amend. Cheers fella.
‘gifts and offerings on the front door’ – Wow, so strange, but I guess people leaving flowers at graves is the same; the dead (probably) won’t appreciate it, it’s more to make the living feel better? Trying to imagine who’d do that, ‘kids’ – so I thought of me as a teenager & I’d’ve probably done the same with Jim Morrison’s grave, or if he’d had a house nearby (in England, lol.) Thanks for sharing your experience ❤️ I love vicarious travel! & was a major Nirvana /Cobain fan. Still am, but.. so long ago, & it’ll always be tinged with that cloud. Olympia’s way sunnier, & ‘posher’, than I’d envisaged; I forget how big, open, America is, different. *Asked in an interview, jokingly, what if their child ‘ends up a total square?’ Kurt’d quipped back “Then we’ll send her to Olympia.”
Superb quote! Love it. 🙂 And hey, I’d be intrigued to hear about your experiences of Olympia and beyond – you’ve been up that way?