Archive for October, 2013

Bleach Tape - Cobains Writing

I’m fascinated by the song Big Long Now. Ignoring questions of good/bad (given those are personal opinions of no relevance to anyone other than oneself) and ignoring queries about the audio quality of the recording (given such factors are technological issues of neutral import and no relevance to whether a track is good/bad/indifferent), what interests me is its unique status. It’s the only original outtake from the Bleach sessions – the Chad version of Hairspray Queen simply being an unseen alternative to the January 1988 version. That singular status makes it intriguing to me. In the interview for the Dark Slivers book, Jack Endino stated that there were no additional takes of Big Long Now “one take, bam!” which means there’s that version on Incesticide, the rehearsal video on With the Lights Out…And that’s it. That fact that it’s the only song on the album-length releases during Cobain’s lifetime to not end up on a live bootleg, to never make it onto a live recording – it gives it an air of mystery.

In passing, while touring Tacoma, I was spending the afternoon with John Purkey and he pointed out that the song was featured on the demo tape Kurt Cobain personally handed to him – the raw tape of the Bleach sessions. I commented on how unique it is, that there are no live versions and no one knows when it was played…John casually replied “that’s not strictly true – I saw it twice…” And he remembers one of the venues too.

In the book I mentioned that Chad remembers playing the song – as does Jason Everman. Actually, heck, I don’t do this often but I’m going to quote my own work – the next two paragraphs are from Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide –

Chad Channing was drummer from sometime following a May 21, 1988 show, until his last show with the band on May 17, 1990. Chad has claimed the song was played during his time with the band. It has also been claimed that it was a favorite of Jason Everman—Nirvana’s second guitarist from February to July 1989. Also, in Portland, Oregon on June 10, 1989 a fanatical fan requested the song. Krist Novoselic then replied “we don’t play that one anymore.” The phrasing suggests there was a time when they did. Likewise, the fact the fan asked the question implies the song was played given he was asking for a song that was less than six months old and unreleased at that point. Unless the individual concerned had attended a home rehearsal he must have seen it live.

Furthermore, the timing is right. From April-October 1988 only eleven songs are known from sixteen shows and between January-July 1989 only three full and three partial set-lists are known from twenty-seven shows. This is the biggest gap in the Nirvana records. Tightening the noose; three of five set-lists are known for October-December 1988 so it makes it unlikely the song was unveiled until 1989. Yet the song is declared long dead on June 10,1989 and absent from the complete set-list of the band’s only show in May. This makes it possible to say that if, as the witnesses indicate, Big Long Now was played live, we can surmise it happened during at least one of the ten shows that took place between January and April 1989.

SO! Where does Jon’s information fit within that…? Well, what he said – without any further prompting – was “I saw Nirvana play it at a Dorm show at the Evergreen State College…” The first show he’s referring to is Jason Everman’s first show with Nirvana where they played Dorm K208 sometime in February. There’s a partial set-list available from the K208 show, just six songs. In other words, the claimed sighting of Big Long Now, as a live song, take place precisely where the evidence says it should be. Now there’s a show it’d be beautiful to see surface…

It also makes Big Long Now one of the songs Jason was drilled in upon entry to the band and prior to taking the stage with Nirvana – sometime in January he was made to learn this track so there’ll be rehearsal tapes around that time too, if we’re lucky and the band preserved them. It also clear that the song was one of the small number of songs created from scratch probably only just in time for the Bleach sessions alongside Sifting – early December is that first sighting…

Blew is a special song. Sub Pop, apparently, insisted Nirvana arrange Bleach in order of quality – best song first and, in my opinion, within the context of Bleach identity Nirvana the heaviness of Blew was the right choice. That the band didn’t particularly resent the choice can perhaps be implied by the fact that Blew is the third most played Nirvana live song (224 definite occasions beaten only by School on 270 and About a Girl on 251) and was the joint most long-lived Nirvana song on stage (played in 47 months – equal first with School) based on the current data at the Nirvana Guide.


Blew Plays

Blew, far more than Endless Nameless, was the song chosen to smash the show finale, to send the audience home on a high. Can I prove it? Well…Yeah, actually. I’ve a spreadsheet I’ve built showing the complete set-lists taken from the Nirvana Guide…I know…Obsessive or what? Blew is introduced to the set-list, apparently, on 19th March 1988. From that point, of 238 completely known set-lists between that date and 1st March 1994, Blew features 210 times. It formed the set-closer a whopping 88 times – quite impressive dominance given 33 other songs were the closer at some point or other. The nearest rival is Territorial Pissings on 49.

Blew as Set Closer 1987-1994

There’s a visible progression over time of course, 1994 – with Blew now a seven year old song – sees the first prolonged spell of absence for Blew; it was only played five times that year, only three of those times during the fifteen dates in Europe. On the one hand, while Blew remained an incredible persistent presence right through until that final year (as shown in the table below)…

Set-Opener 1987-1994

…It also gradually stopped being the likely set-closer, other songs took over and became the preferred option. What is noticeable though is that Blew never ceases to be a potential closer – it’s a set closer in every single year even if only once in 1992. It does, however, tail off as the most common set-closer from 1991 onward. It’s also visible why Endless Nameless received its reputation as Nirvana’s most common closer – it was most common as a set-list choice between August-November 1991 when Nirvana’s balloon was going up.

As ever, no personal reviews of specific releases (plenty of people giving their tuppence whether professionally or non-professionally) but over the past few months I’ve been musing on what makes the difference between a box-set release that satisfies me and one that doesn’t. As usual this is, of course, personal opinion.

A box set or super deluxe or whatever they want to call it next, is an attempt to monetise leftovers and archived remains – at least that’s what it means to the companies who sell them. Artistic integrity, of course, plays a role and the artists involved (usually) have to be persuaded that they aren’t tarnishing their credibility and reputation with the release – they have to believe there’s something more at stake. The marketing personnel sitting in between the management decision that there may be money to be made and the artist’s decision that there’s an untold story or a tale to be better told are more concerned with making sure there’s something exclusive or something novel involved. They examine the aspects of the ‘package’ that they can use as tools to create exclusivity and/or novelty and essentially there are only a pair of options; (a) content or (b) packaging.

DVD additions, live recordings, unreleased songs, specially commissioned new tunes, remixes, alternative versions, instrumentals – whatever. It’s all a form of novelty-creation and there’s a balance between the investment versus the expected return – getting a band to record an entirely new album to accompany a release would clearly be the ultimate novelty but sinking tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands would be a poor return given this kind of recording is reserved for bands lacking a current strength of output – even the Greatest Hits is the refuge of an outfit losing momentum. Getting more mileage out of the old stuff is both the raison d’etre of these releases and a commercial necessity if they’re going to be a profitable venture.

The packaging front similarly expands and advances with ever more intricate liner notes, booklets, recording notes, reviews, commentary – preferably by someone with a brand name cachet that resonates with the target audience (“Thurston Moore has been supplied with a pencil…Prepare for content…Go!”) Advancing the art work and including memorabilia counts within this category and reinforces the case. A further element beyond the physical product is things like the creation of promo videos and other activity engaged in by the band to market and sell the release – its an extension of that item at the core.

So. What makes a good one? When creating albums artists often dedicate time to choosing the right songs, positioning them, making sense of them as a unit – but ultimately, with the exception of concept albums – there’s a fairly arbitrary set of decisions occuring related to such amorphous things as ‘flow’, ‘progression’, ‘the story’, whatever. With box set style releases, the material is all things that was rejected from or excluded during that previous conceptualisation. But there still needs to be a reason to bring it altogether – a box set always has a reason or meaning. Examples I could point to here would be (a) Siouxsie and the Banshees At the BBC, a collection compiling their radio/TV appearances (b) Jimi Hendrix West Coast Seattle Boy showing Jimi Hendrix’s progression and the phases of his musical existence (c) the Stooges Complete Funhouse Sessions bringing together the complete archive of material recorded for the Funhouse album (d) anniversary releases, commemorations, compilations of singles…It allows someone to say what an object is about.

A box set – sorry to call it this, quicker than Super Deluxe or whatever – already circumvents the simple issue of quality. The material contained is a complilation of previously released (the new box set by the Clash compiling the majority of their albums) or previously rejected material. If the release is an archive release of stuff not intended for formal release or not considered fit to be released (the Jesus and Mary Chain’s The Power of Negative Thinking box) it’s possible to try to say ‘good/bad’ but the motivations for the purchase are not based on that – there may be a minimum level of acceptable quality but the real mover is based on the ideas of secret knowledge, completion, revealed mysteries. If it isn’t about quality in that case then another option – particularly with compilations compiling previously released material such as the Jesus and Mary Chain’s 21 Singles compilation or the Nirvana box-set of singles released in 1995, is convenience. But what turns a utilitarian package, or a package of scrap material into a ‘good’ release?

There are two ways, essentially, that a box set can be a winner. The first is based on a sense of occasion – something often lacking in the flood of media these days. A higher degree of randomness in the selection can be tolerated with releases that satisfy a pent-up demand for ‘something’. Therefore, the belief that Nirvana had a bottomless vault of leftover Cobain material led to the success of the With the Lights Out release. The fact that criticisms could be levelled at its selections/non-selections, the fact that higher quality versions of some songs existed, or that other unreleased material not released officially in any other version existed, or that some of the pieces could have done with some polishing up…This didn’t matter. Ten years worth of waiting meant the audience were ready for it and pushed it to ‘best selling box set of all time’ status. Deferred gratification created a winner and criticisms seemed like sour grapes given there genuinely was a wealth of impressive, unique, unheard and excellent material there. When married to frustrated desire, to a sense of ‘the moment’, good enough was as good as perfect.

The other way a box set can win is more fundamental, it can do so by answering the questions in the mind of the audience. If a boxset declares that it is The Complete Miles Davis at Montreaux 1973-1991 then the best way for it to create satisfaction is for it to deliver precisely what it claims to; i.e, it better bloody well be every performance from Montreaux. Columbia Records, to their credit, did an excellent job of this with a twenty disc deep release and good packaging and notes. This is crucial – if the release has any kind of unifying reason or purpose then that purpose needs to be explicit, clearly expressed and obvious. Having taken control of the release and set the terms of its success, the next step is to fulfill what the declared intention or implied intention is. At the lower end of the market, kicking out a deluxe edition just by wedging on tracks off singles and some live material is fine because deluxe editions have lost their prestige and are simply intended to drive someone to repurchase. For the larger items we’re discussing here, the box sets and super deluxe editions, there’s got to be a something far greater. Lacking a precise ‘meaning’ to a release it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy that an audience won’t be highly motivated.

The second way in which a box set can succeed and inspire is by being comprehensive. Decisions on an archive box set motivated by the supposed quality of a leftover, alternative version or demo are made ridiculous because by their very nature these items are all throw-aways, none of them was good enough so declaring one to be a superior-inferior doesn’t hold much water. Likewise, if the purchase isn’t motivated by long anticipation and ‘give us anything’ buying, then the motivation is simply because people want to see what’s there. In that situation, if a release only provides a certain piece of what could be shown, the result is a tease – it creates the question “but why didn’t you go all the way? Why didn’t you tell all?” Having planted that question in the minds of the audience the release has automatically failed to satisfy. That’s why it’s crucial to a good release to frame the terms of its success in order that the release can be declared complete.

There’s the issue of glut with any box set – to be complete, for example, a Sex Pistols box set would need to include multiple redundant versions of the same songs recorded over and over at multiple studio occasions, in some cases half a dozen or more. Rather than declaring defeat, however, the better solution would be to use this to justify more than one such box-set and simply declare that as the intention. Instead the Sex Box set would be better served by being shorter and therefore only containing the main studio album plus the songs that didn’t make it onto albums, while the more recent anniversary edition of Nevermind the Bollocks could have featured all the outtakes of the songs from that album. Its one possibility. By cutting it randomly with some in one place, some in another, it left each release open to criticism. Joy Division did a much better job with the Heart and Soul box set given it excludes (but acknowledges) the band’s previous punk recordings as Warsaw, excludes most of the session for their first album, but contains pretty well every other unique studio track they recorded – the exclusions are versions or in specific places rather than leaving them open to the charge of randomness.

The Jimi Hendrix compilation of BBC recordings, again, has a central reason and focus – then sets about fulfilling that purpose admirably. It can be declared a success because its there for a reason and gives the fans what it says they will. Another example would be the confined terms of Rage Against the Machine’s first album as the XX box-set. I’m biased because I adore this album but the inclusion of the complete demos from the first session makes total sense – the DVD inclusions are then added extras but, again, have a comprehensive sense of occasion with one being their first ever performance and the other being the performance given in the U.K. after Killing in the Name reached UK number one Christmas 18 or so years after first release – that book-ending of the DVDs was an excellent move and again contributed to the unified nature of the product. Without that sense of loss, or of purpose, or of completion, a release ends up unsatisfying particularly if significant information is known about the band and about what could have been included.

An unsatisfactory box set is easy to identify. It leaves out things that people want. Or it teases fans by showing that all of something exists…But then only gives them part of it for no apparent reason. It doesn’t live up to billing because it isn’t as enlightening or as dramatically different or new as has been claimed or as audiences have been led to believe. If it has no narrative, nothing that makes it OK to add one thing and drop another – no storyline – then it makes it harder to comprehend why one thing is there and not another.

Seattle this, Seattle that…What a sweet way to call an end to the Nirvana Tour phase of the Nirvana Legacy blog, by telling everyone that Nirvana stopped being a Seattle band long before they hit fame.

The reality of the U.S. music industry is that it, like most industries in most countries, is centred on particular locations. For bands wanting to make a successful career in music they have to go with both the demographics and access to the business; its how they make money. The ‘rootedness’, the idea of a band’s origins, is a crucial component of establishing their identity but isn’t necessarily key to understanding them as product. Initially its about creating a sense of the exotic, something new and different – “a Seattle band” circa 1988-1989 was a shorthand way for the media to easily emphasise difference in the same way that tagging something as southern hip hop in the mid-to-late Nineties was a way of establishing a different identity with consumers overloaded with East Coast/West Coast ID.

It’s an extension of a basic human urge of course, to belong. Most people identify themselves as their origin or birthplace rather than by their day-to-day living space. Nirvana, despite the origin in Aberdeen, despite living and playing in Olympia, despite being tied to Tacoma for a while, were indelibly tagged as ‘Seattle’. This is because they were part of a specific commercial strategy by Sub Pop that meant instead of marketing one band at a time they could market a whole scene at once and thus create a wider halo effect on each band’s sales and audiences that they would have had trouble achieving on the budgets available – definitely the Motown ‘hit factory’ effort. It meant that as Nirvana toured the U.S. and Europe the Seattle stamp associated them with a particular sound and style regardless of the differences between the bands under the banner.

This is the second use of geographic tagging in music; to create associations and similarity rather than difference. Once the new archetype (i.e., Seattle, Southern, Hyphy from San Francisco, whatever) is established new bands and artists adopting or being lumped beneath the tag are no longer establishing themselves as an alternative – it becomes a pledge of allegiance and tells consumers “if you like X, then you’ll like us/me too.” Again, it’s a shorthand alongside style, gender, genre that makes it easier to sift, categorise and define.

In the case of Nirvana, it was inevitable they would spend less time playing in State of Washington once they started proper touring from mid-1989 onward. Yet, it isn’t just that Nirvana ‘spread out’, it’s that their activity was strongly centred on the state most likely to give them the break through and industry attention that was required to give them a shot at the big time. Plus, being fair, the band were making barely any money for the majority of their peak touring era, it made sense to go the nearest state containing the greatest number of large cities and thus the greatest number of opportunities for large audiences in the smallest possible space. The answer was, of course, California.

From the commencement of Nirvana’s first U.S. tour on June 21, 1989 at The Vogue in Seattle until the break after the show in Salem, Oregon on January 2, 1992 Nirvana played 31 states. It wasn’t just about covering as many states as possible, however. Eleven of those states only received one visit each, three received two visits – an awful lot weren’t visited at all. There were rational decisions being taken about where to bother sending Nirvana and where might be worth it.

Nirvana Touring by State 1989-1992

It wasn’t just about proximity though, yes, Oregon was close but so was Montano (not visited even once in those two and a half years), Idaho (two visits to Boise) and Nevada (one trip to Las Vegas.) Neither Sub Pop nor Geffen was arranging Nirvana gigs in states just because they were easy to get to, they were arranging gigs in cities with decent audiences for the band hence the seven visits to Oregon (six to Portland, one to Salem) given its combination of proximity and alternative rock friendly audiences. So far so what?

Well, essentially, all I’m saying is that from mid-1989 until the close of 1991, Nirvana played twice as often in California as they did in State of Washington. This was a significant switch, instead of being the heart of the band as a performing entity, State of Washington became the retreat, the hideaway that they headed back to when they wanted to get away from the quest to become rock stars and its actuality. It was California not State of Washington that offered them the largest audiences because there are so many decent sized cities there – Nirvana played twelve cities in California compared to only three in State of Washington, the nearest competitors were Texas (on five) and Ohio, Massachusetts and Philadelphia (each on four).

Nirvana Touring Cities Visited

The total domination of California as the crucial location for Nirvana as an up-and-coming band and as a band to be ‘developed’ on a major label (remember that no one expected Nevermind to make them megastars, the late 1991 touring was set up to raise profile and try to ensure a healthy return on the band before deciding whether to continue with them or drop them – basic economic realities of the music industry) is clear. It combined the size of population, the density of that population and the presence of the most crucial U.S. music industry and U.S. music media hubs.

Undermining me neatly, however, and reminding me not to take numbers TOO seriously…Seattle was still the single city where Nirvana played the most but only by a couple of shows…

Nirvana Touring Cities Visited the Most

Ack! Restore the crown to Seattle…Go on…Do it.


Ten days. Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Aberdeen/Hoquiam/Montesano, Olympia, Seattle, Portland, Seattle. I slept in the same bed for a grand total of three nights (Weds 4 to Fri 6) and the rest of time shunted back and forth between locations and the kind hospitality of friends. It’s kinda nice knowing that if I go back there are so many people who would welcome me and give me a place to crash — I’m worth it! I do good house-cleaning! I’m an OCD tidier! I’m good at DIY! I can (almost) cook! I’m a useful house-guest and serf! …And I’ll definitely be going back.


Confession and self-parody. I worked eight years in Events and it gave me a liking for hotel living — running ten events a year for five years got me the initial thrill and the ultimate ‘meh’ feeling that occurs once you’re used to seeing a lot of hotels and the differences wear off. Don’t let anyone fool you, no matter how many stars a hotel has, no matter how beautiful it might be, ultimately a hotel is made for anonymous living, you are merely a by-product passing through the guts of the building and you will be expelled and all memory of you wiped away except on those rare occasions someone passes a UV-light over the fabrics. If anyone ever boasts to you about which hotel they’ve been in remember to crush them with something like, “gee, that room sounds way more interesting than you — can you just leave me with the photos and stop talking?” If that’s a little too brutal, the alternative is to come up with some attractive statistics about the number of insects living in the average mattress, how rarely hotel mattresses are replaced and the persistence of bodily fluids within the fabric of a mattress — just hijack the conversation and go from there, it’s fun to watch social-climbers splutter.

Floor 5_Hotel Max_1

Floor 5_Hotel Max_2

As a sidebar, you see it a lot in London, the minimalist look — essentially it’s a case of people admitting that they have so few interests and so little engagement with anything other than their work that there’s nothing of themselves that they can bring to a room. Again and again you’ll walk through supposedly sophisticated flats and apartments and see rooms designed by magazine advertisements and furniture catalogue committees; they look like hotel rooms because the people living in them are just transients with no engagement or connection to their environment. You’re basically there to make them feel they’re real humans and that they’re living in a home rather than a GQ-provoked paranoia telling them what it should look like. A lot of people buy houses just because they don’t have anything better to occupy their time or money and decorate it richly…with all the soul and personality of a Heathrow advert hoarding.

With that in mind though, ya gotta live somewhere. I hope I’ve at least indicated that my desire to show hotel photos is more to do with the completist urge to represent the entire trip rather than anything boastful. Oh, and did I say, hotels can be lovely to live in — if you’re route-marching cities for anywhere between four and nine hours a day, or trooping round in a car from 9.30am until into the evening, maybe you’ll want to pay a little more and enjoy it?

There’s plenty of cost saving to be had on the accommodation front. If you can plan well enough in advance the best accommodation option I saw was here:–WA

Basically it means you’re taking someone’s spare room — very cheap, nice way to live, some lovely places on here. Might mean you’re living a little outside the centre but you’ll have the benefit of a local resident who can explain how to get in to you, plus a bit of company. Family business kept me away from being able to get this sorted and communicated and confirmed.

Alternatively, as seen the other day, the motel and inn option is well established in Seattle. There’s the strip of options along Aurora which has advantages in that you’re half way between Reciprocal Studios and the other sights located above Lake Union and then the sights downtown too. The motels I walked past looked perfectly comfortable. If I’d known they existed I’d have considered them.


I’d have to say the nicest hotel I stayed in was the Hotel Murano in Tacoma ( Dead centre of the business district, one street (literally) from the bus stops on Commerce from whence, for $3 dollars flat rate (remember that the bus drivers don’t tend to give change, take exact money) you can catch the myriad of buses over to Olympia ( — I took the 603 myself, it’s about an hour. You can stop off at the Tacoma Dome on the way if you wish to stroll round it. As a sidebar, to get out to the Community World Theater’s location you will need a taxi or someone to drive you. Again, this isn’t too expensive, you might handover $25 dollars and taxis are usually queued outside the main hotels so that’s always a good place to hunt one down.



When lost in cities I usually look up a hotel and head there because the staff usually know the local area on the one hand and the street outside is a magnet for taxis on the other. I also stayed in Hotel Max which features a ‘rock floor’ with the cooperation of Sub Pop who supply vinyl LPs to every room to go with the record player, as well as LP cover art on the walls of the rooms. The Paramount was pretty darn lovely too. I had booked the Silver Cloud near Lake Union but ended up cancelling it to stick close to areas I knew better. I also didn’t book hotel accomodation in Olympia. The Guesthouse Inn & Suites in Aberdeen were pretty darn comfy too.



The bus station in Olympia is extremely central. The Evergreen State College is a walk-able distance from the centre if you’ve left time to do so (I hadn’t so had to abandon a few locations that day.) I think, in Nirvana terms, it’s fair to think of Olympia as the terminus either getting you back toward Seattle or Tacoma, or hurling you out to Aberdeen on the number 40 ( Amtrak ( is also an option for the Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia run; greater comfort, higher price — Olympia to Seattle one way is about $20 and the station is at 6600 Yelm Highway SE, Lacey. There are three major Amtrak routes covering the North-West and all of them will get you as far as Portland. You can also use this route to visit Bellingham if you want that an extra out-of-the-way Nirvana related stop (the October 1992 show venue — — NOT demolished!) or Spokane (, demolished!)



If you wanted to complete the full run of Nirvana-gig locations in the Northwest then the places you’re trying to hit are Seattle (duh!), Tacoma, Olympia, Aberdeen/Hoquiam, Raymond, Bellingham, Spokane, Ellensburg, Auburn and Bainbridge Island. As suggestions for the latter three, none of which I attempted, give these a shot:

The 577/578 bus route to Auburn heading south from Seattle ( and yes, the Lindbloom Student Center still exists as part of the Green River Community College:

For Ellensburg, give the Greyhound buses from Stewart Street a shot, it’s a two hour ride and fairly pricey, anywhere between $30-45 dollars one way ( — the Ellensburg stop is at 1512 HWY 97, Ellensburg, WA 98926). Again, the venue is still there, the Hal Holmes Community Center:

And finally, Bainbridge Island, yet another change in transport option, this time take the ferry: the problem being is it was a birthday party show so there’s little indication of where it took place. This is the kinda thing that’ll cut down your travel itinerary; there’s no indication of where Speedy O’Tubbs Rhythmic Underground in Bellingham was so what’s the point of it? The venue in Spokane has been demolished, meanwhile Cobain’s former home in Carnation isn’t visible from the public thoroughfares, to look at it you’d end up having to trespass on private property and frankly do you really want to take the risk and/or scare people at home just to gaze at a home that was barely lived in?

Max_Sub Pop_1

Max_Sub Pop_2

Max_Sub Pop_3

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, you’re in America the land that more than any other has turned the automobile into a fetish; hiring a car is probably going to be the simplest option. I’ve never seen, however, an attempt to explain the public transport options for touring Nirvana sites in the North-West — it’s entirely possible to do it via public transport and to do it for well under $200 in total all in. We’re talking walking/bussing all Seattle sites with a taxi hop out to the two homes on the shores of Lake Washington; Amtrak or bus to Tacoma, Amtrak or bus to Olympia, bus to Aberdeen/Hoquiam and then taxi for Raymond and Montesano. It’s the Greyhound for Ellensburg, the bus for Auburn, Amtrak for Spokane and Bellingham, then the ferry for Bainbridge Island…

<img src="" alt="Wishkah_3" width="614" height=”460″ class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-1633″ />

“…There is a certain energy here…seeing beyond or within, meeting many local shop owners etc. brings one to believe there are a lot of positive ideas ‘in bloom.’ It all takes getting involved, doing, without the consent of the naysayers. Positive actions, led by self reliant people usually yield positive results. It’s a shame, yes, that the city does not support more ambitious projects, but that should never defer peoples aspirations of doing it anyway. And there’s a lot of aspiration around here.” Courtesy of Gary Douglas Lennon

Aberdeen, for a place I was in for less than 24 hours, one overnight stay, prayed on the mind and provided me enough for three entire posts — the first of which, written on the lam between locations, ended up stirring the busiest set of comments I’d ever had on the blog. For good reason too, sat dazed and hungover in a Starbucks I have a memory of certain points where my surprise at how limited Aberdeen’s tributes to Kurt Cobain are led me to write phrases that even at the time I knew were more words for percussive effect than accurate statements. So, I’ve edited the original piece, mellowed it a little:

The other two Aberdeen posts are unchanged:

Is this a retreat? Hell, yes! The raison d’être of the 300 articles on this blog have been to give my opinions, to give as much fact as possible to back it up, to base arguments on data and to sometimes enjoy being wrong and being corrected — this isn’t about ego, it’s about being a Nirvana fan who wants to know more and therefore enjoys finding things out I didn’t already know or revising what I already thought. Some of what I said was unsupported, unreasonable and just excessive — I can make excuses about rushing, about being exhausted, what the hey, I’m secure enough in my ego to just say I got some things wrong and so I’ve been working on gathering together the information people provided me, plus additional comments and writing more about Aberdeen as well as sharing the revised piece. Oh, I’ve used this numerous times but from the published sources, this is the fullest list I can drag together of Cobain’s living arrangements during his time in the Aberdeen area:


My perspective begins thus; popular music recognises a bare handful of sainted figures; Elvis, the artist who kick-started the entire phenomenon of rock n’ roll, inspiring most of the next two decades of the world’s greatest artists (who, in turn, fuelled the final twenty years of rock’s musical dominance) and commenced the standard association of the rock star image with ‘sad decline’ — John Lennon both for being part of the group that redefined everything from what a music act could be as well as becoming the founding figure of the ‘artist as ego-maniac’ school (and commencing the public and acknowledged affiliation of rock star with drugs) — and Kurt Cobain who, as I’ve argued before, brought the curtain down on the entire era of the rock star making its increasingly bloated sexism, superiority complex and hedonistic celebration seem tedious, laughable, ignorant and just plain dumb — all to the better. Sure, the world recognises Jim Morrison, Sid Vicious, Ian Curtis, a few other regal corpses, but there are only three saints. Of the millions of musicians in the world, few ever reach public consciousness, even fewer substantially change some part of the art form — Aberdeen and the surround is where one of this rare handful lived out a full twenty years of his life from February 1967 until April 1987. Aberdeen more than any other place made the man and once he left it he only had seven years remaining.

I’m still in two minds about the City of Aberdeen, but I think that’s realistic — no place is all one thing or t’other. Today’s post is about all that is being done and has been done to make the place. And make no bones, I genuinely do think that any Nirvana fan should save up the cash and go see it. Seriously; £500-750 to get from London to Sea-Tac, get over to Olympia and take the bus to Aberdeen ($3), book into one of the numerous motels (I certainly recommend the Guesthouse Inn & Suites based on my comfy night and liking for the room and writing space) for about $100 (about £70). It’s still a £1,000 trip but come on, you know you’ll never regret it, right? I’m going to let some other people speak now from a much closer perspective than I could ever have.


Tori Kovach and the Kurt Cobain Landing:
“My partner, Denny Jackson, and I worked at making KCL an international attraction and the City pitched in when they realized we were serious about turning a small piece of City property into someplace people from all over the world could visit.

The Landing started as a task to clear a piece of city property next to mine of unsightly briars and garbage, nothing more. That process took three summers and while I worked at it, I noticed people frequenting underneath the bridge. After a few inquiries, I came to understand the significance of the site. Up until that time, I had only intended to make a tidy little neighborhood park out of the area. However, at that time, there was a controversy going on in the local newspaper about why there had been no official acknowledgement of Kurt Cobain by the city. At this point, it been almost 15 years since his death. As a result of that publicity, the idea came to me to transform the site into a commemorative park.


In the mean time, I was contacted by an individual about a sign I had put up on the bridge; it turn out he was an avid Cobain fan and we hit it off. After some discussion of the area and my ideas, he joined my effort and was a big help. We worked together to plan and create different aspects of the park. The work involved renovating cast off park furniture, digging holes, mixing and pouring concrete for securing the furniture. It helped that I am a welder and have a maintenance background and he owned a powder coating business. We shared costs, using our own money. Anyway, during this time, I went to the city and informed them of what was happening and requested help to accomplish several sizable tasks. The only problem that ever occurred happened because instead of initially going through the Parks Department, I instead worked with the Public Works Dept. So the Public Works folks came and moved dirt around and planted grass seed. As the grass grew and we finished our installations, the press got wind of the project and we were inundated with media people wanting a story.

The result was not foreseen at the outset. It was just meant to be a cleaned up site that might reflect positively on my property value. You see I had never really heard of Kurt Cobain or listened to his music. When I did, I wasn’t too impressed, but it did bother me that for all he accomplished and meant to people, he was being ignored by his own community so I decided to change that–my way of giving back to my town.

The Landing requires little in the way of upkeep. When the grass grows, I mow it. When people forget to put their litter in the garbage can, I take care of it. When dogs come along and their owners don’t pick up after them, that means I get to do that also. Most problems are caused by a small minority of assorted characters ranging from drug addicts to the mentally challenged. Overall, I might put in twenty hours a month during our seven month season and maybe five hours a month in the off season. When I get too old to care for the park or move away, it will fall into the hands of someone else who will care for it, be they citizens or the city.”

(Additional comment from Mitch Holmquist, formerly assistant and friend to Leland Cobain): “Kudos to Kathi Holder, I too have donated funds, although not on Kathi’s level. I do appreciate the fact that the city chipped in, although I don’t feel they should have had to be coached into it; I guarantee you, the park, or ‘Cobain’s Landing’ as the city calls it – they refuse to call it an official city park – is the biggest tourist attraction in Grays Harbor County, BAR NONE! Go there any day of the week and you will meet people from all over the world ! The guitar statue at the park is pure genius as it celebrates the music created rather than the man so many people in Aberdeen still despise even to this day.

The Memorial Committee, had a Great Idea which I backed 100% so much so that I myself put together the benefit show in Seattle at Club Motor which I believe you attended, 100% of the net proceeds ($1,500) including money from the raffle of a guitar which I donated was given to the committee.”

City Exertions (Courtesy of Steven Friedericksen, Montesano Vidette)

You know, the city is not as against Nirvana as you think. They have a councilwoman named Kathi Hoder, who has donated personal funds to help care for Kurt Cobain Landing. When the co-founder of the Kurt Cobain Memorial Foundation feels confident enough to run for mayor, which he did, what more needs to be said that there’s been such a big turnaround in attitude?

(Nick Note: Thought I’d list this as staccato lines to emphasise the sheer quantity of elements)

The city funded the grading work that helped create the landing, albeit none of that would have happened without Tori.

The city funded the concrete statue of the guitar.

The city funded the star, which you have a picture of.

There was also other artwork honoring Kurt created by high school students on tree guards and poles.

The city installed signs showing people how to get to Cobain Landing (before that, people were wandering around trying to figure out where to go).

For that matter, the Aberdeen City Council voted unanimously to NAME that stretch of land under the bridge and at the park as “Kurt Cobain Landing.”

Inside Aberdeen City Hall, in its renovated Finance Department, sits a giant mirror that states “Come As You Are.” It’s the first thing people see when they get into the city. (

The mayor’s “keys to the city” all state “Come as you are” and the mayor was the most vocal opponent to removing the Come As You Are sign. He thought it was a silly idea and told this band of committee members so. (Nick Note: including the photo I’ve snagged below of the town hall)

Aberdeen Town Hall

A few years back, Aberdeen hosted a “Come As You Art” art festival. The Kurt Cobain Memorial Festival hosted several concerts and festivals in town, drawing thousands of people to town in an effort to raise money for a planned youth center in town. Aberdeen provided the money to advertise for those festivals, even one that happened in nearby Hoquiam…

The local winery even named a wine for him “Noir-Vana”…(Nick Note: Westport Winery,


Inside the McDonalds in Aberdeen, there are even giant photos of Kurt Cobain — if that doesn’t show general acceptance I don’t know what does… (Nick Note: 1101 East Wishkah Street).

Yes, the censorship thing happened on the granite marker — but that was done as a compromise between Kovach and a council member to just get the issue out of the media. There was actually support to keep it the way it was.


Yes, there has been a problem of ordering Nirvana CDs in Aberdeen. But that is because there is NO music store in Aberdeen. None. It’s a sign of the times. There’s a Walmart showing the latest CDs — including (wait for it) the 20th anniversary of In Utero. Why is that there? Because it’s now a “new” CD. (Valid rejoiner from Mitch Holmquist: “…still remember the response I got the last time I took some German tourist in there looking for some Nirvana so they could have a receipt from Aberdeen WA let’s just say it was not nice and left the tourist — which the City of Aberdeen needs so badly to help build and support the economy — way less than thrilled. Now I live in Bonney Lake, but the local stores up here, both Fred Meyer and Wal-Mart do carry the regular commercial Nirvana CD’S even going back to Bleach which they claim still sells pretty well.” Nick Note: it’s true, the Nirvana back catalogue is a ubiquitous presence in music stores worldwide and it seems pointed, not to say extraordinary, that the Aberdeen one wouldn’t have anything.)


The gal who installed the statue inside the muffler shop was contacted to work on artwork at Cobain Landing. MONTHS passed and when nothing happened there, Kovach turned to another artist and the amazing creation is what you saw. (for the record, bvtw, Krist saw that muffler shop statue and hated it and said Kurt would have hated it, too. That was the big reason it never appeared in a city park.)

Ten years ago, I would have agreed with most of your criticisms. I came to this city…and there was barely anything about Cobain. So much has been done — even in the business community, who a couple years ago finally put Cobain in its tourism guides given out at the Chamber. At the Aberdeen History Museum, right now, in fact, they are installing a permanent display honoring Cobain.

The Aberdeen Museum of History (Courtesy of Mitch Holmquist and Dann Sears — this piece to be updated ASAP)

(Nick Note: Photos included below are all examples from Mitch’s Melvins/Nirvana memorabilia he has donated to the Museum in order to allow the exhibition to happen).

(Dann) “Today, thanks to some financial sponsors and music historians like Mitch Holmquist the museum is finally getting a chance to host a Nirvana display in conjunction with presenting a number of groups that reign from the Grays Harbor region. Aberdeen and Grays Harbor has a rich history in the musical field, giving the museum quite a base to use as continuous rotating exhibit with Nirvana as a permanent base.”

(Mitch) “…As for the Museum, now we are getting personal, the only reason that exhibit is going to happen is because of the efforts of Leland Cobain and myself. Thankfully we finally got somebody open minded like Dann Sears who is willing to give it a shot. 90% of the exhibit belongs to myself, but special thanks go out to the Shillinger family for the loan of the couch that Kurt once slept on and the original Metal Church/Melvins D&R show flier on loan from Roy!


I have already contacted Gillian Gaar about her doing a book signing at the museum as well as selling some of her books there, Charles Cross is also going to be contacted about doing a signing and sales of his books as well, CD’s, posters, and bumper stickers are already being addressed and will be available at time of the exhibit opening. Thank you very much for your contribution to the exhibit!”


(Dann) “The museum was the first to publish a self guided tour of locations in which Cobain was associated with. We also provide print-outs of Cobain history. When we have time we even take people on personal tours. Our gift shop does have books about Nirvana and Kurt as well as T-shirts and other memorabilia when we can get them.

I have to agree to a certain extent that older folks were concerned about highlighting Kurt’s life, the reply I received when I first suggested a display was: ‘we don’t want to immortalize that long-haired drug addict.’ However given time and educating older folks to the fact that drugs are synonymous with the music industry (not that it is okay). We cannot hide the fact, but we don’t dwell on it either. The main subject should definitely be that Nirvana and Kurt made music history, creating a new genre in the industry.”

Aberdeen Context and Attractions (Courtesy of Isa Mady)

This is a last frontier area which is going through painful rebirthing as a result of two major industry cut backs & we’re all trying our best to reinvent ourselves. Unfortunately, that takes time, patience and understanding from those quick to assume and pass judgment. Many Aberdeen citizens recognize Kurt Cobain as a native son and remember him fondly as a sweet, talented but angst driven young man. I believe those who can’t see past his drug use and are therefore opposed to giving him recognition are in the minority. By contrast, JFK and Bill Clinton were both notorious womanizers, yet the world still holds them in esteem.

(Nick Note: my editing of the text below to allow for links and additions)

…You might have visited the beautiful waterfront Rotary Log Pavillion built by local volunteers (you no doubt passed it on your way into town)…

…or the historic seaport which now has two tall ships that provide youth training programs and travel the seas, occasionally winding up in movies.

The Westport Winery is an exceptional tour stop and boasts sculptures and other wine label themed artwork by the area’s finest artists, of which there are many.

Kurt, Tori & I all shared a similar trait in that we never felt that we fit in, hence the empathy for others of our ilk and my interest in writing about both of these guys for the Senior Sunset Times and my own fine art memoir, ‘Artfully Yours, Isa.’ Lora Malakoff is publisher of the SST and my book and co-creator of the guitar sculpture at the Cobain park. Randi Hubbard (another friend) did the Cobain statue which sits in her muffler shop. Like many around here (the Shillingers included) she’d known Kurt since he was little. The statue she created was therapy for her – it was how she saw Kurt. For ALL of us, his death took time to sink in so we could bypass his fuck-ups and generate righteous response!

Aftermath…Pause…Last Words…
“…the house at 1000 1/2 E. Second should have been saved through eminent domain if need be, but I’m sure it could have been purchased very cheaply, Yes, it was in very bad condition, but with a very low buy in and about $70,000 in repairs could have been, given its location, boarder of residential/commercial land been turned into a very Nice location for a tourist shop, T-shirts, posters, books etc. as it was a tourist destination all on its own yet the City made sure it was torn down, so much history lost…” Courtesy of Mitch Holmquist

There’s a lot going on. And there’s no single answer in amid all this. My biggest apology was that my admiration for the efforts of local individuals was not sufficiently vocal nor clear-cut. To put it very simply, a community of people have put astonishing and extensive work over a decade into ensuring that Kurt Cobain is a presence on the landscape of Aberdeen — it won’t be long either before the museum exhibit is up and running providing a further formal expression. Likewise, and this I simply wasn’t there to see (it’s the same thing I’ve said to people about Seattle “I’ll have to go back and play tourist someday, I just didn’t have time”) there’s a lot more I didn’t get to see in Aberdeen — again, people are, and people can, make a lot of wherever they are if they wish. People are clearly standing for their community.

On the other hand, I admit I still feel, from my perspective as a tourist who headed out across the entire planet to explore an individual who has inspired me since the summer of 1993, that the physical infrastructure to support, encourage and enhance the experience of visitors was lacking. I’m still left with the nagging feeling that a more formalised and professionalised presence from local government could only be of benefit. The work of individuals to commemorate and dignify the origins of, as I said, one of the most notable individuals in the history of modern music, are great to see…But a more visible hand would be welcomed whether that meant a downloadable walking guide/location guide available via the official Aberdeen website — where there are no mentions of Cobain but there are four leads to the Rotary Log Pavillion — a similar pamphlet easily found at local motels, a more regular local art/music event, or some local equivalent of the Blue Plaque scheme run by English Heritage ( There are readily available forums through which news of Aberdeen and Cobain related events would be merrily received (LiveNirvana, the Internet Nirvana Fan Club and Nirvana Italia being the top three — oh, and here too! Plus the vast presence on social media dedicated to Cobain) allowing the targeting of information to a very specific audience with a very specific interest — most salespeople would kill for such a clear-cut market.

In the city of Liverpool, a city of over half a million people, they took so readily to the legacy of their heroin-addicted and often bonkers musical son, John Lennon, that the local airport is named for him ( . Elvis, the drug-addled and often bonkers monument to over-indulgence, has 600,000 visitors a year to Graceland located on Elvis Presley Boulevard in Tennessee. The ‘Come as You Are’ slogan is a genuine honour, and a fine one, but it’s tricky to visit a slogan or to share in it or experience it as a visitor. I genuinely enjoyed my visit to Aberdeen, but as well as the pleasures it did also leave me with a few disquietening moments — I just hope the piece today has given people a more balanced and extensive vision of what exists in Aberdeen for the dedicated Nirvana fan and a genuine reason to make it a place of pilgrimage. I hope to see the well-evidenced and rising appreciation of Kurt Cobain in Aberdeen continues to grow and build with the muscle of a more formalised and less ad-hoc government effort behind it. I feel it’s fair to say it’s a work in progress with much distance covered and a broad, beautiful and open horizon to be reached.




Alas, everything must come to an end dear people. I started drawing the maps of the North-West marked up with Nirvana locations way back on August 13th – the trip itself actually only took place from September 4 (landing at 8.30pm) and ended with me strolling through the gates of Sea-Tac at 9am on September 15, it’s taken me three additional weeks to almost finish writing about something that only took ten days in total.



As ever, no interest in concealing sins, so! What did I miss? Oh, tonnes of stuff. There are two I’m saddened by; the crucial one is 11301 Lakeside Ave, the Cobain residence for most of the period from March 1993 until January 1994. When he met up with John Purkey (Sleeper Cell, Machine, Sky Blue Eye, Noxious Fumes, etc.) in October 1993 he told John that he was basically between houses and that the best way to get hold of him was via other people which possibly summarises how attached Cobain was to this property. On the other hand, this is the home in which he was living when he most likely wrote his final known songs, You Know You’re Right for certain (unless its origins are so much earlier than so far acknowledged) and likely Do Re Mi (unless you believe it was written in the precious few days of January-March 1994 when it was recorded. I don’t.) Plus its the home that goes unmentioned – 171 is a far less extensive Cobain residence notable for only one sad event, I’d rather see this one where at least some positive events and happy moments took place.

Oh, when it comes to joke I’m not above a cheap shot – this one below? Are they like deer? Do they flock…?


If I’d arrived at the University of Washington Husky Union Building a lot earlier in the day I’d have seen if anyone was willing to walk me in and help me locate the East Ballroom – ah well, can’t have it all. I straight out failed to find the Central Tavern which I suspect is now the Central Saloon. I also didn’t make it up to the park behind 171 Lake Washington Boulevard. Oh, and the Center on Contemporary Arts? Both venues seem so far outside the centre of Seattle I think I always knew I was going to skip them. Other things I would have liked to have done? Well, obviously catch a show at the Paramount, or at the Moore Theatre, or at The Crocodile Cafe, or…You get the picture. There was plenty on and I never had an evening where I wasn’t busy or knackered.


I only asked one stripper for directions. I may have an apology to make, the lady in question was in the street outside a slightly seedy looking strip club. I needed directions and it seemed a fair decision to make – I can’t imagine there are truly many rich strippers in the world. They’re like welfare queens, predatory gangs haunting housing estates and necessitating vast home defence and all the other popular lunacies.


Before I left for U.S. someone said to me “a city famous for Nirvana and Starbucks? It’s like they thought of you Nick and built a city around the things you like.” Yes, I drank an awful lot of Starbucks. Please paste the following order into a Word file, print it off and take it to your nearest Starbucks, I promise you that you’ll not regret tasting this – ready? TALL MOCHA FRAPPUCCINO WITH PEPPERMINT SYRUP, NO CREAM/WHIP AND WITH SKINNY/SKIMMED MILK.



In an airport, when requested by the staff at a newsagents, I did buy some kinda chewy confectionery for U.S. troops somewhere in the world – everyone deserves sweets. Aside; first full day in Seattle I’m embarked on a nine hour walking sojourn up round Reciprocal and so forth. I halt at a roadside, scan the traffic…And I look over my shoulder. Strange, I’m sure someone spoke to me. No one there. Oh yeah, there it is again. “Wait.” Hmm…I look other side, I’m sure someone’s talking to me. I’m not saying I’m not sharp but it did take me a minute or two to realise this roadsign was talking to me and given me staccato orders to “wait” or “walk”.


Of course there’s more, Tyler Willman pointed out a friend of his works at Robert Lang Studios and if I had longer he would have called and arranged to let me have a look inside – shucks! In Olympia I skipped the entire university district, the distances involved in the time I had, it just wasn’t likely. I got a bit hooked on Tacoma – loved it – so ended up staying there longer than intended. So no Dorm K208, no Library 4300 – I never even remembered to try and identify Reko/Muse.



In Portland I skipped hunting down The Blue Gallery. In Aberdeen I’d simply have liked to stay there longer – heck, the piece missing from this whole trip was time to just play tourist rather than plotting out the run from one place to another. This one might be a bit British and I’m worried what it says about my imagination…But what do you think this restaurant is called?


What the hey, time burns and its amazing how fast. The photos today are a basically what I’ve got in a folder marked ‘stereotypes’. It’s the photos that summarise some part of the media-impression of the U.S. and that amused me. No, naturally I don’t think they’re anymore representative of U.S. reality than red pillar boxes, troops in bearskin hats or the chinless royal family are the totality of the U.K. They’re pieces. And they amused me.


Plus, its a record of things that are simply outside the British experience – we don’t sororities, I live in a basically atheist country so there are few arguments around a lot of the crucial topics that exercise great minds in America…It’s just the way. And its lovely seeing things that make me say “wow, doesn’t matter how much globalisation has made the world homogenous, there’ll always be things that are unique.”

I mean, admittedly I did have to double-take when I saw that some people need reminding that carrying guns and knives round an airport might be a bad idea – thank you to Charlotte, North Carolina for that one…And, of course, I’m curious – the idea below, is it just wishful thinking in sign form or does it actually involve something more than a polite request that people stay a little way away from the local school?


This is my favourite, apologies to those I’ve already used this line with but seriously, I think this sign says “Avoid Oncoming Bullets” – prove me wrong? I mean, drivers in the Pacific North-West are incredibly polite, very sweet indeed (let’s not talk about the casual drink driving thing that seems endemic – ignore it for now) but are they really so polite that they’re unwilling to break lane discipline to avoid a hail of oncoming gunfire? Is that white line in the middle of the road so significant they’re damned if they’re going to cross it just because the windshield is peppered with Schwarzenegger quantities of bullet-inflicted pockmarks?!


Do I have some deeper message? No. It’s a holiday. But I’d have to say that I didn’t go to a single place in State of Washington that I didn’t adore. At risk of committing the same sins that people do when they talk about ‘the Seattle sound’ or Sub Pop as if there weren’t numerous other bands and styles and genres loose in town in the Late Eighties, the sign below just seemed an appropriate way to end things – so four weeks ago, Thursday September 5 I took a moment to shoot it.



Ah, the air of prosperity. Seattle as seen looking back from the George Washington Memorial Bridge on Aurora Avenue North; I never did make it to the seaside on this trip but the Pacific was a fairly regular presence. Apologies for absences, these past weeks have been less than ideal writing terrain nor is this cold a boon to productivity.

Marco Polo_1

It’s a rather sad note to conclude on. I’ve not written this one up simply because I didn’t really want to approach it but a bus ride from centre of town brings you up onto Aurora, just over the bridge. Walking back toward the bridge its relatively easy to find this address – one of the last known locations at which Kurt Cobain was seen.

Marco Polo_2

Still a functioning motel, there’s no reason at all your own tour couldn’t take in this place. If you figure out the bus networks you can be back to town inside ten minutes. If you stick to walking, OK, fine, it’ll take you an hour but it’s a pleasant enough stroll and walking the bridge looking down on the waters is beautiful on a good day (shame to spoil that sight by mentioning the ‘popular suicide spot’ bit of information someone told me.) It’s a pleasant place too, I strolled into the reception and the staff cheerfully let me take their business card and a postcard of the place. It’s a reasonably priced, reasonably close in location on a main thoroughfare and its just ill fate that twenty years ago one rock star needed a destination that promised privacy and where he’d be left undisturbed to pursue his own desired release.


The randomness of the choice, the undeserved staining of the location – I heard it described as a known hangout for drug users which seems to be a phrase so vague it could mark most motels and hotels anywhere in any country – is made clear by the nature of the strip on which its located. Even in the ten minute stroll back down to the bridge there’s a half dozen motels, I wonder how many were frequented and simply are undeclared components of the last days of Cobain?




It’s a quirk of history that the Marco Polo should have a place in the tale of Kurt Cobain – the Four Seasons would seem to deserve the greater drug reputation given the length of Cobain’s residency in 1992 compared to the fleeting ghost presence of March-April 1994. Using these motels makes sense of course, there was the blanket rule about not bringing drugs home to 171, plus these places are closer to the clubs and other locations where he was acquiring his supply; it was easy, simple and convenient to duck off the main road – same reasons why they remain good accomodation for less pharmaceutically orientated travellers.

Anyways, that’s one more walk concluded. Let’s enjoy the view shall we?

Oh, maybe a brief story. I was sat outside a frozen yoghurt place in Fremont with a friend of mine. A rather large lady comes up and explains she has a medical condition and needs to sit down, could she have a chair? Naturally, being a gentleman, I stand up and offer it to her. “No, I want that one.” She says pointing to the other chair. Sheesh! Apparently this medical condition was so acute it meant that she was too sensitive to sit in a chair that had been the recent recipient of my white English male cooties…


Quotation from a very dear, sweet and charming soul on email: “I totally came of age slam dancing at the OK Hotel, 1990-1991. And now you traipse halfway across the planet to snap a photo of it…The universe is hilarious.”

This totally captures what I’ve been chuckling about and enjoying about the ‘Nirvana Tour’. On a walking tour I once traipsed a few hours through a rain storm to see the rear-end of a house that features in a Dickens’ novel, then the last remaining bricks of a church at which Shakespeare worshipped and to view the space in between 1960s modernist buildings where the house (what we would probably now call a hovel) in which he wrote Twelfth Night once stood – if these guys could see the conditions we endured just to see what to them was their everyday, day-to-day, practical, ordinary, nothing existence, they’d wet themselves laughing. They can’t, of course, but those who lived through the exceedingly recent events in Seattle and State of Washington, can indeed see someone like me trooping 22 hours door-to-door (then 22 hours, plus that three hours I was locked out, back) just to peer at the totally ordinary houses, clubs, demolished places and the occasional relic…Its hilarious and I think its good for the soul to be aware that the majority of life and the things we hold dearest are transitory, illusory, of no importance to anyone except ourselves, and usually worth a chuckle – at the same time as being utterly precious because we choose to make it so. Value is a choice not a given.

Anyways! Here’s a Nirvana related documentary from YouTube gifted to me by Marcus Gray, should keep you merrily occupied for the weekend (though I assume an awful lot of people have seen this long before I got near it.) I’ve got a DVD on my shelf I was given in Aberdeen of a German documentary about Kurt Cobain called Too Young to Die – don’t know if it ever made its way online…Anyone know?

There’s also a video from The Daily Beast, courtesy of my comrade Fred, regarding the Heart Shaped Box video:

Anyways, jelly-beans, dolls and delicious people everywhere – yes! I’m talking to YOU! – have a wicked Friday and a purrrrrrfect weekend.


I’m fascinated by routine and not as a purely negative element. In day-to-day life we all automate certain activities in order to allow our energies to be devoted to tasks that require more thought and have a higher value. As an example, William S. Burroughs speaks of practising picking up a glass over and over again from different positions and postures in an attempt to make it into a subconscious and perfected activity that would never fail and yet would simultaneously never take any further time or thought in the future. Entire portions of life can be handed over to some degree of automation, an article in New Scientist the other week explained that three areas of the brain activate when one is conscious of one’s own thoughts or motion…Yet a lot of activity bypasses that and is therefore unconscious — the example they gave was if you’ve ever been travelling somewhere that happened to intersect with a route you take regularly, it’s not uncommon to suddenly automatically commence walking that route rather than the path you actually need at that specific time, the brain acts without you having to know.

Ritual is a recorded form of routine intended to replace the accidental with the deliberate and the off-the-cuff gesture with movements of pre-defined meaning. Ritual incorporates an entire environment bestowing significance on chosen elements of the physical landscape as well as the human actors, their accessories, motions and words. Britain is loaded with these activities; changing of the guard, Remembrance Day services, royal wedding protocol, opening of Parliament, trooping the colours, and so forth. What is interesting to me, however, is that the age of these rituals overlooks the ways in which they have all evolved, changed, been invented and reinvented. As an example, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior is a site of remembrance and veneration but was dreamt up by a British Army chaplain in the Western Front in 1916 who shared his idea four years later with the Dean of Westminster at a time when there was a desire to create some central symbol of mourning to gloss the decision not to repatriate British war dead from the continent due to the vast money and time required. The body was chosen by a senior army officer being led into a room containing four selected (and anonymous) bodies in coffins and placing a hand on one at random. Millions visited the site in 1920 and barring unforeseen calamity millions more will over centuries to come.

When viewing the Nirvana sites nothing comes loaded with that long-ordained weight, or with a planned and plotted written ceremony, nor with a ritual or routine to be followed. What we’re in fact looking at is history in the making. These houses and venues were once as insignificant as one unmarked coffin — among the thousands littering the Western battlefields — was on November 7, 1920. With Kurt Cobain’s death, the ‘cut’ was made in reality — the hand touched the chosen object — now these houses and locations have gained a significance, even if only to a coterie of fans and music aficionados. They’ll never lose that. If the house at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard weathers the ages then it’ll still carry a mark of historical interest; if 114 Pear Street NE remains in one hundred years, an occasional fan may still drift by on the street outside to stare at it. The apparent insignificance of a site or an action or a routine at one point in time — walking round house after house in Aberdeen in 2013 — belies the potential these things carry. Looking around you wherever you are today there’s no telling what might someday be a part of a story or a legend; who shared your office? Who slept at your home?


Anyways, as ever, I’ve deviated from the straight-n’-narrow path into inane rambling. Remember I mentioned the Amtrak at King Street in Seattle? Head straight back there and yeah, though it’ll cost you more (anywhere between $30-50 dollars) it’s still a relatively easy four hour ride in comfort from Seattle to Portland. Amtrak is a beautiful institution, to me it’s like being in U.K. first class rail travel but with vastly more personal service. Among the quirks I enjoy; once you have your ticket the guard personally assigns you a seat doing so manually on pieces of paper telling him which seats are filled — lengthy process and so amusingly old school. Similarly, once on the train, you tuck the yellow slip of paper with your seat/car numbers into the seat number tag located on the edge of the luggage rack above your head — no idea why. I must ask. Only just realised that the Amtrak will do Bellingham too. There’s a place on the map called Centralia, which sounds far too medical to be somewhere I’d want to visit. Announcement came over “you are reminded that you must wear footwear at all times while on the train,” a sensible policy but I’m fascinated anyone would need to be told.

I’m also getting used to the fact that American Internet access is quite a distance BEHIND Europe — I’m frankly used to kick-ass speed for uploading/downloading yet there have been whole areas where I can’t log into anything and low speeds in general — U.K. train WiFi, where available, is tolerable and workable but there’s no way I could work properly via Amtrak WiFi. I was faced with the prospect of manually cropping and reducing dozens of photos to get them onto the blog which I didn’t fancy much hence the delays and the fact that the blog is totally out of synch with my actual movements but what the hey, so long as I write everything around the right time you’re not too worried about where my 5ft7 presence is are you? Mum, if you don’t hear from me for 48 hours call the police and let loose the dogs.


Nisqually delta, I-5, Tacoma, Olympia…Listening to the conductor, he took it upon himself to provide an audio tour of the scenery and the areas around us — misty lakes and half-seen islands, an area covered in small mounds that were apparently suspected burial grounds (nope), then suspected fossil sites (nope), so are now being examined in case as potentially features caused by glaciers during the last ice age…Oh, and a major trash processing plant. Cool…

Trash Compactor

Portland became significant to me back around 2006-2007 when I developed a liking for Yellow Swans — phenomenal outfit. Portland has a reputation akin to Olympia (personal reaction to what I’ve been told) for artistic leanings, independent businesses and endeavours, an openness to liberal lifestyles. Getting out at the station and running the gamut of insalubrious individuals haunting Sixth Avenue that runs down from Union Station it was hard to pause and appreciate I admit. In similar vein, the couple of prostitutes working the pavement outside an otherwise comfortable and pleasant Starbucks in the centre did reinforce the initially unsettled reaction.

That didn’t stop me, however, pausing to take a quick shot of the former site of Satyricon. A quick browse of will reinforce the significance of the location — it’s one of a small cluster of truly regular Nirvana haunts and name any other band from the indie scene as far back as the mid-Eighties onward, they’ll have ended up here at some point. There are a lot of footprints on this turf.


But, unfortunately, staying true to the hallowed style of most punk monuments; there is no monument, there’s nothing here and I can’t even tell which side of the road the club was on. The numbers along the entire street are even on one side, odd on the other, but here the numbers skip number 125 entirely leading me to believe there was either a deviation to that order and 125 lived under the car park across the road, or that 125 has been subsumed into the buildings now numbered 121 and 127. No mind, tuck camera away, march on.


I knew by this time in the tour that I was spending nowhere near enough time in many places, I wasn’t learning them as they deserved to be known nor observing them sufficiently to glean either the best or the worst of them. But my feelings about Portland ramped up massively when I arrived on S.E. Clinton Street and finally reached the intersection with 25th Street. It’s a charming independent district, bars, cafes, a real-live record shop(!) — remember them? When the world was full of places one went to browse through musical unknowns in search of surprises and fresh discoveries rather than simply clicking and receiving a pre-determined result. I know, I know, nostalgia overlooks the ease and benefits that have accrued, but still…

Why was I here? I had decided to come to Portland to meet a friend from work, I’m the only U.K. based individual in a U.S. based team and this lady, Maureen Johnson, had performed all the design work on the Dark Slivers book for me last year — I wanted to meet her, that was the sole reason I was heading to Portland…


…Except. I’d been talking to a lady called Gilly-Ann Hanner who suggested that if I was in town it was easier for her to chat on to me about Nirvana in person than over email; time, family, real life puts obstacles in the way of writing. I took her up on the idea and was delighted to sit in Dots Café and enjoy lunch while being regaled with stories of life in Olympia back in the late Eighties. There was so much to say we never even made it as far as the notorious October 1992 show in Buenos Aires that precipitated the collapse of Calamity Jane — I think I might have spent a couple minutes gawping at Gilly-Ann when she casually chatted on about that time in May 1988 when her then boyfriend drove her over to Pear Street to ask Kurt if he and Nirvana would be cool to come play at a house-party being thrown for her twenty-first birthday. Is it OK if I pause here a moment just to sit slightly awed at the lady who had Nirvana play her birthday party and who sang a duet with Kurt at the occasion?

Gilly Ann Hanner

The conversation took in the remarkably fertile soil of the Evergreen State College, Olympia and the extensive access it gave to its students — and therefore to their friends in local bands and other creative endeavours — which made it possible for bands to record music, play radio shows, experiment with videos and put on live gigs in and on college facilities. I gained a far greater sense of Sister Skelter, of the links and deviations between what was dubbed Foxcore and that in turn bled over into Riot Grrl, of the early days of Calamity Jane and the endless casual intersections between those people at the time who were dedicated to their music.

Gillys Salon

I’ve total gratitude to Gilly-Ann for taking time out from her day-to-day to come share a little of her past with me and my curiosity — it’s also lovely meeting someone who has built what looks like a comfy and happy life post-music. Music histories, due to their focus, always talk of those who retire from music as if there’s a total loss, as if it’s an abandonment or a disappointment — in real life, with life spans stretching ever further, the likelihood is that most of us will live several ‘lives’ and if we have any curiosity or desire we should want to look beyond one spell we’re living to other possibilities — there’s no ‘natural’ priority given to being a musician over any other endeavour into which an individual can place time and energy. Again, the warmth and friendliness I’ve been met with has made my holiday and this was no exception. My mum, my dad, my grandfather, they’re all quality storytellers so I’ve long since learnt to appreciate that a good story doesn’t need forcing, it finds a natural start and simply flows. Gilly-Ann gave me a top notch hour getting to know some small sliver of the life she had led and is still visibly proud and happy to have experienced. Plus, wow, nice to sit with someone who seems to have nothing but good to say of each ex-boyfriend who popped up in conversation!

There’s a good article here I’ll end with:

Meanwhile I had the pleasure of meeting Maureen AND a colleague of mine deciding to surprise me by flying all the way from California just to meet me.