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“…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. (http://tdw.thedailyworld.com/local_news/cobain_themed_statue_planned_park)
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: http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?t=174085 including the photo I’ve snagged below of the 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, http://www.westportwinery.org/shop/pinotnoirvana)
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!
“…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 (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/). 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 (http://weburbanist.com/2012/12/09/imagine-nations-15-peaceful-john-lennon-memorials/) . 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.