Archive for the ‘A Young Kurt Cobain 1967-1987’ Category

Sheesh, did someone blow the doors clean off the Universal/Nirvana vault?

For those who want a new ‘holy grail’ to hope for, remember that Fecal Matter rehearsed with Greg Hokanson on drums before this tape of Cobain and Dale Crover was made, then there was a project with Mike Dillard and Buzz Osborne. There’s no known recording of any of this. Plus, there’s Cobain’s 1982 solo recordings to keep wishing for too. Ah, does it ever end? Thank God Cobain was a good self-archivist and kept all this material! It’s remarkable in a way, that someone with such insecure living arrangements, self-esteem and life prospects held onto all of this no matter what. It gives me the impression that music really was an anchor, a safe harbor, something to cling to – he didn’t dispose of tapes or chuck away the fruits of his creativity, he treasured them.

So, again, this’ll be hard to keep the door on, even when its pulled down from YouTube you’ll find it. A full hour tape. Makes me wonder, if they filled this cassette, did they start in on another tape? Is there more? Nah, unlikely, the final section is a repeated instrumental then stray leftovers. Thanks to DB for sorting me with this, hugely appreciated.

Most of the key named songs you’ll have heard. Around that though…

‘Unknown #1’ is a real ripper, one of the fastest most hardcore Cobain songs I think. Hammered through. Then that surviving line about “my asylum”, the chorus vocal melody survives to become part of “If You Must” in the Nirvana era. Nice effects in the outro.

‘Unknown #2’ has a nice drive, entirely new to me, excellent! Love how much Cobain experiments with his voice on this early tape, he goes in so many directions. Here he sounds alternately sick and snotty – real teen high pitch on that “I’m a punk rocker!” line. The words ‘anti-solo’ don’t cover what he does with his guitar here but it’s a really effective finish to a song, instead of it flailing back into another verse or fading out or any trad. trick the guitar goes haywire then the bass follows and the song falls apart. Great!

‘Unknown #3′ another joke voice song. There’s a doubled vocal at one point which sounded more like Dale added on. Those little touches are kinda impressive – there’s real thought going on about how to put together sounds for emphasis and impact, they’re not just splattering songs onto cassette rough n’ ready. “No you’re not mine” becomes the outro refrain. Cobain loves coughing sounds, choking, it’s like my nephew blowing raspberries through his entire christening the other day – a certain glee in making the throat do odd things.

‘Unknown #4’ yeah, again, Cobain sounds like he’s going to puke in this first verse. I remember hearing how Chris Cornell’s early work with Soundgarden was always like listening to an air raid siren because he’d not yet learned to moderate and carefully deploy his wail. That’s true of Cobain here, he’s aiming for those high notes, screams and screeches over and again. This track repeats elements of “Love my Family” and other lines or motifs I know from existing sources of Fecal Matter. Notable how ‘metal’ the bass work on these songs is, back before grunge brought hard rock back into repute, just after ‘da yoof’ were getting sick of straight punk. This is a very long song, potentially more of an improvisation which would explain why it seems to loop in elements of other tracks – it’s roughly ten minutes long with a long slow ‘doomy’ section.

‘Unknown #5’ kicks off with something kinda new wavey – guitar even sounds like an early keyboard, then vocals like an early rendition of “Beans” (it’s not but Cobain’s thing for helium voices apparently kept him happy for quite a few years.) Then the dynamic kicks in, like a hugely slowed down “Big Cheese” riff. The time changes are pretty great, the song rips up to full hardcore stomp after a minute or so. “I’m not a Russian, not a spy…Somebody said, should have been dead…Accusation…”

I’ll never get tired of “Spank Thru”, it’s a great early Nirvana song and, viewing the material they had available to them in early 1988 I can understand why they decided to get it out there on Sub Pop 200. I used to think it was a showcase for the ‘Nevermind’ era dynamic of songs, loud-soft etc. I was wrong. The guitar intro is wicked, always was.

‘Blather’s Log’ is a great story-telling song in the Cobain fashion, more stray images than a full narrative. There’s a court scene being laid out here, various aspects of the tale weaving in and out and all done in this forced croak. I’ve heard this before but still an impressive early work. Cobain really hasn’t found his voice yet, sure, from the start of the Nirvana era he has a lot of control over his voice, he can do a lot with it, but it’s always recognisably Cobain. On these early songs he’s working it in all kinds of directions, a lot of which don’t have any later markers in his calendar. The amount of work the guy put into finding his place in music, his desired identity, ‘himself’, it’s underappreciated. He’s not just been writing songs he’s been speaking in tongues – that must be hard, adopting a voice appropriate to a song or a mood or a vibe.

‘Class of 86’ heads down that same road, he impersonates made-up classmates, comes close to spoken word, snarls the chorus, screams “clone!” It’s a welter of different voices, far more than a two and a half minute pop song would usually incorporate. Some stray noise on the outro I hadn’t noticed including a background sound that runs straight into the start of ‘Unknown #6’, did they just take a breather than carry straight on into the next song?

‘Downer’, another great survivor from Easter 1986 through to January 1988. I’m not sure I ever got Cobain’s Black Flag comparison for this one. But I love the whistling solo. Cobain moved so fast through musical styles in the mid-to-late Eighties. There’s these hardcore/metal/punk hybrid tunes, then the new wavey oddness he’s reaching by the Jan ’88 sessions, then the grunge vibe mid-to-late ’88 which comes out on “Bleach” (which couldn’t sound more like a Sub Pop album if it tried), then the pop-punk vibe that barely lasts longer than the time it takes to hammer out Been a Son – Stain – Even in His Youth – Token Easter Song, the acoustic work in the background, then the big switches in 1990-1991. Cobain had a real gift for incorporating other influences into his work, for learning quick, for moving between styles. Some bands might take years of work just to create another album sounding just like what they’ve done before. This guy has left us with recordings from ’86, ’88, late ’88-early ’89, late ’89, early ’90, early-mid ’91 each with a different air.

‘Instramental’ is marked as a version of ‘Unknown #3’, again, there’s quite a few differences. It’s like comparing “Sifting” from “Bleach” to the instrumental version from the summer of 1988 – general vibes, riffs, reworked in substantially different ways. It doesn’t seem too defined, just playing around with ideas until they fall apart.

After that the tape features “Turnaround” by Devo – ye gods! Cobain’s love of early influences, his fidelity when it comes to his favourites. The idea that we get a tape here of that song then four years later he pulls that track out for BBC Radio and two years beyond that we get it on “Incesticide.” The guy knew what he liked…

You get near three minutes of “Turnaround” before the tape returns to Cobain working over riffs. This is actually a lot better than you’d imagine, hearing the riffs in isolation gives an opportunity to appreciate some of his guitar work without the rather muddy bass and cardboard drums clogging the sound (heck, without Cobain’s still thin voice over the top.) You’ll recognise most of these riffs from elsewhere on the tape. I swear that’s the “Big Cheese” riff coming in again!

I can see why, if this is the tape that Krist heard back in ’86, why it would make him want to team up with Cobain. There are so many ideas going on. That’s my biggest impression, often a single song goes in so many directions, sure, there may be a core riff, or a vestigial verse/chorus structure but usually there are off-kilter bridges, breaks, outros, intros, deviations going on. He’s not starting with something utterly basic, he appears to be past that already. I recall talk of how people found it surprising that Cobain could write something as sophisticated as “Spank Thru” so early in his career but it makes so much more sense in the context of these other early efforts where there’s a visible chomping at the bit, a desire to try different things. So much variety crammed into a single tape, it’s intriguing in a way that the progress from here to Nirvana was about paring back, simplifying, reducing the pebbledashing of ideas onto tape.

Gods it’ll be nice to hear a properly polished up (as best as possible) release some day. I’m sure Universal will get to it sometime. Why’s it coming out now? Intriguing…Is this someone linked to ‘Montage of Heck’ or to the release apparently coming later this year. If so, wow, could be we hear that official version sooner rather than later.

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I was reading an early interview with Nirvana a couple months back and at one point they’re asked about their history with drummers. This is during Chad Channing’s time on the stool and Cobain replies “Is Bob in…Should we count Bob?” Novoselic and Cobain eventually decide not to count Bob McFadden. On that occasion, however, the band are being so strict with their timeline that they also state that Nirvana didn’t form in Aberdeen, “…as Nirvana we formed in Olympia and Tacoma…” Which is technically accurate but overlooks the tentative period from mid-1986 through early 1987 when ‘something’, a no-name-band at the time, was starting up. It made me curious to learn more about Mr. McFadden — what role had he played in the first foray of the Cobain/Novoselic five-year-plan?

I browsed the books — there’s barely a mention. A few comments online and that’s it. So, here I have to make an immediate thank you to a friend who was willing to pass on a note for me. Within just a few hours I’d received a very polite message back and was able to explain that my sole desire was to hear a little more about the time Mr. McFadden spent with the future stars. Hope it’s of interest — from my side it was a pleasure, a really enjoyable conversation with a really pleasant fellow. In summary, in August-September 1986, for a period of up to four-five weeks, Mr. McFadden was invited to be part of a new band just getting together…

Bob McFadden, first man on the Spinal Tap roster of ‘Nirvana’ in its early years, thank you.

Bob: Years ago I had a chance to do a couple of interviews but I was in a place in my life where I was a little selfish and I declined. Nice to have it come back around. I don’t know how much I have to share but if you’re interested and your heart’s in the right place then I’m happy to share a little of my history and feel pretty good about it.

Nick: Your name’s come up again and again with regard to the Nirvana story and yet, looking through all the books, you’re kinda not there. But I was reading an interview the other day, a very early interview, where the interviewer asks Kurt and Krist how many drummers the band has had and the first thing Kurt asks Krist is whether they still start with Bob or not… I just wanted to flesh out what that time was — my first question was what was your story? There was quite a small crew into the punk scene in that area, how did you come to be part of the crew?

Bob: I grew up in Aberdeen, that’s where I went to elementary school and high school. This was pre-grunge movement and though there were a few punk rockers around Aberdeen most of us were just in cover bands and doing covers of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, some of the old rock n’ roll. That’s what we were getting together and rehearsing then we’d go out and play the parties. I never envisaged myself as a musician then seventh grade jazz band I was asked to play the drums — never studied it but I was asked so I got up there and kept the beat. Guess I got bitten by the bug — it intrigued me — and I ended up getting a kit then hanging out with a bunch of people, the Dale Crovers, the Aaron Burckhards. There was just a little clique of us who hung around and jammed a lot…

Chris Novoselic’s brother — Robert — me and him started a thing with Evan Archie and ended up doing a lot of parties. So I was always going over to Chris and Robert’s house to do some rehearsing — which is how I met Chris, it was actually through his brother Robert. There weren’t many venues up there — we were really young, still in high school, not really thinking about that as a career. Fast forward a little bit, I’m still hanging out with Robert while Chris was actually playing guitar for us in that little cover group. I got approached by Chris late in my senior year, maybe right after, and that’s when he asked me to come hang out with him at Maria’s Hair Salon and sit in with him and Kurt.

I didn’t actually know Mr. Cobain very well. I’d seen him around some of the parties and some of that scene, but he was a pretty quiet, reserved guy. So, I was asked by Chris to come and sit in so I met them over at Maria’s Hair Salon — I was only there for a few short weeks and that’s why you won’t see my in a lot of the publications because I was only involved pre-Nirvana, in the really early stuff. It was brief, just a few weeks of me going over and we’d rehearse two-three times a week. I have to be honest I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get what they were trying to do. Unfortunately! Because a couple of years later they’re properly produced and they’re ‘NIRVANA’ of course! I didn’t get it, I didn’t understand the movement that was taking place. It is what it is. Back then it wasn’t all put together nice and neat in the studio, it was pretty raw, I didn’t get what they were doing — I was used to doing cover tunes and this was all brand new to me.

Then I had to make a decision. I was talking to my girlfriend, who became my wife — Mrs. Tina McFadden — she was asking me what my plans were; “are you going to work and have a family or are you going to go out on the road?” And at that point I had to make that decision; did I want to go do this music thing, or was I going to raise a family and join the working class? I’m really glad I chose the path I did because I have two beautiful daughters — Kayla and Kenzie — a good career and I still know some people in the industry so — bonus. Had I chosen that rock n’ roll path I may not be here today talking to you. If you go into it thinking of it as a job, in an industry, I think you’re a little better off but some of us get a glorified vision of what it’s about. Today that’s how I think of it — people getting together and making this product and then putting it out into the market then you go out and play to show it off — but back then that’s not how I felt and that wasn’t my vision of what rock n’ roll was all about. But yeah, at that point all of us had a vision that this could go somewhere — we all wanted to go do that until I had that discussion with my girlfriend and got some perspective on it. Everybody we were hanging around with was trying to break out.

Nick: So, it was known locally you were a drummer and Chris approached you around the time you finished high school?

Bob: Yeah I was still playing with Evan Archie — he was now the guitar player in the band — and Robert Novoselic, Chris’ little brother. We were doing some things, starting to play small clubs, couple of wedding receptions, that type of thing. Very semi-professional stuff. And Chris just came up to me one day, “hey, I’ve got this guy, you want to get together?” And I was just “sure, I’m up for anything.” So that was it, we got it together. Like I said, it was just for a brief three—four week deal and I bowed out gracefully and off they went. It was ’86 but it’s a long time ago so it’s after graduation in June but I’m guessing we definitely started off around summertime — sometime around August.

Chris and Kurt had some material written but they needed someone to help out on the drum track portion of it. So they definitely wanted some input — like I said, I don’t recall all of it, but they had songs and I just didn’t understand what they were trying to do. Kurt seemed in charge of what was happening — Chris would always give his input even when we were doing cover songs before this. Chris had great vision, I was always able to envisage him producing things because he had a lot of good insight. But mostly Cobain was the driving force. I’d call it a democratic process, just with a leader — we all got our say. I’ve listened to a lot of Nirvana but I don’t recall anything that I’d played on at that time, nothing I remember.

Nick: And Maria’s Hair Design was the only place you practised or were there other places?

Bob: For this particular thing it was Maria’s — before that Chris was part of what we were doing at his house. I remember Kurt showing up a few times there, playing some covers. But this period at Maria’s was geared toward a particular thing which was putting together what their vision was. I think they were trying to put this thing together and to go do what they did — but unfortunately I couldn’t see that. Kurt and Chris played together comfortably — I’d say they were very comfortable with each other. I remember they had a Tascam four track recorder hung up with one microphone in the center of the room so they could do some playbacks. They seemed serious about what they were doing.

Nick: Do you remember a day where it felt ‘right’ where it felt like “yes, we could do this!”?

Bob: I don’t recall. Typically people only remember the worst but I’m sure there were points where we gelled as musicians and it felt right, felt good. I don’t remember contributing anything specific — I’m the kind of guy who would have said something if I’d had something to add, but it’s a long time ago and I don’t remember. Worth asking, you might jog a memory or two! It was quite a serious time commitment at the time — pretty organized. They knew where they wanted it to go and it was pretty well-structured. So they’d put some thought in before they contacted me and made sure they had their material together. I’d taken a little time off music in order to finish and graduate high school so in that time I think they were getting together and pre-rehearsing it because that was what Chris said when he first spoke to me about it, that they had stuff ready and they wanted to see if they could get it worked up. I think they wanted to find a drummer so they could go to a studio, record a demo, then go do the clubs. It definitely seemed they had a vision. I didn’t practice outside of playing with them because my drum kit stayed there at Maria’s so it was just about showing up and playing when we got together. I just remember they were working well together and I think they had that vision…

Nick: Do you remember the kinds of covers you were playing together at the time while you were at Maria’s?

Bob: Just the classic rock n’ roll — Black Sabbath…We played Cream, Sunshine of Your Love was on our list for sure. Mustang Sally — that was one of Chris Novoselic’s favorites but that’s because he was playing a Fender Mustang around that time which is why he liked it so much. Chris was always kind of reserved — you’d never think it when you see him stepping out with the bass in his hands, or now when he’s doing the political stuff. You’d never know he could be a quiet guy — I don’t think he ever wanted to be a front man.

Nick: How did things end?

Bob: I recall having that conversation with them. We rehearsed and I cut that off a little early and said “hey, I need to talk to you guys — I’ve made a decision…” and then I broke the news to them, packed my kit up and headed home. I didn’t just leave them hanging in the wind. I wish I had the recordings just for memorabilia sakes, I know a gentleman who does — I don’t know if it was my recordings at Maria’s but he just sold them back to the Cobain estate. I don’t personally have anything from that time frame.

Nick: Did you learn back then that Aaron took over from you sometime after, around November or December?

Bob: I actually didn’t know about Aaron until just recently — literally a couple years ago — I didn’t discover that Aaron had been a big part of that until some of the stuff with him on it got released. I see he’s back in the scene, he’s playing with some fellas and doing that, good for him. I’m glad to see him back out!

I know that at one point I harboured a few feelings just out of jealousy — just because I’d not become part of what happened to them. But I worked through all of that really well. But I know some people in the area, people in the scene, who went through a lot of dark stuff because of what happened to Nirvana and had a degree of envy because they weren’t a part of that. It’s weird when you’re friends with somebody and suddenly they’re famous and you’re not. It’s human but most of us move on and I definitely have. I didn’t stay in touch with Chris or Kurt once things started happening to them. I’m still in touch with Robert, Chris’ brother. I’d love to have a cup of coffee with Chris, see where he’s at in life, but I don’t want to feel like I’m intruding given how much he must get contacted by people.

http://blankonblank.org/interviews/kurt-cobain-on-identity/

This floated around about a month ago, generally focused around a single quotation “I even thought that I was gay.” The problem being that it’s not the crucial point of what he’s discussing.

To be gay, to be homosexual, is specifically an expression denoting sexual orientation and the romantic and/or sexual linkages resulting from it; for Cobain to be gay would have meant describing himself as romantically or sexually attracted to men. He doesn’t do this. The full statement is “I even thought that I was gay, that it might be the solution to my problem, although I never experimented with it.”

This section of the conversation was an extension of an overall discussion of his family difficulty, his difficulties fitting in at school, his difficulties forming social bonds to other males, his hatred of the way women are treated by a society that continues to promote misogyny. What he’s discussing is teenage identity rather than sexuality. His rejection of the traditional male formulation of self – i.e., expression via sports, via exclusively male activity, via the desired or actualised subjugation of women and a sense that they’re just another form of sporting achievement – is what leads to the “there’s something different about me” teenage blues in the case of Mr. Cobain.

What’s interesting though is his idea that self-defining as gay would have been an improvement in his circumstances – like receiving a pass allowing him to opt-out of the norms he was rejecting; defining oneself sexually in order to escape a sense of being in some way warped and being attacked for it. Of course he retreats from this – being known as an openly gay male would, I imagine, have been a fairly hazardous experience. It shows a distinct shortcoming in Cobain’s knowledge and understanding of homosexuality that he seems to be adopting his ‘abusers’ beliefs as his own – they think that his absence of desire for traditional male pursuits and attitudes makes him gay and teen Cobain, instead of saying that they were wrong and he obviously wasn’t gay it was simply that he didn’t agree with them, he says “maybe they’re right.” It’s a telling indication of the internalised values Cobain had learnt growing up and had been unable to shed at the point in time he was discussing.

It’s also a curious indication of his views on the purpose of identity; identity to be adopted as a veil to keep others away and to avoid being criticised. The idea is one in which being gay is a way for him to be ignored, to not be thought of as simply weird or wrong. Later in life he’s described as such a pleasant, decent and funny guy by those he knows but is often considered taciturn and socially withdrawn by others who only casually come into contact with him – again, becoming known for this allows him to evade and avoid exposure and discomfort. Similarly, toward the last year or so of his life, having discovered that withdrawing just led to increased intrusion into his private affairs – he tries the same thing, to adopt a positive identity and to say positive things, again, as a way of simply keeping people at a distance from his real thoughts and feelings.

In the case of teen Cobain, rather than arguing for the virtues and value of his beliefs and way of being – it seemed an easier solution, at least at one point, to just say “yeah, I’m gay, whatever you say.” For later Cobain there was still this tendency to use identity as a form of hiding.

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

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

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

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

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

Radio Shack_Jan 24 1988

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

Schillinger's Residence_1

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

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

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

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

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

2830 1-2 Aberdeen Ave, Hoquiam

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

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

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

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

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

Krist's Home

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

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

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

1991 Cosimopolis Festival_2

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

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

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

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

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Raymond Scenery_3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelation

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

href=”https://nirvanalegacy.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/state-of-washington.png”>State of Washington

To tour the key Nirvana and Kurt Cobain locations in the State of Washington doesn’t require a car, merely some patience. Contrary to popular belief the United States of America does indeed run fairly regular public transport services that will serve most of the desired locations. There are some outlying places that probably aren’t worth the effort depending on how completist you wish to be; you could go see 17 Nussbaum Road, Raymond to get a sense of how tiny and ordinary Nirvana’s origins in 1987 were – you could visit the house at 33401 NE 78th Street, Carnation but it’s hard to see it without invading and trespassing on the property which is probably best avoid, meanwhile looking at old concert venues in Bellingham, Auburn or Ellensburg seems uninteresting.

There is, however, a decent cluster of sites in the area around Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Montesano over on the Pacific Coast. The maps below indicate locations, primarily of homes from early in Kurt Cobain’s life:

Aberdeen

The Aberdeen map shows a couple of his early rented places, the house he lived in from 1968 through 1976, plus the hospital he was born at and briefly slept in during one of his spells of homelessness in his late teens.

Moving ever so slightly along the coast takes you to the house in which a newly born Kurt Cobain lived out his first year:

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And finally, heading down the highway to the East takes you to Montesano and to the home Kurt shared with his father for a number of relatively unhappy and troubled years.

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http://jezebel.com/kurt-cobain-was-once-arrested-for-tagging-cartoon-chara-513289680

I’m personally conflicted by this news given my love of Scooby Doo is clearly now in conflict with my love of Nirvana and the works of Kurt Cobain. It’s typical of Kurt Cobain, however.

There’s a scene at the beginning of the film Blue Velvet (1986) in which the camera pans over an artificially pristine and drippingly gorgeous suburban scene before panning down into the grass, closer, closer, until eventually its buried in the dirt and scuttering bugs — a visual metaphor illustrating the film’s overall desire to show how much goes on behind the friendly stability and contented exteriors of both people and places. This is what I feel Cobain does a lot.

In his earlier story songs and his short sketches of character and place — primarily represented on Bleach and Incesticide — one element he dwells on is the discomfort dwelling beneath ordinary surfaces. He does this in two ways; either by warping comforting images by bonding them to uncomfortable elements, or by describing inner feeling buried. While his teenage doodles do contain a lot of simple gross-out imagery, something like the Mr. Moustache cartoon takes it a step further by wedging the simple desire of a parent to feel/hear the movements of their baby, to the emotional and violent vitriol of their wishes for what the child will be/not be, then the physical outcome of an internal forced ‘caesarean’ for want of a better word.

Floyd the Barber is the most famous example of this aesthetic, the most overt and vicious, but the duality is pulled repeatedly; Mrs Butterworth’s vision of advancement is undermined by “that piss stained mattress I’ve been sleeping on”;Montage of Heck welds cutesy samples to vomiting sounds and gushes of feedback or shredded metal; Swap Meet’s subsistence art-life goes hand in hand with frustrations held “close to the heart”; Scoff voices its accuser’s thoughts while denying them then undercuts the self-righteousness with the demand for alcohol; Sifting and Mr. Moustache undercut any positive vibes repeatedly; Sliver’s domesticity is spoilt by the narrator’s near hysterical distress; Sappy finds happiness in slavery…Most similarly to the film vision, Spank Thru surveys love, lights in the trees, happy birds…Then breaks into an ode to masturbation. Divergence between realities abound in these early songs of discontent.

Polly pulls the same stunt with a subtlety belying its relatively early writing (circa 1987.) The narrator’s attentiveness and soft-spoken calm is blown apart by the gradual hints that the object of his gaze is bound and abused. The change in Cobain’s writing style makes it one of the last clear-cut cases of this desire to undermine and show the lies in the ordinary and every-day. Aneurysm is the other with its merging of love song/rock n’ roll cliché to drugs and violence.

In terms of why there should be such an interest in things not being as they seem, there are several origins that could be theorised. For a start, Cobain’s own personality was one in which evading confrontation seems to have been a major element; the descriptions of him as a quiet and withdrawn presence suggest a defensiveness, a desire to figure out the environment before committing anything to it — there were far more thoughts, far more annoyances and aggravations that he let loose in music, in his journals, to other people. Secondly, and this may be related to the first point, the instability of Cobain’s own home-life, the fact that from age nine he went through numerous houses and, by his late teens, three spells of semi-homelessness, meant that the idea that a home might be a stable place, one of sanctuary, simply never occurred for him. Home was a place where he was welcomed in but in the background had to wonder if he was staying whether because the tension became too high for him or for those looking after him. Third, and finally, the fact that his relationship with the two people crucial to a child forming a feeling of trust in the world — his parents — had fractured, understandably damaged his ability to think of the world without seeing something ugly under the surface.

So, in the end, a juvenile doodling of Scooby Doo and Shaggy, nothing more than that — but a wrecking of a childhood image and a standard activity for Cobain expressed for years to come.