Olympia is a nice, but small city, that is roughly 40 miles from Aberdeen. It is about a 15 minute drive from one end of the city to the other. Olympia has a very different feel to it, considering its proximity to Aberdeen. I can see why Kurt would have liked it. Olympia felt safer than Aberdeen, more like a place you wouldn’t mind living. The home he lived in with Tracy Marander was certainly a much better living situation than Kurt usually had in Aberdeen.
The Evergreen State College has a rural feel to the area. Unlike many US colleges, as you drive up, the entrance is a long road, nestled between large trees. The college feels more within nature than most and the trees kind of hide the university buildings within them. Once you get up to the university itself, it separates into left and right sides of the school.
Capitol Lake Park was pretty and picturesque, but also fairly small as far some city parks go. Olympia has its own farmers markets and art fairs going on, that were nice to come across. I also ran across a popular children’s museum, among other activities while in Olympia that all seemed worth checking out.
114 1/2 Pear Street Olympia, WA USA – (home where Kurt lived with then girlfriend Tracy Mirander and later with Dave Grohl in 1990-1991) nice blue home, 3 separate sections of home available for living with Kurt previously occupying the right side & right rear side of home (sections 2 & 3). Young college aged kids living there during my visit from what I could tell. Street parking is available in front of the home and across the street at the Washington State Lottery Building (that Kurt & Dave Grohl used to shoot air gun pellets at). There is also a parking lot for the Washington State Lottery building right there too. The home itself has a small alley access on the right side of the home as well and the backyard is small and only partially visible due to trees from the right side alley. Kurt wrote a large majority of the most famous Nirvana songs at this home. What I think was maybe just a coincidence, when I was right in front of the house, a car passed down the adjacent street (but not in front of the house) playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with the window rolled down. It hit me that I was standing in front of the house where that song is thought to have been written. Amazing.
The Evergreen State College Olympia, WA USA – TV Production, Library area, KAOS Radio, etc. – (Kurt & Nirvana played shows here, appeared twice on KAOS radio station, recorded songs in the television studio & had friends that went here) – I visited on a Sunday in the Summer, so the school was out of session. However, because of that, I was able to go around and see more than I probably would have been able to otherwise. All of the Nirvana related buildings seemed to be open. The building that has the KAOS radio station inside was open and I was able to walk up all the way to its front door. Lots of interesting messages on the glass windows in front. Next to the KAOS offices (which were locked) was a billboard for upcoming events going on in the college. Nirvana played a gig near the library so I went to check that area out. While the library itself was not open, the photography section was, which has a display of various personal looking photos taken during US wars in the Middle East. Once heading further in that building, it leads to the TV & Graphic Arts rooms. Those rooms were all closed, however you could walk through the entire department and its hallways. I could kind of picture what it must have been like all those years earlier after visiting the college.
Keep in mind that many of the places Kurt and Nirvana played at or hung out at in Olympia have either closed or have changed drastically over the years. That is the case with Aberdeen and Seattle as well. This is to be expected since it has been 20-25 years since they became apart of the Kurt Cobain/Nirvana story. I visited what I felt were the most relevant and intact places as of 2016.
If you are looking for more to do in Olympia, check out the State Capitol building, a Japanese Garden, the Bigelow House Museum, as well as other lakes and parks.
And if you want to see every related Kurt Cobain item here, you can go by the house that Courtney Love bought for Kurt’s Mom Wendy & sister Kim at 8910 Bordeaux Rd SW, Olympia, WA. Courtney purchased the house in 1997 but stopped making payments by 2003. WMC Mortgage Co. in Los Angeles was owed back payments, so the house was auctioned off in January 2006 at the Thurston County Courthouse in Olympia.
Part 1: Seattle can be found here:
My 2013 visits are documented in the ‘Nirvana Maps and Locales’ category, check the menu at left hand side of the screen. They include:
A little while a go I checked NirvanaDarkSlivers@gmail.com and was greeted by a couple of emails from a charming fellow called Brian describing his own Nirvana journey in the State of Washington – an endeavour he’d been working up to for quite a while. My own trip was – wow, some three years ago now, ages. So was curious to see his updates and happy to agree to share his ‘journal’ and photos more widely. Hope you enjoy – oh! And definitely go see the Seattle/Tacoma/Olympia/Aberdeen area, it’s intriguing!
Way, wayyyyyyy, in the way-back, I did a series of maps basically amateurishly plotting Nirvana’s touring in the U.S.:
I found it intriguing to conceive of Nirvana’s tours in a more physical way – as movement from one location to the next rather than just gigs or recordings of gigs – a reemphasis on the journeys rather than the outcomes.
Having diligently plotted the band’s first tour down the West Coast in early 1989, I moved on and tracked the summer and autumn 1989 tours in the U.S., then the April/May tour of 1990 followed by the West Coast jaunt in August, next the Sept-Oct tour of 1991, moving on to the October-December 1993/January 1994 tour finally. I don’t think I looked much deeper than that really – I made the maps, followed them round, left them there.
What I didn’t really focus on was the shift in approach across those years – for some reason it was on my mind today. For a start, the band’s complaints in multiple sources and biographies regarding the grim experience of living in a van for weeks, perhaps point to a shift in approach. The first tour commenced in Seattle, carried on through California, then on to the rest of the U.S. – logical huh? Well…No. The reason is that it meant by the time the band reached the east coast and played New York they were simultaneously exhausted and as far from home as they could be. The result was the cancellation of seven shows – a significant portion of a tour in which the band only played sixteen shows outside of State of Washington and California. The original tour plan would have taken them home as follows:
So; Toronto, Newport, Detroit, Champaign, Denver, Salt Lake City, Boise – cancelling the tour meant Nirvana basically made the route home in a day or two as opposed to two weeks…But they were still just skipping the path home.
For the September tour they were more focused. They’d played the west coast plenty of time so they simply skip it altogether and instead commence the tour in Minnesota – in other words, a long drive done quickly to start things off rather than the slow progress from the North West. This allows them to polish off the gigs they didn’t do the previous time and makes the entire tour a progression heading ever closer to home – a positive for tired guys.
It’s clear that they’d learnt something from the early experience because the route planning in 1990 reflects the new pattern; they clear the west coast up in February, then come April 1st they simply drive to Chicago from State of Washington and commence there – no ‘long beginning.’ From the time they hit Florida on May 4, they’re on their way home – every gig a step closer. They still overestimate their own stamina – yet again that long in a van means a band member is flung out at the end of the tour. September-October 1991, a full year and a half (and one label change) later and they still kick off by driving all the way over to Ontario, Canada before working their way home, this time going back up the West Coast rather than directly home.
Here’s the bit I realised I’d failed on though…The big change between 1989-1991 and 1992-1994? Well, sure, there’s the bit where they stay home and barely play for months, but more significantly it’s the way air travel becomes a feature of their touring within the U.S. I’d not noticed it because, of course, the band were flying to Europe regularly, but before they hit fame they’re still driving the continental U.S. From 1992 this isn’t necessarily so – it results in the West Coast / East Coast ‘pinging’ in 1992/1993.
The band no longer have to plot out routes, they can fly in for lucrative one-offs and head home immediately (pretty well what they did with the European festivals and South American shows in 1992.) The In Utero tour – while more extensive – still retains that determination to start well away from home, this time in Arizona, before crashing round the East Coast. The route home is still there but it’s a lot more convoluted given they arrive back in Seattle for Live and Loud then head out again from there.
That basic pattern remains; first tour, the tour has a long start and an abrupt finish – they run out of steam. After that they go for the ‘quick start’ somewhere far across the continent and then the ride home. It’s late 1993 before relative comfort stretches that pattern out.
“…that part of town ( 2nd street ) has looked like that since i can remember and i’m old. also, why make cobain out to be such a ‘son.’ You talk of the positive effect his music has had or something like that, what about the negative effect that idolizing him has had. It has glamorzed drug addiction and and made it seem hip to do nothing but cling to someone who did not value his life. And I’m no angel. All the ugly signs and memorials should be taken down and laid to rest. One more thing, they have memorialized the location that he got loaded at …really?”
I’ve said it before, I like receiving contrary views because even if I disagree at least it makes me hold up for a second and think before barrelling on down my own lil’ path of self-righteousness. The other day the comment above was placed with one of the posts regarding my visit to Aberdeen, WA last September (gosh, is it coming up to nine months gone already?!) I admit I rather like it! There’s a lot going on in there so I’m hoping (fingers crossed) to both respectfully agree with some of it and respectfully disagree with some other bits of it. Let’s see how I do shall we?
There are a number of angles here; to clear up one of the easy ones post-haste, I’d suggest that there’s nothing in the story of Kurt Cobain that glamorizes drug addiction. The majority of onlookers see heroin addiction as the most crucial factor in his demise, the majority of fans feel they’d have seen far more glories, far more music, from him if heroin hadn’t hastened his demise. As a 14 year old at the time my main reaction was to immediately take on a pretty solid mantra of “injecting untrustworthy cocktails of heavily cut chemical byproducts is a really bad idea.” I can’t imagine many people watched the wasting away visible in 1992 photos of Cobain, the massive reduction in his writing and creativity (more than three quarters of his songs are written prior to the Nevermind album’s release), his disappearance from the public eye, the stories (untrue) of junky babies, the intervention and observation by social services (I’d say quite rightly until the situation was clearer despite the parental protestations of innocence), the general spiral…And coming away thinking that his drug addiction was in anyway positive. Cobain was a great antidote to the Eighties’ rock vibe in which one’s drug consumption was a sign of your superhuman endurance, of your masculine wildness and also to the yuppie drug takers either focused on the glamour of drugs or on the ‘mind expansion’ and ‘experimentation’ nonsense – Cobain made it look really unsexy, unglamorous and unwelcome.
It also showed the music industry doing its best to cover and conceal everything to try to keep that sexy druggy vibe alive – the PR teams were OK to admit his drug-taking to score ‘bad boy’ points but didn’t want to full squalor to be visible. Cobain did truth a big favour by his constant statements regarding how unwelcome an experience drug addiction was. It’s so saddening that he clearly didn’t enjoy what was occuring – at least five spells in rehab trying to clear the situation and unable to ‘win’. The degree of self-hatred welling up from his feeling of weakness, again, makes it look so unattractive – he wasn’t a man who revelled in his excesses or celebrated hedonism.
The point about Cobain as Aberdeen’s “son” is a really good one. It’s so understandable why there’s an ambivalence in the posthumous commemoration of Cobain – he was pretty overt about his distain for the town, he even protests too much to be honest, I think there’s a sense in which he overeggs how much he dislikes it in order to emphasise the “I had it tough” aspect of his youth (no, Kurt did not sleep rough under the bridge, no, Kurt was not beaten up by homophobes, no, Kurt did not spray ‘Homo Sex Rules’ on a building, no, Kurt did not do anything more under the bridge than hangout drink beers and maybe smoke pot, no, Kurt wasn’t anyone of real interest in Aberdeen.) I imagine he’d be more than happy to go un-memorialised.
Alas, on the other hand, why does anyone know or care that Aberdeen, WA exists? Kurt Cobain is the only figure from the town to achieve truly globe-spanning fame – he’s one of a bare handful of cultural figures who can occupy that Elvis, Michael Jackson, John Lennon realm (as a sidebar, each one an individual with personal flaws and chemical flaws, but also ALL amazing artists of global significance) – that’s an amazing achievement and it’s certainly a significant impact on Aberdeen. I would perhaps think of the activities done in his name in Aberdeen less as celebrations and more as commemorations – yesterday, June 28th 2014, commemorations were held for the moment when the Serbian revolutionary executed a representative of the Austro-Hungarian empire (and his wife) and set off the First World War. It isn’t a celebration, it’s a memorial, a chance to remember both the good that came – the heroism, the comradeship, the bravery – as well as the all-too-apparent awfulness. Remembrance is a valuable thing and Kurt Cobain is, without a shadow of a doubt, a significant part of the past of Aberdeen and one worth commemorating.
Having said that, I would definitely say that when commemoration becomes an application for sainthood I start feeling a bit sick. Kurt Cobain wasn’t a saint, he wasn’t just an unambiguous cardboard cutout of wholesomeness. He was an incredible artist, he was a man who worked extremely hard at his art, he was a man who inspired and comforted and excited and entertained millions the world over…But a memorial speech that didn’t recognise the sadness and the harsh side of his tale would make me uncomfortable – it would be a lie. An awful lot of Cobain’s art came from his pains and discomforts and his failings. The appropriation of his image to recognise the town’s past, acknowledge the town’s most famous son, encourage a warm welcome to the many people who will someday take a pilgrimage to the town, to bring a benefit to the town in terms of its image and potential dollars to support livelihoods and lives in the region – this is all good. I’d just be hoping it wasn’t one-dimensional praise because that wouldn’t be honest. Cobain deserves his status in the pantheon of music…And he was still a man destroyed by drugs and demons. What’s that cliche? ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’? I’d go with that.
Tapping away on this blog has been a privilege – why? Because I’ve been introduced by person after person to their creative endeavours – inspired by Kurt Cobain. The effect of his death, of people’s admiration for him, has not been a fixation on doom – it’s been a desire to build and make things. I’ve heard from people who used his music at wedding celebrations, from people making music interpreting Cobain’s material or who started bands that are now completely unique but started just covering his songs, I’ve caught up with artists who created work built around Cobain as a source of inspiration, I’ve met other people as inclined to write as I am partially because Cobain led them in certain directions. I’ve heard from people living in every continent on this planet, all doing positive things with their lives and celebrating their lives AND all acknowledging that Kurt Cobain was a part of that. The sorrow of losing an idol, the thrill of hearing music that inspired them – it didn’t give them a death wish or a worthless shrine-building cult-forming death drive, it took them to new places.
I’m not sure that admiration for Kurt Cobain has had many negatives though I’m very sure some lazy ignorant kid somewhere did indeed skim-read Cobain’s life and take the message “die young, leave a good looking corpse” or “drugs are good, mmm-kay.” Unfortunately there’s no controlling the acts of the ignorant – one could wrap the world in cotton wool and some people would still find ways to hurt themselves and others. Does Kurt Cobain deserve the blame for that? You’re right, he can’t control who takes what inspiration from him or whether people choose him as a role model or idol, but the people venerating him certainly can receive a degree of blame…Except no one responsible for public celebrations of Kurt Cobain seems to have been celebrating drug usage, or self-destruction, or death. So, again, those who take that trinity of elements as the main messages of Cobain’s life and as elements to be emulated…Hmm. Worrisome. I don’t have an answer to the desire of some people to destroy themselves not because of great pain but simply because, nor an answer to the desire of some people to destroy others not because of great threat or need but simply because. But in a world of motivating factors I’m pretty sure Kurt Cobain is an extremely minor factor.
So…To head back to the title question, why commemorate Kurt Cobain? Firstly, he’s historically significant globally and more precisely a part of the history of Aberdeen, WA. Erasing things one doesn’t like from history heads into the realms of Stalin or of North Korea. Secondly, his status really is deserved – he’s the creator of a persistently admired bedrock of music and music did undergo a sea-change for which he was the figurehead as well as a core catalyst (though an unwitting one.) Thirdly, he’s one of a tiny number of musicians to die while still within reach of the peak of their career and to therefore leave this sense of incomplete work and a longing for more – most commentary on Kurt Cobain carries that silent “what if…?” within it which helps create and sustain the fascination and the curiosity. Fourthly, unwillingly, he’s become a modern morality tale and it’s worth speaking honestly of his life to recognise that he was a man trying to do good and with many admirable qualities who was brought low by his flaws – that isn’t a condemnation nor a hagiography, it’s just a shame. Fifth, he put Aberdeen on the map and has contributed economically through the publicity he brings to the area as well as the direct contributions made by visitors – there’s the potential for his name to do many lifetimes of good to the region and that’s worth shooting for. Sixth, he’s inspired people to create and to make something of their lives on a scale and with a breadth most people will never achieve – that’s a truly exceptional achievement.
It seems I’ve been granted my 15 seconds of Internet era fame, how funny. The dearly beloved girlfriend of a dearly beloved friend pointed out there was a new NME Nirvana Special in the local newsagent during a trip to Edinburgh. Late last night on the way home at 23.00 I started flipping through and stopped during the discussion of Cobain’s Fecal Matter demos because the NME referenced me in the piece. How chucklesome! Made me smile. This is the post I made that it seems to be referring to – nice to be seen…
Now, the things my poor friends have to endure…A quick stroll of the centre of Edinburgh readily throws up two Nirvana locations; the former Calton Studios where Nirvana played on October 26, 1990 and November 29, 1991 plus The Southern Bar where Dave Grohl and Cobain played an acoustic set for a local charity on December 1, 1991 – usefully still called ‘The Southern.’ Even I could spot that!
Not much to add really except the fact that these shows had a genuine personal connection for Cobain. For a start, he’d personally requested that the Japanese band Shonen Knife join Nirvana for the tour in late 1990 which involved contacting their booking agency in Japan to set things up. Next, he used the Edinburgh show as a chance to persuade the Vaselines to reform for one night only – again, this was a chance to flex some personal musical loves – two on the same night! Remember also this was pre-Nevermind Nirvana, the Nirvana that didn’t have that much weight or power. This was the first real moment where Cobain could indulge in this way by getting those he adored to come play with his band; imagine if there was a first time that you were able to get your favourite artists to come perform with you, to reform just for you, that’d be a pretty great evening.
The 1991 performances were a further personal event; Nirvana had toured with a band way back in 1989, on their first U.K. tour, called the Cateran – another Scottish favourite (damn, Scotland had a lot going on! Cobain’s loyalty continued later with Teenage Fanclub being his choice for summer 1992.) The Cateran morphed into The Joyriders (Murdo MacLeod and Kai Davidson, former Cateran-ers forming the core of the new band) and, while he brought Captain America (heir to the Vaselines) and Shonen Knife on tour again, he paused for one night to support a local event set up by his old friends in the Joyriders.
There was a further personal reason for the hook up given Murdo was the brother of Nirvana’s tour manager Alex Macleod and had stayed in touch over the intervening years. Apparently Cobain and Grohl turned up so late many people had gone home after the Joyriders’ set (word had gotten round that the ‘very special’ guests were Nirvana) but once they arrived a lock-in ensued with the Cobain/Grohl combination kicking out a mini-set for the lucky couple dozen left. A charmed night indeed with all money then turned over for the Royal Hospital for Sick Children.
Here’s a little map ripped off from Google in case the stroll appeals to you sometime.
Courtesy of Mr Mitch Holmquist, a series of interior shots of Room 226 of the Marco Polo Motel as it stands today. Thanks Mitch! The guy is a mine of Nirvana-related/State of Washington-related knowledge.
I strolled past way back in September when visiting the North West but never popped inside. It’s known among Nirvana circles simply because it’s one of the final places Kurt Cobain was seen alive. Naturally it’s changed over the years but gives a fair sense of the room – its a motel room, I doubt it was any more thrilling twenty years ago. That’s the most jarring thing perhaps – multi-millionaire rock star at peak of his fame, mansion by the waters just a 45 minute drive away, instead he’s sitting round in a blank little box of a room, maybe gazing out on the parking lot view, otherwise looking at nothing.
And actually, to be fair, it looks pretty nice! Given the cost of a hotel in Central Seattle, staying here, on one of the main bus routes back into the centre (the bus ride out took me 15 minutes or so back in September – service seemed really regular and reliable), within walkable distance of centre (the walk toom me maybe an hour to head back as far as the Paramount), with decent facilities and a clean room…Nice! Frankly, beyond the historical (and slightly ghoulish) Cobain connection I reckon the Marco Polo Motel looks extremely pleasant.
It’s also what I like about U.S. history compared to European history. The fact we built stone castles and cathedrals over our sites of interest sometimes makes European history seem less day-to-day or real – it’s all too excessive in a way, the life of normal people wiped away and replaced by the actions and relics of those with the power and wealth to create enduring temples.
In the U.S., so many more of the historical sites are surprisingly ordinary and examining something at this close range – the life of an individual who’ll still have a place in legend in fifty years time or more – it’s still possible to see how simple and everyday it all was.
Kurt Cobain reminds me that beyond the excess portrayed upon TV and film screens and via celebrity-obsessed rags, the rich and super-rich ultimately live nothing more than a more polished and sunnier version of reality. Their hotel rooms might be a bit nicer – but how much ‘nicer’ can something truly be? I stayed in a seven star hotel once – it was just a hotel in the end, anonymous living.
This entire blog is a hobby, not a job (despite the hundreds of hours that have gone into it.) Some Internet commentators seem to feel they have an absolute right to say whatever they want, however they want, to whomsoever they wish…I’d say that having that right and being intelligent with it are very different things and I’d rather be smart than right. That means that though I make observations on things related to the overall theme of this blog (i.e., the band Nirvana) I don’t claim to hold absolute truths, nor to be making authoritative and dictatorial judgments – I can be wrong and I’m very happy to say so. I believe I do have a right to comment on any and all publically available information, art, music, ideas, concepts, people, etc., plus the right to defend those comments and views if I believe them to be true, but I don’t have to slavishly follow anyone’s claims or diktats because everything here is written independently – I report only to myself…Therefore I simply try to adhere to the rule that if I get something wrong, or something was/is untrue, then I correct and make it clear and make a sincere and earnest apology. I think it’s a sign of adulthood being able to take criticism and bow one’s head, raise one’s hand and say “yeah, that was me, sorry.”
Anyways! Soooo…A lady called Jennifer Stewart very kindly commented on the blog post from way back in September regarding the Kurt Cobain statue in Aberdeen and she has a very welcome perspective given “this artist…is my mum. A beautiful soul…”
Jennifer explained that Krist Novoselic has since muted his initial discomfort with the statue and has indicated his appreciation of her mother’s efforts – that people acting creatively is the crucial piece. She also states that there were negotiations to attempt to place the statue in the Aberdeen Museum of History but they couldn’t reach an accomodation on the subject of what do with any revenue from memorabilia/postcards featuring the statue; ““she wanted to work a deal for free memberships for kids at our local YMCA.”
(As a sidebar, you note the giant fan directly in front of the statue? It’s a real quality move – Cobain apparently played the majority of his In Utero tour shows with a giant fan aimed directly at his head – you see in Live and Loud when his air blows back off his face? That’s it right there. A nice lil’ bit of authenticity.)
She further pointed out that the artist has a statue “now deemed a United States public monument in Fort Totten in Queens” (I believe this one? http://www.monumentsandmemorials.com/report.php?id=1895) which forms a tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11. Jennifer explained the artist made an attempt to donate relics from Station House 10 to create a tribute within the museum in Aberdeen but, again, they didn’t reach the desired agreement – ah well. So! That’s something fresh and interesting and I hope I’ve shown due respect to the artist and to Jennifer.
Incidentally on a nice rainy day, this Aussie gentleman took a few more shots of Aberdeen sights, thought it might be interesting to ya:
Also, it turns out that Aberdeen High apparently offers a Kurt Cobain Visual Arts Scholarship won in 2012 by Kristen Carson (yay Kristen! Well done!) and offered ever since 1994. The official description is that the applicant must be a “senior student who has taken an interest in visual art – does not need to be an art student – Must submit 8-10 ORIGINAL works of art – one medium only or a combination of 2D and 3D.” I can imagine Mr. Cobain actually, maybe, just about, being pleased that he might be remembered for his art as much as for music…
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.
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:
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 (http://www.hotelmuranotacoma.com/). 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 (http://www.intercitytransit.com/mapsandschedules/routemapsandschedules/Pages/603-605-612-Weekdays-Southbound.aspx) — 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 (http://www.ghtransit.com/40.html). Amtrak (http://www.amtrak.com/home) 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 — http://www.wwuvikings.com/facilities/wwu-facilities.html — NOT demolished!) or Spokane (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spokane_Coliseum, 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 (http://www.soundtransit.org/Schedules/ST-Express-Bus/578?dir=inbound) and yes, the Lindbloom Student Center still exists as part of the Green River Community College: http://www.greenriver.edu/student-services/conference-and-event-center/planning-an-event-start-here.htm
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 (https://www.greyhound.com/farefinder/step1.aspx — the Ellensburg stop is at 1512 HWY 97, Ellensburg, WA 98926). Again, the venue is still there, the Hal Holmes Community Center: http://www.ci.ellensburg.wa.us/index.aspx?nid=145
And finally, Bainbridge Island, yet another change in transport option, this time take the ferry: http://www.bainbridgeisland.com/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?
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…
“…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.