Archive for the ‘Nirvana Maps and Locales’ Category
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.