Nirvana Tour: Misses, My Amusement and Miscellaneous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nirvana Tour: Walking the Motel Strip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Next Nirvana Stop: Portland, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.collapseboard.com/blogs/erika-meyer/gilly-ann-hanner-i-intro/

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

Nirvana Tour: Seattle City Centre Conclusion…

The centre of Seattle, where the majority of the Nirvana related venues lie, is exceedingly compact. OK, walking round, the truth is you’re going to see the gentrified, commercialised, corporatized face of the city — expect the usual shopping street uniformity rather than some fascinating duck-and-dive through alcoves, alleys and fascinating discoveries. Having said that though, the centre tails off rapidly into the kinds of streets where independent businesses and local moments persist, you’ll find them. Having to find my way just using my own scrawl on a paper map (I’ve not bothered mastering the phone’s map system nor would I have wanted to face the international rates for connecting it up) meant quite a few wrong turns, pauses to play tourist but still all of today’s venues were lashed round within a few hours.

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As ever, I’m drawing my lines starting at the area of the Paramount Hotel and/or Hotel Max simply because that’s where I know best and this is the order I rambled through. I found that the whole walking experience goes best when there’s a regular ‘pay off’ to keep it feeling worthwhile and reward. On this stroll there’s no need to worry; march straight down Pine Street and hook onto Second Street and you’re already scoring.

The first venue is the still-functioning Moore Theater where Nirvana played a show back in August 1990 during Dale Crover’s temporary tenure. From the outside I admit to liking the slight marks left by the years, it’s a nice contrast, turning off the shopping streets, to buildings that have uniqueness by nature rather than uniqueness by design (the difference between lived-in thrift-store clothing and the horror that was ‘grungewear’).

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Looking at the building too, I can’t help but think about the differences — love the big long steel fire-escape, a rarer sight in London, meanwhile I paused at the side to look at the back-exits for bands and equipment. People stated a few times to me, in almost embarrassed tones, about how young the buildings are in America, how they’re not as curious as what exists in Europe where despite our best efforts to bomb them to hell we still wade knee-deep in the past. It’s true that the contrast between buildings has been built up over centuries of change and is the antithesis of the grid built regularity of the American approach which also tends to inflict an ordinariness on the shapes present on each block. On the other hand, Europe suffers from sometimes freezing its past and creating city centres — I’m looking at you Prague — that as artificially perfected as a stroll in Disney’s Epcot Centre. If the grip loosens then there’s nothing that Europe has architecturally that will not someday grace U.S. streets, these buildings are already left to change, fray at the edges, and basically remind me of my favourite European city Lisbon where corrupt politics has ensured there are still bullet-holes from their revolution and even the main square features regular leakage from the fountains.

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A few blocks further on, yes, further than you think but barely far enough to keep you fit, there’s a corner on which the, likewise, still-extant Crocodile Café is open — get a drink (heck, get pizza!), enjoy. It’s almost a surprise leaping two years forward, to 1992, and finding Nirvana indulging in secret gigs for limited audiences in what isn’t a particular large venue. It gives a sense of the band retreating — it’s such an incongruous fit imagining this place alongside the stadium in Buenos Aires just a few weeks later.

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Head down a block and onto First Avenue, you’ll be back nearly to Pine Street before you catch the next target; 1923 First Avenue — the original Sub Pop Headquarters (boy, I hope I got the right building.)

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I’d always imagined more of a dive, again, I suspect that what I’m looking at owes much to gentrification and doesn’t quite capture the rental values and/or clientele who must have been walking through the doors. This is the hub of the Sub Pop universe, the heart of the ‘Seattle scene’ era and the location for Jonathan and Bruce’s ambitious endeavours. I’ve been very lucky catching all these places during the beautiful weather, gives a very different impression to what these locations must look like on a grey day under light drizzle.

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I admit, among my various failings on this trip that I’ll go into later, I didn’t haul over to see the new Sub Pop headquarters — ah well, the list is adding up of places I’ll have to return to see. You’ll walk next past the famous Pike Street Market, nearly a victim of declining commercial fortunes and now resurrected as live tourist location and functioning fascination. Keep walking.

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Next we reach a rarity, a Cobain residence in the centre of Seattle; the Four Seasons. Unless you’re on an unlimited budget or so far out-of-season you’re permanently wrapped in half-a-dozen layers. Just as a side-bar, Seattleites don’t carry umbrellas — I reckon it’s because the darn things blow inside out so rapidly in these canyons formed by the tall buildings — and they tell me it’s because they’re tough, they wear hats, and they simply put their heads down and brazen it out. Oh, I also noted it’s possible to get quite a distance under cover.

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I admit I like this idea, that the closest Cobain ever came to rock-star living was to book into this incredibly expensive location and get himself (and his wife) thrown out as they let their residence degenerate into a wave of burnt bedding and stacked room service remains with Cobain nodding out and ignoring that this have been the most luxurious bed he’d ever slept in; 25 years of bad beds and he gets thrown out of his first truly good one. If you fancy staying, it’s probably gone down now we’re into the Autumn, but I wasn’t up for the $650+ a night bill just to view the quality of blankets left “acne’ed with cigarette burns.”

I’d been working to the assumption that the Central Tavern at which Nirvana played way back in the late Eighties was the same as the modern-day Central Saloon…It’ll have to remain an assumption because I managed to lose track of where I was, misread my faulty map and in the end give up on it. It still shows bands I believe, still serves — can you tell there’s tiredness creeping in? I made a few miscalculations on this trip. The biggest one was switching beds so rapidly night-by-night, never settling in one place, starting each day hauling luggage having ended each day packing it all ensuring nothing was left behind. Next time (and I do think there will be a next time) I’ll settle, pick one place, create a home to come back to. I might take longer over the travel too — the dash through Tacoma, Olympia to Aberdeen was rapid-fire while the return to Seattle came with a feeling of racing toward a finishing line, all surrounded by the desire to try and keep things flowing onto the blog — if you can imagine it, sacrificing a couple of hours of a morning on holiday to scrawl the latest notes or missive for on here, then barrelling back out the door to dump laptop and reload pockets and rucksack for the next mission…

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Another neat coincidence, Pier 48 is an easy find but under extensive rebuilding and reconstruction — there’s no building there now and plenty of steel gates and fences to ensure no public access. By chance, the doors were open to let traffic in, work was proceeding but I was temporarily defeated by a gentleman on guard duty who stated I wasn’t permitted to photograph the site…OK, no problem.

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I retreated back to the main road and simply took all there really was to see from there — the site itself is just debris and truck tracks but at least with the gate open I was left in no doubt as to the state of what I was observing. It’s the only area where I felt a slight need to walk fast and keep my camera discreet — walking beneath the overpass, between the legs of the road, fast traffic on one side and streets spilling down onto this one, I kept moving.

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Not far, however, the O.K. Hotel is extremely visible but I wasn’t blessed on this occasion with an accidental resident welcoming me in. It doesn’t mean you can’t though, I was aware of the First Thursday Art Walks thanks to the Wikipedia entry for this place (http://www.firstthursdayseattle.com/venues.php) but missed the occasion and couldn’t fathom whether it remains a functioning art venue…I’ll look further.

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Strange though, this incongruous little door with barely a sidewalk in front of it, this is where Smells Like Teen Spirit first graced a stage? It’s the pleasure of a walking tour like this, reducing the unfathomably vast, to the manageably small. This is it, Nirvana’s doorway to fame, fortune and an uncomfortable future after which, having already given up what they were, they would cease to exist.

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Perversely, I’m going to end not with that door closing (or opening as the press who wish to celebrate bigger-better-popular-known would have it) but with another one…Here’s a copy of Eddie Vedder’s postcard from the night he entered town to commence his own parrallel ride from the Hotel Max to the stars and on…

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Nirvana Tour: Touring the Centre…Part One

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I’m no stranger to obsessive behaviour, as I said yesterday, this site now has the equivalent of four full-length novels on it for example — around 400,000 words in 285 articles (I’ve deleted around 30 recently too). The ‘collector’ urge has seen me rampage the entire discography of one artist after another over some eighteen years now…It occurred to me on an unseasonably hot day in Seattle that I was treating real-life locations the same way.

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In one of those unusual coincidences this trip has been laced with the Hotel Max upgraded me to the ‘rock floor’. The lift doors open and this is the view that confronts one immediately. I was in the next room up from the Cobain door, a shot of Steve Albini playing with Big Black. Genuinely, if you can make it onto the fifth floor, Hotel Max does have a reasonable claim to be the most Seattle-music-friendly hotel in the city; the hotel room came complete with vinyl record player, a stack of Sub Pop-supplied albums, a touch of rock album art on the wall…

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…I admit it, I was pleased. The central location, couple blocks over from the Paramount, made it an ideal starting point for romping round most significant Nirvana sites in Central Seattle. Happy to compliment the place, the staff were a delight and it does make a difference when people are so good. I’d been unsure about the place the first time I stayed — comfy room but building work going on outside the window — and it made a difference to me that when I rebooked it felt like they cared about that and wanted to actually impress me. They did. By this point in the tour tiredness had set in, switching beds night-after-night, humping luggage from one place to the next and realising that increasingly I was breaking my back just to transport dirty laundry…A good bed, in a good room, a touch of comfort — don’t mind saying it appealed.

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In the area around the Experience Music Project there are two sites of primary interest in a Nirvana sense…The first threw me back to April 1994, sitting watching the MTV tributes to Kurt Cobain, footage of soaked kids running through a fountain — I’d forgotten about it entirely, at short notice I can just find the one photo in this article, I’m sure there are tonnes about (http://o.seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/reweb/2014689587_17_years_after_his_death_fans_remember_kurt_cobain_on_twitter.html).

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It’s an impressive monument at any time, a decent stretch of free space in a city centre that doesn’t seem to have many parks (a distinct contrast with London). Still in use of course and long since moved on from memorial purposes to simply being a children’s amusement.

On the same site you’ll find two other Nirvana moments, the former Seattle Center Coliseum, venue for the September 11, 1992 show in support of the Washington Music Industry Coalition.

Coliseum

On April 11, 1995 the city sold the naming rights to KeyCorp leading to its new name; the KeyArena — that’s what you’re looking for. It’s the biggest Nirvana-related site in the State of Washington but, of course, it’s just a stadium after all. Again, you’re not seeing it as it was, a year after Nirvana played there, the site was shut and refurbished and redesigned; life won’t wait and nor will entertainment facilities in the Pacific North-West it seems. I don’t know why, must have been feeling the heat (contrary to popular opinion it can get pretty darn bright and warm in Seattle, I sunburnt on a couple days up there) but I somehow confused it with the next location so ended up not taking photos of the KeyArena/Seattle Center Coliseum…Oops. My bad.

Former Ticket Hall of Coliseum

The photos you’re seeing here actually refer to a location around another corner where you’ll find the Seattle Center Arena, now known as Mercer Arena, an 8,000 seat venue and site of Nirvana’s final shows in Seattle on January 7-8, 1994.

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The former entrance is simply closed up and left abandoned now the new entrances/exits have been opened but these are the doors attendees walked through in January ’94 — I was lucky enough to have Tyler Willman, one of the attendees, strolling with me that day to point it out for me.

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I think I’ll close down here for the day and head on home. A few more posts to come and yes, at some point I’ll get around to trying to compile, professionalise and clean this all up into something more user-friendly for anyone tempted to go walk the Nirvana steps.

Nirvana Tour: Experience Music Project and Mr. Ty Willman

In Utero Angel

I’m regularly beset with questions I find hard to answer. A year ago, if I mentioned I was writing a book, people would ask “oh, you want to be a writer?” as if it was impossible to write or want to hold a book in the band without having some kinda career plan — I used to take the question as an unintentional slight and would explain firmly that it was about enjoying writing not about making it into work. A lot harder has been explaining that I travelled to State of Washington and up until days before I travelled I didn’t have any plans to meet anyone bar a personal friend or two. Then, in a sudden wave, one gentleman put me in touch with Mitch for Aberdeen, another kindly introduced me to John Purkey who in turn did me the privilege of letting me spend time with his friends, my friend Abby introduced me to a lady called Bernie who’s son turns out to be another person of significance…Ty Willman. The only people I deliberately said hi to were Gillian and Jack; the rest of it was bizarrely accidental. Strange but true, I’m much less well-planned that people might imagine — I live in webs of coincidence and life’s humour.

EMP Exterior

Gillian G. Gaar very courteously gifted me two guest passes for the EMP Museum! (Amend: Its in Seattle. http://www.empmuseum.org/) I’m near embarrassed to admit that I had been wondering about skipping the exhibition as time became increasingly strangulated…I know, I know, you don’t need to tell me I was being crazy, Jack Endino told me I had to do it about three times over and he’s much taller than me so I’d have been far too intimidated to ignore such an insistent statement in case he thumped me.

I was similarly lucky to have Mr. Tyler Willman for company. Do I need to introduce Ty? OK, I’m sure I don’t but seriously, this is a man who has been a part of the Seattle music scene for over two decades now and is so significant his band Green Apple Quick Step is on the wall in the Nirvana exhibit in the EMP as you can see here…The nice thing was that he hadn’t realised the band was mentioned there as one of the significant local outfits of the era – really wicked being able to be surprised with someone. That’s the listing of important Tacoma bands – Subvert was John Purkey’s outfit, this has been a real eye-opener of a trip learning how much goes on in Tacoma.

Ty on the EMP Wall

He’s a cap-wearing, Marlboro-smoking regular guy and all-round rock dude who made me feel every ounce the geeky, post-uni, office boy I’m sure I am (you’ve seen the photos, I look like a librarian; “Nick…It is your dessssstiny!”) My favourite conversation went “I write for pleasure, I love it, plus I learnt a while back that I’m useless at making music,” “Jeez, I make music and I’m useless at writing…” He described his ambition in life to always be able to make music so that he can tour as much as possible, that he enjoyed seeing the world and watching people play and getting to spend stage time with them. “I’d like to write a song that moves someone completely.” The emphasis he placed on that last word made me feel what he meant and how deeply Ty believes in the emotional value and power of music. He’s also wonderfully humble about his obvious intelligence, he even had an art exhibition take place over in Tacoma the other year and his work certainly shows a skill at writing.

Ty had spent the morning fishing with his son while I was off for breakfast — yes, this was the same day as yesterday’s post but I can only write so much in a day and I’m trying to break this down logically. I confessed I’d actually wanted to speak to him a long while back regarding a band he was in called Inspector Luv and the Ride Me Babies; yet another set of Tacoma natives who shared stages with a pre-Nirvana-name Nirvana. I’d already heard tell the other day of Ty’s extensive collaborations with Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, of Green Apple Quick Step sharing management with the PJ boys — Ty estimates he’s been in half a dozen Seattle bands now not including less formal collaborations and he doesn’t feel any desire or wish to ever stop creating. An old manager of mine once said to me “Nick, surround yourself with people who challenge and inspire you,” I think he meant in terms of corporate life. The issue is that I’m more inspired by people like Ty who do something that may or may not mean something to anyone other than themselves, but that requires the complete dedication of a life to building, forming and creating something oneself. No matter how much work a job may involve there’s always pre-set structures and organisation, and an objective focused on profit rather than self-expression, that means its in no way the same whole-spirited effort. Ty impresses me with the many collaborations and side-projects and new efforts.

After a long chat — Clay Johnson was right, the North-West does have fantastic beer, the U.K. increasingly has a brilliant market for real ales and likewise for original lagers from across the world, we’re not having to make do with generics; the State of Washington and State of Oregon seem to be the same — we headed on to the exhibition.

Ty Willman at the EMP

The exhibition does a good job of turning something kinetic and vital into glass-cased preservation, while still managing to spark a pulse through those dried synapses. Walking in to immediately see one of Krist’s bass guitars, then the guitar Kurt played at both the September 1990 show at the International Motor Sports Garage and at the O.K. Hotel show in April 1991 where he unveiled Smells Like Teen Spirit, plus Dave Grohl’s drums from the 1993-1994 tour season…Wicked selection.

Cobain_Sept 1990 to Apr 1991

Grohl Drum Kit 93-94

It also finally made sense to me all the comments about Chad Channing’s odd-ball and over-large drum-kit which, oddly enough, is suspended half-way up a wall part way round the exhibition.

Chad Drum Kit Until Feb 1990

It’s not a large exhibition in some ways, don’t go expecting a vast space, if you move swift you could be in and out having glanced at everything inside of half an hour — on the other hand, if you took some time with the extensive multimedia components, played with the various screens and interactive areas allowing access to timelines and interviews and so forth, then you could while away substantial time here. Running round the edge of the exhibit cases you’ll also find a long sequence of personal photographs donated from various sources and wordlessly charting the life and times of the band and their fellow-travellers — just focusing on that piece alone and telling the tale in one’s head would be a fulfilling afternoon of consideration, occasional surprise reminders (I wanted to look more than wave a camera around so no shots of these), a coherent pathway from one end of the exhibition to the other.

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For me what resonated were the surprising reminders of Nirvana’s earliest times. The later era is rendered via one of the rare (and always sparsely used) stage props from the In Utero era…

In Utero Angel

Or via the tour-battered instruments. The middle-age is signified with yet more battered instruments, shards of devastated guitars and a collage of show flyers (Ryan! Your Machine/Nirvana flyer is up there!) But the mass-produced nature of the former, next to the moderately commercial nature of the latter contrasts starkly with the second room. I’m starting to realise that the State of Washington is the land where nothing is ever thrown away.

4 Track and Suit Case Drum

I was most wowed by seeing Aunt Mari’s tape recorder a teen Cobain used for early efforts as well as the beaten-up old suitcase Cobain used as his drum kit for the 1982 Organised Confusion material that has never surfaced.

Original FM

There’s even an original copy of the Fecal Matter cassette Cobain gifted to someone. This all comes on one wall next door to a selection of Cobain’s teenage artworks. It’s the handmade and ‘make do’ aspect to a lot of this early component that resonates with me — there’s a hand-to-mouth aspect to having to use a suitcase, a bygone era feel to the tape recorder, all emphasised by the schoolboy doodles and their casual mischief.

Original Cobain Art

I’m a sucker for books and guides and programmes and brochures so naturally ended up purchasing the Taking Punk to the Masses volume complete with the disc of interviews — I trimmed down the book collection significantly the other month but this is a more than worthy addition. I’ll discuss it more sometime when I’ve had a chance to read it. Anyways, we retired and Ty gave me the tour of the surrounding area that has a few attractions for Nirvana fans…

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Anyways, definitely my bad, but an attempt to run up to the other Cobain residence along Lake Washington coincided with such bad traffic we gave up yet still made the exhibition far too late in the day to do justice to the other exhibits on display. I would have loved to have gone and seen the Women Who Rock piece, or the Jimi Hendrix area…Ah well. Another day, another year…Once I’ve recovered from merrily bankrupting myself this time around…

More to add? I think the EMP throws the issues with coming to State of Washington to peer at Nirvana locations and memorials into stark relief. The exhibition is the most concentrated collection of Nirvana-related items anywhere in the world possessing items that one cannot and will not see other than in books (OK, OK, or on the copious quantity of online resources containing pictures of them.) On the other hand, its hard to create such an exhibition without explicitly freezing the items in time and deleting their real world context. It turns something wild and frenetic into cold unmoving items kept in public storage. Its better than the alternative, of course, private collections that will never be within reach of the likes of you and I – the house on Pear Street and the Melvins tour van are both now owned by the same individual for example…All these things that we’re seeing could have been destroyed like 1000 1/2 East Second Street. On the other hand, Nirvana’s ‘realness’ understandably goes missing when one can’t stroll past the locations, see them changing or even decaying, watch items made decades ago used and reused and gaining new scars as a result. But, that’s not an alternative for many things – its wonderful to have the chance to see what a more formalised response to Nirvana’s legacy would look like. Within that context a beautiful job has been done.

The economy works in strange ways. A crucial component is that arena, for example the art market, that increases value on the basis that others cannot have it regardless of the intrinsic qualities or otherwise of the item concerned. A comrade of mine worked in the perfume section of Harvey Nicholls (a ludicrous shop in London I avoid like the plague because its crammed full of precisely the sorts of people I rarely want to invite anywhere near my life – like the show The Apprentice) and told me that she could explain the virtues of perfumes all day to people, in the end they buy because of two words “new” and “exclusive.” It’s the same process driving hip hop artists to increasingly just wave brand names and labels – its an attempt by individuals to equate their own personal value, worth and achievement with the value and worth of the things they coat themselves in. I would say that if your watch is more interesting than you are then you’re still nothing much no matter what you’ve wrapped yourself in – likewise, showing me someone else’s work and talking to me as if it says anything at all about you, sorry, it just makes me very aware how little you have to say (I’m talking to you all the people who wept over Apple products!) But then, perhaps surrounding myself with books and music is precisely the same process of personal statement conducted via different means? I’ll think about that.

Jack and Gill on Capitol Hill: Breakfast on the Nirvana Tour

Jack n' Gillian Breakfast

Time has been running away with me and I feel soiled making such a bad pun in the title. There was a chance to meet Kris Sproul, one half of the esteemed duo running the Nirvana Live Guide, but our schedules simply don’t cross — darn! I’ll say it publically and with hand in oath-taking position on heart, no, sorry, heart is on the other side? OK, adjusted, hand now on heart; Mike Ziegler and Kris Sproul are among the half-dozen most committed Nirvana fans who have done the most to locate material, spread information and to keep alive the excitement surrounding the band. God-like status in my eyes.

Two individuals of similarly significant stature — I don’t do ‘people ranking’ — are these peachy-keen and so sweet people who were kind enough to join me for breakfast; Monsieur Jack Endino and Mademoiselle Gillian G. Gaar. Note that they’re both far more photogenic than me, I just can’t do cameras…

Me-Jack-Nick

My view on talking to people is always the same; I have the absolute right to ask a question because that’s self-expression, but I have no right to expect or demand an answer because that’s an imposition placed upon others — it’s their right to choose to reply. Also, as I’m not a professional journalist — and therefore addicted to turning life into conflict — or a commercial writer — and therefore needing a touch of soap opera and controversy to penetrate the awful current climate in which already threadbare wages for the majority of authors have been cut even further (Kindle means consumers can access more books, it doesn’t mean anyone can read more than they already did — it’s great for Amazon but a death-knell for living on writing) its been kinda nice drifting around the North-West because I’m just chatting on with people, no deeper motivation. I’m more stuck awkwardly unsure what to say to people beyond “wow…Gillian…Err…You’re the best writer around on Nirvana…Errrr…Jack? I’ve known your name since I was 13 year old…You’re kinda a bit like the sphinx or the statue of liberty in terms of my references to stuff that’s cooler in real life.”

Where was I going? Sorry, lost thread. Anyways, I didn’t particularly have any questions to ask of them and I would have felt gawky muttering spit-flecked drooling requests; “tell me what it was like touching Kurt Cobain…?” / “Did you really get to fondle the original Fecal Matter demo?” So, though some may see this as a lost opportunity I was more interesting in just sitting around early one morning, with two people I admire, enjoying the company and the chat and agreeing that we all think Silvio Berlusconi is the most horrendous individual on the planet and that Italy is a semi-functioning anarchy. It’s why I love Italy, it makes a remarkable amount of the world feel sane.

Jack is a straight-talking, polite and pleasant man with a wonderfully dry sense of a humour — a smile moves his entire face it’s so full. He chuckled at me referring to certain other Nirvana fans as obsessive given he’s seen my predilection for spreadsheets of Nirvana data. Gillian is more gently spoken, instantly warm and friendly from first minute, with such a mind for detail and apposite questions — seeing what was missed, where conversation had jumped a step — I’d say an academic bent except it has the kind of sharpness I’d relate more to a detective. That’s a compliment and I was honoured to be permitted to stand and scan over her phenomenal music and book collection; this lady has such immaculate taste! Check her new work on Elvis; a much underrated figure among modern music fans, as she said; “he missed out on recording a lot of classic material he would have been brilliant with because once his career nosedived copyright holders were unwilling to sell to him.” He was a man who loved music, who may not have written much but was able to haul together good collaborators who made stunning and definitive readings of certain tracks. Heck, this guy wrote in “In The Ghetto”, my favourite song at age six (sharing first place with “Centrefold”.)

Anything that might amuse Nirvana fanatics? Well, I hope Jack doesn’t mind me saying that some time ago, he didn’t specify when and i didn’t ask, he heard a recording of the January 16, 1993 concert in Brazil and in his words “it’s horrible, no one needs to hear that.” Sounds like the known information is correct; an aggressively sullen Cobain ignored the disgust of his band-mates and simply stood there stoned and barely competent for a horrendously lengthy period of time. Apparently even the covers are kinda nasty in a way…Shudders…Isn’t it awful that the completist in me still wants to hear it just once even if only to say “yup, he’s right…”

With reference to the In Utero box-set, again, what the hey. Jack confirmed that the Nirvana barrel is almost entirely scraped and that many long days had gone in to ploughing through tapes. The January 1991 master tape is apparently lost; the material exists on a separate tape done so the band could hear the songs in versions as close to instrumentals as possible. Jack seems to live a charming life in which he works hard during the gray seasons then heads off in search of better climes and more fun during the warm spells – out touring Jack Endino’s Earthworm and generally making the most of life…A nice balance.

Anyways, a pleasant breakfast outing — Americans, do you realise that savoury biscuits never made it to the U.K.? I love these things, the last time I had them was in Washington D.C. at the home of Ronnie and Debbie, by favourite Americans, in April 2003, meaning I’ve been scoffing them wherever possible here. Biscuits, in sausage gravy, with scrambled egg and potato, in the company of two extremely pleasant people whose works have given me tonnes of enjoyment over the years. The least I could do is shell out a few dollars to buy breakfast given what they’ve given for so long.

Kurt Cobain, From Aberdeen: Last Tour Through the Hometown

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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.

Schillingers Residence_2

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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Maria's Hair Design_2

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.

2830 1-2 Aberdeen Ave Hoquiam_Actual

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.

1210 E 1st Street

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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.

413 S Fleet Street, Montesano_1

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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413 S Fleet Street, Montesano_3

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.

404 W 1st Street_1

404 W 1st Street_2

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.

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…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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Nirvana Tour: Aberdeen Deserved a BIG Part Two

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As an aside, if you want to do the Nirvana tour, I’m really hoping I’ve been putting enough information up here that you can get around — maybe I’ll synthesise it sometime into a reduced PDF and just stick it up for free download, let’s see if I ever have time. As an extended coda to the aside, public transportation note! So, Seattle to Tacoma, you’ve multiple options. I took the Amtrak but there’s also some kinda light railway I never had time to check out that’ll get you all the way into Central Tacoma — get yourself to the King Street Station in Seattle. Cost isn’t exorbitant, the Amtrak was $11 U.S. dollars. Tacoma to Olympia, even easier, there’s a wealth of buses from Commerce Street (603, 605, etc.) and it’s a flat $3 fare — just make sure you have exact change, they’re insistent on it. Olympia’s bus station is the last stop and its central to everywhere you would wish to go bar the college.

Buses

I may have mentioned, but I went up to the information desk at the Olympia bus station and merrily announced “good afternoon, I’m trying to get the bus over to Aberdeen, was hoping you could tell me what I need to do and where?” The lady simply burst out laughing in my face; turns out it was 50% how cute she thought my accent was and 50% the fact I was asking for Aberdeen. You’ll get that a lot; mention Aberdeen and people don’t pay it many compliments; my raving post yesterday probably told you as much. The bus for Aberdeen is easy enough, the 40. I’ve included a deeply unexciting photo of the bus times from Olympia at the top of the page. It’s a gentle ride and, to be honest, peering out at McCleary, or at Satsop, it makes Aberdeen look like the most lively place in the area. All I recall from the bus ride – acknowledging that’s just an impression not a full reality and assessment of a locale – is the odd hair salon, childcare services, a garage or petrol station.

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The view from the hospital is very fine indeed – as usual, impossible to capture in a lens what the eye can take in from up there. It emphasised, in a way that my scrawling over Google Maps had not, how unified Aberdeen/Hoquiam are and the size of the town being looked at. I admit I’d considered spending the night tucked in the emergency waiting room at the hospital to gain some small sense of the Cobain experience in his late teens but frankly it sounded like a horrible way to pass a night, I can’t even get any sleep worth a damn on a plane let alone in the brightly-lit confines of a hospital surrounded by random strangers, during the night hours when the drug/drink/domestic casualities reach their peak craziness, with doors whipping open, staff jogging through, calls going out for people to report/attend/visit…Regardless of whether it was for a few nights here and there or a few weeks at a time, this isn’t a life I’d want. It’s poverty.

Aaron Assistant Manager

I had a perfect night’s sleep at the Guesthouse Inn & Suites on East Heron Street – I crashed so deep I didn’t even notice the trains announcing themselves on the track running past. Part of the benefit of the place is to get there from the bus, so easy, with the station at your back, walk down the main street to the right, take the first left, go past the Jack in the Box and over the steel bridge at the end of the road and its on your right. Room was neat too – spacious, I could actually sit and write comfortably at the writing desk. Bed did my sore back a world of good…Though next morning Mitch greeted me in the carpark with the line “find any needles in yer bed?” Before explaining some incident that had been in the papers in which a kid was put to bed only to be jabbed by a discarded needle (http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Family-Girl-pierced-by-bloody-syringe-left-in-hotel-bed-157362125.html). Ow…Nasty. Anyways, frankly, given my past life in an Events division and my experience of hotels, a story like that doesn’t worry me too much one way or another – hotels are full of bad moments, inevitable with an endless population of transient people, regardless of where it is or how many stars it like to parade. I slept well. It also granted me a view back to the Burger King where Aaron Burckhard was manager – remember a lot changes in an American town, even one as merrily slow moving as Aberdeen. There’s another venue up the road that people mistake for one of Krist’s early places of employment, it ain’t.

Judys

The whole town is scattered with locations of more or less significance to the Nirvana story, names known (or I admit that Mitch usually reminded me of) from the bibliography. For example, the photo above is Judy’s, mentioned in Come as You Are as the location Cobain and co. got old records and so forth from – it’s still there but it’s entitled Judy’s Flea Market and it’s unclear if its still a going concern or simply waiting for someone to take a risk and clear out the mountainous stacks of books from the interior…

Welfare Check

This piece of scrapland meanwhile has no great claim to memorialisation except it served as the address Kurt Cobain had used for a welfare cheque. Taking a photo of it has a certain purposelessness but let’s be real, is there ever a point to the millions of MBs of photos now flooding the world bar shared amusement and personal memorialisation of whatever possesses momentary significance or serves a storyline? Most photos say nothing unless one has a connection to what is being recorded. For me, it simply serves as a reminder of how thoroughly Cobain’s life and movements are woven into the landscape of Aberdeen.

Aberdeen Library

Moving up the scale of references, this is the Aberdeen Library – same building, same location, internal refurbishment – in which Cobain passed time during his semi-derelict days. I admit I’ve never speculated on whether it played any role in the creation of his music, whether any of that dreadfully disjointed time yielded a song, a lyric, a note of later audibility…To me it represents another piece of his itinerant years as well as a gap in knowability, something that cannot be recovered unless someone knows something I don’t (which happens so often I wouldn’t be surprised…)

YMCA

This is the YMCA where Cobain occasionally received casual work – the building is unaltered though the logo is gone from the exterior, I just wish I could find the photo at short-notice where the building is sitting in the background behind the band. Now we’re talking proximity, opposite is the sports-ground where Cobain would act as coach for local little league teams, the Schillinger residence is across on the side at right angles to the YMCA while Judy’s sits opposite and at the other right angle to the YMCA.

Cobain Graffitti Locale

Now we’re into the realms of Cobain’s brief period of teenage delinquency; the building above was tagged along one side with “AiNtGoTnOwHaTcHaMaCaLlIt” as Cobain confessed in a statement written later that evening at the police station, the alleyway in which is cohorts hid in the bins is just alongside and brilliantly, just to emphasise what an amusingly dim-witted act it was, if you walk through the carpark under the building you’ll see the Police Station on the other side. Alas, our ‘hero’ was not always a genius it must be said. Again, thanks to Mitch for linking up these anecdotes for me so flawlessly and giving me a chuckle at Cobain’s expense.

Cobain Graffitti

This was the venue for the cheerily provocative “Homo Sex Rules” incident and then the following…

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Was the building where Cobain was arrested for drunk and disorderly having been found on the roof in a bit of a state. This is where the mugshot image that has been circulating periodically comes from. Oh, and that YMCA building also got tagged at one point too – and Heavier Than Heaven said something about an arrest for underage consumption of alcohol in Seattle. I admit to feeling bad at this point, for all the high points of Aberdeen – the museum, the glorious view from the hospital, the comfy motel, the Cobain park and memorial – I’ve realised I’m a significant way through this second post and I’m recording Cobain’s burgeoning succession of petty misdemeanours. They’re kinda tedious in a way, part of the legend of a man who grew to be something but spent quite some time engaged in acts of such desultory insignificance – I feel bad now criticising the feeble nature of the graffiti decorating the ‘Cobain bridge’ given he himself failed to indulge his finer artistic abilities when set loose on the streets of Aberdeen.

Looking back at the photo of the Burger King where Aaron Burckhard was manager for a while I realise it’d be equally possible to tour Aberdeen on the basis of fast food joints, supermarkets, corner stores and other day-to-day interactions of the Cobain life. It similarly reminds me, however, of the point I made the other day about medieval veneration of the relics of saints; its strange transplanting pilgrimage from the imaginary landscape of medieval shrines, springs, castles and churches to the modern terrain of clapboard houses, anonymous box buildings, blank walls and quietly sleeping grasses. In a further time-travel though, I’m sure more than a few pilgrims, having taken the long treks across the country or continent may have paused and thought “this doesn’t look like anything” before remembering the deeper faiths, desires and venerations that had led them so far.

Weatherwax Building, Aberdeen High School Remains

A final note of amusement and also one putting perspective on Cobain’s less desirable exploits; this sculpture was built from the remains of the Weatherwax Building of Aberdeen High School. The building was burned to the ground by two kids who were so worried about bad report cards that they broke in and tried to burn them only to end up with an out-of-control blaze and the desutrction of the entire building – way to go kids! Brilliantly dim and worth a ‘laugh or you’ll cry’ chuckle! (http://www.komonews.com/news/archive/4030841.html) The fact the town took the time to make something memorable and impressive from the remains is another great positive of Aberdeen – it’s a really wicked piece of work and very much worth a look.
(http://thedailyworld.com/sections/news/local/%E2%80%9Cbreaker%E2%80%9D-dedicated-weatherwax-high-stones-will-live.html) To my point, I actually end up feeling pretty good about the world when I see something like this; not just because of the making of something beautiful from a bad moment in time. What actually fills me with confidence is knowing that civilisation’s young are both smarter than ever and as capable of dim-wittedness as ever; there’s no need to be afraid of ‘the youth of today’ when they’re so similar to the youth of yesterday.

Overdue Nirvana Tour: The Beginning…17 Nussbaum Road, Raymond

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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.