A town like Nirvana: Washington's Aberdeen is honouring its most famous son with its first annual Kurt Cobain Day
Town honours its most famous son
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, is being published in January 2014.
Wednesday 19 February 2014
Kurt Cobain did not have especially happy memories of growing up in Aberdeen, Washington. When asked about his hometown after achieving fame 80 miles away in Seattle, the Nirvana frontman described this coastal logging community of 16,000 people as "Twin Peaks without the excitement".
So perhaps it's understandable that, in the two decades since his death, locals have felt conflicted about the legacy of their city's most famous son. Yet today, for the first time, Aberdeen will celebrate the late Cobain's birthday with its first annual Kurt Cobain Day.
"Aberdeen residents may justifiably take pride in the role our community played in the life of Kurt Cobain," said mayor Bill Simpson recently, as he officially announced the celebration, acknowledging, "the international recognition our community has gained from its connections with Kurt Cobain and his artistic achievements".
Brought low by heroin addiction and depression, the brightest star in the grunge rock firmament took his own life at his home in Seattle on 5 April 1994, when he was 27.
Born in 1967, Cobain had spoken often of his unhappy upbringing in Aberdeen, the town where his parents divorced and he dropped out of high school.
Nirvana's first rehearsals took place in Aberdeen, where bassist Krist Novoselic also lived as a teenager, but the band found success only after leaving – first for nearby Olympia, and then Seattle. In 2005, after a group of teenagers called for a Cobain memorial in an article for an Aberdeen newspaper, a message was added to the city's "Welcome to Aberdeen" sign, reading "Come As You Are", a song on the band's best-known album, Nevermind.
The lyrics of another Nevermind track, "Something in the Way", were supposedly about the time Cobain spent sleeping rough under a bridge over the Wishkah River in Aberdeen. But in 2011, a proposal to rename a bridge after the singer was shelved; Warren Mason, the local musician who taught Cobain to play guitar, says the idea was vetoed by "a few right-wingers on the city council".
Kurt Cobain performing at Reading Festival in 1991 (Rex Features)
Plans for Kurt Cobain Day appear to have been prompted by the announcement of a Nirvana Day in nearby Hoquaim, where Cobain also lived briefly. The celebration will centre on the Aberdeen Museum of History, where a statue of Cobain by local sculptor Randi Hubbard is being added to the museum's existing Cobain and Nirvana exhibit.
Hubbard, a former truck driver, began building the statue from concrete, pipes and other materials shortly after Cobain's death in 1994, since when it has been on display at her retail business, Hubb's Muffler Shop. Cobain's grandfather reportedly visited the shop frequently to witness its construction.
But the city, ill at ease with Cobain's history of depression and drug abuse, has taken until now to fully embrace Hubbard's creation and the man it portrays. The unveiling of the statue will be followed by a performance from a local rock band, Gebular. Mason says that he, too, will likely play at the event. Mason met Cobain while playing in an Aberdeen-based band, Fat Chance, in the early 1980s.
"We always seemed to lose our drummers because they kept moving out of town," he recalls. "At that time Kurt's uncle Chuck was our latest drummer and we were practicing at his house when I met Kurt, who was staying there." His first impression of Cobain was simply of, "a little blonde kid watching while we jammed".
It was Mason who helped Cobain, a famous leftie, to flip the strings on his guitar so that he could play it left-handed. Today, Mason still teaches guitar and performs as a solo act in the bars and clubs of Aberdeen.
"But the music scene here," he says, "has really gone downhill."
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