20 years since the death of Kurt Cobain and his birth town, Aberdeen, Washington, still struggles to embrace the part it played in the life of the late Nirvana frontman. His publicly documented drug use is an uncomfortable issue for the residents. His suicide, simply unmentionable. Cobain, in turn, had a great disdain for Aberdeen, and never shied away from expressing his opinions.
On the surface, Aberdeen is an uninspiring place, an industrial town with little to offer culturally or otherwise. It is functioning yet not expanding. It is not hard to relate to the frustrations voiced in Cobain’s early lyrics and his eagerness to leave. Growing up in Aberdeen with an ambitious or creative trait, you would have to leave the town to satisfy this. Given the opportunities available this would not be a possibility for everyone, or indeed an easy option for anyone.
However, there is an undeniable sense of community spirit and a warmth from the residents. Cobain’s nature was notoriously that of a down-to-earth anti-rockstar figure. Once faced with the trappings of fame, his desperation to escape to return to the normal, mundane life he grew up with, became ever apparent until his suicide in 1994.
Aside from a small memorial park on the muddy banks on the Wishkah River, there seems little evidence Cobain ever lived here. His childhood home, despite recently selling for almost ten times it’s actual value, is just another house on the street. His schools, workplaces and the shop where he purchased his first guitar all still function as they did in his youth, with nothing to distinguish them as part of his history. This conservative and Christian society appear to have shunned the memory and legacy of Kurt Cobain for the past 20 years, due to his life style choices conflicting with their beliefs.
To commemorate what would have been Cobain’s 47th birthday, Aberdeen’s Mayor, Bill Simpson, announced to the press that the town was to hold Kurt Cobain Day in his memory, an event which would be repeated annually. Cynically, it could be construed that the town, suffering from a dwindling logging trade, is trying to finally cash in on Cobain’s extensive international fan base, putting their opinions and beliefs to one side to create, as Mayor Simpson put it, “Washington’s Graceland”.
However, the turnout at the Kurt Cobain Day Event would suggest the local affection is genuine. Despite not appearing to resemble Nirvana’s key demographic the residents of Aberdeen, of all ages, seemed united in wanting to pay tribute to their most famous son. This is compounded by the emerging plans of an array of new memorials around Aberdeen, including a life size statue of Cobain produced by a local artist and a resident sponsored 50ft mural, currently in progress.
Growing up, I was aware of Aberdeen for one reason only, being the birthplace and hometown of Kurt Cobain and, subsequently, Nirvana. The music and words of Kurt Cobain had a profound impact on me as an adolescent, and upon millions of others worldwide. As a longstanding fan, I assumed the remembrance would be wide spread and thriving throughout Aberdeen. My expectations were naïve and I was surprised to discover clearly visible conflicts between the man, the legend and where the story began. 25 years since the release of Nirvana’s debut album “Bleach” of course the town isn’t going to be an entirely physical tribute to the life and times of one person, but clearly there is a fondness here, and a sense of forgiveness to celebrate a life that put an otherwise largely insignificant town on the map. This was echoed strongly in Mayor Simpson’s closing statement. “Kurt was a druggy, but he was also an incredible musician who touched, and continues to touch, millions of lives worldwide. This is what he should be remembered for”.
In this case, time has been a great healer, and it would appear that the residents of Aberdeen are endeavouring to find peace and a posthumous respect for Kurt Cobain, a true native and genuine product of this 16000-strong city.