Nirvana: The Histories & Mysteries in Seattle
Nirvana: The Histories & Mysteries in Seattle by Ryan C
I was born & raised in Seattle. I love Seattle. I love the diverse culture, the food (Oh my Lord, how I love the food there), and the music scene. I lived in Ballard, a what-once-was-blue-collar-now-turned-hipster neighborhood in Seattle. Ballard is awesome. Not because of the hipsters… In fact, they really bothered me. But because of the music scene! I lived on Ballard Avenue, literally the heart of the entire neighborhood. There wasn’t a night out of the week that I couldn’t walk into a dive bar and watch some very talented musicians play some original songs. You’d see alt-country, to folk, to straight up rock ‘n roll; it didn’t matter, Seattle covered as many genres as possible. But the prevalent genre that was always in the sub-text of these bands, was Seattle’s historical “grunge” sound. Now, Seattle is proud of their grunge heritage. In fact, a little too proud in my opinion. The thing the bothered me the most about Seattle, and no, it wasn’t the rain, was Seattle’s rock radio stations. I hated them. It had been over 20 years, and all you ever hear is tracks from Pearl Jam’s “Ten” record and random Nirvana singles. I mean, seriously, I don’t mind if you play Pearl Jam & Nirvana, but play some random album tracks. They wouldn’t. They reminded me of Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite, still trying to re-live the “glory days.”
When I lived in Seattle, I worked for Comcast, the local cable TV/internet company. I worked as an “in-house technician”, also simply known as, “The Cable Guy.” Which means, I was driving around for 10 hours a day randomly going inside of people’s houses to fix their TV’s. Since it was a company truck, all I had in the truck was an AM/FM radio, which means I was forced to listen to the terrible Seattle radio all day. Which also means, that I know Pearl Jam’s, “Jeremy” and Nirvana’s, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” almost better than anyone. As the last 20 years had gone by, I grew to hate Nirvana & Pearl Jam. I still cringe when I hear anything from that “Ten” record. However, I remember very clearly one day about 9 months ago when I was sitting in my work van just Instagraming away when Nirvana’s, “Breed” came on the radio. I don’t what it was, but something struck me. Suddenly I remembered that I once loved Nirvana. And so I cranked the radio as loud as it would go, and started pounding my foot on the floor and beating my hands on the steering wheel in unison with Dave Grohl’s drumming. As soon as work was over that day, I went home and found my “Nevermind” CD, and put it on my iPhone. For the next couple of months, I would play that CD all the time when I was Instagraming on the company clock.
One weekend, a buddy of mine and I were driving through Richmond Beach, a small city just north of Seattle, where he drove up to a rather large house in the middle of a neighborhood and said, “You know who’s house that is?” I looked at it, it was a nice house for sure, completely made out of bricks, even the driveway was made out of bricks. I responded that I hadn’t a clue who’s house it was. He told me that this was Robert Lang’s house. Not only his house, but also his world-famous recording studio. This is the studio that has recorded such bands as Alice in Chains, Candlebox & Bush. This is also the studio that Dave Grohl recorded his entire first Foo Fighters album. But probably the most famous recording to come out of this place was Nirvana’s last known studio recording, “You Know You’re Right.” I mean, here it was, one of the greatest studios of all time, right in front of me, and right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
That next day when I was back at work, for some reason Nirvana was just on my mind. I remembered reading about this little known practice space of Nirvana’s over in Ballard. I didn’t even know what the building was. I had driven by it numerous times, but I had no clue the history it held. @emerald_city_naters (on Instagram) had shot this practice space a month or two prior and was actually the one to inform me of this place and its exact location. So I decided to check it out. I was completely unaware that this now abandoned building I drive by daily was in fact, Nirvana’s practice space during the time of their “Bleach” record. It’s in a residential area on one side of the road, and commercial stuff on the other. I verified through other sources that this really was the place. I find it rather shocking that there is no fan art around the building like you find at the unofficial Kurt Cobain memorial site. Just a simple corner entrance building on the side of the road with all of the windows boarded up. What’s really weird to me is that, this building is surrounded by bars. What building in Seattle could be a better building to have a bar in than this building? It seems like some un-tapped potential. If I were the entrepreneur type, I’d buy this building and open a Nirvana-themed bar.
After shooting the practice space, it spawned an adventure through all of Seattle. Of course I wasn’t aware of half of the Nirvana landmarks throughout the area, so I began an extensive internet search. I had a laptop in my work truck with an air-card… It’s pretty safe to say that I didn’t get much work done during this time. The next step in my search led me to some downtown club spaces. I had been to one of them on numerous occasions, and the other… I wasn’t even aware that it was a club.
This is The Crocodile Cafe, a club-restaurant-bar in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. It supposedly has the reputation of the CBGB of grunge, although I never heard anything of that sort. Nirvana only played here once – as an unannounced opening act for Mudhoney back on Oct. 4, 1992. For the gig, the Croc was given detailed instructions, including: “Ultra-expensive mikes have no place on a Nirvana stage. Have spares ready.” Nirvana was the epitome of what rock music embodies. They weren’t in it for the money, they were in it play.
The next spot I came to was this place, the original site of The Vogue — one of the original rock clubs of Seattle. The Vogue moved away back in ’99 to the Capital Hill neighborhood. Now it’s just a techno type place, as far as the last I heard. This was the spot of Nirvana’s very first Seattle show back on April 24, 1988. Only a handful of people attended. Apparently Kurt puked from being nervous before the show in the parking lot. As stated, The Vogue moved away. Now this is the location of Seattle’s top hipster hair salon, Vain.
There were a few other clubs and what-not around Seattle that I tried to visit, but they had either been demolished for another building, or I simply couldn’t find them. However, I was only 4 shots into the series and I couldn’t just end it there. So even though I had been to the location of Kurt Cobain’s house to shoot before, I figured I’d go back. Kurt & Courtney’s house was on the very far east end of Seattle, right next to the water. It’s a nice area for sure. It’s also pretty detached from the city in my opinion. I hated doing cable in that area. Just a bunch of rich people who had clearly never worked a customer-service type job in all of their life. They were pretty rude people over there. In either case, here is Kurt & Courtney’s house. I had driven by many times while working in the past, this was the first time I had seen the front gates open. The new owners of the house had demolished the greenhouse where Kurt died. So if you visit, don’t bother trying to look over the fence for it. Plus, the new owners have security cameras installed all over the place. I’d say from where I’m standing in this photograph, this is about as close as you’re going to get to his house.
Located directly next door to Kurt & Courtney’s house is Seattle’s, Viretta Park. It’s a city maintained park. It’s pretty small too. In fact, I think there’s only a bench in the entire place. That’s about it. And since Kurt was cremated and not buried, mourners & fans decided this place should be his unofficial memorial site. This lone park bench is constantly being covered in people’s artwork and writings. They write Nirvana lyrics, personal notes to Kurt, or sometimes they put flowers all over the bench, as if the bench were his gravestone. This is a popular place to say the least. Every time I’ve driven by, or stopped to take a picture, there have been anywhere from 2-10 completely different strangers there to pay their respects to Kurt.
I remember leaving Viretta Park that day after seeing a woman crying on the bench and leaving her sunflowers on the bench, I remembered that I had watched a documentary called, “Kurt & Courtney.” A documentary I would recommend anyone to see. A Nirvana fan or not, this is a fascinating documentary. The question that this documentary unintentionally raises is, did Kurt actually commit suicide? Or was he murdered? This led me to the site www.justiceforkurt.com. I spent probably 2 days just reading everything on this site. This site also led me to my final shot in the series, the location of where Jim Baker’s Gun Shop used to be, at 10000 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA. Dylan Carlson, best man at Kurt’s wedding, said in an interview that the two of them went here on March 30th of 1994. There they shopped around briefly according to the shop owner. Kurt insisted his friend buy a 12 gauge shotgun for him, for fear that the police (if they found out he bought a gun) would take it away because of gun seizures from his house in the past. Carlson bought the gun and a box of shells for $308.37. Not long after, this was the gun used in Kurt’s (alleged) suicide. I don’t know if Kurt was murdered or not, but if you’ve become curious like I was, you should check out the documentary or the website. Both are filled with a ton of facts.
The only thing that bothers me about this series was, I never finished it. I had had plans of going down to Aberdeen, WA to snag some of the photos of the Kurt landmarks there. In case you didn’t know, Aberdeen is Kurt’s hometown, and also the location of the famous bridge that he lived underneath of. Unfortunately, I moved away from Seattle before I could go down there to get those shots. So here’s my invitation to you, if you’re a Seattleite or even plan to be in the area of Aberdeen and you want to finish this series for me, first of all, I’d be very grateful; secondly, if you’d like, I’d love to have your shots posted here at Juxt as the conclusion of this post.
So there we have it. I figured since I talked about this Nirvana series on my previous blog, I should probably just show you what I was talking about. Hope you enjoyed it. :)