kurt cobain

Spring Brings a Grunge Era Focus

Spring arrived in stellar form here in Seattle. We’ve actually been sweating through record temps - with record temps near 80-degrees for three days running. 3/19/19 was even the warmest Winter day EVER recorded in Seattle. This comes little more than a month after an equally rare snowy stretch dumped a foot on us and canceled a week worth of school. What better time to shine some light on a few noteworthy dates as the days lengthen and brighten.

April Fools Day is the true anniversary of Sub Pop Records’s official founding. They turn 31 this year. After last year’s “can you believe we’re 30?” parties and countless features, this birthday may prove easily missed. There’s still much to celebrate. Like the return of Sub Pop’s famous “Singles Club” in its 4th Volume (sorry - no longer open for new subscriptions). They tell me that the first two 7-inch vinyl records will ship in April. I’m certainly not alone in my stoked-ed-ness.

Which reminds me to mention something that is still available - Gillian G. Gaar’s new book. World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story sheds beams of new light on their history (as the first in the “RPM Series” of titles from BMG Books). Gaar got plenty of access to Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, and a full roster of insider perspectives. I saw her talk about the book a few months ago at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Company. There was a room full of old school Seattleites present to ask Gaar obscure and sometimes pertinent questions. Even if Sub Pop’s not officially shining a light upon itself this month, I’ll be telling some of my favorite old and new Sub Pop stories as we walk around Belltown.

A far less celebratory but certainly significant milestone comes up that same week. April 5th marks the 25th anniversary Kurt Cobain’s death. When he was found on April 8, 1994 at his home here in Seattle, I was in grad school at the University of Washington. One of the stories I share on my tour focuses upon what I experienced on the day Kurt was found, and over the melancholy days that followed. I suspect I won’t be alone in recalling in the coming weeks what I experienced and thought 25 years ago. Judging by the contact from fans I’ve recently received, this date merits a variety of worldwide observations.


Viretta Park

The bench used as an informal memorial since April 1994.

I should note for those just tuning in that by design I don’t take people by Kurt Cobain’s former home. I’m actually somewhat uncomfortable with that location being used as an informal memorial, although I certainly understand the need it serves for some. My walking tour around parts of Seattle functions more as a tribute to where the scene lived in the mid-1980s through the 1990s. All of us who feel a connection to the music that came from Seattle and the Pacific Northwest during that era can and likely do have something to say about what occurred here. With all due respect to other forms of memorial, I hope you’ll join me in observing not just where the tragedies happened. Maybe then we’ll have a better sense of where we’ve traveled since. And possibly where we’re we should be looking for what’s next.

Looking back on the anniversary of "Bleach" dropping...and forward

It's been a few months since I put up one of my periodic time capsule-heavy how-you-doin' updates. Today seems like an especially apt time to do so. Because on this date, Nirvana's first album "Bleach" was released back in 1989. While the album was well-received by critics, it barely reached the broader public still quaintly thinking of Seattle as an out of the way "noun" rather than a soon-to-be ubiquitous "adjective" (as in "Seattle sound" or "Seattle band" or the like). The relative lack of promotion eventually led Nirvana to leave Seattle's own Sub Pop Records. "Bleach" sold just 40,000 copies by the time their next album "Nevermind" fully cracked the cultural firmament two years later. However, it would go on to become Sub Pop's biggest selling album (1.9M and counting). Not bad for an album that cost just over $600 in studio time to record. 

Music journalists eventually dug way deep to learn that Cobain wrote most of the lyrics for that first batch of songs in a "pissed off mood" (Kurt's characterization, not mine) the night before their first recording session with Jack Endino at Reciprocal Records in Ballard. The sound was somewhat shaped to fit what Sub Pop was looking for at the time. But the energy and the originality and the off-kilter melodic fury endures. I still spin it from time to time. In fact, that's what's playing in the background as I write this. 

As I also like to point out at the start of my Grunge Redux tourssix days prior to "Bleach" dropping was an especially fortuitous date for the 2000-ish lucky people who made it into Sub Pop's "Lame Fest" at the Moore Theatre. The kind, naive people running that venue misjudged a billing with Nirvana, Tad and Mudhoney on the marquee. Hardly anyone aside from the in-the-know local fans thought it could sell out (which it did). Surely including the management of The Moore, who chose to send home early their security. And maybe not even Sub Pop, who were (reportedly) banned for a decade from that neighborhood venue as a result of the mayhem that resulted. 

Shifting forward to the now-ish...two months on down the line, we'll all most likely be lamenting "where did the summer go?" Before then, I've got big plans. Travel, family fun, a pile of work that's staring me down. Not that you asked, but I like to keep y'all in the know. Regardless, interspersed until mid-August on some special dates, I'll be running more Grunge Redux tours. Then after Pearl Jam finishes up their first Seattle shows in five years and Sub Pop throws itself a 30th birthday bash out on Alki Beach, I'll be dropping the ol' tour guide record bag (aside from a few charitable outings and the occasional special request). My subtle wink wink nudge nudge point here is to say that I'd love to have you join me for one before I stop doing encores. Next Friday even. Which could be an unseasonable warm day. What better time to skip out of work early and make a few Happy Hour cooling stops wrapped up in my uniquely Seattle storytelling experience? Tickets are available. Questions, as always, are welcomed and answered as soon as I can get to them.

Or you can also check me out for a limited time on Airbnb. If you've joined me before and want to say something about the experience, reviews can be placed there. No pressure. Just another friendly nudge.

Now if you'll excuse me, time to get back to rocking out. I hope you're doing the same...or will be soon...on this room-temperature and sunny Friday.