Saturday, July 2, 2011

My Cobain Memory.

  Standing on the cold, rainy sidewalk of NW 6th on an aimless night I waited for my friend Scott. I was waiting for him to reappear from the confines of a group of friends and acquaintances that could get us into the venue. It was January 6, 1989 and I was in front of the Satyricon trying to see Mudhoney. Scott emerged and proceeded to saunter over. "Let's go in." he said with a brash overtone. Like there was never a doubt we could get in due to age. Cold and excited to see Mudhoney for the second time that week, I shrugged and headed through the back. "Who's playing with them?" I asked in an unmoved tone. "The band that we missed Tuesday. Who fucking cares?!?" he answered. Again, I shrugged. 
   We then entered the back entrance. Jorge, one of the promoters, looked at Scott and I and said "Have fun be careful." I had no idea what we were about to see. I am and have been a Mudhoney fan since the split of Green River and the release of the "Motives" and "Touch Me I'm Sick" singles. I waited for "Superfuzz Bigmuff EP" at Music Millennium the morning it was available. Even though I was the only one waiting. That being said, I was there to see Mudhoney. That's what I thought at least.

I don't know how many of these are in circulation. I know I saw a couple on line. I have 2 of them and I will keep them forever. The name was spelled differently.

We wandered around the back area, through the storage and came out on the side of where "the stage" was. If you remember the Satyricon back in the day you will know why there's quotes. Off to the left I saw Steve Turner from Mudhoney talking to two guys as they approached the stage. I didn't want to interrupt and I was nervous. So I stayed put. As the two guys he was talking to were interrupted by another patron, I walked up to Steve.
"Steve?" I said in the most pitiful tone. He looked at me with a curiousness and after a brief chuckle, barked "What are you like seven years old?" and laughed a bit. "No!" I said with all the confidence of a 14 year old crapping himself. "I just wanted to say you guys kick ass. I'm a big fan." I remember it vividly because I still think that I'm an idiot for saying it that way. "Thanks little brother. You going to stick around and see us?" his voice was obviously gravelly from their shows in the week.
"Absolutely! That's why were here." I said as I panned the room for my cohort Scott. He was on the side of the "stage" area acting like he belonged there. "We caught most of the show Tuesday. We were late, but made most of it. Great set!" I said with the hopes that with that statement all of a sudden would make us best friends for life. "You ever heard of these guys?" as he pointed to the two guys he had been talking to earlier. The same ones which were now taking shots with another couple folks. "No. Not really. Who are they?" I said as I peered over at the group. "Nirvana, first show outside of Washington for them. Thought we would bring them along." Steve quipped as he drank out of a dirty looking Dixie cup. Then he looked back, yelled "Heap, hold on!" to some lady and said "Enjoy, thanks and have fun. Be careful though kid." as he walked off.
  I rejoined Scott by the side of the stage. "Did you kiss him?" Scott joked. I laughed and answered the obligatory "Your mom kissed him." remark with a middle finger. "This opening band, Nirvana, or something is supposed to be good he said. It's their first show out of Washington." I added.
"First show out of Washington?!? They probably suck then. At least they're with Mudhoney." Scott responded.
"I guess we'll see." is all I answered with. As Scott and I leaned against a rickety merchant table three guys approached. They headed to the area where everything was set up.

The next 45 minutes drastically changed my music mind for the rest of my life.

Kurt Cobain that night, January 6th, 1989.
Photo courtesy of David Ackerman. He might have the only photos in existence of this show.

  Scott and I watched these three guys, who just moments before had just been milling around the place, bumming smokes and drinking, turn everyone on their ears. While I can honestly say that it wasn't the best show I have heard or seen. It is still and always will be one of my favorites.
As the worn out, sweaty, gangly band finished they walked past Scott, myself, and a group of others to the side of where they had just upset my musical world. All I could say as the singer walked by was "That was great."
"Not so much, but thanks." is all he replied.
We stuck around and watched Mudhoney. They, as usual, put on a great show. However, it was too late I was already changed forever. Mudhoney finished up. Scott and I headed for the door. On the way out I bought a cassette tape that was crudely packaged in black and white with the word Nirvana strewn across it for $2.00. I was hooked. I listened to that tape so much. I still have it.
I saw Nirvana 9 times between that night and the day I got "Bleach" from the Sub Pop order. I wore it and the "Blew" EP out. I just felt like I had found something different. Something my own. I can't compare it to anything like the Beatles or Elvis because I wasn't there.

I was here though. It seemed right.

  Then something happened. I went and picked up a brush copy of "Silver" my friend Evan had for me. He said "These guys are gaining more airplay."
"I don't know how the mainstream will take them." I replied.
To be honest, I wanted to be selfish and keep them for myself. Again, it was too late. I look back now and am glad for that.

A writer put it best when explaining their effect on music:
"Despite the fears of some of their dedicated, solid, underground fans and newer alternative-music fans, Nirvana hasn't gone mainstream, though this potent new album may once again force the mainstream to go Nirvana."

  "Nevermind" was released on September 24, 1991. The music landscape once again drastically changed. However, this time it wasn't in my head, in a dank Portland club. It was everywhere. Things seemed to go by so fast and so awkwardly after that. I saw them every time they came here and tried to see them when ever I could. The thing I enjoyed the most is that each time I saw them it was like the first time. It's hard to completely explain.
Everyone knew there was sadness buried in those lines. It was too late to stop it. It had gone of the tracks, everyone had their hand in the cookie jar, and every other cliché. It was exciting, sad and anxiety all wrapped up in an 8 pound angst wrapped package.
Even after the releases of "Incesticide" and "In Utero" had a bit of a stranglehold on the mainstream audience. You could tell that from their earliest fans to the very newest felt right about what could happen.
MTV's Unplugged performance still ranks up there as one of the most engaging performances ever by them along with Reading in '92. I was very thankful for the experience that one night opened up for me. I never thought anything but seeing Mudhoney again would come of it.
  I went to Nirvana's final show in Oregon as well as the final 2 shows in Seattle, on a whim senior year. It was a day or two past exactly 5 years since I had first seen them.
The only regret I have is that I took it for granted. I saw them often enough to not even think about final shows.
Sadly, it was true. As most people know in 1994 after an accidental overdose on Rohypnol and alcohol an intervention was staged, the rest of tour was cancelled or "rescheduled" or whatever. After less than a week in rehab though, Cobain climbed over a lame wall of the facility and took a plane back to Seattle. A week later, on Friday, April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head at his Seattle home by Gary Smith an electrical employee who had an appointment. I was in shock upon hearing the news. Absolute shock.

This is the poster for the last U.S. show, and the last time I would see them live.

Do I remember where I was? Yes. I was at Ticketmaster trying to get tickets to a show that would never come again.

I went to the vigils in Seattle and Portland. I witnessed a grand smorgasbord of people that were influenced by a man that seemed so accessible, yet so distant and hidden from everything.

I was 14 again. Waiting on a rainy NW street to see Mudhoney. It had come full circle.

I was crushed.

Time passes and things grow shorter. Sadness fades. I know the memory of a 14 year old fades as the years go by.
Part of that innocence, angst and memory were fortified with it though on that day.

Kurt Cobain would have been 44 years old today. While I cannot truly imagine what he would have created or been like. I will forever be saddened that myself or any of us will never get that chance.

Who knows what is waiting for a wide eyed kid out there to discover musically? Who knows what will be the next change to turn the monotony of auto-tune and lip-synched heavy pop over. It's most likely already out there, in some dank venue. Most likely opening for someone else's favorite band.
I revert back to that night in 1989 as a kid that hoped, shrugged and said "I guess we'll see."

Thanks Kurt.

Play nice. 


  1. Wonderful story and beautifully written. I've often wondered what it was like being here in town during that time. I was older and in the Bay Area and listening to a whole different alternative music, so I sort of ignored them at first. My nephew, however was about your age and totally changed as well.

  2. Thank you very much, PonyBoy. It certainly will be a moment I'll keep with me. Please feel free to share this site with anyone you know with Portland interests.