With its hulking steel infrastructure and aging timber ruins, ambling seamlessly from quiet shorelines down into the murky guts of the Wishkah River; Aberdeen, Washington, could not feel further from the ‘60s boom-town remembered by [Kurt Cobain’s mother] Wendy O’Connor in Brett Morgan’s brilliant biopic Montage Of Heck.
Nor is it, by any means, as grim as the grey, haunted streets presented by Nick Broomfield in his 1998 clusterfuck Kurt & Courtney – although even in the dazzling, uncannily-sunny weather of September 2014, it’s easy to imagine the place inspiring the grim sounds of Nirvana’s Bleach, or indeed that of The Melvins, who originated 10 miles up the highway in Montesano.
In the present day, these are faded, frontier towns. Aberdeen is only an hour’s drive from Washington’s state capital, Olympia, but it feels like a lifetime away. And it’s fitting, given Nirvana’s output and Cobain’s socio-political standpoint that the Young Street Bridge – immortalised in Something In The Way – is not one of Aberdeen’s hulking steel industrial bridges, but a quiet residential street, where the river runs free amid unexplained timbers of the past.
It would be a disservice to an artist who operated mostly within the intuitive realm to be overly academic, but in the context of Aberdeen’s macho, lumberjack, industrialised modernity; it’s surely not far wrong to suggest that the place where Cobain spent much of his youth – or was, at least, special to him – represents the tender, feminine realm.
In any case, the area which has been named ‘Kurt Cobain Landing’ is an incredibly special place, quiet, humble and mostly devoid of the pretence and blowhard bluster that has surrounded much of its namesake artist’s all-too-short life and career.
Next to the bridge itself is a community park – KC Riverfront Park. Largely thanks to unwillingness of some members of the Aberdeen community to memorialise an artist whose personal life was fraught with public controversy, the park itself is a community concern.
There is very little in the way of advertisement around town. Indeed, but for a few small signs hammered to street poles about the place, one could drive through Aberdeen and not even know this place existed.
That’s a relief, in many ways, as there are many aspects of the story that are best not glamourised. Pleasantly, such things seem a million miles away when one is under the bridge.
To be honest, folks, I found it difficult to leave. It was a very peaceful place. Only much later would I read that some of Cobain’s ashes were scattered nearby. That makes sense, I suppose.
Certainly there was a temptation to get grounded, to meditate at length and get right to the heart of the essence that created such powerful music.
Instead, I walked back across the bridge and returned to my vehicle, where I sat silently and looked at the steering wheel for quite some time.
Then I pointed the car back down the street, over the bridge, through the town, round the mountains, into the trees, and onward through Olympia and Tacoma to Seattle and the great beyond.