Dead Rock Star Equals Tourist Dollars: Two Towns Fight Over Kurt Cobain

Nirvana, Kurt Cobain

Two small towns in Washington are fighting over which one has the right to capitalize on the legacy of Kurt Cobain as Nirvana’s introduction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and what would have been Cobain’s forty-seventh birthday approaches.

Cobain and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic both lived briefly in Hoquiam, Washington. Hoquiam fired the first shots in the battle by declaring that April 20 would be “Nirvana Day” to honor the band on the day they are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Even though Cobain and Novoselic are both from the neighboring town of Aberdeen, Hoquiam major Jack Durney told local radio station KXRO, “They bring great honor, I think as I say, to our entire community. And I think that it’s good Kurt Cobain lived in Hoquiam for a little while, but he and Krist Novoselic are part of our community, and I think it’s good to honor our sons and their great accomplishments.”

Aberdeen, Washington, is generally recognized as being Cobain’s hometown and it already uses that fact to draw in Nirvana-obsessed tourists. There’s a Kurt Cobain Memorial Park, and the famous bridge that is rumored to be a spot where Cobain lived during a brief period of homelessness (not true) discussed in the song “Something in the Way.” There’s also the Kurt Cobain walking tour and a section of the town’s history museum dedicated to Cobain’s life in Aberdeen. The sign welcoming visitors into the city reads “Come as You Are,” the title of a song from the band’s second album Nevermind.

Aberdeen isn’t very happy about Hoquiam’s celebration and attempt to claim Cobain as its own, so Aberdeen decided to have its own day dedicated to Cobain. The town has named February 20 “Kurt Cobain Day” in honor of the legendary frontman’s birthday. Aberdeen mayor Bill Simpson has raised a proclamation declaring February 20 will henceforth be known as “Kurt Cobain Day” in Aberdeen, local radio station KXRO reported. The full proclamation will be read on February 12.

“Aberdeen residents may justifiably take pride in the role our community played in the life of Kurt Cobain and the international recognition our community has gained from its connections with Kurt Cobain and his artistic achievements,” Simpson said at the meeting, per KXRO. Not to be outdone by Hoquiam, Mayor Simpson hinted that the celebration could become a week-long event.

It’s pretty convenient timing for both cities, as Nirvana has been in the news lately both for the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during their first year of eligibility and a recent collaboration the living members of the group made with Paul McCartney on the song “Cut Me Some Slack”, which has been nominated for a Grammy award for Best Rock Song.

The irony in all this is that Cobain hated his hometown. “In Aberdeen, I hated my best friends with a passion, because they were idiots,” he said in a 1989 interview with the Daily of the University of Washington. Cobain had a rebellious adolescence, and he attributed much of the frustration he felt with the conservative nature of Aberdeen.

“It’s a really small place,” Cobain said of Aberdeen in a 1992 interview for Monk Magazine. “A very small community with a lot of people who have very small minds. Basically if you’re not prepared to join the logging industry, you’re going to be beaten up or run out of town. They chased me up to the castle of Aberdeen with torches. Just like the Frankenstein monster. And I got away in a hot air balloon. And I came here to Seattle.”

Cobain said in an interview with John Savage in 1993 that growing up he felt, “So different and so crazy that everyone just left me alone. I always felt that they would vote me most likely to kill everyone at a high school dance.” “Come as You Are” certainly wasn’t Aberdeen’s motto when Cobain was growing up there.

Aberdeen can’t even make the claim that its non-existent music scene influenced Nirvana. “Let’s just say that people were still wearing bell bottoms in 1987,” Cobain said of Aberdeen in an interview with MTV’s Kurt Loder in 1993. In order to see punk shows or buy punk records, Cobain had to travel to Seattle or Olympia. When Loder asked him whether there was a punk scene in Aberdeen, Cobain burst out laughing.

If he hadn’t been cremated, Cobain would be rolling in his grave at the thought of a place where he felt so alienated profiting off tourist dollars by propping him up as some kind of hometown hero, and engaging in a public spat over which place gets the right to a host a day in his honor. Meanwhile, Aberdeen and Hoquiam will whistle “Smells Like Teen Spirit” all the way to the bank.

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