As we approach Kurt Cobain Memorial Park, the road curves down a dead-end street lined with houses in the “Felony Flats” neighborhood of Aberdeen, Washington. There is no parking but we put the car against the railings which mark the end of the street. A neat metal guitar sculpture sits in the middle of the park with the lyric, “Just one more special place to go, then I’m done and I can go home.” A large board describes the park and its dedication, under which we see a couple homeless folks smoking a pipe containing an unknown substance. Three crusty-looking teenagers are under the bridge on the far side of the park, doing scrappy teenager things, possibly adding to the already abundant graffiti and memorials.
The park is small and triangular in shape; the dead-end street railings mark one border, Young Street and the bridge is the other side, while the Wishkah River completes the third. We could walk from our car to bridge in about 15 paces, while the park is ~10 paces wide, enough to fit the sculpture, a Cobain sign, a trash can, and the homeless folks’ board.
We take a moment to appreciate the sculpture, observe the muddy banks of the river, and take in the surroundings. Kurt Cobain was an icon for our generation, his short-lived but powerful contributions started a new wave of music just as we were coming of age.
Aberdeen itself as is an interesting place. While we didn’t explore the entire town to gain an exhaustive understanding of the townspeople, we did explore the streets of middle Aberdeen, looking for Cobain’s park and childhood home. Rolling through at about 3pm on a June Tuesday, teenagers are scattered around town, many darting in and out of traffic on skateboards or bikes. Many young adult residents are sitting on doorsteps, drinking beer or smoking. We learn later that Aberdeen is one of the toughest towns on the West Coast.
I remember the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It was like nothing I had ever heard before and after learning more about music’s backstory, specifically Cobain’s, I was even more intrigued. At the time, I couldn’t fully appreciate the depth of the music’s impact but have since learned more about how and why it swept our generation. Nirvana and Cobain in particular embraced the non-conformist youth who were ready to hear the message. America didn’t know what to do with a good-looking, charismatic, 90 pound heroin user singing to its children, and the children loved it.
The tradition seems to continue today, unsupported by corporate aspirations, left wing, right wing, or any of mainstream America. Kurt Cobain’s legacy lives in his birthplace, a tough, misfit singer from a misfit town, representing misfit America.
A couple notes:
Driving through the commercial district of Aberdeen seemed nice enough and I am sure there are nice neighborhoods around town.
We are later told by folks in Northern Oregon that Aberdeen once held the nickname “Hellhole of the Pacific.” Another nickname was the “Port of Missing Men,” because of its high murder rate. I don’t believe either of these names hold true today but the reputation apparently lives strong.
If you want to see more of Cobain growing up in Aberdeen (and see a powerful, depressing movie), watch the documentary “Montage of Heck”
From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah is a song name and album, released after Cobain’s death. Cobain spent a lot of time and sang about sleeping under the Young Street Bridge (which marks the northern edge of the Kurt Cobain park we visited) as a teenager.