Approaching Nirvana: Next exit

Hometown drive to build a memorial to singer Cobain is gaining steam

Pop Culture

August 01, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

How best does a city honor someone who felt like its least favored son? That's the question in Aberdeen, Wash., the small community on the Wishkah River where Kurt Cobain grew up.

The rock star's accounts of his youth in the town might be best described as the march of a miserable outsider, but that has not deterred a group of locals who are pushing for a memorial to the singer who committed suicide a decade ago.

The campaign led to a City Council session in May, during which several ideas for an appropriate memorial were bandied about.

Among them were a youth music center, an annual festival, or a billboard reading "Come as You Are: The Birthplace of Kurt Cobain" perched atop a tall bluff.

There was also talk of a leafy downtown park with a graffiti wall to acknowledge the "teen spirit" factor. It was, fittingly, three Aberdeen teens speaking out in the local newspaper that got the idea for the memorial rolling.

Their call for a civic acknowledgment of Cobain resulted in the formation of a committee led by City Councilman Paul Fritts and local journalist Jeff Burlingame. Leland Cobain, the singer's grandfather, represents the family on the panel.

Some residents are not thrilled by the idea of heralding the roots of a celebrity who, to non-rock fans, is best known as a drug addict and suicide victim.

But Fritts and company have argued that there is also economic value in the Cobain memorial: Every year, young people from around the world hop off buses in Aberdeen to see their idol's birthplace.

The lack of local sites forces them "to wander town aimlessly before giving up and heading back to Seattle to spend time at the Experience Music Project," the committee argued in a local editorial.

The existing acknowledgment of Cobain is limited; one muffler shop, however, does have a sculpture of Cobain made by a local artist.

The committee's Web site,, has been "booming" with visitors as word has spread through fan channels, Burlingame says.

Fund-raisers are being scheduled and the committee is looking forward to August meetings, when details of the projects should coalesce. Radio spots in Aberdeen and Seattle are helping the cause as well.

"Our two initial goals are public signage recognizing Nirvana was from here, and a Kurt Cobain Memorial Park," Burlingame said. The first, he said, "is coming along nicely," but the latter is at a stalemate while the group negotiates for a parcel of land.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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