The Sound of Seattle

In November 2015, I was sitting at the kitchen counter in my home waiting to click the button to purchase two tickets to Seattle, Washington. I had secretly been contemplating between Colorado and Washington as a surprise vacation for my boyfriend and I to visit in the spring. We had both already been to Colorado on our own, but neither of us had been to Washington. However, I didn’t press “Complete Purchase” immediately. Instead, I decided to wait on it another day. Making a transaction like that gives me anxiety and I wanted to be absolutely sure about us going to an unfamiliar place.

During the next 24 hours, I read through articles and reviews of places to go and things to do. I also happened to be listening to my 90’s Alternative Pandora station (my typical go-to). Then, a Nirvana song started playing, then Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and the rest of the Seattle scene. I thought these songs were speaking to me, telling me to come to Seattle. I have always been impressed by the amount of greatness of music that has stemmed from the Emerald City. Realizing how much of an adventure it would be to visit and experience the place where the grunge scene was born, I knew what I had to do.

The next day, I purchased the flight tickets. Done deal. I was super excited to plan this trip for Travis and I, not only because of the music history, but also because of the sheer beauty and inclusion of nature within the city. It felt like a place we needed to see in person.

Without surprise, it was raining when our plane landed at SeaTac around 8 pm. Despite the rain and cold, the weather was welcoming to us. It was a needed change of pace from the humidity and swarm of pollen in Texas, exemplifying that “spring had sprung”.

The next day was full of things to do. We of course planned to do all of the touristy things (sue me). However, I had also done extensive research on other activities the city has to offer. I originally planned to do a “rock tour” of Seattle through a tourist group, Stalking Seattle.

Apparently, they take groups of people around the city to see its musical history. Unfortunately, the tours were booked the entire week of our stay. Luckily, they have an app that shows and lists the locations of where they take their tours.

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Mural outside of Vain, a hair salon (formerly the Vogue, a music venue).

There were a ton of sights to see according to this app, but we lacked a fundamental resource: time. Nonetheless, we were able to catch a glimpse of some unexpected places, including the venue where Nirvana played their first Seattle show.

As Travis and I were walking the streets of Seattle, he pointed out a mural on the side of a building contained with a multitude of puns,  catchy phrases, and doodles. “You should get a picture of that,” he said. So I did, awkwardly and quickly from the sidewalk. Once we passed the door of the building, I noticed it was Vain, a hair salon. I remembered reading on the Stalking Seattle app that Vain was once Vogue, a music venue. “That’s were Nirvana had their first Seattle show!” I exclaimed. I didn’t particularly want to take a picture of some random building in Seattle, but after realizing it’s significance, I’m so glad Travis pointed it out and made the suggestion to do so.

We had been up early, due to jet lag. It was barely 11 am, but after walking for about an hour and briefly seeing Pike Place, we headed uphill in search of a Bloody Mary. The Hard Rock Cafe was the nearest place that had just opened for the day, so we went in and sat at the bar. I also knew of the treasures the building had to offer due to my handy app. We ordered our breakfast – I mean drinks – and ended up conversing with the bartender near the entire time. She was a native Seattlelite, but friendlier and more extroverted than the majority of the others we met. We asked questions and she happily answered them; we ordered drinks and she cheerfully made them. Her manager even offered a new menu item to us for free. The experience at the Hard Rock was probably the most hospitable (thank you!). Two Bloodys later, Travis and I decided to look around the building to see its novelties (pictured below, captions appear when cursor is hovered).

On our second full day in Seattle, we decided to finally go to the EMP Museum. The museum is notorious for its Nirvana and Hendrix exhibits, instrument structure, and guitar gallery. Our first and most intriguing stop was the Nirvana exhibit. I don’t have any pictures to account for this simply out of respect for

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If VI Was IX, a sculpture at EMP

Cobain, his friends, and family. I was honestly immersed in enjoyment of learning more about the music itself. I watched Montage of Heck a couple of months prior to the Seattle trip and gained a different perspective of Cobain, but after seeing the Nirvana exhibit I developed another new opinion. I realized how human Nirvana was. Even though their individual talents are out of this world, the psyche and essence of Nirvana is pure. It’s real. “‘Most of the music is really personal as far as the emotion and the experiences that I’ve had in my life,’ [Kurt said], dragging on a cigarette, ‘but most of the themes in the songs aren’t that personal. They’re more just stories from TV or books or movies or friends. But definitely the emotion and feeling is from me'” (Azerrad). There’s no doubt that Cobain had the ability to do such an incredible job of communicating those emotions.

Upon returning to Texas, nostalgia resonated within me. I listened to a decent portion of my personal 90’s playlist on the plane. Later that evening once we had been home (and had a few margaritas), I blared “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog in our bedroom. It just seemed like a natural thing to do: to feel free, sing the lyrics, hold my love, and enjoy the moment.

The song was written in honor of Chris Cornell’s friend, Andrew Wood (singer of Mother Love Bone), who died from a heroin overdose. Cornell says, “I was wanting to express the gratitude for my life but also disdain for people where that’s not enough, where they want more” (Crowe). I understood that concept in the moments of being home. I felt like I fell into that category, especially in the last several months. I had taken so many things, especially my life, for granted. I thought going to Seattle would cure my woes of the daily grind. And it did for the few days we were there. I wasn’t stressed or worried about work, working out, expectations, or anything. Instead, I was able to breathe the fresh air and involuntarily smile.

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Special edition cover of Rolling Stone

Two nights later in Texas, Travis and I went out with a group of friends to an old-school arcade. Afterwards, I went to the neighboring Walgreens to buy a soda. As I went up to check out, I had two bright blue eyes staring me in the face. It was Kurt Cobain on the cover of a 90’s special edition of Rolling Stone. I  chuckled at the sheer coincidence of the situation. It was like Seattle was trying to say, “Miss me yet?” Or maybe the ghost of Cobain was warning me to never return.

Would I go back to Seattle? Absolutely. No doubt the atmosphere and culture is day and night compared to Texas. But, I felt a connection to the city that provided me with solace in addition to the musical appeal. One who listens to the music of the deceased singers of the 90’s grunge and alt rock scene probably has a deepened sensitivity and can empathize with those singers. However, we can also learn from them. In just a few short days, Seattle and its music taught me to appreciate life, treat people like human beings, and most importantly, be myself. That’s what I love about traveling to somewhere new. There are no expectations of who you are or have to be.

Regarding the music, Cobain said, “I just hope that it doesn’t end with us. I hope there are other bands that can keep it going.”

 

Note: This week is the 22nd anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death.


References:

  1. Stalking Seattle. Application.
  2. Crowe, Cameron. “Temple of the Dog.” Pearl Jam Twenty. N.p.: Simon and Schuster, 2011. 47. Print.
  3. Humphrey, Clark. Vanishing Seattle. N.p.: Arcardia, 2006. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.
  4. Azerrad, Michael. “Nirvana: Inside the Heart and Mind of Kurt Cobain.” Rolling Stone 16 Apr. 1992: 14. Print.
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