From 1991 to 1994, Nirvana ruled the airwaves, Seattle became the capital of the universe, and the world hasn’t been the same since. In my opinion, it’s been all downhill from there.
A video at the EMP this weekend said something to the effect of “There hasn’t been another geographically based music genre to emerge since grunge. We’ve all been waiting for one for the past 20 years, but it hasn’t happened. Seattle was the peak. The culmination.”
If you think about it, it’s true.
Before Seattle, there was Motown. There was Liverpool, Athens, Minneapolis, Atlanta, New York, DC, and The Sunset Strip scene. Since the decline of “grunge”, it’s hard to define a real movement coming out of a single geographic area.
These days, everyone sort of sounds like each other. Folk bands from Seattle sound like Folk bands from LA which sound like folk bands from Connecticut. Auto-tune turns 16 year old boys (and girls) from Canadian suburbs into hardcore rappers, and pop bands across the USA write songs with the following question in mind: Would this make a good ringtone?
In 20 years, I’ll be the only guy in Seattle standing on my front lawn yelling at the kids “Turn it up, goddammit, turn it up! And run it through a feedback loop, ya pussies!”
Alas, my day is gone. I am a relic, content to mourn the loss of my own culture and influences like so many generations before me.
While Seattle’s heydey may be gone, fortunately, it’s not forgotten.
On Saturday, the Experience Music Project’s new Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses exhibit officially opened, and I decided to go over and check it out.
Even though Kurt only lived in Seattle for about two years (“I’m not from Seattle, I’m from Olympia”, I was once admonished), Nirvana will forever be semi-synonymous with the Emerald City … media darling during the height of what inexplicably became known as “grunge”.
As such, what better place on earth for a Nirvana retrospective?
When I got to the exhibit, I found it to be a time capsule of sorts. Some of the things I remember, show bills, stage props, etc. Many things, however, were complete surprises. For instance, an alternative name that Kurt was kicking around for the band was: Danger Mouse.
I don’t know if this is where the current Hip-Hop producer got his name, but it’s one hell of a coincidence.
The Nirvana exhibit is laid out in a manner that the visitor can completely immerse themselves in the band experience. Among the many features are:
- Instruments and other gear used by the band from their earliest days to their latest;
- Listening stations where you can hear many of Kurt’s earliest recordings;
- Listening stations where you can explore Krist’s personal music collection as well as the music from other bands that influenced the “Seattle Sound”;
- Self-guided video terminals filled with interviews related to Nirvana, Sub Pop, and other local bands of the 80’s and 90’s;
- Video screening areas of short movies produced specifically for the exhibit;
- Handwritten letters and lyrics from band members and those close to them;
- Rare, never before seen photos of Kurt, Krist, Dave, and fans;
- A large catalog of information related to the greater “grunge” movement, Sub Pop, and the bands that made Seattle a household word;
A couple of my personal favorite pieces were:
- A handwritten letter that Buzz wrote to Krist and Shelly, explaining that Kurt “may have some kind of future in music”;
- Stage props from the In Utero tour;
- A smashed Fender Mustang, re-assembled from pieces taken home from the gig by different people:
The exhibit documents the life of Kurt Cobain, and almost completely traces the timeline of the band, from its formation to the end. In essence, it catalogs everything there is to know about Nirvana. At least everything that should be known by the public.
Along with more Nirvana memorabilia than you thought could possibly exist, the EMP also documents in loving detail the entire “grunge” movement.
I came back with about 250 photographs, but I decided against posting too many. Photos take the soul out of the material, and trying to re-create the exhibit online would be kind of lame. It is something you simply have to come and see.
Now, if I had to make one complaint, it would be the crowd. There were too many people packed into the tight quarters, and the exhibit is designed so that only 3-4 people can view any particular display at a time.
Some people stood in front of the same segment for 15 minutes, and when I gently asked if they could move a couple of inches “hey, do you mind if I get a quick shot and then I’ll get out of your way?”, they looked at me like I was an impatient bastard.
Alas, I went on opening day, so what should I expect?
Since it’s hard to fully appreciate all of the material in a single day, I plan to go back once more myself. Probably sometime in November when the crowds are sparse.
As exhibits go, I give this one a solid 10 out of 10. The curator did a fantastic job, and he really shows a lot of love and respect toward the band and its fans. It really is a beautiful collection, and one that I hope they decide to make a permanent fixture in EMP.
Yes, it’s a Nirvana exhibit, but it’s really so much more.
It’s a love letter to Seattle and a nod to the last regional-centric music movement that mainstream audiences may ever know.
If you are a hardcore fan of the band, this exhibit is a must. It’s worth a trip from wherever you may live. You will never see a more complete, more intimate, more personal exhibit than this one.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the music, I think Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses is a must-visit for every Seattleite for no other reason than to better understand the cultural significance of what, for a few short years, made Seattle the focal point of the world.
The exhibit runs though April 22, 2013.
Ticket’s cost $15.
It’s worth every penny.