Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

Winston Aldworth: Listening for echoes of an era

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Herald travel editor Winston Aldworth was in Seattle as the city marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain.

Portland resident Kim Hoffman pays tribute to Kurt Cobain on a bench near the home where the singer died.
Portland resident Kim Hoffman pays tribute to Kurt Cobain on a bench near the home where the singer died.

He's gone and they haven't forgotten - but they've clearly moved on.

In hip, happy Seattle, on the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's suicide, there were no candlelight vigils and no displays of public grief. The only Nirvana T-shirts on display were in the excellent Experience Music Project museum of pop culture.

In that cathedral of cool, the relics of Nirvana are displayed with reverential grace. The cardigan Cobain wore and the drumsticks broken by Dave Grohl sit alongside some stuff about the guy who played bass (Union of Bass Player members, send your complaints to "the editor, TimeOut, NZ Herald").

"What's that, Dad?" asks a young kid.

"That's the statue that appeared on the cover of the In Utero album," replied a guy in his 40s, who really needs to find a better way to connect with his kid.

Survival rates aren't good for 27-year-old rock gods in Seattle. In the room next to EMP's excellent Nirvana exhibition, the wonderful work of another local boy, Jimi Hendrix, is celebrated. The 1968 Fender Stratocaster he took to Woodstock stands, ready for worship.

Outside the halls of the EMP, the 20th anniversary of Cobain's death barely raises an eyebrow. The local paper commissioned a cool illustration from a bloke who used to do gig posters in the days when grunge ruled as a sullen king.

"Did you know it's 20 years since Kurt Cobain's suicide?" I ask the woman serving us in one of the city's many excellent bars.

"Oh really?" she replies with the look of quiet patience an Auckland hospitality worker might display when told by a visitor that it's 600 years since Rangitoto last erupted.

Seattle, forever grunge in the eyes of those generations that grew up to the riff of Smells Like Teen Spirit, has since nailed other ways of being cool. America's northwest is on a high of theatre, craft beer and culinary treats. The wine is fantastic and the people carry themselves with a sweet balance of sardonic cheeriness. Perhaps after 20 years, Cobain's lonely, grisly end has been so picked over that there's little left for locals to say of it.

They got it right in the town of Cobain's birth, Aberdeen, a couple of hours south of Seattle. Mayor Bill Simpson this year declared February 20 "Kurt Cobain Day", saying it "should have been done a whole heckuva long time ago". That would have been the singer's 47th birthday. The band is to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week. Seems reasonable. Artists are eligible 25 years after their first record is released. Some things don't change. I don't know when I last heard the opening riff of Teen Spirit. I heard it in EMP and was reminded just how awesome it was. Ultimately, the guy left his own tribute.

* Winston Aldworth travelled as a guest of Air New Zealand.

- TimeOut

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Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

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