Saturday, April 5, 2008

Missing Seattle, Kurt, and especially Layne

If you know me even a little bit, you probably expected this post today (that is if you also remembered what today is the anniversary of) and if you are still getting to know me, well expect these sorts of posts at the beginning of April. That is if I am around to blog. Usually I'm in Seattle with my friend Eryn. In fact, even though it is the most gorgeous spring day we've had so far, I'd rather be there where it's cold and rainy right now. Two days ago I was walking to work and was hit by the overwhelming feeling that I should be somewhere else. Normally I would have been on my way to my favorite city. I wasn't because I'll be there in July on book tour/vacation, but my spirit just knew. I emailed Eryn and she'd told me she had the very same feeling.

I have a feeling that if our lives were slightly different, Eryn and I would be sharing an apartment in Seattle. Instead we both still live in our respective hometowns and for similar reasons, I think. I hope that when I bring my boyfriend to Seattle this summer, he'll fall in love with it the same way I have and want to live there, but even that does happen, I'm not so sure I'd actually move. My family is in Chicago, my heart is in Chicago, but I think my soul is in Seattle. I know that sounds a little new agey and I'm not really sure I can explain it at all, let alone in a way that doesn't sound like that, but I guess I'll give it a go.

Eryn and I first went to Seattle with three friends in April 2004 to observe the 10th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death. (You can read all about that particular trip in this essay on I was in junior high when the whole Seattle/grunge thing happened. Other than a few bands that I'd gotten into before that (Depeche Mode, Faith No More, REM, and Jane's Addiction), I'd never felt so passionate about music until I heard the "grunge" bands, Nirvana becoming my favorite band of all time, and then also Alice in Chains, Screaming Trees, and Mudhoney. Then of course there were all the other amazing alt-rock bands coming out around that time and the older punk and indie bands that Nirvana and co. exposed me to. I got into Sonic Youth, the Pixies, the Wipers, the Vaselines, PJ Harvey, L7, Rites of Spring and Scratch Acid because Kurt Cobain mentioned them in interviews. With the exception of the Sex Pistols whose tape I bought because the kid I had a crush on in junior high wore a Sex Pistols t-shirt (it was his older brother's), I can probably link my discovery of almost every band I loved in my teen years to the Seattle grunge explosion.

Eryn, though she is a couple years younger than me, has the same musical background and always looked at Seattle as a Mecca of sorts. She went to Seattle in 2004 already in love with the city even though she'd never been there before. I went there because Kurt Cobain and his music influenced me more than anything else in this world and I wanted to pay tribute to him. Seattle just happened to be the place where we would do it and it had some great rock 'n' roll history that I was looking forward to exploring. I was pretty sure it would be a cool city, but I wasn't expecting to feel some huge connection to it the way Eryn did. I now know never to doubt Eryn's instincts.

On the bus ride from the airport to our hostel in downtown Seattle, I was immediately struck by the beauty of Seattle. Seattle is known for it's rain and all that rain translates into the most gorgeous greenery I've ever seen. I've been there every season but fall now and have noticed it tends to stay that way year round. Also because of the green when it does rain there, it doesn't seem as gloomy and gray as it does here, but in Seattle's defense, it doesn't rain every day there. I was there for ten days in 2004 and I think it drizzled once (and that may have been in Gray's Harbor, not Seattle). So, deep down I'm a bit of a hippie and prefer greenery to concrete, so Seattle scored points immediately. I'm also a Cancer (told you I'd get a little new agey) so I have a thing for water. Seattle is surrounded on three sides by water and our hostel was steps away from Elliott Bay. The first thing we did was go to the waterfront and that's where I began to really fall in love with Seattle. The waterfront is always the first and last place that Eryn and I go when visiting Seattle and whenever we don't have something to do, we go there and just sit.

So very quickly I realized that Seattle was the ideal physical environment for me (not to mention their much milder winters and summers than Chicago, I certainly loathe both extremes here). But I didn't have that whole soul connection realization until April 5th when we went to Viretta Park, aka Kurt's Park, the tiny park next to his last house, the place where his body was found. It was there that I really thought about the way all the music that I loved, that really shaped me came to me because of Seattle, whether the band was from Seattle or a Seattle band mentioned them in an interview or I saw their video because I was waiting to Seattle band's video on MTV. Eryn's perception of Seattle as the musical motherland was very much true for me, too, and as someone whose soul is fed on music, well that means my soul belongs to Seattle.

I know that's sort of vague and weird, but my final reason is one I think everyone will understand. Seattle just feels like home even though it's not. After being there for a couple days, I found my way around so easily it was like I'd been there a couple years. And all the locals were so friendly, I literally made friends with people I met off the street. But most importantly, I never felt awkward or not cool enough no matter where I went there. I've never felt that way anywhere. I love Los Angeles, but I know I'm not glamorous enough for that city. Even in Chicago when I go to shows or certain neighborhoods, there's this hipper than thou vibe that makes me extremely self-conscious about how I'm dressed or what I say. I've never felt cool in my hometown and I'm way more aware of it than I want to be. It's made me into a self-conscious person. Like I even had to get past feelings of dorkiness writing this because I still have those insecurities that formed in my teens when I wanted so badly to be part of the hipster punk scene. The little voice in the back of my head that is still leftover from that time period tells me it's not cool to have this much admiration for a rock star and that Nirvana shouldn't even be my favorite band because they were on a major label. Yeah, total bullshit, right? But it's really hard to get past those doubts about yourself when they were so deeply drilled in during the formative years. As much as my heart belongs to Chicago, I will always remember how I never felt I wasn't cool enough to be in a lot of places. There's none of that in Seattle. In my ten days there in 2004, I embraced myself, the various quirky aspects that make up who I am, and I finally taught myself not to give a shit about what anyone else thinks. I'm still conscious of my feelings of not being cool enough, but now more often than not I say fuck it. I don't know if any of this makes sense, but that's my connection to Seattle.

But today I'm not just missing Seattle, I'm also missing Kurt and Layne. I'll be honest April 5th is not *the* day of mourning for me when it comes to Kurt Cobain even though it is officially the day he died. April 8th is the day I feel it and I'll blog about that on the 8th, but in 2004 when my friends and I went to Seattle, we didn't know when or if there would be any sort of public recognition of Kurt's death. Would things happen on the 5th, the 8th, or even the 10th when the original vigil was held in 1994? MTV decided it should be the 5th. That's when they had their camera crews at Viretta Park, at least. It was weird walking up to this place that was the closest thing fans had to a gravesite to visit and finding it looking like a movie set. But eventually I got over that and I spent the fourteen long hours we stayed at the park hanging out with other fans and disappearing to quietly reflect.

The picture at the top of this post is from April 5th, 2004. As you can see, a lot of people turned out that day and used the bench in the park like an altar, leaving their offerings to both Kurt and Layne Staley from Alice in Chains whose date of death is eerily also estimated to be April 5. Even though the first album I listened to this morning was a live Nirvana album and hearing Kurt's raw primal scream did make me shiver and bring a few tears to my eyes, I've been mostly listening to Alice in Chains while I write today and most of my sadness is for him today.

The sign below the bench that says "Don't forget Layne Staley" gave me chills when I first saw it and it still does now. Why? Because Layne Staley was forgotten in a lot of ways. I'm not sure if everyone out there knows his story because he was not nearly as famous as Kurt Cobain, but Layne Staley struggled with heroin addiction for many many years. You can really hear him fighting his personal demons in Alice in Chains' music, especially the album Dirt. Heroin addiction ultimately took him away from the music and completely isolated him. The day the news broke about Layne's death was April 20. 2002. His body was found on April 19, two weeks after he died. Two weeks. It took two weeks for someone to realize they hadn't heard from him in a while, two weeks for someone to notice that Layne Staley, former huge rock star, was missing in action. Does that make anyone else sick with sorrow? Maybe it hits me extra hard because I've known people who've battled with heroin and a couple of them let heroin win and I haven't seen them in a long long time and I know that this story could be their's. So yeah, today is really about Layne for me.

There is a really positive way to remember Layne though. His mother formed the Layne Staley Fund that raises money for drug treatment. I just made a small donation and now I'm off to pay tribute to Kurt and Layne by writing some fiction and using the creativity their music fuels.


Annika said...

I remember watching an episode of Cribs (of all the strange things for me to watch) with someone from Alice In Chains and he introduced the family cat, who was Layne's cat. That was when I got sad.

And pish! To the idea that you are not glamorous enough for Los Angeles. They let ME in.

keri mikulski :) said...

Wow, it feels like yesterday when I heard about Kurt Cobain's death. Heroin is such a tough drug. I've watched too many friends end up dead or in jail due to that terrible drug and the hold it takes on. Great, heart felt post, Stephanie. Thanks for sharing.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

That is really sad, Annika! And pish! at the thought that you are not glamorous.

Keri, I know it is hard to believe it's been 14 years, I still feel so close to that time period and my teenage years, hence I write a lot of stuff set during that time period. And yeah, heroin is a really really tough drug and I've seen way too may lives ruined because of it.