Aberdeen was alive with the sights and sounds of Nirvana this past Saturday, September 20, when a dedication was held for a new mural honoring the alternative rock band: “Nirvana and Aberdeen.”
The rock band Gebular could be heard working its way through covers of Nirvana tunes like “School” and “Heart-Shaped Box” on a makeshift stage set up next to the now-closed D&R Theatre (where Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic made one of his first public appearances, guesting with the Melvins). Aberdeen mayor Bill Simpson could seen in the beer garden in front of GH Wine Sellars, listening as Black Top Demon played Nirvana’s “Aneurysm.” And Novoselic met up with Nirvana’s very first drummer, Aaron Burckhard, at a private reception held before the dedication.
Erik Sandgren, a professor of fine arts and humanities at Grays Harbor College, was the lead artist on “Nirvana and Aberdeen,” with assistance from Anthony James Cotham, Dominic Senibaldi, Jason Sobottka, and David Wall. The mural is located on side of Moore’s Interiors, a flooring and carpet installation business located on the corner of W. Wishkah and S. Broadway in downtown Aberdeen. It mural depicts not only Nirvana, but also namechecks other bands with ties to the ’90s alternative rock scene, like Soundgarden and Bikini Kill.
Sandgren also tapped Novoselic for ideas, which is how such bands as Scottish group the Vaselines and the Meat Puppets — both bands acknowledged favorites of Nirvana (the Meat Puppets guesting with Nirvana on their “Unplugged” appearance) — came to be named in the mural.
“What sold me on [the mural] is it’s not just a Nirvana mural; there’s a community there,” Novoselic said in his remarks at a private reception held at Moore’s Interiors. “When we started playing in Aberdeen, and we started playing in the Northwest, there was an infrastructure; we had support. There was a music community.”
The mural also notes Nirvana’s ties to Aberdeen, depicting a truck laden with logs, a billboard reading “Think of Me” (a reference to a tobacco advertisement old timers would recognize), and an illustration of Tori Kovach, a local resident who cleaned up the area around the Young Street Bridge to make it more user friendly for Nirvana fans who regularly make a pilgrimage to one of Kurt Cobain’s hangouts, holding a sign reading “From The Muddy Banks of the Wishkah.” The Wishkah is one of two rivers that flow through Aberdeen; the phrase is also the title of Nirvana’s 1996 live album.
“The challenge was trying to find a graphic equivalent for what Nirvana accomplished as musicians,” Sandgren explained. “And we did that, I think, by packing all this stuff in — this wild, aggressive, bleak, black and white and gray, heart forms and commercial forms — packing it into a beautiful poppy red and yellow border which makes it appealing to the masses without denying all the rough stuff that it came from.” In depicting such “rough stuff” as Cobain’s suicide, the mural shows Nirvana’s creative force standing with his back to the viewer — and facing a black hole.
After speaking at the private reception, Novoselic was surrounded by fans seeking autographs and photos, which is when Burckhard stepped up to say hello to his former bandmate, prompting a further flurry of photos from the crowd. “It was great to talk to him again,” said Burckhard, who currently drums with the band Under Sin. Burckhard gave a copy of his band’s CD to Novoselic.
The private reception was followed by a public dedication outside. Novoselic then made his departure, Burckhard went off to sit in with Black Top Demon, and vendors did a brisk business in t-shirts sporting a condensed version of the new mural.