I woke up after a strange night of sleep in my car overlooking the Columbia River emptying out into the Pacific. Across the River I could see Astoria, Oregon, a city I unwittingly passed through in the middle of the night in search of somewhere to crash once I went over the long bridge into Washington. Money was running out, and a campground or hotel were both out of the question, so in desperation I stopped at the first rest area I found.
If you’ve ever spent a night at a rest stop, you might have seen a familiar group of people that seem to frequent rest areas. The usual suspects being an arguing white trash couple, the quiet guy who sleeps in his car all the time and that stares at you uncomfortably like you’re invading his space, a 5th wheeler with a retired couple seeing America but who couldn’t find an RV resort for the night, and the gypsy/hippie travelers cooking and getting too comfortable in public (e.g., bathing, washing clothes, etc.).
I was so zonked out so I just stopped in and fell asleep as quickly as I could without having to confront any of these people. I slept poorly, woke up and got the hell out of there, mostly because I wasn’t sure if you could sleep there overnight and I didn’t want a cop knocking on my window to find out. I had no idea where I was going so I pulled over at a gas station to take a look at Google maps to see my options.
Just north of me was Aberdeen almost two hours away. I knew of Aberdeen because it was Kurt Cobain’s hometown, and the bridge Something In The Way was written about. As a kid in the early 90s I was obsessed with Nirvana at the time and was affected by his music, and his suicide. Even though Kurt took his own life, his music helped me get through some tough times in my life.
I was always drawn to this song. The soft voice of Kurt and the haunting cello as he poured out his soul onto the track always resonated deeply with me. I had been around the country seeing my favorite writers’ homes like Hemingway House and Walden Pond, and I saw it perfectly fitting to visit the town Kurt grew up in.
The two-lane highway leading to Aberdeen was a beautifully wooded roadway with logging trucks and seemingly infinite trees. It was my first time in Washington, and it felt exactly like I had pictured it — cool weather, moody skies, and lots of green.
I eventually made it onto the 101 North that led me into Aberdeen. I googled “Nirvana Bridge Aberdeen” and it gave me the exact GPS coordinates of the Young Street bridge. I pulled off the exit and headed downtown.
The downtown looked like it hadn’t change since Kurt was a kid. It had the remnants of what looked like large department stores, old storefront windows with local businesses, and residential houses not far from the main drag.
I turned off my GPS to drive around a little before I went to the bridge. I grew up in a small town in Ohio and felt isolated when I was a teenager, too. The only thing I wanted was to leave and see the world.
I’m not a religious man by any stretch, but I remembered a quote someone gave me when I was still living in Ohio and complaining about it. They asked me why I wanted to leave so bad, and I told them I didn’t really know.
Of all things, they quoted Jesus, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.”
Kurt said this about Aberdeen in an interview, “Aberdeen, it’s a coastal town about 100 miles away from Seattle. It’s a really small place. A very small community with a lot of people who have very small minds. Basically if you’re not prepared to join the logging industry, you’re going to be beaten up or run out of town.”
Kurt couldn’t be a prophet in his own town and I could never be comfortable in a place I grew up hating.
I set my GPS again to the bridge coordinates. It took me slightly outside of town to an outer neighborhood. I drove over a bridge and quickly realized it was the one I was looking for. I took a quick left and weaved around a neighborhood to where I could see the bridge started. I pulled into a one-way street and was met with the death stare of a woman and a no trespassing sign. I stopped and reversed slowly once I saw that the other side of the bridge was where I wanted to go.
I waved a “sorry,” but the women stared me down like she had been dealing with this since Kurt died. I went back over the bridge, pulled in to his neighborhood and figured out how to get to the other side. It was at a dead end between two residential houses. I could see a guitar statue and a plaque with Cobain’s face on it. The city had created a memorial park for Kurt.
There were cars already there and people taking pictures of themselves with the statues and plaques, and I saw entire families come out from the dirt path under the bridge with somber looks on their faces.
I grabbed my camera and walked around the shrines and benches and took some pictures. There was a guitar stand that was meant for Kurt’s guitar, a guitar statue, and some signs and plaques about Kurt.
I went under the bridge and saw the In Memoriam sign and a shopping cart laying down on the banks of the Wishkah River. There was a couple taking pictures, so I walked around and started looking at the graffiti with personal notes to Kurt. I took a few closes ups of the ones I found compelling visually.
There were two couples there. I waited them out long enough so that I could be under the bridge alone. After about 15 minutes they finally left and I sat down to take pictures from the different perspectives. It was an eerie place. It felt like a shrine and a graveyard all in one. I sat and absorbed the moment and took more pictures, and thought about my trip and the uncertainty of where my own life was leading.
This place felt like a great spot to escape the world. It wasn’t beautiful. It was just a bridge over a small river that was close to his house. But it was significant for Kurt, because it was his place to escape. I sat for a few minutes to appreciate the solitude. More people came along so I let them have it alone like I just had.
I left the park and searched to find Kurt’s home address on Google. I plugged in the coordinates and it said it was only a few hundred feet away. I turned the corner and went a street up and found the little yellow house marked 1210. Someone was living in it, but that was the end of my pilgrimage to Kurt’s hometown.
I played Nirvana album’s for the next few days non-stop. His songs haunted me, but also kept me company while I was alone. The road is a lonely place when you don’t have anyone with you. The books you read, the music you listen to, and the thoughts you have are the only company you keep.