Monday, July 29, 2013

The Cobain Chronicles - Part Four: Kurt's Park

I recently drove from Portland to Seattle to go to the Kurt Cobain memorial.  It was originally named Viretta Park, though it is also known as Kurt's Park.  This city park is right next to the last house he ever lived in.  It was twenty years ago that I stood in front of Kurt at one of his last concerts.  I'd been meaning to come visit this memorial for several years...  

People come here from all over the world to leave flowers, mementos, and write messages on this bench - Kurt's bench - where he was seen sitting at different times before the end of his life.  Messages are written to him in chalk, nail polish, spray paint or anything else.  

When I walked up to the park, I was surprised to find myself so anxious - it was like I was going to meet someone face to face that I had not seen in decades.  My heart pounded as I walked up to Kurt's bench.

This is no Graceland.  No shag carpet here, just the sprawling grass.  No chandelier, though on clear nights you can see some stars.  No admission fee, only space for you to walk through and remember.

As an amazing act of love, someone took the time to knit this piece that was attached to the bench when I got there.   It looks like a remake of the red and black sweater Kurt was known to wear. 

I had found these dried yellow flowers in a store and they made me think of Kurt, so I took them with me to Seattle.  I wrapped them in paper and a blue ribbon to leave on his bench.  I did not see the word "Forgiven" carved into the bench initially.  I saw it the same night I came home and transferred these photos to my computer.  The whole journey of taking a look at Kurt's life and going to his memorial was profound and set me on a path of personal forgiveness.

I sat on the ground next to the bench for a while.  I felt waves of sorrow wash over me for all that went wrong.

There's something really beautiful about dried flowers...they don't have to worry about dying because they've have already crossed over to the other side.  Their beauty is delicately invincible.

The wooden slats in the bench get pulled out and replaced every so often and also painted over from time to time with brown paint by the park maintenance people.  That's why you can look at different pictures of this bench taken over time and it looks entirely different.  Under the brown paint you see here, there is a whole other layer of messages to Kurt from pilgrims who came in the weeks before.

People by the thousands fly here each year from faraway countries and drive here from faraway places to come and leave mementos and messages.  The pictures below show messages from people from Czech Republic, and from Iowa.

Pennies and a guitar pick were stuck onto the bench maybe with glue or wax, but then they were painted over....

The day I was there, I saw glasses, gloves, a bracelet, a tea bag, maybe some sort of mint in a silver package...maybe these were all left by the same person, or maybe by multiple people - all pieces that had symbolic importance to someone.

The strangest thing kept happening - multiple times I would put the flowers in the middle of the bench, and then I would see them on the ground behind the bench.  Any time I was walking around and not looking directly at then bench, this would happen - even when I was the only one at the park.  Every time I saw the flowers on the ground they looked like someone had carefully placed them there - facing up.  I got really spooked for a couple minutes until I realized that the soft breezes blowing through the park were probably just blowing it off the bench.  I wondered if the universe was making the point that I wasn't supposed to place the flowers in that exact spot because that's right where Kurt would sit....  The last time I picked them up from the ground, I placed them on the side of the bench and not in the middle.

There are two benches - one that is closer to his house, which is the main bench for leaving messages and mementos, and there is a second bench that is further away from his house with less graffiti on it...

Rest in peace, Kurt. 

The view from just behind Kurt's bench: Lake Washington, the skyline of Bellevue in the distance beyond the water, and blue mountains on the horizon that are part of the Cascade Range.

I hate when leaves start turning the color of Autumn when Summer is just barely beginning.  It makes feel anxious and regretful at the same time.

I pictured coming here for a long time, the way you imagine seeing an old friend for the first time in ages.  I always imagined I would come during cold, gray weather, not during early summer when everything is exploding in light and color.

Purple hollyhocks lean into a path at the top of the park.

The small window on the top floor of Kurt's old house was opened up to let in the afternoon breezes while I was walking around.  This house looks out over the park and is now lived in by someone else - they have it surrounded by walls for privacy.

Beyond Kurt's last house - the vapor trail of an ascending plane.  When our time comes, I wonder if we leave behind something like a vapor trail, however intangible it might be, in the moments when we ascend from this earth.

This white flower kept catching my eye - like it was trying to get my attention.   When I got close enough to take a picture of it, I could then see that right next to it was an enormous, astoundingly beautiful Evergreen with an opening in it like a doorway - you could go in and walk around inside it as it surrounded you with its boughs.

It was like some idyllic childhood storybook scene - some place where the main character would go to seek refuge or solitude.

When I walked inside this ancient looking tree, there were the hugest clovers I have ever seen at my feet - I've never seen clover this big anywhere.  

At times I've wondered why Kurt was chosen as the 'frontman' for my generation - considering all the people that could otherwise have taken that title.  Beyond his extraordinary talent and how he changed the history of music,  it seems it is because so many people felt a connection to him and to his pain through his music.  In living out the quintessential Gen X existence, he experienced and understood our pain. 

So if the frontman of our generation has left us what have we left? To recognize the mutual suffering in one another and to help each other move beyond that suffering.  To look for light when it seems there is only darkness.  To be conscious of what has happened to other Gen Xers individually and collectively and to not forget.

"The sun is gone but I have a light."
Kurt Cobain
1967 - 1994

Photographs of Kurt's Park and Kurt's last home - Seattle, Washington.

(c) 2013 photography and writing by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved



Anonymous said...


ChloeGXP said...

Thank you, E.M. It's hard to believe it has been twenty years since he left us. Being there at that was something I felt I needed to do in person, and it all felt so much heavier than I would have expected. It was strange to watch neighborhood people nonchalantly walking their dogs through the park - like history hadn't taken place under our feet, like there wasn't anything to feel sorrow about.