20 years later: How has Kurt Cobain impacted Seattle?
Bestselling Kurt Cobain biographer Charles Cross is out with another book on Seattle’s late grunge icon.
In his latest book on the Seattle rocker, “Here We Are Now,” Cross covers the period of time that has passed since Cobain’s death by suicide in April 1994.
“So much has happened in the last 20 years, both his impact on culture, the way we think about him, and if you even think about something as simple – which I write about in this book – as how is Seattle different now today than it was 20 years ago.”
Cobain’s legacy has influenced and become intertwined with Seattle’s.
“If you look at it and you talk to people who are from other areas around the world and they think of Seattle, there are five things that they mention: Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft and grunge music,” says Cross. “Grunge music became this thing that is such an essential part of Seattle’s identity, both internally and externally, that it really changed the shape of what the city was about.”
Seattle’s imprint on the music world didn’t end with Cobain. The grunge era opened the city up to an environment that was more supportive of musicians Cross says.
“Now we actually have an office of music and film in the city. We didn’t have that in 1991. In fact, Seattle was not a very kind city to musicians in the late 80s, it did not work to support the club scene,” says Cross. “Now, we actually see the mayor’s office essentially trying to court the music industry and make sure they’re happy with them politically. That is so different than it was 20 years ago.”
While many great acts came out Seattle before Cobain, Cross says the city wasn’t really supportive.
“Hendrix had to leave to find success,” says Cross. “Jimi was essentially run out of town, so he left at 18 to join the Army to avoid a jail sentence and he became famous elsewhere. So Seattle formed Jimi Hendrix but we certainly didn’t support his music scene at the time.”
But looking at musicians like Macklemore, who credits Seattle in his hit song “Can’t Hold Us:” “I got my city right behind me, if I fall, they got me,” it seems the city has found its way into a more supportive and mutually beneficial type relationship with artists.
“From clubs to record labels to Sub Pop. The music industry is a huge economic driver in Seattle,” says Cross adding he’d like to see the acknowledgement of that come even further. “We talk about our sports teams […] but what Macklemore did this year was he won the Super Bowl of music. It was an incredible thing for an artist to self-release an album, sell that many copies, and win those Grammy Awards. It was truly extraordinary.”
Looking at how the music scene in Seattle has changed over the last 20 years, Kurt Cobain is certainly a huge part of the conversation.
“Our musical legacy that Seattle is known for worldwide was so much affected by what he did,” says Cross. “That’s one of the things I tried to explore in this book.”
Charles Cross will be at the Aberdeen Public Library on Thursday, March 20, and at Town Hall Seattle on April 3.