Erik Tomren in front of Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftain.

Arctic Circle Air Adventure with Northern Alaska Tour Co.

In late August of 2013 I had the unique experience of crossing the Arctic Circle on Northern Alaska Tour Company’s Arctic Circle Air Adventure. The centerpiece of the trip is the roughly 1- hour each-way small plane flight between Fairbanks and Coldfoot. Once up north, you are picked up in a van for a tour of the wilderness community of Wiseman. Then, learn about the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and stop at Coldfoot Camp, before returning home on a small plane.

My flight was on a Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftain plane, built in 1976 to hold a maximum of 8 passengers. When I signed up for the Arctic Circle Air Adventure, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never been on a small plane flight before, and I was a little nervous. I look forward to sharing my adventure with you, but first a little context.

Preparation

All tours requiring flights depart from 3820 University Avenue, the small plane area of Fairbanks International Airport. Upon arrival, I was greeted and given a run-down of the tour and given the opportunity to ask any questions. My carry-on bag was also weighed at this time. I did not realize at the time, but since my bag was around 15 pounds (a heavy laptop) I was actually above the allotted carry-on allowance of 5 to 10 pounds. However, the extra weight was not an issue. If the weight is a problem, you would simply be asked to leave your bag in Fairbanks.

Also, at this time you may purchase a box lunch, to be delivered upon arrival in Coldfoot. I purchased the box lunch option, since I had already had a long day of travel and didn’t want to wait until after midnight to eat. The box lunch was $12 and included a homemade sandwich with choice of meat and toppings, packaged chocolate chip cookie and pretzels, orange and choice of soda.

Erik Tomren inside Piper Navajo Chieftain plane.

Erik Tomren inside Piper Navajo Chieftain plane.

Away We Go

Then, we walked outside together to meet our pilot and board the plane. Once everyone was seated the plane was ready to take off. We were given standard safety instructions, such as emergency exit information. The pilot taxied his plane along the runway until it was his turn to take off. On this type of trip headsets are an absolute must. They serve to drown out the considerable noise of the plane, but also allow the pilot to communicate to the passengers via his own mic’d up set. Before taking off the pilot ensured that he had our headsets on and that they were in working order.

Take-off went smoothly, although it’s an odd sensation to be so close to the ground in such a small plane. As we left Fairbanks any trace of civilization quickly began to disappear. We passed a mining pit, then some small rivers and lakes. The pilot pointed out landmarks and local history along the way, reading from a script in the cockpit. Much of it I quickly forgot, instead focusing on the beauty outside. The weather shifted dramatically along the way, with the blue sky broken up by cloud cover. This led to very dramatic contrasting scenery, with part of the view picture perfect, the other obscured with the threat of rain and darkness.

Lakes and waterways after leaving Fairbanks

Lakes and waterways after leaving Fairbanks.

Crossing the Arctic Circle

As we ventured north toward the Arctic Circle the weather began to get considerably rougher, the plane being rocked by strong winds and rain. The pilot prepared us to look at the plane’s GPS navigational aid for when we actually crossed, at latitude 66° 33′ 44″ N, since crossing the Arctic Circle is a highlight of the trip. The plane was shaking violently by this time, so in the end it was a fool’s errand trying to actually snap the photo or get video, but we all tried. Around this time, the plane had a major dip and there was a moment of panic, but the plane quickly stabilized.

North of the Arctic Circle we saw more and more of the rich color palette the Brooks Range is known for, with yellow, brown, orange, red, purple and green landscapes intermingling below. Pictures don’t do this kind of natural beauty justice; it’s almost too much to fully take in. As we neared our final destination of Coldfoot, we were able to clearly see the Trans-Alaska Pipeline stretching as far as the eye can see.

The many colors of Brooks Range.

The many colors of Brooks Range.

Brooks Range from a small plane flight

Brooks Range from a small plane flight.

The Village of Wiseman

On arrival in Coldfoot, the plane was met by a local driver who continued the tour. When the driver asked the pilot how the plane trip went, the pilot replied that it was “a little rough.” It was just a quick momentary exchange, but it made me think about how dangerous it must be for pilots who navigate Alaska year-round. After introducing himself and loading us into a van, the driver provided us with our box lunches that we had ordered back in Fairbanks.

We drove approximately 20 minutes (roughly 13 miles) to the village of Wiseman for the next part of our adventure. Wiseman had a total of 14 residents in the 2010 census. Local Jack Reakoff gives an informative overview of the village and explains his mixed subsistence lifestyle. In addition to giving tours, he hunts, fishes, traps, gardens and gathers fruits.

During the winter months, Wiseman is a popular tour destination for people wishing to view the aurora borealis. As a hobby, Jack enjoys taking pictures of the aurora borealis, which he shares free of charge with tour guests who bring cameras that will not take photos in low light. He also frequently shares the photos on his Facebook profile.

Jack Reakoff in Wiseman, Alaska.

Jack Reakoff in Wiseman, Alaska.

Jack gives most of his tour from the comfort of a log cabin converted into a small museum. Jack is a virtual encyclopedia when it comes to local history and Alaska Native culture. The museum features a number of hooves and skulls from animals that he hunted, including moose, caribou and grizzly bear. There are also historical pictures of the village and its residents, including photos of Alaska Natives who formerly lived in the village before largely relocating to the Anaktuvuk Pass area.

Jack gives a personal history of why and how he came to live in Wiseman and just how difficult it is to survive there. While it’s clear that tourism is an important part of his lifestyle, he is equally dependent on traditional subsistence mainstays such as hunting and fishing. He said, for example, that he picked 200 pounds of berries during the year and he showed us his vegetable garden.

Jack went on to describe his use of solar panels for electricity, along with a generator used sparingly during the winter months. Mail only comes once a week to Wiseman, delivered of course by small plane to Coldfoot. Jack even described how his wife has seasonal affective disorder (SAD) due to the lack of light and warmth during the winter months. He helps her with her condition with high doses of vitamin D and the use of ultraviolet lamps and bulbs.

Wiseman, Alaska, 63 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Wiseman, Alaska, 63 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

“Downtown” Coldfoot & the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

After saying farewell to Jack Reakoff and the village of Wiseman, the tour continues on to “downtown” Coldfoot. The entirety of Coldfoot is a gas station that also serves as a restaurant, bar, gift shop and general store. There is also Coldfoot Camp, also known as Slate Creek Inn, which offers converted prefab housing originally used by pipeline workers in the 1970’s. We had just a few minutes in the general store, enough time to pick up some souvenirs or snacks and time to use the restroom.

The quaint restaurant, known as Coldfoot Camp Trucker’s Café, features an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet consisting of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, chipotle lime chicken, fried okra, sweet peas and baked beans. One table in the general store area had a sign indicating that certain seating is only for long-haul truckers, a reminder that in addition to hosting cruise guests and viewers of the aurora borealis, the grounds are an important year-round resource for truckers and a number of other workers that find themselves battling the frigid cold in this part of the Far North. The area has seen even more of a tourism boon due to the Dalton Highway being featured on seasons 3 and 4 of the History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers.

After visiting downtown Coldfoot the van tour finished with a short stop at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline itself. The Pipeline, built between 1974 and 1977, consists of 800 miles of 48-inch diameter pipe, through which 16 billion barrels of oil had traveled through as of 2010. The system is one of the world’s largest and is considered an engineering marvel, especially taking into account that its construction was complicated by having to deal with permafrost, bitter cold and isolated terrain. Our van stopped directly next to the Pipeline to stop for pictures, and we were all able to reach out and touch the Pipeline and pose for pictures.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline in Coldfoot, Alaska.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline in Coldfoot, Alaska.

Erik Tomren in front of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Erik Tomren in front of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Return Flight to Fairbanks

We then returned back to the Coldfoot Airport for the flight back to Fairbanks. The flight home was relaxing after a long day of excitement. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and listened to additional commentary from our pilot. By this time, he had already pointed out most of what could be seen and it would be dark shortly. The pilot gave us his own personal insight of living and working in Alaska, which was interesting to hear. He had been a commercial airline pilot for Hawaiian Airlines for his entire working career and had then moved to Alaska in his retirement. It was interesting to hear him talk about how different it was living in Alaska and how he had to adapt to a new lifestyle. The below YouTube video features footage of the entire flight portion of the trip – from takeoff, to crossing the Arctic Circle, to landing in Coldfoot and then the return trip home.

On arrival in Fairbanks, we each received our official Arctic Circle Adventure Certificate to remember the trip. A driver for Northern Alaska Tour Company then returned me to my hotel.

I highly recommend the Arctic Circle Air Adventure for anyone wishing to get more out of their Alaska vacation. Flightseeing is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It can be frightening, but the payoff is fantastic and it gives an entirely different perspective. The experience is truly beyond words, but hopefully some of my pictures and videos will give you a better idea of how special this trip truly is. Visiting Wiseman and the cabin of Jack Reakoff was also a highlight for me. I also found myself fascinated by the unique history of Coldfoot and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Background and How To Book

Northern Alaska Tour Company, based in Fairbanks, was founded in 1986 and offers a variety of trips to Alaska’s Arctic. Most of their offerings involve small plane flights, but a couple tours are available that use only vans/motor coaches.

The sign-up process is relatively simple. To get signed up, simply call for tour dates and availability, then provide full names and weights for all passengers, in addition to address, phone number and email contact info. Weights are needed to help balance the plane’s load, a crucial step for small plane flights. If the plane is not correctly balanced, the safety of the pilot and all passengers could be compromised. Other tours require other information, such as birth dates or driver’s license or passport number.

At the time of booking, 50% of the total tour amount is due as a deposit. The remaining balance is due 30 days prior to the trip. The Arctic Circle Adventure is fully refundable up until 6:00 pm 2 days prior to the tour. Most other tours are refundable up until 6:00 pm 2 days prior, or 6:00 pm 7 days prior.

John Ritter in 'Earthquake Do's and Don'ts'

John Ritter’s Lost Earthquake Safety Film

If you’re between the ages of 30 and 45 and grew up in California, you probably have a vague recollection of watching an earthquake safety film in school starring the late John Ritter. In my elementary school years in Long Beach I can fondly remember being led to the auditorium to watch the film on the school’s projector screen. Other times, we watched the film in our classroom.

The film, entitled Earthquake Do’s and Don’ts, was released by LSB Productions and is approximately 11 minutes long. IMDB lists it as “Title No. 6009”, but it’s not clear what that refers to. There doesn’t seem to be any other information available on the Internet, even its year of production, except that YouTube user rustyrelic has posted the film in three parts. John Ritter does look very young in the footage, and by 1975 he was having more regular television work, so it’s most likely the film was created sometime between 1968 and 1974, when John was still struggling to make a name for himself as an actor.

The footage posted to YouTube is very poor quality, even worse than I remember it being growing up. It’s not difficult to understand why. The 8mm film reels at school each time had to be loaded into the projector, either by a teacher or a custodian. There were often technical difficulties trying to get it to play. I’m sure these film reels were not stored properly. The quality of the film has probably degraded each and every year since the film started being shown. I don’t know the source of the YouTube videos, but it’s a good guess that the footage comes from an old school reel. Despite the poor quality, the film still makes me chuckle.

In the first YouTube clip (4:02) there is an earthquake and John does everything wrong. He runs around in the middle of the quake and gets pummeled by debris, he cuts his foot open and he tries to drink from the bathroom sink, only to find black sludge coming out of the faucet. And just when John has gotten his apartment cleaned up, an aftershock strikes and knocks down a shelf of books. Fatefully, one of the books is called Safety In An Earthquake and presumably John will learn how to better handle the quake for next time.


In the second YouTube clip (1:48) John learns specifically how to handle earthquake safety. John flips through his newly discovered book and learns “What…to…do…when…the…next…Quake…hits”, whether “if at school”, “if near open land”, “if out driving”, “if on the street”, “if at the office” or “if at home”.


In the final YouTube clip (4:52) John experiences another earthquake, except this time he knows exactly what to do. He calmly crouches into a protective position during the quake when around him shelves and lamps are falling down and his grill outside has overturned, causing a small fire. After the quake subsides John puts on his boots (to protect his feet), then calmly walks outside to extinguish the fire with a handy fire extinguisher mounted on his wall. He then goes outside to shut off the gas to his apartment.

John accidentally cuts his hand on a piece of broken glass, then reaches for a first aid kit. This time he smartly uses the toilet reservoir to get clean water to wash out his wound.  After cleaning up some around his apartment he finds a battery-powered radio in order to listen for emergency information. In a bizarre twist, the film ends with John going outside and then caught between two cars in a head-on collision. He has a funny look on his face, but if the collision were real I imagine both of his legs would be broken.

John Ritter 's expression after being crushed between 2 cars.

John Ritter ‘s expression after being crushed between 2 cars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back, it can be difficult to see why John Ritter’s earthquake film made such an impression on those who saw it growing up. Part of the reason was that we all found it be hysterically funny. Instead of watching humorless science videos in our classroom, we got to take a field trip to the auditorium to watch John hurting himself by doing stupid things. It’s the same reason why The Three Stooges and Home Alone are still funny to this day. High on sugary juice boxes, surrounded by other screaming kids, this film was about as funny as you could get back in elementary school. Also, the film had a rockin’ soundtrack courtesy of Charles Albertine, a well-known composter of the space age pop era.

For me personally, I also loved watching John on Three’s Company re-runs on TV. The show, which ended in 1984, was finished by the time I started school, but it was shown in re-runs at least twice a day on afternoon television. We didn’t have cable TV growing up, so I grew up on a steady diet of re-runs: Gilligan’s Island, I Love Lucy, The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, The Andy Griffith Show and many others. I thought of John Ritter as a celebrity of sorts, so it was exciting to see him in a school film. My parents also enjoyed watching him on TV, so when I came home from school telling them about John Ritter’s earthquake safety tips it was fun for my parents as well.

The other side to this is that earthquakes are a very real threat to Californians. Growing up, I remember feeling an earthquake about once every 4 months, although they occur every day. Most earthquakes were somewhat minor (at least in our location), but one was large enough that it literally knocked me to the ground as I was walking to school. Showing a short fun film to kids once or twice a year is an easy way to help explain what earthquakes are and how to respond to them safely. One tip that has stuck with me throughout all these years is that in an emergency you can use water from the toilet reservoir.

What’s interesting to me is that at this point probably hundreds of thousands of kids have grown up watching Earthquake Do’s and Don’ts, yet apart from 3 grainy YouTube clips there still doesn’t seem to be much information about it. Is this film still being shown in schools? If it’s still being shown, has it been converted to video or DVD? What year was the film made, who exactly made it, who paid for it, and how did it end up being shown in classrooms across California?

Maybe someone reading this will have some more information, but if nothing else I hope you found this article to be an informative look into John Ritter’s “lost” earthquake safety film. John Ritter sadly died on Sept. 11, 2003 during surgery to repair an aortic dissection, just 6 days prior to his 55th birthday. His legacy lives on, nonetheless, due to his timeless acting on Three’s Company and his many films. For many Californians, we remember him also for his earthquake safety video.

Additional Info

In case anyone would like to try to search out more information about Earthquake Do’s and Don’ts, here are some additional details. The credits taken from YouTube may not be 100% accurate; they are very difficult to read.

  • Production Company: LSB Productions (Source: IMDB)
  • Title Info: ‘Title No. 6009’ (Source: IMDB)
  • Music By: Charles Albertine (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
  • Cinematographer: William Crain (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
  • Lighting: Robert Kringer (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
  • Script Assistant: Boris Herman (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
  • Special Effects: Didley Williams (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
  • Narrator: Henry [Unreadable] (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)

Also, the credits on the first YouTube clip list the title as ‘Earthquake Don’ts and Do’s’, which would make logical sense as the film starts with John’s character doing everything wrong. Perhaps the film’s title was changed in post-production, but they never bothered to fix the title within the film itself. Given this discrepancy, I suppose it may be possible that information may also be found under the alternate (original) title.

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Exterior of Subway at Denali National Park

Welcome to Denali, home of the $9 Subway footlong

It’s no secret that food is expensive in Alaska, but it can be difficult to come up with a price point that everyone can relate to.  Can we all agree that a $30 pizza is expensive? Perhaps, but some pizzas are definitely worth $30, while others are not. On a recent trip to Alaska on a Holland America Line Land+Sea Journey I looked for evidence of Alaska’s steep prices. To be sure, everything is expensive in Alaska, especially food, but it wasn’t until I reached Denali National Park that I found an example that sums up what people should expect when visiting. In Denali, Subway’s $5 footlong sandwich is priced at a staggering $9.

Subway is famous for the branding of its $5 footlong. The campaign originated in 2008 with a franchise owner in Miami who began to offer the special on weekends as a way to boost sales. The promotion was so effective that it spread quickly to other parts of Florida and then nationally. The promotion was successful for a number of reasons, including its use of round price points, its catchy jingle and, perhaps most importantly, that it coincided with what is sometimes referred to as the Great Recession.


Of course, the $5 footlong won’t last forever, and there already strong indications that Subway aims to either raise the price point to $6, offer the program on a seasonal basis or discontinue it entirely. Nonetheless, in September of 2013 there is no doubt that the going price for a footlong sub at Subway was either $5 or $6, consistently throughout the United States. If you follow this one example, you can surmise that your food in Alaska will probably cost you at least 50% more than at home. This reality is tempered just slightly when you take into account that Alaska does not have a sales tax.

Price is all relative, though, and some Americans may not see much difference at all when visiting Alaska. If you come from New York City or San Francisco you may not bat an eye at the price tag. If you are from Kentucky, you could have a major case of sticker shock. The best you can do is plan accordingly, and remember, this is your vacation! Don’t let a few dollars here and there ruin your experience. With a little extra planning, that $9 footlong won’t be such a shock. However, it goes without saying. when in Alaska you should skip Subway and go for fresh salmon and halibut instead.

$9 footlongs. All day, every day.

$9 footlongs. All day, every day.

Subway sandwich menu, Denali, Alaska

Subway sandwich menu, Denali, Alaska

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Seattle Great Wheel at Pier 57

2013 – A Writer’s Year in Review

After reading a blog posting from Tom Ipri, I decided to look back at my accomplishments this year as a writer. By looking back, I hope to identify areas that need improvement, find areas that were successful and that should be explored further and come up with a blueprint for what I hope to achieve in 2014.

At the beginning of the year I was somewhat in autopilot mode writing columns for Examiner.com. I write about travel, horror films and heavy metal, with travel being my signature topic. It was difficult to devote time to writing, especially since since part of the year I was preparing to move and needed time to pack up and organize. Other times I was just occupied with work and other concerns. The expectation when writing for Examiner.com is that you produce at least one article a month between all of your titles, which is by no means a difficult task yet I was still unable to achieve.

Throughout the year I have been producing articles closer to once every two months, at times nearing the cutoff point where I would no longer be able to write for the site. And for a so-called “travel writer” I had been writing mostly about horror movies. Some of my articles this year I am happy with, but some of them were written just to avoid losing my Examiner.com titles. It just seemed like every time I wanted to write something I was just too tired or unfocused to actually finish.

Not surprising I have made almost nothing this year from Examiner.com, as I believe their algorithms reward more regular writers. Also, I did not make a huge effort in promoting my writing, since a lot of it I was only somewhat happy with.

Around my birthday in August I decided it was time for a change. I created my writing blog SEATravelZombie.com and have been writing regularly ever since. It’s been a lot of work setting up the website, and it’s still far from done, but the new site lets me publish the type of content I want in the format I want. Thankfully, a good friend of mine helped me with the initial setup of the site, as the technical details were a little daunting to me.

Although the site itself is created through WordPress, I have paid hosting through GoDaddy. This means that I am able to monetize the site through programs such as Amazon Associates, Google AdSense and other paid advertisements. If I’m going to put in the work to create unique content, then there should be at least the prospect of making some money along the way, even if the money just covers hosting costs.

Once I got the new site up and running I was able to diversity the content fairly quickly, including a number of local travel articles, several grunge rock pieces, a gothic country review, several photo-oriented posts and a guest blog by my brother. I am slowly increasing my readership by sharing articles on social media sites such as Facebook, StumbleUpon and Pinterest. Additionally, I created a separate Facebook fan page for SEATravelZombie.com and I have 55 “likes” in just a couple weeks.

I have been following the site’s progress through Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools. Below is a screenshot of my Google web traffic in the U.S. from August up until today. Any area in blue has at least 1 reader, with darker shades of blue indicating higher readership. There are still a few states left for me to reach, in the Deep South, the Midwest, and parts of the Northeast. I’m not sure how much can be concluded from this pattern, since my content so far is heavily slanted towards the Pacific Northwest, but it is an interesting pattern.

Internationally, I have managed to find readers in most of Europe and parts of Asia. I do not yet have any readers in China, the Middle Eastern countries, most of Africa and a good part of South America.

Traffic for the new site has been light, with a few peaks along the way. One positive is that even on light traffic days the number of visitors to the site has been growing over time. Now a light traffic day could be around 10 visitors, with heavy traffic days approaching 100 visitors. Traffic is coming heavily from social media shares, but search engine visibility seems to be improving. I have been having much more luck with StumbleUpon shares. StumbleUpon does seem to reward hosted websites more than content sites such as Examiner.com, Yahoo! Contributor Network and others.

Between continuing work on my website and maintaining (and improving) my long-term relationship with Examiner.com I am optimistic for 2014. Expect a new post shortly indicating more in detail of what I hope for in 2014.

In the meantime, here is a full listing of all of my articles produced in 2013.

SEATravelZombie.com:

Examiner.com:

A Final Note: If this post seems negative toward Examiner.com, it is not meant to be. I have been with Examiner.com since July of 2011 and I have every intention of continuing to write for them. My time with Examiner.com has helped me develop the necessary skills and techniques necessary for web writing, everything from developing my writing style, to learning about social media, to sizing photos for publication, to embedding YouTube videos, and more. I’ve also made a couple hundred dollars writing for them. In short, without writing for Examiner.com I would never have had the skills, motivation, confidence or interest in taking on the enormous project of creating a new website. If you are interested in web writing in general, but don’t know where to start, I highly recommend writing for Examiner.com. If you’d like to try writing for them, please use the following referral link.

(Featured photo is the Seattle Great Wheel, located at Pier 57 in downtown Seattle)

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Mangria label

REVIEW: Adam Carolla’s Red and White Mangria

By Guest Writer Mike Tomren.

As a fan of Adam Carolla’s podcast, I first became aware of Mangria before he marketed it and sold in in stores. He explains the origin on the back label of the bottle: Wine, vodka, orange juice.

The description does not inspire confidence. All the same, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. Sangria can be a nice party punch, and I wanted to know if this was a worthy drink. Mangria isn’t sold at any of my local stores, but I finally got my hands on it thanks to the carolladrinks.com website. Depending on your state, it can be shipped directly as well.

As a wine fan, I was pretty skeptical of Mangria. If you haven’t yet picked up on it, this is a sort of a pre-mixed Sangria that is quite high in alcohol. The Signature Orange Sangria is 20.9% alcohol and the follow-up Mangria White Peach Pear is just behind at 19%. On paper, these wines look like a Night Train Express to Wild Irish Rose. Bum wines for rich people. I bought each bottle at $20 a piece at a liquor store in Hermosa Beach.

Signature Orange Sangria

The bottled version of Mangria is made with red wine from Napa, grape-based hard alcohol (like a grappa) and orange juice. I was a bit surprised how good it tastes. The important thing to keep in mind is that this is intended as a starter wine, not a desert wine. Like sangria, this is a great drink to sip on while the food is cooking and one is mingling in a party. If you don’t have the time to make your own home-made sangria, this is a compelling substitute. My only worry is that the high alcohol content will probably sneak up on certain people. It does go down smooth. Perhaps too smooth. Best not to fill up on this too early in the evening.

Mangria White Peach Pear

On Mr. Carolla’s podcast, he touts this as the feminine equivalent to his red wine version of sangria. To my taste, it is far more fruity (peach/apricot/apple) and suffers a worse aftertaste than I would like. It seems more like a highly alcoholic Pinot Grigio than a sangria. Still, for those with a sweet tooth, it may hit the spot.
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Keep in mind that both of these drinks are meant to be consumed on ice. They are meant to be a refreshing starter to the evening. Obviously, “Mangria” is also a potential conversation starter as well, so bottoms up!

Signature Orange Mangria and Mangria White Peach Pear

Signature Orange Mangria and Mangria White Peach Pear

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Cover artwork for Soundgarden's 'Screaming Life/Fopp' reissue

Review: Soundgarden – ‘Screaming Life/Fopp’ reissue

On Nov. 26 Sub Pop Records reissued the Soundgarden collection Screaming Life/Fopp, comprised of the EPs Screaming Life (1987) and Fopp (1988). The collection had gone out of print in recent years, and Soundgarden felt it was time to make it available again, this time with a fresh remaster and the addition of the bonus track “Sub Pop Rock City” from the Sub Pop 200 compilation. The collection is presented in a stylish Digipak with artwork and credits for both original EPs presented in an 8-panel poster format.

When Soundgarden released King Animal in November of 2012 they hadn’t released new material in 16 years. During that timeframe the band’s back catalog, online presence and merchandise had all been neglected, according to Kim Thayil in a recent Rolling Stone interview. So, the reissue of Screaming Life/Fopp is mostly just an effort to make it available again, with some modest improvements along the way.

Screaming Life/Fopp presents a great opportunity for casual and die-hard Soundgarden fans alike to take another look at the band’s early years. These songs exemplify what early grunge was all about: punk mixed with heavy metal, with influences of psychedelia, classic rock, glam, funk and other genres thrown into the mix. All the elements that would make Soundgarden world-famous are present here, just in a more raw, unrefined manner – Chris Cornell’s powerful, yet vulnerable, wailing; Kim Thayil’s dissonant, experimental riffing; the powerhouse rhythm interplay between then-bassist Hiro Yamamoto and drummer Matt Cameron.

First, let’s take a look at the Screaming Life portion of the set, as produced by Jack Endino and the band. “Hunted Down” is a doomy dirge reminiscent of 70’s-era Black Sabbath, infused with the experimental noodlings of Sonic Youth. “Tears To Forget” is hard-driving, aggressive punk with Cornell’s strained vocals treading into death metal territory. The centerpiece of the collection is “Nothing To Say”, which highlights the band’s ability to fuse heaviness and melody. Cornell’s vocals soar to new heights here, seemingly channeling Robert Plant, and it’s clear that Soundgarden would move on to greater things. “Little Joe” has an irresistible funk catchiness to it, sounding at times like Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Hand Of God” finishes off the Screaming Life portion of the collection, making interesting use of a sampled religious sermon. Producer Jack Endino, who also supervised the remaster for this collection, had the following to say:

“Ah, Screaming Life, Soundgarden’s debut, and one of the first real records I made for anyone outside my own band. I already knew Soundgarden pretty well, since they and Skin Yard had shared the stage many times in Seattle’s tiny club scene circa 1985-1986. Soon after opening Reciprocal Recording in July 1986, there I was with Soundgarden, trying to make the most of our eight tracks. Somehow, we found for all of Matt Cameron’s ‘bonus tubs’, Hiro’s primordial Fender bass, and a whopping four tracks to share between Kim Thayil’s mad guitar psychedelia and Chris Cornell’s still-expanding voice. ‘Nothing To Say’ was the song that made all look at each other and go, ‘uh, holy crap, how did we do this?’”

The bonus track “Sub Pop Rock City” is a fun romp, clearly intended for a very limited local audience. Its inclusion is welcome, but it’s hard to imagine it making a huge difference to buyers one way or the other.

Moving on to the Fopp portion of the collection, as produced by Steve Fisk, the centerpiece is of course “Fopp”, a cover of the classic funk jam by Ohio Players. The cover serves as a reminder of just how diverse the grunge phenomenon was during its heyday and how its influences drew from all over the pop music spectrum. The cover succeeds in part because it retains the original’s formidable brass and horn section. Steve Fisk is credited with “additional electronics” for this release, presumably what we refer to now as sampling, although the term wasn’t as defined in 1988.

Fisk’s “Fopp (Fucked Up Heavy Dub Mix)” is a very unique listen, as the mix is truly a dub in the traditional sense of the term. Early dub mixes came from the reggae tradition as a way to create an alternate mix to use for radio, as a B-side to a single or for deejay use. Mixes emphasized drum and bass parts, in addition to making use of echo, reverb, panoramic delay, tape manipulation and other lo-fi production techniques, all of which are present on Fisk’s mix.

The EP closes with “Swallow My Pride” a cover of Green River, one of the earliest grunge bands, whose members later went on to form Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam.  The song was a minor hit for Green River, and its lyrical content is as valid today as when it was written. The song’s lyrics describe the internal conflict of having to swallow one’s pride when dating someone with different political leanings, in this case fevered American nationalism during the Reagan era. Unlike the original version, Soundgarden’s version does not include the Blue Öyster Cult lyrics from the song “This Ain’t the Summer of Love”.

Between the two EPs, Screaming Life/Fopp is a fantastic collection for fans of Soundgarden and anyone interested in the early grunge sound. Do you have an opinion on the reissue, especially in relation to the quality of the remastering? We would love to hear from you, please comment below.

SEATravelZombie is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

"Angel" used for Nirvana's 'In Utero' album cover.

EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 4

In some ways, the EMP Museum’s Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses exhibit is nearly perfect. The lovingly curated exhibit tells the story of Nirvana, briefly touching on Kurt Cobain’s high school years, then documenting the band’s early years and each wave of success that followed, leading to worldwide fame and Kurt’s tragic suicide. The band’s story is told through original photographs and artwork, band posters, vinyl records and cassettes, clothing and a surprising number of actual instruments played by band members. The EMP Museum, also known as the Experience Music Project, is located in downtown Seattle at Seattle Center. Admission to the museum is $20 at the door, but tickets can also be purchased online for $15.

For Part 1 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 1.

For Part 2 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 2.

For Part 3 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 3.

Continued - With regard to the Nirvana timeline, in the summer of 1992, before the recording and release of In Utero, the band played what some view to be the definitive performance of their career at England’s Reading Festival. The rarities collection Incesticide, a joint release between DGC Records and Sub Pop Records, was released in December of 1992 to allow the band more time to record In Utero. Although the label did not put much effort into promoting the collection it managed to sell 500,000 copies in two months.

By the time In Utero was finalized for release in September 1993, Nirvana found itself under an enormous amount of pressure. For touring purposes, the band added Pat Smear of the Germs as a second guitarist, the first appearance of which was for the band’s Saturday Night Live appearance on Sept. 25, 1993. The In Utero era artifacts that fans will find most interesting are the actual full-size anatomical model used for the album’s cover artwork and a similar model used for touring purposes.

Nirvana gave an impassioned timeless performance in November 1993 for MTV Unplugged. The set list was unexpected, featuring covers of the Meat Puppets, David Bowie and the Vaselines, in addition to songs from the band’s normal discography. One of the session’s most memorable moments came with the performance of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”, a traditional American folk song popularized by blues musician Lead Belly. The intimate performance was so naked and revealing, painful yet beautiful, that it only served to endear the band to its fans even more. The exhibit features actual instruments used during the performance, including the Guild acoustic bass played by Krist Novoselic and the colorful Buck Owens guitar played by Pat Smear.

Kurt was becoming more and more distressed with his band’s fame, however, and increasingly turned to heroin, painkillers and alcohol to numb his pain. Nirvana’s final performance was on Mar. 1, 1994 in Munich, Germany. An actual setlist from the March 1 show is featured in the exhibit, a haunting reminder of the band’s final months. On March 4, Kurt overdosed from a combination of prescription Rohypnol and alcohol. An intervention was staged, which convinced Kurt to enter a rehab facility in late March. Kurt escaped and returned to Seattle. He died of a self-inflicted shotgun wound on April 5 and was found in his home on April 8.

Rounding off the exhibit is a grunge listening station for bands including Tad, Mudhoney, the Melvins, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Nirvana (of course), the Posies, Treepeople, the Gits, Skin Yard, Green River, Love Battery, Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone and more. Like the other listening stations in the exhibit, museum patrons are presented with a wonderful opportunity to explore music that they may not have heard before. The listening selections run so deep that even the most ardent grunge will find something they haven’t heard before. Even if you have heard the music before, the listening stations are a great reminder of why we love this music in the first place.

All in all, Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses is simply fantastic. It makes an excellent use of limited space with the EMP Museum, and it engages its viewers with a wide variety of stimuli. There is very little I would do differently, actually.

If I were to change anything, a few items below I feel would put the exhibit over the edge, transforming it from excellent to outstanding.

  • Transfer the band’s first demo tape to another tape. Then run the tape through a boombox with headphones so that viewers can literally listen to the demo tape exactly as a studio executive would have. This would be very simple to do, providing the cassette tape is still in good condition. Alternately, the tape could be converted to digital, although that would not be as interesting for the viewer.
  • Focus more on the personal lives of Nirvana band members, particularly the at-times chaotic relationship between Kurt and Courtney and Kurt’s addiction to heroin. Although this could be potentially divisive, it’s something that ultimately is probably necessary to understand the dynamics of how and why Kurt composed the music that he did. Also, the birth of Frances Bean could be explored in more detail.
  • Explore Kurt’s lyrics in a meaningful way. Part of what made Nirvana so unique and special was Kurt’s lyrics, which, although mysterious were very evocative.
  • Feature music that is completely unreleased anywhere, even if just a 30-second snippet. Although I’m sure the band is very protective of its recording legacy, and its future profits, exclusive material would be exciting for fans. Also, even recording devices such as smartphones, digital cameras, etc. would not be able to record the song in any kind of quality that would endanger any future potential release.
  • Feature a post-script of what happened after Nirvana broke up. Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters are considered among the first post-grunge bands, for example, and their story is an interesting one. Grohl went on to create the Sound City documentary and soundtrack, which in turn led to a Nirvana mini-reunion of sorts with Paul McCartney taking the place of Kurt. Novoselic for his part hasn’t been as active as a musician, but he’s played an important role in Washington state politics, starting with the 1995 formation of JAMPAC (the Joint Artists and Music Promotions Political Action Committee).

To this last point, though, in some ways the abrupt end to Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses is entirely appropriate. Grunge as a movement died a premature death with Kurt Cobain on April 5, 1994. But the media hype and overexposure would have killed the genre regardless. All we can do is look back on all the wonderful music that was created during the late 80’s and early 90’s, amazingly concentrated in one city in the Pacific Northwest. Nirvana was the heart and soul of grunge, and Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses is a fitting tribute to their legacy.

"Angel" used for Nirvana's 'In Utero' album cover.

“Angel” used for Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ album cover.

Winged "angel" used as stage prop, late 1993.

Winged “angel” used as stage prop, late 1993.

Guild acoustic bass and Buck Owens American acoustic guitar as played during the 'MTV Unplugged' concert.

Guild acoustic bass and Buck Owens American acoustic guitar as played during the ‘MTV Unplugged’ concert.

Fender Competition Mustang, 1969, played by Kurt Cobain.

EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 3

In some ways, the EMP Museum’s Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses exhibit is nearly perfect. The lovingly curated exhibit tells the story of Nirvana, briefly touching on Kurt Cobain’s high school years, then documenting the band’s early years and each wave of success that followed, leading to worldwide fame and Kurt’s tragic suicide. The band’s story is told through original photographs and artwork, band posters, vinyl records and cassettes, clothing and a surprising number of actual instruments played by band members. The EMP Museum, also known as the Experience Music Project, is located in downtown Seattle at Seattle Center. Admission to the museum is $20 at the door, but tickets can also be purchased online for $15.

For Part 1 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 1.

For Part 2 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 2.

Continued - Nirvana knew they were destined for bigger things and negotiated a 3-year contract with Sub Pop Records, the first contract that the band or the label had ever signed. The contract, featured in the EMP Museum’s Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses exhibit and also available online here, called for an album a year, with the band to receive $600 advance for the initial option (which would have covered Bleach), then a $12,000 advance for a second album option and finally $24,000 for a third album option. However, the band’s time with Sub Pop was reaching its end, with the band completing initial recordings of what would become Nevermind with Butch Vig in April of 1990 at Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin. These sessions would later become known as the Smart Sessions.

Around this time Nirvana began to express dissatisfaction with Chad Channing’s drumming, and Channing expressed frustration with not having enough creative input into the band’s music. Channing quit Nirvana as the band started shopping around the Smart Session tapes. In the meantime, the single Sliver was recorded with Mudhoney drummer Dan Peters. The band briefly re-hired Dale Crover to complete a seven-date West Coast tour. In September of 1990 the band was introduced to Dave Grohl, who would become the band’s final and permanent drummer. Grohl’s first show with the band was Oct. 11, 1990, of which the exhibit features a poster from.

On the strength of the Smart Session recordings, and on the recommendation of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Nirvana signed with DGC Records, a Geffen imprint. Their Sub Pop contract was bought out and the band focused on completing Nevermind. The label had hoped for sales of 250,000, comparable to Sonic Youth’s Goo. Sales for Nevermind were of course off the charts, driven primarily by MTV exposure for the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video. At one point the album was shipping 400,000 units a week. Worldwide sales for Nevermind are now at 31 million, and the album is certified diamond by the RIAA in the U.S. for shipments in excess of 10 million units.

The Nevermind era is represented in the exhibit with the original artwork proof as sent to the studio for approval. The artwork of course famously features a naked infant boy swimming underwater while chasing a dollar bill on a string. The boy’s penis is clearly visible, which caused some controversy with the record label and the general public. There is a handwritten note on the proof saying “we can cut out the dick out if you want” and that the bottom of the pool can also be cropped out if necessary.

From the same era is the 1992 MTV Music Video Award statue that Nirvana received for “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. The band received awards for Best Alternative Video and Best New Artist categories. Nirvana were told in advance not to play the song “Rape Me” but they infamously played the first few bars of the song before switching to “Lithium”. The guitar that Kurt played on the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, a Fender Competition Mustang, is also on display, in addition to several of Kurt’s sweaters. A worker’s shirt that was worn by Krist Novoselic is also part of the exhibit.


Musically, Nirvana was being pushed in different directions in its sound, with feedback coming both from the label and internally from the band itself. The initial mix of Nevermind as completed by Butch Vig was very different from the version released to the public. The band chose Andy Wallace to do the final mix, presumably based on his experience with Slayer. Instead of making the album more raw and in your face he came back with a very polished, radio-friendly sound. The band later expressed embarrassment with the mixing of Nevermind, although its accessible sound is what set the stage for superstardom.

With In Utero Nirvana went with producer Steve Albini, known as a member of Big Black and also for his productions for many underground bands. The band purposefully set out to produce an abrasive, less commercial album, more in line with their punk rock roots. After Albini’s initial mix, however, the band decided to have Scott Litt remix the first two singles, “Heart Shaped Box” and “All Apologies”. Scott Litt is most famous for his work on R.E.M.’s most successful releases including Document, Green, Out of Time, Automatic for the People, Monster and New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

The choice to select Scott Litt for additional remix work was an odd one in some ways, but it is demonstrative of pressure Nirvana was feeling from the studio. Nirvana was now a full-fledged business entity and the label had an enormous stake in ensuring the album’s success, which they initially deemed to be un-releasable according to some reports. Kurt himself wanted to improve on these songs, however, to make them “perfect”, so it’s disingenuous to infer that the pressure came solely from the label.

The continual tug-and-pull of Nirvana’s sound is fascinating. The band wanted to be a raw punk band, but they also wanted to write pop songs. They wanted an abrasive noisy sound, but they loved melody and the art of songwriting. With Nevermind, they felt their sound had become too commercial. With the production of In Utero they determined that they needed to eschew the initial mix for a more polished sound. Listeners can hear for themselves the production differences by purchasing the deluxe box set versions of Nevermind and In Utero. Continued…

For part 4 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 4.

Fender Competition Mustang, 1969, played by Kurt Cobain.

Fender Competition Mustang, 1969, played by Kurt Cobain.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" 1992 MTV Video Music Award.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” 1992 MTV Video Music Award.

White Fender Stratrocaster as played by Kurt Cobain.

White Fender Stratrocaster as played by Kurt Cobain.

Shirt worn by Krist Novoselic from 1987-1994.

Shirt worn by Krist Novoselic from 1987-1994.

For part 4 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 4.

 

 

 

 

 

Univox Hi-Flyer guitar smashed by Kurt Cobain.

EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 2

In some ways, the EMP Museum’s Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses exhibit is nearly perfect. The lovingly curated exhibit tells the story of Nirvana, briefly touching on Kurt Cobain’s high school years, then documenting the band’s early years and each wave of success that followed, leading to worldwide fame and Kurt’s tragic suicide. The band’s story is told through original photographs and artwork, band posters, vinyl records and cassettes, clothing and a surprising number of actual instruments played by band members. The EMP Museum, also known as the Experience Music Project, is located in downtown Seattle at Seattle Center. Admission to the museum is $20 at the door, but tickets can also be purchased online for $15.

For Part 1 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 1.

Continued - In the next area of the EMP Museum’s Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses exhibit is another interactive map, this time featuring only alternative bands of the Pacific Northwest, mostly but not exclusively grunge, and their locations. This is actually my favorite part of the entire exhibit, as it shows how geography really shaped the local grunge scene. Nirvana developed the way they did partially because of their isolation. Aberdeen is about an hour from the nearest big city, Olympia, but it is at least two hours away from Seattle. Depending on traffic, it could have taken the band three or four hours to get to Seattle. In an era before cell phones and before the internet, it would have been very difficult to interact regularly with other bands and scenes. A trip to Seattle took time and gas, commodities for band members struggling with odd jobs to pay the rent.

Aberdeen’s population in 2012 was about 16,500 according to U.S. census data, about the same as it was in 1990. In other words, there was a very small pool of candidates with which to create any type of band, much less an abrasive punk band. The reason why Dale Crover of the Melvins appears on some songs on Bleach, rarities compilation Incesticide and With The Lights Out box set is that Nirvana simply did not have a steady drummer during those early years. Dale Crover was just on loan from the Melvins.

The so-called “Seattle sound” was in reality a combination of different regional styles from all over the Pacific Northwest. In Washington, scenes were located in Aberdeen, Bellingham, Seattle, Tacoma, Ellensburg and Olympia. In Oregon, the scenes were in Portland and Eugene. Boise, Idaho also had its own scene that also helped contribute to the grunge sound.

So, if you’re wondering why Nirvana never collaborated with Pearl Jam on a record, the answer could be rooted in geography just as much as the reality that the two bands had different styles. Yet part of the reason for different styles in the first place lies in the geographic isolation of these different scenes. Each scene was allowed to incubate on its own for several years without the intrusion of mass media hype, the internet, MTV and other external factors. So that, when the media did finally shine a light on the music coming from “Seattle”, many diverse styles had already been cultivated.


From here, the exhibit delves into the surprisingly well-documented early history of Nirvana. The band, formed in 1987, initially went by a number of different names, including Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew, Bliss and Ted Ed Fred. The exhibit features an early concert flyer from May 1, 1987 in Olympia, when the band was still called Skid Row. There is also a setlist from this era featuring songs that would later end up on Bleach.

Their first show under the name Nirvana was at the Community World Theater in Tacoma on March 19, 1988. A poster of this concert is on display, as designed by Kurt Cobain. On Oct. 30, 1988 the band played at Evergreen State College, where Kurt smashed his Univox Hi-Flyer guitar, the remains of which are also featured. On Feb. 25, 1989 the band played at the HUB East Ballroom at the University of Washington. According to the audio commentary of the exhibit, available on iPod audio guide for $5, the band had drunk two gallons of cheap red wine beforehand and proceeded to smash their instruments after their set, forcing the University to stop booking new bands for a time.

From a recording history, Nirvana’s first demo was recorded on Jan. 22, 1988, when the band was still called Skid Row. Dale Crover played drums for this session, although the official drummer at the time was Aaron Burckhard. Burckhard’s time with the band was short-lived, and he was replaced by Chad Channing in May of 1988.

On the strength of the demo, Nirvana was able to negotiate the release of the Love Buzz/Big Cheese single in November of 1988. The band had mixed feelings about the single, as they wanted to release a full-length album and they weren’t especially happy that their first official release included a cover song (“Love Buzz” is a Shocking Blue song). Sub Pop Records for its part was not immediately smitten with the band and the label wanted to follow up the single with an EP instead of a full-length.

The band instead presented to Sub Pop the LP Bleach, which was produced by Jack Endino and released on June 15, 1989. Recording sessions for the album reportedly only cost the band $606.17, paid for by Jason Everman, who was brought on as second guitarist for a time. Bleach sold initially around 40,000 copies, but the band didn’t feel the label was putting enough effort into marketing the band. A follow-up EP Blew, produced by Steve Fisk, was released in December of 1989. Continued…

For part 3 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 3.

For part 4 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 4.

Pre-Nirvana poster for 'Skid Row'. Olympia, WA. May 1, 1987.

Pre-Nirvana poster for ‘Skid Row’. Olympia, WA. May 1, 1987.

Nirvana at the Community World Theater. Tacoma, WA. Design by Kurt Cobain.

Nirvana at the Community World Theater. Tacoma, WA. Design by Kurt Cobain.

Nirvana at the University of Washington. Feb. 25, 1989.

Nirvana at the University of Washington. Feb. 25, 1989.

Univox Hi-Flyer guitar smashed by Kurt Cobain.

Univox Hi-Flyer guitar smashed by Kurt Cobain.

Layout for Nirvana's 'Bleach' release.

Layout for Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’ release.

For part 3 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 3

For part 4 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 4

SEATravelZombie is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana performing live

EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 1

In some ways, the EMP Museum’s Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses exhibit is nearly perfect. The lovingly curated exhibit tells the story of Nirvana, briefly touching on Kurt Cobain’s high school years, then documenting the band’s early years and each wave of success that followed, leading to worldwide fame and Kurt’s tragic suicide. The band’s story is told through original photographs and artwork, band posters, vinyl records and cassettes, clothing and a surprising number of actual instruments played by band members. There are multimedia video presentations throughout, providing valuable insight with important key figures. The EMP Museum, also known as the Experience Music Project, is located in downtown Seattle at Seattle Center. Admission to the museum is $20 at the door, but tickets can also be purchased online for $15.

The exhibit’s title gives the first insight into what this exhibit is all about. Nirvana at its core was always a punk band. They had punk rock politics and morals, they listened to punk rock and they played punk rock. The nebulous and all-encompassing “grunge” tag was of course in use in even the band’s earliest years, but it did not inform the band’s music. From its earliest years, the band wanted to pummel its listeners with noise, feedback and aggression. At the same time, the band wanted to create melodies that would stay with the listener. A wall display of drummer Dave Grohl accurately sums up this sentiment:

I think the lure of punk rock was the energy and immediacy; the need to thrash stuff around. But at the same time, we’re all suckers for a beautiful melody, you know? I loved the Beatles when I was a kid, but I loved the Bad Brains too.” – Dave Grohl, Nirvana and Foo Fighters

The dichotomy of the band’s music, chaos and destruction along with beauty and serenity, all at the same time, are what made Nirvana unique. Sure, many rock bands before and after can make similar claims, but Nirvana captured a sense of alienation that struck a chord with America’s youth. Their breakthrough album Nevermind, and especially its lead single “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, created a sense of urgency and excitement not seen since the Beatles breakthrough. With the feverish success of Nevermind, polished and radio-friendly yet seething with frustration and dissatisfaction, Nirvana did effectively bring punk to the masses, exposing millions of young people to music that they otherwise would not have heard.

The exhibit begins with three wall-size images of singer Kurt Cobain, drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic, all captured in a live setting. In front of the images are their actual instruments: Novoselic’s Gibson Ripper bass, Grohl’s drum kit and Cobain’s Mosrite Gospel guitar, which was used in key shows, including the April 17, 1991 show when Nirvana first played “Smells Like Teen Spirit” live. In this same entry area is an exhaustive list of contributors to the exhibit, which in itself is quite impressive. The exhibit relies on over 100 oral histories of key figures including producers, engineers, musicians, record executives, friends and family. There is also a note about the ambient soundtrack for the exhibit, “a quadraphonic serial deconstruction of the signature two-bar riff from Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’”, designed by producer Steve Fisk.


After the initial entrance there is a display of two pieces of artwork from Kurt’s senior year at Aberdeen’s Weatherwax High School. The first is a pencil sketch of Ronald Reagan raising his left arm, while holding hands with a small monkey (also in Reagan’s image) with his right hand. There appears to be a cane to Reagan’s left, perhaps indicating that he is to be dragged off stage, like in the old movies. The other artwork, A New American Gothic, shows an elderly punk couple, tattooed and pierced. It’s clearly modeled after the famous painting and pop culture reference American Gothic by Grant Wood, which depicts a stoic farming couple posing in front of their home in rural Iowa.

These early artworks by Kurt are revealing in several ways. They of course show that Kurt already had an aptitude for the arts. The Reagan sketch obviously has a very strong political bent, although it’s up to interpretation what Kurt was trying to convey. The painting of the elderly punk couple is interesting in that it so neatly fits with the exhibit’s theme. It is apparent that Kurt already had a love for punk rock culture and that he already felt himself to be part of it.

The next part of the exhibit talks about the underground alternative rock scene of the 1980’s and how it laid the foundation for bands like Nirvana to follow. The bands of this era were learning how to be successful selling records and touring in an industry that treated them as outsiders. Out of this underground community, featuring differing styles and aesthetics, came the success stories of R.E.M., the Replacements, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and the Pixies. There is an interactive map showing the main bands of this time and their locations. In the Pacific Northwest, some bands of this timeframe included the Blackouts from Seattle, Beat Happening from Olympia, the Wipers from Portland and D.O.A. from Vancouver, B.C. You may listen to any of the bands listed on the map at a headphone listening station. Continued...

For part 2 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 2

For part 3 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 3

For part 4 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 4

Mosrite Gospel guitar as played by Kurt Cobain

Mosrite Gospel guitar as played by Kurt Cobain

Gibson Ripper bass played by Krist Novaselic in 1993-94.

Gibson Ripper bass played by Krist Novoselic in 1993-94.

"Untitled (Ronald Reagan)". Pencil sketch by Kurt Cobain during his senior year of high school, 1984-1985.

“Untitled (Ronald Reagan)”. Pencil sketch by Kurt Cobain during his senior year of high school, 1984-85.

"A New American Gothic" by Kurt Cobain during his senior year of high school, 1984-85.

“A New American Gothic” by Kurt Cobain during his senior year of high school, 1984-85.

Banner for 'Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses' exhibit

Banner for ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ exhibit

For part 2 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 2

For part 3 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 3

For part 4 of this review, see EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’ – part 4

SEATravelZombie is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.