Famous Seattle

Days in the company of Lee, Hendrix, Cobain and President Roslin

Though I spent an entire blog The Seattle Spirit> on Seattle’s early history, it was not really what drew me to the city. In truth, I never really imagined to go here nor had any visual idea of where in the US, it was. However, I have always known Seattle to exist; not because of Starbucks, McDreamy or that rather bad movie with Hanks and Ryan. No, I cam to know Seattle as many others of my generation by the central role that Seattle’s music scene played in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I knew the city because of Kurt Cobain singing and sipping tea on New York Unplugged and the beauty of Chris Cornell’s voice on Superunknown.
– Music I grew up with and music I came to know later in life, and music which still today touches something deep inside of me.

Good fortune would have it that at the hostel, they have a dead people’s tour. This tour brought me to places I had never imagined I should ever see.

We began the tour by stopping at a sculpture which looked surprisingly a lot like a huge black donut. Or perhaps, a Black Hole Sun. Many speculate that the sculpture was the source of inspiration for Soundgarden’s major and classic hit Black Hole Sun. What a treat.

Afterwards, we visited the last resting place of martial arts master Bruce Lee and his equally talented son Brandon. I will here admit that though I have seen The Crow, it never occurred to me that Brandon Lee was the Crow and that he actually died during the filming of that particular role. Please don’t tell anyone.

Then we arrived at a major house and an over painted bench. The place for one of the biggest artistic losses of the 1990’s. The house in which Kurt Cobain killed himself, or was murdered, and the bench on which he sought inspiration. WOW. When I think about it, I actually remember the house from a documentary I saw once about all the evidence that pointed towards Courtney having killed Kurt.

Finally, we took the long ride on to the hwy, ending in Renton at the last resting place of legendary Jimi Hendrix. Apparently, his memorial had been moved at some point from the entrance of the Memorial Park, since the visitors and fans constantly blocked the entrance to the rest of the Park. Now it stands centrally, and I was told that today it is possible to buy a gravestone for yourself next to Jimi through eBay (I think it is just an urban legend, though).

I am not sure whether seeing such places will be of any great value to me as a person, but I am sure it will be great stories to tell back in Europe when the conversation yet again turns to Club 27.

In order to complete the celebrity tour, I went to the EMP (Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame) Museum at Seattle Center on my final day. Here I spent half the day walking through the museums current exhibitions, one of which was Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses. What better place to exhibit the story of Nirvana than in the city where it all started. Slowly pacing the exhibition with an audio guide by Krist Novoselic in my ears, I came to know and see a whole lot of Nirvana and Seattle back in the days.

As the Museum is also known as the Science Fiction Museum, I felt it would be sad if I didn’t indulge in a bit of Science Fiction. Staying clear of a large children oriented Avatar exhibition, I directed my footsteps towards Battlestar Galactica: the exhibition. After pacing through looking at several spaceships, I dare calling myself a bit of an expert on that series now.


The Seattle Spirit

I have arrived in the US and though my first meeting with Americans was the unpleasantness of the land border crossing from Vancouver to Seattle, my general impression is that Americans share the hospitality of their Northern neighbours.

Seattle is most commonly known to be the home of McDreamy, Starbucks (463 in greater Seattle metropolitan area) and a celebrated 90’s chick-flick starring Ryan and Hanks. But it is also home to 1700 homeless people on any given night. Downtown Seattle which in the daytime is jam-packed with American and Asian tourists becomes a ghost town by night time, where the corners fills with homeless men and women.

A truck stops.

On the side it reads ‘Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission – Men’s Shelter – Search and Rescue Van’.

Two people get out and turns to the elderly homeless woman at pier 58.

They talk to her, bring her food, water and supplies.

In the van sits other homeless who have been picked up.

They look so tired.

While bringing supplies to the homeless woman, the driver of the van tells me that it is a privately funded organisation and that they drive out voluntarily 3 times a week. My shock that so many homeless people rely on the share goodness and charity of their next is mixed with a profound respect for the people who voluntarily three times a week leave the comfort of their own homes and families in order to provide a little bit of comfort and conversation to those unfortunate creatures of the street.

Quirky Seattle history

Seattle has surprised me a lot. As Vancouver, Seattle can boast of a quirky and fascinating history based on clever individuals, unfortunate events and dirty secrets. The first white settlers arrived in the Seattle area in 1851. One of the main reasons that pioneers who crossed the Oregon trail to the West, ended up in the later state of Washington and city of Seattle was, according to the guide at the Underground Tour, that the federal government feared that the English would claim the area for themselves. This is particularly funny after having been told by the guide in Vancouver how fortunate it was that that city got the railway or it and the rest of British Columbia would most likely have been American today. I trust the border drawing turned out to everyone’s satisfaction in the end.

But the first decades of Seattle’s existence were filled with stupid decisions and negligence of the problems it was to build a city in the middle of a swamp. The worry was to construct the city rather than to consider sanitary issues as well as the continuous surprise of the tidal waters. But as our comedian guide at the Underground Tour said, it was these early years that laid the foundation of what has later been known as the Seattle spirit.

Seattle Spirit: Even though you realise your decision is monumentally stupid, you stick with it

However, the citizens of Seattle have also proven to be rather clever at times. In the 1887 occupational survey of Seattle, it came to the notice of some that there seemed to be quite a few seamstresses in the city. Within a 6 block stretch around Occidental Street and the entertainment district, 2500 seamstresses worked. This was as an old amused man remarked especially astonishing as only two sewing machines existed in all of Seattle. Immediately afterwards, the city of Seattle decided to introduce an entertainment tax of 10 % on saloons, bars and off course seamstresses. Until the end 1890’s this tax stood for 85 % of the city’s revenues.

Another clever idea of the citizens of Seattle was in relations to the gold rush of 1897. Though no gold has ever been discovered in the state of Washington, Seattle became central in the turn of the century gold rush. The gold rush was based on findings in Alaska and Yukon and Seattle so happened to be the last American ‘outpost’ before the goldmines. And Seattle decided to take advantage of that by mining the miners as it was notoriously named. This happened in two ways. First, when the hopeful gold diggers were heading to Yukon. Due to the Canadians weariness of rescuing yet another young eager American who had been surprised by the harsh climate of the White North, the Canadian government had made a list of items that any gold digger going to Canada should carry with them. And Seattle’s merchants were there to supply every last item. Second, for those fortunate souls who struck gold, Seattle’s entertainment district and many seamstresses were more than happy to help spend it.

It seems that the West coast is full of stories from brothels and saloons about scandals, corruption and sex. I am sure that Portland will be no different.

But then what shall be the most memorable to my stay in Seattle? What is that one thing that can be crossed off the before-I-turn-30 list? In Vancouver, I met Missy and what can possibly be as frightening as holding a snake in your hands? Well, if you are scared of heights like me, then the visit to a 35 story skyscraper might jut do it for you. For the first time in my life did I get up into an actual skyscraper, the Smith Tower from 1914, and went out to the open air observation deck. Now 35 stories is not that tall when comparing to what is build around the world today, and I have been at the top of the Eiffel tower once when I was a kid as well as several East European radio towers. However, as a kid I wasn’t as afraid of heights, observation decks of radio towers are inside and I really don’t care how tall the tallest buildings are. I was in a skyscraper, and I almost did pissed my pants.