If you haven’t been to the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum in Seattle, you need to. A friend and I were able to visit it the day after the Sub Pop Silver Jubilee and, at least, I was nearly overwhelmed. The two music-related exhibitions they were running were Jimi Hendrix in London, and Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses. they also had literature, and Sci-Fi exhibits (our admission price included a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards), but were only interested in the music.
The museum is right next to the infamous Space Needle, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. We started our tour meandering around the Hendrix exhibit. It had some pretty cool audio and video clips, and I got to get a picture if the guitar he used at Woodstock. It was definitely cool, but that wasn’t what we were there for.
Trying to find my way around, I stumbled onto the exhibit. Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses. It was everything I had hoped for and much, much more. There was so much there, I didn’t know where to begin. I ended up starting at the end – Unplugged. They had some of the guitars used, the set list, and a few tracks playing in the background.
Next for me, was the “In Utero” exhibit. They seemed to have a lot more items from this era. They had stage props, album covers, and, interestingly, the cases and trunks they used to transport what had become a pretty involved set by this point in the band’s history. After I took all that in, I moved to the next section – Nevermind. A lot of time and effort was put in to this part of the exhibit as most “experts” count 1991 as the year punk hit the masses due to the large popularity of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The displayed the guitar Kurt recorded most of “Nevermind” with, and had a huge display focusing on the items Kurt used in the now infamous “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video.
As much attention was given to the ground that was laid before “Nevermind” because, in reality, it’s almost more important. The experiences, the sounds, and the people help shape the band, challenged them musically, and it’s what helped shape “Nevermind” into what it became. There was an excess of really cool items from Kurt’s youth, not the least of which was the four track and suitcase “drum” he used to record “Fecal Matter” – the tape that convinced Novoselic to form a band with him. They also had early booking dates, carbon copies of checks, and their first contract for Sub Pop Records. The exhibit also included items from Kurt’s childhood such a painting he entered into his high school art fair.
Nirvana certainly was not the only band to come out of Seattle. The EMP Museum also included a display on the entire “Seattle Sound” scene, and gave a great overview of all the bands it produced. The EMP Museum paid homage to a moment in time that produced the greatest scene in the history of Rock and Roll (but I’m a little biased here!). Tough to say, at this point, if it will ever happen again, but you never know!
P.S. While writing this, I was listening to the reissue of Soungarden’s Screaming Life/Fopp EP. Review to come…