Grunge isn’t a music style. It’s complaining set to a drop D tuning.
— Jeff Gilbert, KZOK DJ
FROM THE MUDDY BANKS OF THE WISHKAH
It’s a grey place. Little three room mill houses line the streets. Logs still float down the murky Chehalis River. The smell of sawdust fills the air. This was Aberdeen, Wash.
One valley east of the Wishkah is the Wynoochee Valley. It’s not really perceptibly different than the Wishkah. Same muddy stream splitting deeply green misty firs and cedars as it rushes down from the Olympic Mountains. The Wynoochee River spews out into the Chehalis River in a little town called Montesano.
Montesano has a Thriftway grocery store on the corner of Pioneer Ave. East and South Sylvia St. It was behind this average looking grocery store that Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain gathered one night for The Them Festival to hear their friends play some loud music. Montesano was the home to high school buddies Matt Lukin, Mike Dillard, and Buzz Osborne — the Melvins.
They played faster than I ever imagined music could be played and with more energy than my Iron Maiden records could provide. This is what I was looking for.
— Kurt Cobain, Nirvana
Krist, noted Taco Bell employee, had an old zebra-striped van back in those days. He would drive the Melvins over to Seattle for gigs. He would help them load and unload and to get sh*tfaced in between. Too tall and lanky, Buzz called him Shaggy (of Scooby-Doo fame). Kurt would often tag along. Krist jammed with Buzz and co. on several occasions, but nothing came of the collaborations besides hangovers and an aesthete lesson in what music was to these guys.
Kurt had his sights set on his own band. He worked with Buzz, Mike, Dale Crover (the Melvins drummer after Mike Dillard), and Greg Hockanson on his first band Fecal Matter. Besides recording a tape demo at Kurt’s aunt’s house in Burien, it really didn’t go much beyond playing behind grocery stores and in friends’ rooms. Finally, Krist agreed to join forces with Kurt and Dale Crover to form a new band.
In March of 1987 Kurt, Krist and interim drummer Aaron Burckhard, played a “show” at their friend’s house in Raymond, Wash. It was mostly Led Zeppelin covers. Over the next six months they’d play under the names Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew, and Bliss in community centers and on local public radio in Tacoma, Olympia and Aberdeen. They were kids making noise.
In late 1987, Kurt moved to Olympia, and Krist moved to Tacoma. Dale Crover moved to San Francisco with Buzz. Without a committed drummer or a band name, Kurt and Krist started thinking about recording a demo.
Since Kurt and I were angry young feminists in the ’90s, we decided we were going to do a little public service. — Kathleen Hanna, lead singer Bikini Kill
Around the same time, Kurt began a friendship with an Evergreen State University student named Kathleen Hanna. Kathleen was a young artist, spoken word performer, feminist and stripper. Kath and Kurt spent a lot of time together drinking and talking and philosophizing. One misty Olympia day they were scoping out an anti-abortion center that was masquerading as a teen pregnancy center. With their heads full of whiskey, they graffitied the front of the fraudulent building. Kath tagged FAKE ABORTION CLINIC EVERYONE. Kurt wrote GOD IS GAY in 6-foot tall red letters.