Gary James' Interview With
Anita Woo

on Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses

Experience Music Project, or EMP for short, will showcase the world's most extensive Nirvana exhibit. Titled Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses, it will run from April 16th, 2011 to April 23rd, 2013. The exhibit will feature rare and unseen pieces from the band, their crews and their families. Two years in the making, the exhibit will feature such items as the Teac reel-to-reel tape machine owned by Mari Earl, Kurt Cobain's aunt, on which a young Kurt recorded material for his early bands; Kurt's handwritten lyrics for "Spank Thru" and "Floyd The Barber"; pieces of the first guitar Kurt destroyed on stage, a Univox Hi-Flyer, Dave Grohl's Tama Rockstar Pro drum kit and Krist Novoselic's Guild accoustic bass guitar and Buck Owens' American acoustic guitar used during the recording of MTV Unplugged; the yellow cardigan worn quite often by Kurt between 1991 and 1994; the winged angel stage prop featured on Nirvana's In Utero tour; and scores of candid snapshots capturing the band's early years from their beginnings in Aberdeen, Washington to the media frenzy that erupted after "Nevermind".

Anita Woo, the media and communications manager from EMP spoke with us about the exhibit.

Q - Seattle just can't get enough of Kurt Cobain, can they?

A - Kurt Cobain and Nirvana are local icons here in the Seattle area and for obvious reasons. They're from Seattle, Aberdeen, Olympia. They lived all over the place in the Pacific Northwest and they've made a significant impact on music in general. They introduced a new genre, culture. The music was iconic, the fashion that was a part of it also became a huge trend. So absolutely, Seattle cannot get enough of Nirvana.

Q - From my perspective, Kurt Cobain was the last original Rock artist. Nothing like him has come along since.

A - Absolutely, original. I think it's a matter of opinion if he was the last original Rock artist, but he certainly introduced a new genre of music that paved the way for many, many others.

Q - Is there anything that has taken the place of the Grunge movement in Seattle as we speak?

A - I don't know that you can say anything in particular has taken the place of Grunge. I think Grunge is a tremendous phenomenon. It was not just in Seattle, but really spread all over the place. Now what you're finding in Seattle is a lot of independent musicians. We have a great music scene. A lot of clubs that open their doors to the indie artists and the community has really embraced that through the performance venues, also through the kind of musical festivals that Seattle is now hosting including Bumper Shoot, C Arts Fest, Capitol Hill Block Party, all of which are starting to attract a lot of indie musicians.

Q - Can a musician actually make a living playing original music in Seattle or do you have to be in cover band?

A - You know, that's hard to say. I'm not one and I'm sure if you're popular enough you can make a living as a musician here in Seattle. It just depends.

Q - How did the Experience Music Project get all the people behind these artifacts to agree to put them in the exhibit?

A - Well, this is something that has been more than a couple of years in the making. We currently have an exhibit at the museum that is called "Northwest Passages" that featured a broad array of music from the Northwest, including the Grunge era. So we already had a number of artifacts in our collection and we have been able to build upon it from some relationship building. Our curator actually worked very closely with Nirvana singer and bassist Krist Novoselic. He worked closely with him to curate this exhibition. So he got terrific access to a number of artifacts; photography, instruments, all kinds of terrific objects that will be featured in the exhibition.

Q - Could this exhibition ever go on the road?

A - That's certainly a possibility. Whenever we develop our own regional exhibition here at the museum, we try to create something that can travel, however with this one I'm not sure if that's been determined yet. There's obviously a great Northwest, Pacific Northwest appeal to this. Since we made the announcement last Fall (2010), we've heard from folks all over the world actually who have expressed interest in this exhibition. So, it's certainly a possibility, but I don't know that it's been determinded just yet.

Q - Do you display only exhibits that have something to do with the Pacific Northwest? Would you showcase items that weren't necessarily from that part of the country?

A - Absolutely. We're not just... we're grounded in Rock music, however our exhibitions have a much broader appeal and cover various aspects of popular culture. For example, there's a big Sci-Fi component to what we feature at our museum. Our current exhibition is Battlestar Galactica, based on the televison series, but features artifacts that we got from the studio and brought them to our museum here in Seattle to create this exhibition. We're also working closely with James Cameron on Avatar, the exhibition which will open in June (2011). So it's not just about Seattle. It's not just about music, but it's about popular culture in general, music being part of that as well as Sci-Fi, film, anything that sort of made a big impact on popular culture.

Q - Did Courtney Love have input into this exhibit?

A - To the extent that we have run everything by Courtney and her people.

Q - How about Kurt's mother and father?

A - You know, I would not be able to comment on that. I do not know. I do know that our curator has worked with Kurt Cobain's Aunt, Mari Earl, who still lives in the area. Jacob McMurray, our curator, obtained some artifacts from Kurt's Aunt.

Q - It's been sixteen years since Kurt's death. Who do you think will be coming through your doors to see this exhibit?

A - I think there is a broad appeal to Nirvana and to Kurt Cobain's story regardless of the kind of music you're interested in or the era you grew up in because of the tremendous impact the band has had on music in general. You'll definetly see a lot of people who grew up listening to Grunge music and Nirvana back in the '90s when they were teens, like myself. You'll get folks who are in their 30s and 40s, but you'll also get a younger generation who are certainly fascinated by the Nirvana story and the impact that they've had and you know their music is still popular with the young people today. It think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Kurt left such a lasting legacy.

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