As the daughter of Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt, I was raised on the stories of grunge lore. Tales of criss-crossing the country in dilapidated tour vans full of sweaty rockstar hopefuls, record signings at legendary stores like Rough Trade in England, members of Pussy Galore being frightened when greeted by our pet pygmy goat; Kurt Cobain smashing his guitar and leaping off speaker towers. Our family photo albums show a very chubby baby on tour in Japan and Spain with the likes of Seaweed and the Supersuckers, screeching in the faces of heavily bearded rock stars. However, as much as these events are part of the Pavitt family canon, they had never quite come alive or been as relatable as they are in the new collection Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989.
Crucial photo of Bruce Pavitt onstage behind Nirvana at LameFest UK, London, 12/3/89, as Kris Novoselic prepares to put a bass guitar out of its misery.
Experiencing Nirvana follows Seattle legends Tad, Mudhoney, and Nirvana in the eight days leading up to Lamefest UK, the breakout event at the tail end of a grueling continental tour. Pavitt's microhistory encapsulates the emotional turmoil, greasy hair, and musical inspiration. Through candid, informal photos of the bands, fans, and tour vans, accompanied by anecdotes of unclean underwear and broken guitars, one is allowed a glimpse behind the public grunge profile. Also included in the narrative are neat features such as a playlist of popular indie songs (e-book exclusive), a tour itinerary, Sub Pop discographies of all three bands, and stunning Lamefest photos from Steve Double, the Charles Peterson of London, that will make your jaw drop.
My dad always prefaces his grand epics of rock stardom by referring to “the Sub Pop days,” meaning the late 1980s and early 90’s when everyone started jumping on the grunge bandwagon and Sub Pop’s once laughable dogma of world domination came true. A revolutionary time for the still undiscovered sleepy backwoods of Seattle, WA, music fans and critics from around the world came to clamor for the new, raw sound that would define the alternative music scene.
Kurt Cobain was the first person Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt encountered at the Piper Club, Rome, 11/27/89.
In addition being a valuable chronicle for music historians, grunge fans, and Sub Pop losers, this book provides an answer one of my primary questions about the era: was my dad a dork in 1989? Answer: yes. He was a 30-year old balding poster child for Salvation Army, but that didn’t that stop him from successfully launching the career of one of the most popular bands in the last 20 years. However shabbily he may have dressed, he knew that winning over the influential British press was key to gaining industry attention and promoting Sub Pop’s lineup. Music historians often cite this tour in the fall of ‘89 as a monumental moment for Nirvana, who recovered from a near breakup to surpass tour headliners Mudhoney in acclaim. It was a long shot, but in the words of my father, “we were delusional-- but it seemed to work out.”
Iris Pavitt Parker with members of the band Seaweed during Lamefest Japan tour. December 1993.
Images via Bruce Pavitt and Steve Double