Charles R. Cross, author of the new book Here We Are Now: The Legacy of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, made an eye-opening discovery at his March 20 reading in Cobain’s hometown of Aberdeen, Wash.: the possible origin of a famous Cobain tune. A local resident brought to the reading a 1940s ad for Aberdeen’s Morck Hotel, whose motto was “Come As You Are.” Says Cross, “The Morck has been dilapidated for years, but it was one of the many places in Aberdeen where Kurt’s friends told me he crashed during his ‘homeless’ teenage era.”
After a fight with his mother at 17, Cobain left home and spent about four months sneaking into buildings around Aberdeen to sleep, sometimes unscrewing a lightbulb to darken a hallway, unrolling his bedroll, then stealing away in the morning before residents woke up. He immortalized this period in his song “Something in the Way,” which expressed his feeling of being an outsider, in everyone’s way, unloved and abandoned by his family.
Besides being a place for losers to sleep, the Morck Hotel was where Cobain visited his beer connection, an obese alcoholic he called the Fat Man. The Fat Man was one of the first outsider heroes of Cobain’s early songs, stories and artwork. When Cobain, cast out by his family, kindly bought the Fat Man a toaster and a John Denver album at Goodwill for Christmas, the Fat Man wept.
For a penniless teen who sometimes slept in an empty refrigerator box on a friend’s cold porch, the Morck’s welcoming motto “Come As You Are” may have seemed funny and apt.
“Whether Kurt directly took something from that,” says Cross, “or whether it simply stayed in his subconscious a few years later when he wrote the song, is unknown, but it’s a fascinating twist, and perhaps an explanation of the genesis of the title of one of Nirvana’s greatest songs.”
The phrase also appears on a sign greeting visitors to Aberdeen, which installed a controversial statue of a weeping Cobain at the town’s history museum on Feb. 20.