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Cobain statue creates rift in his hometown


Aberdeen, Wash. -- It has been three months since Kurt Cobain took a shotgun and blew his life away. Now Randi Hubbard is trying in her own way to bring him home.

Inside her husband's muffler shop, this truck driver turned sculptor spends her afternoons building a concrete statue of Aberdeen's famous native son.

"I think we all have a little Kurt Cobain in us. We've all been on the edge possibly," said Ms. Hubbard, gently stroking the statue's arm and hair.

"Ideally, I want it to be placed here, and I want people to love him here."

The rock star's grandfather often drives from nearby Montesano to watch the sculpture's progress. Young fans of the grunge-rock group Nirvana, of which Cobain was lead singer, have written poems and left memorabilia as inspiration.

Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, has reportedly offered to bring plaster molds of his hands to help complete the sculpture.

But while the 600-pound, 5-foot-6 statue has drawn rave reviews from some, it also has struck a raw nerve in Cobain's hometown. Some city leaders and residents aren't comfortable paying tribute to a man whose life became synonymous with drug abuse and despair.

The Aberdeen City Council initially embraced Ms. Hubbard's request to have the sculpture showcased for 90 days in a park at the east entrance to town. But it backpedaled recently after angry phone calls and letters hit City Hall.

Now it's up to the Aberdeen Parks Board to find an appropriate spot. Ultimately, physical space may become secondary to public opinion.

As Gary Morean, a local attorney and former Grays Harbor Chamber of Commerce president, put it: "There are lots of people who deserve to be honored. . . . [But] there's a difference between being famous and being infamous."

Cobain, 27, was found dead April 8 in his million-dollar Seattle home. He had traces of heroin in his bloodstream when he apparently committed suicide.

Mr. Morean is among those who worry that a city-sponsored memorial would send the wrong message to children about Cobain's freewheeling lifestyle. Others still resent the way his hometown has been portrayed by the media -- as a hard-bitten community of rednecks -- and the implication that it was somehow to blame for his suicide.

"When he was famous, he was from Seattle. As soon as he kills himself, he's that messed-up kid from Aberdeen," Mr. Morean said.

It's that frustration, Ms. Hubbard said, that she's hoping to ease through art.

The statue is a life-size version of a smaller wax-and-clay sculpture she began making the night after Cobain's body was discovered.

It depicts the grunge rocker strumming a guitar with his gaze cast down. There are the familiar stringy hair and torn jeans. A single tear signifies, for Ms. Hubbard, the appropriate theme and the title: "All Apologies," also the name of a song by Nirvana.

Leland Cobain called the statue "real neat" and said it bears a striking resemblance to his grandson. He lambasted the city for suddenly cooling to it.

"This is exactly the reason Kurt left Aberdeen in the first place," he said. "They can't accept anything new."

One potential site, Zelasko Park, seemed optimum because it's near a downtown tavern where Cobain used to play. That got nixed, however, when veterans thought that it would detract from the statue of a World War I soldier.

Councilman Bill Simpson said he thinks the statue is "fantastic" as art. Politically, it's brought mostly grief.

"The community was proud when he was doing good," he said. "When things got tough, and he died the way he did, they kind of threw him out [mentally], and that's sad because he's one of our own."

Parks officials are vowing to consider the issue objectively. But if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, some Aberdeen residents are having trouble seeing anything positive in Cobain or his music.

The child of divorce and a high-school dropout, he made no secret of his unhappy life in this logging community. Some local residents have suggested the memorial be placed underneath the bridge where he once lived as a wayward teen-ager.

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