Nirvana's special night, special woman
Tuesday night's 20th anniversary performance of "Nevermind" at Experience Music Project (EMP) is really a night for Susie Tennant, Nirvana's onetime publicist and a staple of Seattle's cultural community
Seattle Times staff columnist
They are coming from as far away as Australia to see a show that has long been sold out. Right away, people knew this would be historic.
But to those who were here when Nirvana exploded, when "Nevermind" went from an album released to a monster unleashed, Tuesday night's 20th anniversary performance of the album at Experience Music Project (EMP) is really a night for Susie.
Susie Tennant, 49, Nirvana's onetime publicist and a staple of Seattle's cultural community (she has worked at Sub Pop Records, EMP and Town Hall), is being treated for ovarian cancer.
Plans to have different bands perform "Nevermind" in its entirety had just started to take shape when Tennant was diagnosed in May. It made sense to turn this global event into a hometown fundraiser.
We're lucky that way, you know. Seattle's musical impact may be far-reaching, and time-stretching, but the people who stood witness to Nirvana and the bands that exploded at the same time are, for the most part, still here. It was like a tornado ripped through town, and they all found each other after. They hold their memories close, and their friends closer.
And they are well aware of the impact that era had on people, bands, culture.
So when I went to see Tennant the other day at her West Seattle home to talk about what it was like to be at the heart of the night, to have her name mentioned in Billboard and Rolling Stone, she waved me off.
"I don't think it's about me," she said. "It's about everyone who was part of the community then, coming together. It's going to be a night of tears and happiness."
In 1991, Tennant was the local rep for DGC Records and the host of the "Nevermind" release party at Rebar.
The band got kicked out for having a food fight, so they all retreated to Tennant's Capitol Hill apartment.
"The special thing about that is that she was their peer and their fan," said Tennant's friend, Carrie Montgomery, whose brother, Craig, was Nirvana's tour manager. "It wasn't some major label thing with old, stuffy men.
"We were all the same age and we were young and it was all on David Geffen's credit card," she said. "It was heaven."
Montgomery talked about lead singer Kurt Cobain's strong musical opinions, and how, after his suicide in 1994, "he turned into this thing that has nothing to do with who he was."
But it was hard to get Tennant to say much about Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl. She blamed it on "chemo brain" and said the treatments are hard on her cognitive memory. So I didn't push.
But the next day, Tennant sent me an email, apologizing for not wanting to share "'remember when' stories."
"It was a very special and very complex time of my life that I am still sorting out twenty years later," she wrote.
" It's hard for me to talk about it because I never want to dishonor the personal experiences that I shared with so many people that I love."
Instead, she directed me to the speech Novoselic made at the opening of the exhibit "Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses," now at EMP. He spoke of how Cobain worked as a janitor to pay for the band's first demo.
"He was compelled to be an artist," Novoselic said. "He had a natural talent, and it compelled him to share so many things with so many people. I owe him so much, I can't even start."
Novoselic will play Tuesday night with The Presidents of the United States of America. Bands that will cover songs from "Nevermind" include The Fastbacks, Duff McKagan's Loaded, The Long Winters, Visqueen and Champagne Champagne.
Others are donating items to be auctioned off on www.charitybuzz.org: a 7-inch record signed by all three members of Nirvana, donated by the owner of Sonic Boom Records. A guitar signed by Pearl Jam. An oceanside state room on the Weezer Cruise.
More items will be auctioned off at an event in November.
All proceeds will go to the Susie Tennant Fund, set up to help with medical and family expenses. (To donate: http://susietennantfund.bbnow.org).
Organizer Ben London said that without Tennant at the center of their efforts, the night could have easily turned into a memorial. For Cobain, for Nirvana, for the music that never was.
"Rather than remembering a tragedy, of someone who died," he said, "we are celebrating someone staying alive."
Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or email@example.com.
That is one amazing pug.
About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-2334