It was about six years prior to the band Nirvana’s explosion on the music scene with the release of their album “Nevermind” that LaMont and Barbara Shillinger last saw Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.
The Shillingers knew him as a mostly quiet, but obviously artistic, teenager who took refuge in their Aberdeen home for about nine months when he was 18. But by the time of his death by suicide in 1994, they had seen him rise to icon status in the world of music.
Nirvana, created in 1987 by Cobain and Krist Novoselic, who also grew up in Aberdeen, had its icon status solidified last week when it was officially voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was the first year the band was eligible through its 1988 debut single, a cover of “Love Buzz,” originally recorded by the Dutch rock band Shocking Blue.
“He stayed for longer than we thought, but it wasn’t really a problem,” said Barbara Shillinger of Cobain’s time with them in 1985. At the time she was attending college and she said many of the duties tending their own five boys, one daughter and Cobain fell to LaMont, a now-retired Aberdeen High School teacher who also recalls having a “very sharp” Novoselic in his English class.
The Shillingers said their understanding of Cobain – taken from information then given by their two sons, Eric and Steve, who had known Cobain since elementary school – was that he was “not getting along with his stepfather,” and was “couch surfing.”
“Eric and Steve asked, ‘Dad, could Kurt spend the night on the couch?’” recalls LaMont, who said they didn’t hear from anyone in Cobain’s family during that time.
“He was a kid who knew our kids and needed a place to stay, that’s all.”
The Shillingers recall that Cobain ate like a typical teenage boy (ravenously) and was known for subverting the household chores they required of all the kids. He acquired a pet turtle with a wading pool while staying with them. He seemed to be focused on the visual arts at the time, though the boys would make an occasional stop in the garage to play music.
LaMont recalls a particular drawing of Cobain’s that seemed to demonstrate his dark sense of humor: a label for a fictional recording company, “Fecal Matter,” accompanied by a drawing of “dog poop with a Dairy Queen curly Q on top.”
Barbara remembers the way Cobain dressed – which eventually was replicated by many throughout the 1990s – struck her as unusual.
“He was the first person I ever saw wearing long underwear and torn jeans,” she said.
While the Shillingers doubt that the teens were using hard drugs, there were some rebellious shenanigans involving Cobain and son Eric, who also recently committed suicide.
“They were drinking beer and decided to climb a tree and get on the roof of some communication service building. ... They were stomping around on the roof, and a woman inside hears the pitter-patter and calls the police,” said Barbara. Eric had to take a class for minors caught drinking and Cobain was arrested for trespassing and held for vandalism for graffiti he had drawn.
The Shillingers attribute Cobain’s eventual decision to move out to a disagreement between him and one of their sons. Over the years, they heard little from him, except to receive demos of Nirvana’s music.
“Some we listened to and some we said, ‘Ugh.’ Others, we said, ‘Oh, that’s pretty great,’” said LaMont.
The family was included in the “thank-yous” section of the band’s final studio album, “In Utero.” After his death, they said, Cobain’s mother told them that he had included the Shillingers in a round of personal “thank-yous” during a recent Thanksgiving dinner.
A memorial site now is designated at the Kurt Cobain Riverfront Park, thought to be a place Cobain loved in his teenage years, but there is not much other formal recognition. Mostly due to his heroin use, he is still a polarizing figure in the community.
The Aberdeen Museum of History has acquired more memorabilia for fans to visit, along with a walking tour of sites important in the musician’s history, including the Shillingers’ home.