ABERDEEN, United States - The road sign outside town reads "Welcome to Aberdeen. Come As You Are." The iconic Nirvana song title greets fans from around the world flocking to pay homage to Kurt Cobain.
Twenty years after the grunge band's frontman killed himself, the run-down town in Washington state two hours from Seattle is keen to ensure that the legacy of its most famous son lives on.
Mayor Bill Simpson rejects criticism that it is wrong to celebrate the life of a drug-addict who committed suicide when his daughter was still a toddler.
"Everybody says 'Oh, Kurt was a druggy, and Kurt was a nasty man.' But you know, the more I've read, the more I've studied about him, he was a pretty down-to-earth guy, very caring, a very loving individual," Simpson told AFP.
Cobain died at age 27 when Nirvana was at the height of its powers, scoring global hits including "Come as You Are" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and spawning a generation of bands playing grunge, a mash-up of punk and heavy metal music.
He had come a long way in a few short years: from the bleak streets of struggling logging town Aberdeen to international fame and fortune, and a luxury house in Seattle's swanky Denny-Blaine neighborhood.
It was at that house - in a room above the garage - that his body was found on April 8, 1994.
Cobain shot himself in the head. Coroners found large quantities of heroin in his system, and said his body had probably been there for days. They estimated he had died on April 5.
Cobain thus entered the so-called "27 Club" - the grim roster of stars to die of drugs or alcohol abuse at age 27 that includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones and, more recently, Amy Winehouse.
Even bigger fame after death
As with those other music greats, dying ironically only elevated Cobain's celebrity status.
"It's like James Dean: he was an acclaimed actor, and then he died young in a tragic accident and that made him iconic," said Gillian Gaar, a Seattle journalist and author of "Entertain Us: the Rise of Nirvana." Gaar compared Cobain to artists like Neil Young, Carlos Santana and Bob Dylan - all of them had huge early fame but then went on to enjoy success later in their careers.
The big tragedy of Cobain's early death "is the sense of potential unfulfilled," the writer told AFP.
Cobain formed Nirvana in 1987 with bassist Krist Novoselic while at school in Aberdeen. Dave Grohl later joined as drummer after a series of candidates failed to work out.
The trio's big break came when they were signed by record label Sub Pop in 1988.