Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys: Nirvana Once Crashed in Japantown Home with Ties to Sub Pop Records

CACTUS CONNECTION: This house, at 463 Jackson Street, regularly gave touring bands a place to sleep after the show. Photo by Gary Singh

Thirty years ago, Nirvana played at the Cactus Club in San Jose and then crashed at 463 Jackson Street near Japantown. The opening act, Tad—the dude and the band—likewise slept at the house that night, Feb. 11, 1990.

"It was just a typical night at the bar: any Sub Pop band that was touring was automatically invited over," says DeAnn Caughey, who then lived at the house, along with John Graziadei and Carlos Fuentes.

Yours truly did not attend the show or the afterparty, although I did show up at the house on numerous other nights. At the time, that address was San Jose's unofficial headquarters for all things Sub Pop Records, the famed Seattle label that can be blamed for the rise of grunge. In early 1990 we weren't even calling it "grunge," but many of us owned Nirvana's Bleach LP or were members of the Sub Pop Singles Club, so the Cactus show was on our radar.

After the show, local fan Ken De La Cruz befriended the XXXL-sized Tad and his bandmates, then jumped in their van to show them the way to 463 Jackson. Ultimately, the party was not the usual rager that tore up the house. Only about a dozen friends hung around into the wee morning hours. Both De La Cruz and Caughey remember Kurt Cobain as the most introverted one.

"Of all the guys in those two bands, he was the least sociable," De La Cruz says. "He kind of sat in the corner and didn't talk much or interact much with anybody."

Another source claimed Cobain was shooting heroin in the house that night. Tad was also relentlessly looking to score some ice, a meth-like drug then all over the news, although he was probably joking.

But while everyone else drank and made a racket, Caughey spent an hour talking to Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, who was pining over a lost love.

"He was upset about a girl," Caughey says. "We sat on the couch and talked for a long time. He told me—I don't know if it's true, but he told me and I remember it—he said, 'I wrote "About a Girl."' The song was about the girl he was upset about. Maybe he was trying to show off, but I absolutely remember that conversation. It's why I was stuck on the couch with him most of the night."

Then Tad broke the loveseat.

"Tad and the band stayed in the living room," Caughey recalled. "He stayed on our loveseat. Which was so funny, because it's a love seat, so he's got his head up and his feet up. In the morning, both sides of the couch were broken-down flat."

In 1990, the rent at 463 Jackson was $750. Each of the three tenants paid $250. These were simpler times. There were no cell phones or laptops. The World Wide Web did not exist. Everyone collected records and went out to see bands multiple times a week. Drugs and alcohol were cheap. Rock and punk party houses existed all over downtown San Jose. Touring bands that came through Cactus, Marsugi's, The Oasis or F/X often needed somewhere to crash, so this night was just one regular night out of many. Nirvana wasn't yet huge, but 463 Jackson always welcomed Sub Pop bands since the tenants were big fans. Even though the house was small, floor space always became available.

"All of Nirvana were in sleeping bags in the kitchen, our beat-up old Victorian-house kitchen with a drum set in it," Caughey says. "And the bathroom was behind it, so I remember having to walk over these people in the morning to use the restroom."

Caughey was working at Costco at the time. She had just purchased a box of oranges, which she doled out to the bands in the morning, while they packed up their vehicles and hung out on the front porch. The musicians were blown away by the sunny California hospitality.

"I don't know what the weather was like where they came from, but they were super excited about the sun in their face," Caughey says.