by Brian Smith
What more can/needs to be written about Kurt Cobain? We all know that the Nirvana front man, with the assistance of two slightly more settled pals, single-handedly and brilliantly ushered in the New Boss, thereby killing Reaganomic rock dead in its tracks. We also know that he left behind a wife and daughter when he, in the middle of a junk-struck hell, blew his head off.
Well, these extravagantly and lovingly reproduced Journals — photo pages culled from 20 cheap spiral notebooks that survived his death — reveal good and bad, the horror, tragedy, humor and intelligence of a songwriter who made one of the most profound musical statements in pop history. Cobain, it seems, kept countless notebooks filled with lyrics, doodles and writings about his plans for Nirvana, his take on fame, sex, kicking dope, the wretched state of being on a major label in the music biz, becoming a millionaire and the people who propped him up on the selling block.
The scrawlings show a distraught and depressed drug addict in the midst of a resentful and selfish desire to blame and scold the world for its misdeeds. They also reveal his sensitivity to the things around him, a necessary empathy that’s essential to a song, and the creative process that made it all work. They show a guy who is extremely witty and intelligent, but gnawingly ill-educated.
This book with the elegant, dead-black cover — adorned with the simple word Journals — is an eerie, voyeuristic and disturbing read, and many of the entries are overwhelmingly hard to consider. From a once-pretty and strangely graceful but petulant, drug-addled white kid born of a busted, white-trash family, the ache and hurt is tangible.
On the lighter side, we see how Cobain embraced music without the usual preconceptions; his lists of favorites showed everything from REO Speedwagon and the Knack to the Beach Boys and Butthole Surfers. How he was just another kid in an aspiring rock band who kept to-do lists. There are at least three drafts of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and so on.
Cobain was drawn to empathetic and kind people — and here, his loathing of the music biz becomes word-beat high art. He pedestalized women. He loathed racists. He loved oddballs and derelicts. A confessional love note to his much-hated wife is heart-wrenching:
When I say I love you I am not ashamed. Nor will anyone ever come close to intimidating, persuading, etc. me into thinking otherwise. I wear you on my sleeve …
But by the end, we’re left with heady feelings of melancholia, a longing to understand why. Journals rings hollow, sad, pathetic, tragic and true.
In the words of Johnny Thunders, another dead junkie whom Cobain admired, “You can’t put your arms around a memory.”
Brian Smith is music editor of Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.