Monday, February 20, 2017

Today Would Have Been Kurt Cobain's 50th Birthday!

It's kind of hard to believe, isn't it?

Had he lived, Kurt Cobain would have turned 50 years old today. Of course, he did not survive his own worst enemy: himself. Yes, that probably sounds cliche, but it is also true. He basically predicted his own life and death with striking accuracy, seeing himself becoming the biggest rock star on the planet (which he was for a while there) and then blowing his own head off (which he basically did).

That is obviously a tragedy, which makes this a difficult subject for me to think of or talk about at length, especially since he was able to produce some unbelievable, and highly influential, music and art.

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Let me just say, right off the bat, that this is a very well written and concise book! I don't know how Charles Cross got his hands on some of this information, but he puts it to good use. As you read this very vivid biography, it comes alive almost to the point that you feel you are witnessing Kurt Cobain living through these times, from his childhood through the teen years, and into adulthood, before and after he catapulted to stardom. You almost feel that you are getting to know the real person, rather than the hyped rock star.

I always knew that Kurt Cobain had been tormented, although at some distant level. You can see it in his works, in his words. Even in his facial expressions during some musical videos.

But Charles Cross really gives a great diagnosis of the life and times of Kurt Cobain, and those around him. This book is extensively researched. So well researched, frankly, that I don't even know how he managed to get his hands on some of the stuff that was used in writing this.

The effect is that you feel almost like you are there, so vivid is the description. That is a sign of very strong writing skills.

You really get a feel for his native town of Aberdeen, Washington, and the happy childhood that too soon yielded to family tensions and fights. You can relate to the rebellious and angry young teenager who dreams of being a rock star, and you can sympathize with his nervousness before playing his first ever gig at what amounted to a frat party. You watch Nirvana begin to take form, as they struggle to find their identity and make a name for themselves, even spending a night on a highway median at one point, and then you witness their rise to superstardom with a bang. You also see Cobain's self-destructive tendencies clash with the excesses of success, and as the book goes along, you bear witness to what proved to be the inevitable crash from the heights.

Somehow or other, all of this is done while making you feel like it is coming to life, rather than history. You begin to pull for Cobain, and it seems that there are so many choices out there that he could have made to change the outcome. Yet, the past cannot be undone, and although Cross has been criticized for taking liberties with the final aspects of Cobain's life (that being his suicide), he really makes it pack an emotional punch. Even though he was completely alone and feeling the weight of an all too familiar isolation, Cross almost seems to take you there, to witness a tragedy unfold, as a young, heartthrob rock star who seemed to many to have everything hits rock bottom, and takes his own life, leaving behind a beautiful young daughter who will have to live on with such a legacy that her father left her.

Cross has also been criticized for not talking to Dave Grohl, the longest lasting drummer that Nirvana ever had, as well as the one who was with them during the salad days, and obviously, the most famous drummer for Nirvana, and perhaps the most famous surviving former member of the band, period. He has also been criticized for siding too closely with Courtney Love. I cannot, or at least will not, speak to that at present. What I will say is that you are not likely to find a more thorough, or vivid, account of Kurt Cobain's life, or a history of Nirvana, that is as thorough and detailed as this.

There were a lot of contradictions in regards to Kurt Cobain, and Cross does a very good job in highlighting some of these. Cobain seemed to embody paradox, at times. For example, he seemed to suggest that he despised popularity, yet he complained when his videos were not played on MTV as much as he wanted them to be played. Also, he had a great deal of empathy and a great conscience. Yet, at times, his actions defied logic, as with his first sexual experience (which seemed abusive at best, and could almost have been defined as borderline rape), or his leaving a beautiful young daughter with a lifetime to cope with her own father's suicide, at an age when she was yet too young to understand what happened.

One thing I was surprised by was the lack of mention to Kurt Cobain's animosity towards fellow Seattle band Pearl Jam, although Cross does detail the feud that existed between Nirvana and Guns N' Roses. But Cobain's constant mention of Pearl Jam at the time that they were rising I think illustrates some of the contradictions in Cobain's character.

But Cross does get a lot right in this book. A hell of a lot, actually! There are some descriptions of the shows that are spot on, and you can almost feel the success (or the lack thereof, depending on the situation) involved. What makes it even more fascinating is the background story leading up to, and immediately after, shows.  For example, you gain a far better understanding of the legendary MTV Unplugged, and the circumstances surrounding it. If you're like me, you'll never watch or listen to that show, or Nirvana in general, the same way again!

All in all, an excellent read! Informative and everything you could want out of a book like this, and I highly recommend it!

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