I’m just finishing up Charles R. Cross’ excellent but intensely depressing biography of Kurt Cobain, entitled “Heavier than Heaven.” It’s an unflinching look at Cobain that doesn’t spare any detail about his drug use, cruelty, and selfishness. And now I’m completely bummed out.
Reading this book has kind of given me a glimpse of how book reading will probably be in the near-future. I read a big chunk of it while hooked up to the internet and logged on to YouTube. So when something happens in the book, rather than taking the author’s word for what it was like, you can often go right to the clip and see for yourself.
For instance, take the time when Nirvana appeared on the British “Top of the Pops” show. The producers made the band play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” over a pre-recorded sound track, while Kurt sang live. Not quite lip-synching, but close. This irritated Cobain, so he made a mockery of the performance, performing it in a crooner-type style. After the performance, the band had to scramble out of the studio, as the show’s producers were livid. Later, Kurt said he was merely trying to pay tribute to Morrissey.
Thankfully, in one click, I was able to find the clip:
You can also find a now-infamous clip from British television where Kurt announces that Courtney Love is the” greatest f*** in the world.”
This seems to be an interesting opportunity book publishers can use to augment their written texts. When they publish a book, they could have video clips and other materials online to broaden the readers’ experience. In fact, when I finally write my book exposing Cap’n Crunch as a war criminal, I’ll be sure to provide plenty of online supplementation.
Some other observations, as long as we’re on this topic:
I’m not really clued in to how books like this are written, but I imagine it takes a lot of cooperation from friends and family of the subject. As a result, the book gives a fairly glowing assessment of Courtney Love. I imagine she allowed Cross access to all of Kurt’s materials, and it appears the author may have taken it easy on her as a result. This, after all is a woman who admittedly used heroin before, during, and after her pregnancy. While Kurt was missing the week before he killed himself, Courtney was trolling drug houses looking for more heroin, instead of searching for her suicidal husband. All of this is mentioned, but only briefly. (At one point, Cobain’s manager is quoted as saying something like “it’s so unfair that people think you can’t be an addict and a good parent at the same time.”)
People forget that Courtney Love essentially wrote the blueprint for the drug-addled, self obsessed train wrecks that we see today in the likes of Britney Spears. She was a crazy addict before it was cool. In fact, the Foo Fighters are still good for one anti-Courtney song per album. (“How can it be/I’m the only one who sees/your rehearsed insanity,” from “I’ll Stick Around,” for instance.)
What also struck me while reading the book is that the Nirvana Era might be the last time we’ll see the best music being made that also happens to be the most popular music in the world. Since then, the music industry has fractured, with many of the best acts having to settle on being marketed to niche audiences. One could argue that Radiohead has gotten close, and I’m not too much of a music snob not to appreciate some of Dave Matthews’ best work, but I can’t think of a recent time when critical and commercial praise were so far apart (with all apologies to Lou Bega.) I am open to being debated about this.
The book also briefly details Nirvana’s time in Madison, where they laid down some of the first tracks that would eventually become the “Nevermind” album – widely considered one of the best albums of the past 25 years. It blows my mind that somewhere in Madison, these tapes are sitting there collecting dust. For music fans, these tapes are like the Shroud of Turin – and they’re right here in Wisconsin. This should be front page news every day. If these were the original tapes for “Abbey Road” or something, Madison would be crawling with poorly dressed Europeans, pining for a peek at them. I demand that the State Historical Society recognize this fact and that we get a day off from work in remembrance.
It’s also remarkable that the three month-old baby featured on the cover of the Nevermind album is now 17 years old. Spencer Elden’s Wikipedia page says he was accepted to Princeton for next year (so it must be true). Oddly, I feel some strange affinity for this kid. Not like he’s my child, but the child of my generation. So I wish him the best in college, as long as he doesn’t call me and ask for beer money.
UPDATE: A friend e-mails me with a story about the Nevermind tapes in Madison:
“An old friend/acquaintance of mine who had a band was doing some recording at Smart Studios. He invited me and another friend to the studio. He showed us around, and was talking about all the amps they had that they could just grab and use for the recording. Then he showed us the tape archives. He picked up this tape and said look, this is the original tape of the Nirvana Nevermind sessions. It was labeled Nirvana Master Tape or something like that. The tape was just sitting there on the shelf, like the CD’s in my basement.”