|This is the first article I wrote for the New University Newspaper. At UC Irvine, where I served for a brief period as one of three entertainment beat reporters before my courseload and other extra-curriculars required me to cut back my role at the paper, to proofreader and editor. The New University Newspaper is considered a professional publication, as contributers are paid and in general the quality of the writing is high (though as a weekly student publication with a small editorial staff, typos were common).|
“If you read you’ll judge” was scrawled in ink on the cover of one of Kurt Cobain’s many journals. It is a poignant and painful reminder of Cobain’s inadvertent musical genius.
Cobain was the front-man of Nirvana, one of the early 90s largest sensations. A fusion of different rock styles, Nirvana was the music of a generation. Drawing influences from punk and classic rock, the trio that was Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl dominated the alternative rock scene of the early 90s and brought the so called “Seattle sound” to the world.
“Journals” is a collection of pages of Cobain’s private journals that he’d written from the late 1980s to the time of his death in 1994. Published by Riverhead Books, Cobain’s journals are presented in full color facsimile, or in other words, are copied directly from the source. The hardcover volume is of good quality, reprinting Cobain’s journals on fine matte stock. The design is well done, placing Cobain’s diaries in the middle of tope pages, showing all edges and facets of the papers and journals in which Cobain’s words were written. Everything appears to be reprinted in direct chronological order.
There is a certain rawness, a feral appeal that “Journals” houses, primarily because it truly is reprints of his journals. It houses the same appeal as reality TV shows like the “Real World” and “Big Brother” giving the reader a peak inside the mind of a genius. Cobain’s style was undeniably gorgeous in its unique and frenzied manner. Cobain is unflinchingly honest with his treatment of issues that he held close to him, and for that he should earn anyone’s respect.
Catalogued within “Journals” are some 272 pages of Kurt’s writings. The lyrics of some 17 songs written by Cobain in their various stages of development, including “Come As You Are” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” appear in the collection, as well as sent and unsent letters, excuses for his drug abuse, drawings, insight into his peculiar stomach illness, and his suicidal tendencies.
It is slanderous to the memory of Cobain to print these journals, and it tarnishes Riverhead Book’s reputation. Cobain was a man at odds his entire career with being in the public eye. Cobain refused interviews with Rolling Stone and hated the basal state of rock reporting during his career. To attempt to profit off of Cobain in this manner, after his death, without his consent, is vile and contemptible. Cobain was not a tool for the music industry to make money, he was not out to be famous he was just out to play his music. Everyone thinks, and even writes things that are meant to be private, and no one wants that kind of thing published after they’re dead. What right does anyone have to rifle through Cobain’s journals as if a grave robbing thief? None. It is voyeuristic and disgraceful to Cobain’s memory.
However reading “Journals” offers certain insight. After reading “Journals” one might suggest that Cobain’s rare illness, suicidal tendencies, and drug abuse were inextricably linked in a deadly triangle. Rather candidly, Kurt writes that “[he] decided to use heroin on a daily basis because of an ongoing stomach ailment that…had literally taken [him] to the point of wanting to kill [himself].” While examined by many doctors throughout his later life, Cobain’s odd stomach illness was never diagnosed, and often lead to unbearable and debilitating pain. There are a series of notes about Cobain’s drug abuse and its association with his stomach pain in “Journals.”
Some intriguing oddities among the pages of Kurt’s journals are lists of songs and albums by certain bands strewn throughout the book. They appear to be top song and album lists, Cobain’s favorites, which are fascinating, for a music fan, especially to see how Kurt was influenced musically. The lists include songs and albums from the Pixies, the Beatles, David Bowie, and many more, as whole pages were devoted to these lists, sometimes with a title, sometimes without.
Another issue with “Journals” existence is the circumstance by which it came to exist. Courtney Love, Cobain’s wife, was paid upwards of $4 million by Riverhead books for the rights to the journals. It is at issue, in Cobain’s still large community of fans, whether he would have wanted the journals published at all. Cobain demonstrates this most dramatically of “Journals,” as he comments on the theft of his personal notebooks while he was alive: “I have had four notebooks filled with two years worth of poetry and personal writing...The most violating thing I've felt this year is not the media exaggerations or the catty gossip, but the rape of my personal thoughts.”
As well as selling Cobain’s “personal thoughts,” Love has also been attempting to block the release of Cobain’s music, by utilizing her veto power in Nirvana LLC (Limited Liability Corporation), the group formed after Cobain’s death by Love, Grohl, and Novoselic in order to manage future business relating to Nirvana.
“Journals” borders on voyeurism. However, for many fans of Nirvana, it offers a window into the mind of a rather revered and immensely talented man. Whether or not someone was a fan of Nirvana probably makes a difference as to whether or not someone will enjoy the book. It follows the development of the band, and Cobain’s thought processes. These are probably really fascinating to Nirvana’s fans, but don’t offer much appeal to a passive observer of the music scene. “Journals” is fascinating as a fan (and one-time worshipper) of Nirvana, and Cobain. So in that aspect, “Journals” is great.
Honestly, however, most of the book is private, and should have remained that way. “Journals” is the demonstration of the fact that our culture has become so invasive that a dead man’s private journals are published for us to read. Cobain was a genius, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t disturbed. “Hope I die before I turn into Pete Townshend,” is repeated twice. And while most will not find any of “Journals” offensive, a lot of people will, namely Pete Townshend. It is offensive, however, that Love found it necessary to gain $4 million by selling her husband’s personal thoughts, while refusing to release what most fans truly want; Nirvana’s music.
Suffice it to say, that if one reads Cobain’s journals one will form an opinion. For an avid Nirvana fan or worshipper, or cult member, this book will amaze. One can compare Cobain’s LP collection to ones own, see if one owns any of the same CDs, and imagine what it must be like trying to play guitar and sing with a bad heroin habit and debilitating stomach pains. “Journals” fails in that it is not a tribute or a proper remembrance of Cobain, but instead an intrusion. “Journals” fails to even paint a complete picture of Cobain through its intrusion, and while beautiful; there is a bottom line. Read “Journals” to satisfy voyeuristic tendencies, but do not out of respect for Cobain.