Books

Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain
By Charles R. Cross
Hyperion/$24.95

It will always be something of a mystery why a rich rock star with an endless supply of heroin would opt for the sudden death of a self-inflicted shotgun blast over the slower demise of junkiedom. Charles R. Cross, however, does an admirable job of making Kurt Cobain's suicide almost understandable in Heavier Than Heaven.

Cross was editor of The Rocket, a Seattle-based music magazine, during the rise and fall of Nirvana, and his book resonates with the authority of someone who watched much of this bleak story unfold. He also had the cooperation of key players, adding further — nearly unimpeachable — credibility. The book was built from hundreds of hours of interviews with Cobain's family, friends, girlfriends, bandmates (Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is a valuable contributor), Seattle scenesters and others. He also had the committed involvement of Cobain's wife, Courtney Love.

Kurt Cobain was not fucked up from the jump, but it didn't take long. His parents' testy divorce when Kurt was 9 led to pain, confusion, doubt and self-destruction. By his early teens, Kurt was an inveterate stoner. He was not a musical genius, although he had a talent for expressing his tortured inner-self through musical, poetic and visual art.

Cobain was in fact career-minded and not a thoroughly reluctant rock star, although it did extract its pounds of emotional flesh. Cobain would complain about how celebrity infringed on his privacy; then he'd get on the phone and bitch at his managers because MTV wasn't playing enough Nirvana.

Cross tells the story in a manner that's not embroidered with high-handed style or hyper-descriptive narrative that makes the reader wonder, "How the hell does the author know that? Was he there?" Cross is confident that his content — a classic modern tragedy — can stand on its own. In the process, he puts the lie to a lot of the Cobain mythology, much of which came from Cobain himself. No, Kurt never lived under a bridge near his mother's home. Kurt was indeed an incorrigible heroin addict, despite his claim in many interviews that he was more a dabbler. There were many overdoses. He was a rehab regular.

Cross does not waste a lot of ink on the whole Meaning of Kurt/Voice of a Generation issue. No, the author rolled up his sleeves and got inside the life of our last great rock star.

—Eric Snider

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