If You Read, You’ll Judge – Newsweek

by Lorraine Ali

Kurt Cobain introduced me to karaoke. In May, 1991, Nirvana was promoting its upcoming major label debut “Nevermind” – an album that would sell more than 10 million copies, revitalize rock and roll and teach Michael Jackson, who had an album about to be ejected from the No. 1 spot, the real meaning of the word dangerous. But the scrappy Seattle trio were still staying in low-budget motels (a step up from sleeping in their tour van) and ordering the cheapest items on coffee shop menus. Over greasy zucchini sticks at a Holiday Inn Express outside LA, we talked about what it took to hold onto your punk rock ideals in a very unpunk world. On a small stage in the bar, a busboy was setting up a mic stand, speakers and a wide-screen TV. I wondered out loud if we were going to hear a bad lounge act. “No, it’s worse” Cobain said, blowing the hair out of his eyes. “It’s karaoke.” Karaoke? “Yeah, you know when drunk secretaries get up and sing ‘Feelings’.” Cobain, the Nirvana frontman who’d go down in history as the angsty, nihilistic voice of the post-boomer generation, had cracked a joke.

Anyone who thought Cobain was an easy read probably wasn’t a Nirvana fan. Next month, however, he’ll become an open book, as Riverhead Books publishes “Journals,” a collection of handwritten diary entries, letters, band memos, drawings, screeds and cries from the heart that editor Julie Grau culled from stacks of the late singer’s notebooks. Riverhead is said to have paid the Cobain estate – i.e., his widow, Courtney Love, and his 10-year-old daughter, Frances – in the neighborhood of $4 million for “Journals.” The book is already controversial among some fans, who worry that it’s an invasion of Cobain’s privacy, his suicide in April 1994 being tragic, irrefutable evidence of his desire to be left alone. (Love declined to be interviewed for this story.) “Journals” can be tremendously raw and unsettling, as Cobain spirals from an ambitious kid in a garage band to a disillusioned pop star with a deadly heroin addiction. The book also illuminates Cobain’s sweet, whimsical side. These contradictions may enhance the way we listen to Nirvana, especially now that the previously unreleased single “You Know You’re Right” tops rock-radio playlists and the band’s greatest hits album waits just around the corner.

Not that Nirvana ever sounded anything less than revolutionary. They didn’t just make Michael Jackson seem as over as the ’80s, they made a mockery of Skid Row, Poison, the declining Guns N’ Roses – and the other rockers with more hair than your mall-rat sister. It was an unwitting coup by a band who often hit the stage in the clothes they’d slept in. Their songs were searing and vitriolic, but beneath all the reverb and distortion were perfect pop tunes. Much to Cobain’s chagrin, Nirvana would spawn a movement with a name (“grunge”), paving the way for band’s like Pearl Jam and, later, inspiring corporate labels to take chances on weirdos like Beck. But most important, Nirvana would prove that the best moments in rock are not created in labs or test-market meetings. They are sloppy mistakes that grow into sonic revelations. “I remember watching Kurt coming through and thinking, ‘God, this music is nuclear”, says Bono, of U2. “‘This is really splitting the atom.’ They raised the temperature for everybody. Manufactured pop never looked so cold as when that heat was around. Nirvana made everything else look silly.”

After Cobain shot himself, fans camped out in the park next to his lake-side Seattle home, some staying for weeks. Inside the gates, there was chaos. An ever-changing cast of guards patrolled the property, and a cavalcade of long-lost friends and distant family members moved in and out of the house at will. It wasn’t long before the remnants of Cobain’s life began disappearing, Journals, tapes, equipment. Cobain’s grieving friend Eric Erlandson, who played guitar in Love’s band, Hole, saw what was going on and moved to safeguard valuables, including Cobain’s notebooks. “From day one I treated the whole situation the way I would have for any friend – keeping their stuff safe,” he says. “But from a historical perspective, I treated it like I would have treated John Lennon’s legacy. I guess I knew even then it was important.”

Fans have been awaiting the release of “Journals” for months, some posting breathlessly on websites, others calling the ever-controversial Love things like “a blood-sucking leech.” Nirvana’s drummer, Dave Grohl, and its bassist and cofounder, Krist Novoselic, recently settled a lawsuit with Love over control of the band’s legacy. Still, the waters are not entirely calm. Novoselic preferred not to speak for this story, his band manager Cory Moore saying “He just feels it’s wrong to talk about something this private. He doesn’t want to be involved with these diaries on any level.” Even Erlandson is ambivalent about seeing the journals that he saved become public property. “I just pray that the benefits received by the world outweigh the negativity caused,” he says. “But if my journals were made public, I would make sure I was re-born as a thorn in the side of the perpetrator. That’s the least I could do.”

There’s no way that Cobain intended all these entries to end up on somebody’s coffee table. (The 800 number for Nordic Trac? The recipe for “Mom’s Seashell Shrimp Salad”?) But then Cobain never thought he was worth as much as we did. “A lot of the older generation don’t look at him as anything special,” says Erlandson. “They don’t get it. But future generations are already looking up to him.” Cobain probably would have hated that idea. “Hope I die before I turn into Pete Townshend,” he wrote in his journal. The tragedy is, he got his wish.

Source: Newsweek – October 28th, 2002

14 responses

  1. yes koryp, you’re going to hell for your curiousity.
    the idea is that if you write something down, someone is going to read it..
    legal issues in the early 90s weren’t the legal weapons they are today, and even if they were it probably wouldn’t have been #1 on his list.
    any books/stories/movies/songs/speeches written or made in his honor are just that, in his very honor. be it negative or positive, he made and continues to make an impact.
    love/hate/murder/suicide, he existed and that’s someone to think about.

  2. ok in response to the first paragraph kurt was a funny guy he cracked jokes all the time he just had a very weird sense of humor but as for the rest of it it was very well written i couldnt agree more but with journals it was a very limited part of his journals it was very edited they took out stuff that would have been way too private but it was still a great way to get to know kurt better becouse journals is probobly the only way we could now that hes gone

  3. No. Kurt is gone, and so is the person Love hired to kill him.
    It’s a dead issue.
    Love was /is a user of people.
    A veritable Nazi whore.
    She planned it well, and her daughter hates her for it.
    She’d better move into fashion and shit like that, ’cause her 2010 “tour” sucked.
    She’s a dried up old whore, but a good self-publicist.
    Lucky old whore that drove kurt to death.
    She’ll sit at the left hand of Satan in Hell.
    So all us bound for eternal fire better get ready for Courtney to be right there, shoving a poker up all our asses.

  4. I’m not that well educated in Kurt’s life, family and love affairs, I like(d) him for his music, what he intended to be liked for. I really doubt the sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man set out for people to look into his life and analyse him so much that he didn’t mean anything any more. However, I do think that people should stop speculating about Courtney. She lost her husband, whom she loved and who loved her, and all people can do is bitch and moan about how he’s gone, and the sad little obsessive hipsters need someone to blame, they can’t accept that sometimes people aren’t happy with life. So, if you don’t mind, I suggest you stop hating on Courtney. Sure, I’m not her biggest fan, but the woman lost Kurt, and she knew and loved him more than any of the bandwagonners did/do, she must be grieving ten times more than all of us put together, even now. Especially now, as time goes by and more and more people decide to blame his death on her. She’s had to raise Frances too, knowing that she was really all that was left of the man she loved. So I really don’t think it’s very respectful to blame the widow for the husband’s death, do you? Courtney has too much on her plate, and we can all tell she’s struggled enough. Leave the woman alone. She’s done nothing wrong.
    [R.I.P. to the sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man. Don’t listen to the judgemental fuckwits, the TRUE fans respect Courtney and Frances for all they’ve had to go through.]

  5. I think the Government had him killed, they were going to lose a generation and more so due to Kurt Cobain becoming ‘Pete Townsend’ and inspiring everyone not to care because eveything they (the Government) was/is offering i.e music, TV, radio, the general public is stupid.
    Look at Music now they have got everything on lock down..controled.
    Cobain took it too the max, right to the top. He could have caused a massive revolution.
    I think they knew that.
    That’s an opinion I have, free speech and all that! 🙂

  6. First of all the government can change what they promote in a day without this generation realizing it so they played into cobain and nirvana like everyone else with vma snl appearances and so on….also i agree with the courtney love having cobain killed theory i think alot of money was in play and courtney knew she could get more with him dead then ever with him alive….in the same sense people feel regret for past things theyve done and no matter what at one point in time all courtney thought about was she liked this punk rock guy and nothing more and she got to sit in rooms for hours listening to him workout songs make jokes and talk about life so no matter how we feel she feels unimaginably worse…also i hate how people grieve for kurt till this day….Kurt is happier now then ever on earth he felt he was an alien from the time of being a young child and never felt he belonged also he felt its better to burn out then fade away and hes right…look at bands like the rolling stones aerosmith and so many more who embharass themselves night in and night out performing hits from 30 years ago…whos tho say kurt wouldnt have flopped 5 albums after in utero and end up playing nevermind 200x a year for crowds he couldnt stand pleasing…he would be a miserable person if he had to be here still so dont feel bad for him

  7. all yall quit talkin about these fukkin conspiracies. what happened happened. what you say or do will not change anything nor bring him back. hes in a better place now. soo why not let the man rest in peace while i blow on this swishhaa full of that cobain & jamm to “Moist Vagina” Rip kurt

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