By: Kurt Cobain
(Hardcover / 304 Pages / Riverhead Books / ISBN: 1573222321 / $29.95)
Description:Kurt Cobain filled dozens of notebooks with lyrics, drawings, and writings about his plans for Nirvana and his thoughts about fame, the state of music, and the people who bought and sold him and his music. Over twenty of these notebooks survived his many moves and travels and have been locked in a safe since his death. His "journals" reveal an artist who loved records, who knew the history of rock, and who was determined to define his place in that history.
Verdict:Books of this kind always tend to disappoint. Although we privilege the ambiguity in the art as beatific, we always seem to expect, in the personal jottings of our collective heroes, to have that ambiguity cleared up--those contradictions resolved. "Journals" does not resolve Kurt Cobain's contradictions for us, but in the process does seem to make some of his intentions seem a little more clear.
Aside from the wonderful packaging--a spiral-notebook cover (underneath the dustjacket) that ironically resembles a high school yearbook (no recess!)--and crystal-clear photoscans of these handwritten pages (kept so to preserve authenticity), what makes 'Journals' such a fascinating text is its seeming universality. I have written stuff LIKE this for my own use: so have many of our best friends. But who would have expected that the singer who inarticulately screamed out the words to 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'--not knowing what he was singing until the 'Lithium' CD single was released with all the lyrics to Nevermind--would, in his personal writings, be so clear about his vision of the world. In interviews, he shrugged off the "spokesperson of a generation" title as rightly he should have. But after reading the passages contained in 'Journals,' particularly those specifically about what you could call generational warfare, the title, though cliche, seems somewhat apt.
Also apparent is in 'Journals' is just how funny Cobain could be (though he is generally portrayed in the media as a grumpy sourpuss curmudgeon). One of Nirvana's initial bios, on p. 34-5, is simply hilarious, as are sex-nightmares of Telly Savalas (p. 74), and the writing of a letter to a fictitious congressman (p. 161).
Apart from the inclusion of the hand-drafted lyrics to many of Nirvana's most popular songs, 'Journals' primarily offers Cobain's dream of fame, his realization of fame, his personal backlash against that fame, his increasing political awareness, and an evolving definition of punk rock (it starts off meaning "freedom" for him, then, after the punk-clique backlash against Nirvana after Nevermind, the relationship becomes much more complicated). While his viewpoints are not necessarily cutting edge, his public espousal of these viewpoints - particularly feminism and gay rights - to a predominantly young straight white male audience were, and helped directly influence a younger generation into directions directly opposed to the "hippie" generation that Cobain saw as hypocritical because of the rift between their preaching and practice.
Reviewed by Kari Daniels