Reviewed by Matt Parks
It’s seems impossible that a full decade’s time has already rolled past since the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Yet it is so. And in these ten years there has been no shortage of media overage of the band, and on the enigmatic Cobain in particular. Thus far, though, the volumes written have tended to be either withering, while-the-iron-was-hot hagiography or murky, exploitative tabloid sleaze (there is one exception I can think of—Michael Azzerad’s Come As You Are was the best written on the subject thus far). There was never any doubt that there was more to the story of Cobain and his band that just that, but why hasn’t anybody taken the time to write about that? Charles Cross must have been asking himself this same question.
From 1986-2000, Charles Cross was editor of the Rocket, the important Pacific Northwest entertainment magazine that was the first mag to get Nirvana on their cover, so clearly this is someone who understands the scene Kurt, et al were a part of at that time. Cross’s new bio of Kurt Cobain, Heavier than Heaven, was written over the course ofB four years of research, drawing from more than four hundred interviews, as well as exclusive access to Cobain’s unpublished journals and letters. So—finally—it seems someone has gone about the limning of the life of Cobain the right way. Cross’s expertise on his subject, plus the acquisition of some necessary historical distance, makes this book a whole different animal from those available up to now. It’s a literate, fair-minded, and enthusiastic account of the harrowing life and career of one of the most influential figures in recent rock history.
Like the best of Nirvana’s music, the portrait of Cobain that emerges from the pages of Heavier than Heaven is at once fascinating and disturbing, compelling and distressing. Cobain himself was a troubled man of unreconciled contradictions. Cross follows the multiple threads of these contradictions as they net together and unravel though the events of Cobain’s life, roping thorough obscurity, fame, drug addiction, depression, love, marriage, and fatherhood. Through it all Cobain was haunted by the yin and yang conflicting drives that both powered his career and pushed him toward the edge of a personal abyss—the urge toward self-mythologizing against the urge toward self-negation.
By daring to engage the labyrinthine contradictions that were and are the life and legacy of Kurt Cobain, Mr. Cross has produced the definitive biography of his subject, a book not only superior to most books on Cobain and Nirvana, but also to most rock biographies current out there on a shelf near you.
For more information
on Heavier than Heaven, go to Charles Cross’s website: www.charlesrcross.com