The music of Kurt Cobain was a code for his private life and Heavier Than Heaven is where the code is broken. I found a lot of stuff in here: over 400 interviews, including lengthy footage from Cobain’s widow Courtney Love, excerpts from Cobain’s own private writing, and a Nirvana song never before released. Among other things, Charles Cross tells the origin of the song name “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It had to do with Cobain’s passion for Tobi Vail, the smell of whose perfume, “Teen Spirit,” lingered on Cobain after he had sex with her. Kathleen Hanna, Cobain’s friend and lead singer for Bikini Kill, spray-painted “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” on his wall. Cobain claimed he thought the graffiti had some kind of revolutionary significance. (Doubts about that are perhaps forgivable.) That particular relationship in the context of the dark and nihilistic setting in which Nirvana lived and performed inspired a lot of the songs.
A dark exploration of a self-destructive genius
Cross confirms a lot of the stories about Kurt Cobain and refutes only a few of them, generally ones Cobain started himself. (For example, he never lived under a bridge.) The dramatic suicidal tendencies in his family (one relative stabbed himself in front of his family), the weird contradictions in his life from childhood on, the morbid artwork, the animal torture, the betrayal of his best friends. This is not a chronicle of Nirvana’s music and the band’s commercial success, although of course that’s covered to a degree. It’s a biography of Cobain himself, and a dark one, pulling no punches and revealing a pretty seriously disturbed, if brilliant and creative, human being. Extensive quotes from Kurt Cobain’s diary reveal a lot and show how his stomach pains helped bring him to heroin addiction – he used drugs to self-medicate the pain. All of this contributed to his eventual suicide. A well-written, thoroughly researched exploration of a darkly creative mind.
Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain
by Charles R. Cross
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Hyperion (August 21, 2002)