Kurt Cobain reviewed by Bo Pogue

Book Reviews
Kurt Cobain reviewed by Bo Pogue
Mar 2, 2009, 12:06

KURT COBAIN by Christopher Sandford; Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1995

I remember the moment I first found out Kurt had passed. Driving along a rural stretch of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, my reaction upon hearing the somber cut-in on Seattle's KNDD radio was, “Wow! My vinyl is worth a fortune!” Judging by the tone and volume of scribblings published since then, I guess that's as close as I'm coming to one of those JFK, generation-bonding moments.

Kurt Cobain is aimed squarely at a British audience, rife with grammatical peculiarities (they're the ones who write funny!) and cultural translations (e.g. Lollapolooza: “A sort of traveling Reading Festival”). Brit-in-exile Sandford combines his interviews procured from family, close associates and Seattle fixtures with a river of second-hand accounts to form a patchwork of “Kurt” stories that cover every angle, important and arcane, of the guy's self-imposed crappy life. The results are fairly predictable: loads of pop-psychological hindsight, aggrandizements, boasts, illuminations, grist, hearsay and absurdities on the shy, sweet, diminutive, polite, drug-crazed, bi-polar, abusive, cynical, self-involved, jaded, “stump-dumb” rocker who altered the course of history. Or, at least, penned a series of top-notch, more-aggressive-than-previous-norm pop hits. To be fair, Sandford tries hard to string these bits together into a flowing narrative, while generally keeping a lid on his own prejudices on the subject.

Sandford does go a bit overboard in giving equal time to every schmuck with an “insight” into what drove Kurt to do the things he did, and the impact of these actions on music, the “scene,” and the world at large; sometimes he embellishes these bright ideas. While exploring the ramifications of Nevermind's release, Sandford ponders the statements of Seattle journalist Grant Alden, who feels the record polarized a “general feeling of anger and boredom into the determination that something should be done.” Sandford follows with, “According to this reading, Nevermind was as responsible as anything else for a huge upswing in anti-Republican sentiment, and ultimately for the election of Bill Clinton as president.” Come again?

I'm not familiar with the spectrum of Cobain-related literature, but I'm sure Kurt Cobain is similar to its competition. Chris Peel may call this the “ultimate rock and roll morality story,” but the story itself doesn't really make the time in which we live any more important.

-Bo Pogue


This review originally appeared in Your Flesh #37

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