Heavy Heaven New Cobain Bio Sheds Light on Fallen Hero

By Guarino, Mark | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

Heavy Heaven New Cobain Bio Sheds Light on Fallen Hero


Guarino, Mark, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Mark Guarino Daily Herald Music Critic

After Kurt Cobain killed himself in 1994, it wasn't a TV news pundit or a music journalist that best summed up the Nirvana leader's death. It was his mother.

"Now he's gone and joined that stupid club," she told the Aberdeen Daily World the morning her son was found in his garage, dead of a shotgun blast to his head. "I told him not to join the stupid club."

Membership to the "stupid club" meant you had to be a rock star and die at age 27. By joining, Cobain now shared pedestal space with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, whose excessive behavior and mystical talents elevated them to mythological heights after their deaths. In rock culture that translates to forever having their images enshrined on T-shirts and bedroom wall posters by kids not even alive the day their obits ran in the newspaper.

In 1997, three years after Cobain's death, his lifelong friend and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic told the Daily Herald that the reaction to Princess Diana's death struck a familiar chord.

"It was kind of a cult," he said. "Kurt was a great artist, not only in music, but he could paint, he could write. But it's like the Princess. Nobody knew her. She's a deity now, but she's just a human being. She was a mother, but now she's a god ... I think she deserved a lot better."

Cobain secretly lived in terror of becoming another dead genius.

"He was in Madrid and he'd walked through the audience," his wife, Courtney Love, later told Rolling Stone. "The kids were smoking heroin off tinfoil and going, 'Kurt! Smack!' and giving him the thumbs up. He called me crying ... He did not want to be a junkie icon."

Luckily we have Nirvana's two groundbreaking studio albums to counter and now the excellent new Cobain bio, "Heavier Than Heaven" (Hyperion, 352 pages).

Seattle journalist Charles R. Cross was given access by Love to Cobain's voluminous diaries he began as a teenager and a collection of letters written but never sent throughout his life. That puts this bio well ahead of the pack of previous Cobain books.

Armed with Cobain's personal writings, Cross cuts a much deeper portrait of Cobain from what is generally known. Although this book has many juicy and often humorous anecdotes typical of any rock bio, Cross goes several steps further to successfully detail the circumstances that led Cobain to heroin. It isn't the inevitable result of rock star debauchery, nor is it the failure of a corrupt soul most anti-drug legislators would like us to believe. Heroin addiction is what any social worker at a hospital already knows: a disease. And Cross' sobering account of Cobain's drastic fall is sad and terrifying.

Cobain and his sister, Kim, were born to parents barely out of their teenage years who lived in a downtrodden neighborhood in the timber industry town of Aberdeen, Wash., nicknamed "felony flats."

His childhood was cut short in 1976 when his parents divorced. He was 9. It was an "emotional holocaust," Cross writes. "No other single event in his life had more of an effect on the shaping of his personality."

Soon Cobain rotated between his father's trailer where he lived as a bachelor and then with a wife, and the home his mother shared with a series of boyfriends. Sick of competing with his subsequent step-siblings on his father's side and kicked out of his mother's house, Cobain became rootless for much of his teenage years. Over four years, he lived both on the street in doorways and also in 10 different homes with 10 different families of relatives and friends.

His struggle to find sanctuary became the theme of his life and ultimately his music. …

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