Feels great but also a little spooky to finish this book exactly 22 years to the day after Kurt Cobain was found dead in his home of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The last entry in "Cobain on Cobain" is his suicide note to the world, where he declared that life wasn't fun anymore. As a suicide note, the letter is bizarre - for just one example, he says, "I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what I used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm." Doesn't this just show the confused and lost state of Cobain? Why kill yourself if you love your wife and daughter? "Cobain on Cobain" is full of interviews showing the paradoxical emotions that the musician felt about his life and career.
The book tracks Nirvana's career from inception to that last fateful day, and includes interviews with the band that sometimes don't even include the frontman. We hear more from bassist Krist Novoselic (the only other member of Nirvana from start to finish) than we do from Cobain, and we hear from early band members such as Chad Channing and Jason Everman. Thus we see Cobain not only through his own eyes, but through those who spent as much time with him as anyone and through his interactions and banter with those people (though there is extremely little from Courtney Love). With a single collection of interview after interview, it's easy to forget the image of Cobain that we are left with, the guy he himself describes as one who has "become hateful towards all humans in general." That wasn't Kurt. Kurt was funny, engaging, smart, charming, silly, sensitive, and quite loving towards most humans. The ones he hated were the ones who persecuted women or the weak. And the mainstream press! After reading this collection I fell in love with Cobain all over again.
The book is somewhat incomplete, as many of the U.S. interviews are missing. We are left with mostly the work of foreign journalists, in particular European. So there are probably more questions than normal about things like the Seattle scene and the weird events at the Brazilian shows, and fewer than there should be about touring the U.S. and other more localized questions. But that shouldn't take away from how much this interview collection educates us or just reminds us about Cobain. He fought strongly for basic women's rights - not feminist causes, just the right to not be raped! He didn't hate his record label DGC (a sub of Geffen). In fact, he was forever appreciative of the opportunity DGC provided to get Nirvana's music widely distributed and the full creative control they had and wished other bands could get the same opportunities. He believed that music should not be political, even though he had many deeply held political views. He had a love/hate relationship with MTV and he hated the music of Pearl Jam, but he liked Eddie Vedder personally. Finally, there is the affect of the Vanity Fair piece on Kurt and Courtney which suggested that they were doing heroin right up until their baby was born. You can see first-hand how that piece changed Cobain for good, made him cynical towards the press, and may have ultimately led in part to his death. The sensitive Cobain was never the same.
I highly recommend that every fan of Cobain read this collection. It's a stroll down memory lane of the greatest band of a generation. There is one other group of fans who should read this book too though - fans of Dave Grohl, whom I haven't mentioned yet. "Cobain on Cobain" could just have easily been titled "Grohl on Grohl: The Nirvana Years." It's fascinating to see the man who wasn't even an original band member, who didn't play on Bleach, and who hardly spoke in early interviews become the face of Nirvana towards the very end. I could write thousands of words about Grohl, psychoanalyzing these pre-Foo Fighters interviews in light of the performer he became. I won't do that, but suffice it to say that all of the negative things I think about Grohl in 2016 are cemented by reading his interviews from 1991-94. They may have complemented each other perfectly musically, but Grohl was everything that Cobain hated about musicians and maybe people. I don't think Cobain ever realized that. Still, if you're a fan of the man don't let my negative thoughts turn you away - both fans and haters should enjoy equally.
Ultimately, I'm not sure this book is an essential read. Is there anything new here? Possibly not. But putting it all together in this manner was a good idea, and a fun trip.