Teen angst, trivia and driving tests

Kurt Cobain
March 21, 2003

This publication, or something like it, was inevitable from the moment Nirvana singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain shot himself at home in Seattle on April 5 1994 at the age of . All arts indulge some species of suicide cult, but rock 'n' roll - still, just about, the pre-eminent vehicle for the furies of youth - is especially infatuated with its self-inflicted casualties. Cobain's suicide note even quoted from the standard text of this syndrome - Neil Young's My My Hey Hey , the chorus of which insists that "It's better to burn out than fade away". Cobain's final testament is not, mercifully, among the documents reproduced in Journals , but those compelled by ghoulish curiosity to broach its covers will be gratified to spot a reference to another death-or-glory anthem, The Who's My Generation : "I hope I die," concludes one entry, "before I turn into Pete Townshend." For reasons undreamt of by Cobain at the time, this is possibly an ambition now shared by Townshend.

Everything about Journals is intended to lend it the status of artefact. Pages of Cobain's diaries are copied directly, in the author's wayward handwriting and punctuation ("I was," explains a note in the margin of one un-sent letter, "stoned a lot when I was learning that stuff.") The minimalist title and jacket are also attempts to confer gravitas. Unfortunately, the all-black cover will put most hardcore rock fans (a category of people probably not including the marketing department of Penguin) immediately in mind of the sketch from Rob Reiner's immortal heavy-metal satire This is Spinal Tap , in which his hapless group take delivery of an identically designed album. This would have appealed to Cobain: with the obvious exception of self-destruction, he had a visceral horror of rock 'n' roll cliches.

A little of this emerges through the erratic scrawls reproduced in Journals . During Nirvana's formative years in the late 1980s, Cobain writes anguished memoranda to himself of everything he doesn't want his band to be. As the band become the most influential group of their era in the early 1990s, he frets that he has compromised the purity of his purpose - basically, that if this many people love Nirvana, it must be doing something wrong. The Cobain in Journals is a hypersensitive, over-anxious and occasionally petulant soul who contrived to loathe being a globally adored multimillionaire rock star.

Among Cobain's fretful witterings are items that might also interest the sort of Nirvana fan who was never served with a restraining order - original drafts of lyrics with scribbled alterations, sketches towards the iconic cover art of Nirvana's breakthrough 1991 album Nevermind . Too much of Journals , however, consists of inconsequential minutiae: revisions for driving tests, and sketches of science-fiction ultraviolence, of the type drawn by bored schoolboys. A better portrait of Cobain and the milieu that spawned him can be found in Everett True's superb Live Through This . Ultimately, though, everything anyone really needs to know about Kurt Cobain is, and always will be, on Nirvana's incendiary records.

Andrew Mueller is a freelance journalist.

Kurt Cobain: Journals

Author - Kurt Cobain
ISBN - 0 670 91370 7
Publisher - Viking
Price - £20.00
Pages - 280

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