Heavier Than Heaven: The Biography of Kurt Cobain by Charles R. Cross

The life of Kurt Cobain distilled, as much as is possible, into one moving and honest feeling account from birth to tragically early death via myth, legend and, a version of, the truth.

How many column inches and pages of print have been dedicated to Kurt Cobain since April 5th 1994?

I think its safe to say the answer to that may well be more than is entirely necessary (and I speak as someone who has read a whole hell of a lot of them), so I came to Charles R. Cross’ account of the his tragically short life wondering what more it could add.

Before coming to this book I was also skeptical as to whether it would fall in “the Courtney story” or “the Krist and Dave story”… upon finishing it, however, I am happy to say this has become a non-issue.

Of course in my previous reading and viewing I had heard all the back and forth conspiracy theories, but, I have to say, Cross’ telling of events (based on more than 400 interviews) is by far and away the most reasonable and convincing – in a tale that rarely sounds like real life, but is too heightened to be anything but.

Like most biographies the period before the most well documented part of the subject’s life is one of the most fascinating parts of this tale, especially in this case as Kurt was, it appears, infamous for embellishing the truth so the exact details of his youth are shrouded in a self-created myth.

What makes this part of Heavier Than Heaven so interesting is that Cross reminds us of these myths continually as he tells us the truth, as reported by Kurt’s friends and relatives from Aberdeen and Olympia. So we hear both sides of Kurt’s stories, from the most famous of him sleeping under a bridge, to other less well-known tales.

This paints a fascinating picture that builds and builds across the course of the book to create a real sense of the person that Kurt was and the issues that led to the book’s inevitable conclusion.

While this denouement is, of course, something that looms large over all the proceedings, we also get a fascinating look into the mind and state of being of a person who comes across as a troubled and untamed yet fascinating artist and, while his music was his most public front for this, we also find out about his other projects that lead to the impression that for Kurt everything was a place to create, often at the detriment of his own health and wellbeing.

Of course we also get to hear of the founding of one of the most influential bands of the past 30 years with the story of what created and drove Nirvana from their first gigs to their now legendary MTV Unplugged set.

I have to admit I was left with the impression that more than it was part of Krist, Dave, Chad (or any of the other men who made up the band), the story of Nirvana is so deeply intertwined with the story of Kurt’s life that he was the band – though this may not be entirely a fair or true representation of the situation, it does seem to ring true on many levels, especially after revisiting the band’s back catalogue.

Along with the fascinating insight into what created the man who created Nirvana, the book also gives an insight into what drove Kurt and, rather than totally painting him as a victim, as is often the case, it also paints him as a genuinely not nice person at times, though with a constant feeling that this isn’t really Kurt’s fault, and almost that it is some kind of sick cosmic joke.

On reflection of the book I can see how some may criticize it for painting “Courtney’s version” of events, but personally I don’t think it ever goes so far as to do this, and, while the concluding chapters may take on the feel of a pulp fiction story (and certainly great leaps must be taken with the truth in painting this) it still makes for a convincing and compelling tale that seems to capture the essence of the man about whom it is written.

For me, Heavier Than Heaven wrangles many of the stories regarding Kurt Cobain’s life into one manageable and hugely readable (if at times harrowing and heartbreaking) tale that serves to show how creativity and passion can be caught in the maelstrom of the music industry (or any other publicity driven machine) with destructive results, while also painting a picture of the real person at the heart of what has become the cult of “Kurdt Kobain”.

And because its my favourite of their songs and I like to include music videos wherever I can, here’s Sliver:

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