Charles R. Cross: Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography Of Kurt Cobain

Charles R. Cross: Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography Of Kurt Cobain

One of the most enduring myths of Kurt Cobain's life depicts the singer as a high-school dropout, kicked out of his home, sleeping under a bridge by the fetid Wishkah River in Aberdeen, Washington. The image is a tremendously potent, concise expression of the rejection, alienation, and sadness that infused Cobain's songs and ultimately consumed his life. It's also a lie—or, to put it charitably, a poetic embellishment. Cobain was definitely homeless for a stretch in his late teens, and he may have slept under a bridge, but it couldn't have been the fabled Young Street Bridge, which the rising tides rendered inhospitable. Charles Cross' levelheaded, scrupulously researched biography, Heavier Than Heaven, sets the record straight on this and other tall tales about Cobain, many of them spun for the sake of colorful press by the man himself. The telling disparities between truth and self-styled legend are at the heart of Cross' portrait of Cobain, which reveals a contradictory character with a grim sense of destiny and a greater awareness of his own rock stardom than he ever let on. A former editor for The Rocket, the Northwest entertainment magazine that ran the first cover article on Nirvana, Cross conducted more than 400 interviews with Cobain's family, friends, and hangers-on, and was granted access to his raw, unpublished diaries. Because the story of Nirvana has been told countless times over, most notably in Michael Azerrad's authorized biography Come As You Are, Cross devotes an inordinate amount of time to the musician's childhood, looking for early signs of his creative talent and his bent for self-destruction. Cobain is remembered as a cheery, sensitive young boy, but his life took an irrevocable turn after his parents' divorce, which radically changed his disposition and later inspired several of his songs. From that point on, he felt increasingly out of place in the backwoods logging town of Aberdeen, where he bounced between homes and developed a taste for punkish misanthropy, drug abuse, and morbid creative expression. By the time he formed Nirvana with gawky local bassist Krist Novoselic and a rotating cast of drummers, Cobain had a strong vision of himself as a rock star, and he was prepared and even expecting to die like one, too. For the most part, Heavier Than Heaven is a conventional biography that recreates Cobain's life in impressive (though occasionally overwrought) detail, paying special attention to the making of Nevermind and the days leading up to his suicide on April 5, 1994. Cross' decision to open the book with one of Cobain's several brushes with death—a 1992 drug overdose in a New York City hotel—shrouds the book in a chilling tone of inevitability. Conspiracy theorists will no doubt question, with good reason, the author's surprisingly gentle treatment of Courtney Love, who consented to extensive interviews and gave him rare access to Cobain's writings. But while Love's culpability in her husband's demise may be downplayed, Cross makes a convincing case for suicide as part of Cobain's master plan, drafted long before the couple ever met. A true rock historian, Cobain joined what his mother indelicately termed "the stupid club," a class of elite superstars (Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison among them) who also died at 27. Like them, Cobain had doom, as well as enduring brilliance, hard-wired in his circuitry.

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