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Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain Paperback – August 21, 2002

3.9 out of 5 stars 381 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The art of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was all about his private life, but written in a code as obscure as T.S. Eliot's. Now Charles Cross has cracked the code in the definitive biography Heavier Than Heaven, an all-access pass to Cobain's heart and mind. It reveals many secrets, thanks to 400-plus interviews, and even quotes Cobain's diaries and suicide notes and reveals an unreleased Nirvana masterpiece. At last we know how he created, how lies helped him die, how his family and love life entwined his art--plus, what the heck "Smells Like Teen Spirit" really means. (It was graffiti by Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna after a double date with Dave Grohl, Cobain, and the "over-bored and self-assured" Tobi Vail, who wore Teen Spirit perfume; Hanna wrote it to taunt the emotionally clingy Cobain for wearing Vail's scent after sex--a violation of the no-strings-attached dating ethos of the Olympia, Washington, "outcast teen" underground. Cobain's stomach-churning passion for Vail erupted in six or so hit tunes like "Aneurysm" and "Drain You.")

Cross uncovers plenty of news, mostly grim and gripping. As a teen, Cobain said he had "suicide genes," and his clan was peculiarly defiant: one of his suicidal relatives stabbed his own belly in front of his family, then ripped apart the wound in the hospital. Cobain was contradictory: a sweet, popular teen athlete and sinister berserker, a kid who rescued injured pigeons and laughingly killed a cat, a talented yet astoundingly morbid visual artist. He grew up to be a millionaire who slept in cars (and stole one), a fiercely loyal man who ruthlessly screwed his oldest, best friends. In fact, his essence was contradictions barely contained. Cross, the coauthor of Nevermind: Nirvana, the definitive book about the making of the classic album, puts numerous Cobain-generated myths to rest. (Cobain never lived under a bridge--that Aberdeen bridge immortalized in the 12th song on Nevermind was a tidal slough, so nobody could sleep under it.) He gives the fullest account yet of what it was like to be, or love, Kurt Cobain. Heavier Than Heaven outshines the also indispensable Come As You Are. It's the deepest book about pop's darkest falling star. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

"And there had never quite been a rock star like Kurt Cobain," Cross eulogizes in this celebrity biography. Unfortunately, Cross, former editor of the Rocket, a Northwestern music and entertainment weekly, never proves his claim. Instead, Cobain's story, culled from more than 400 interviews with friends, family and colleagues and exclusive access to Cobain's unpublished diaries, sounds wholly ordinary, from boilerplate adolescent bitterness about his parents' divorce ("I hate Mom, I hate Dad. Dad hates Mom, Mom hates Dad. It simply makes you want to be so sad") and malt liquor, punk rock-adorned angst to the tawdry details of his drug addiction. "Even in this early stage of his career, Kurt had already begun the process of retelling his own story in a manner that formed a separate self," writes Cross as he carefully dispels some of Cobain's self-made myths, including claims of living under a bridge, "tales... about his constant abuse at the hands of Aberdeen's rednecks" and harboring an aversion to fame. The many unenlightening observations are often painted thick with sensationalism; other times, Cross trawls the bottom for sources whose credibility and relevance are dubious at best. (For instance, he interviews Cobain's drug-addicted ex-babysitter, Cali, and some of her girlfriends, yielding a depressing she-said-he-said of Kurt's final days.) Conspiracy theorists will speculate about the conditions under which Cross gained access to Cobain's private journals. Complete with gossip and meticulous references, the biography will catch the devotees, though, like junk food, it may leave them feeling unnourished. 16 pages b&w photos. (Aug. 15) Forecast: Released on the 10th anniversary of Come As You Are and with radio giveaways, this book will sell well.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; 37597th edition (August 21, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786884029
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786884025
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (381 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Charles R. Cross graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle with a degree in creative writing. At the UW, he served as editor of the Daily in 1979, and caused a major ruckus when he left the front page of the newspaper blank. The only type was a small line that read "The White Issue," in deference to the Beatles' White Album.

After college, Cross served as editor of The Rocket, the Northwest's music and entertainment magazine, from 1986 through 2000. The Rocket was hailed as "the best regional music magazine in the nation" by the L.A. Reader, and it was the first publication ever to run a story on Nirvana. Cross wrote stories on such seminal Northwest bands as The Wailers, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and hundreds, if not thousands, of lesser-known bands. In addition to The Rocket, Cross's writing has appeared in hundreds of magazines, including Rolling Stone, Esquire, Playboy, Spin, Guitar World, Q, Uncut, and Creem. He has also written for many newspapers and alternative weeklies, including the London Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Seattle Times, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He has lectured and read at universities and colleges around the world, and has frequently been interviewed for film, radio, and television documentaries, including VH1's "Behind the Music."

Cross is the author of seven books, including 2005's Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix (published by Hyperion in the U.S., and Hodder in the U.K.). His 2001 release, Heavier Than Heaven: The Biography of Kurt Cobain (Hyperion/Hodder), was a New York Times bestseller and was called "one of the most moving and revealing books ever written about a rock star" by the Los Angeles Times. In 2002, Heavier Than Heaven won the ASCAP Timothy White Award for outstanding biography. Cross's other books include the national bestseller Cobain Unseen (Little Brown), Backstreets: Springsteen, the Man and His Music (Harmony, 1989); Led Zeppelin: Heaven and Hell (Harmony, 1992); and Nevermind: The Classic Album (Schirmer, 1998).

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Early on you get a good idea of the course Cross is going to follow, when in the Author's Note he casually, but shroudedly, admits to a childhood akin to Kurt's. At least he plays fair with the reader, admitting off the top that he might be predisposed to looking for suicidal tendencies in his subject. But the reader should also take this as a warning: this is not a fan's-eye-view of Nirvana's chart-topping success (Dave Grohl makes brief and scattered appearances throughout the book), but a gloves-off biography of their tortured leader. Read in that light, it is mostly a success. Mostly.
Cross' greatest strength is the depth and breadth of his research. Apparently Courtney Love, Kurt's widow, gave Cross extensive access to Kurt's personal effects. She also sat for repeated lengthy interviews, as did many of the other notable players in Kurt's life. This kind of access gives Cross an insight into his subject that those of us who read all the Rolling Stone and Spin Magazine profiles of the man never got. It's revelatory, to be sure. For example, he is able to quote liberally from Kurt's diary, which lets the reader into Kurt's head. It offers such revelations as the following, which describes his concession to the inevitable path of becoming a junkie: "if I feel like a junkie as it is [due to stomach pains], I may as well be one." Or, in Cross' greatest discovery, he describes a long lost video of Kurt bathing his daughter Frances, in a scene of seemingly domestic tranquility. The camera focuses on father and daughter for a long moment, and then abruptly pans around the bathroom. Cross, an observant viewer, notes that in the toothbrush holder, instead of a toothbrush, is a syringe.
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By A Customer on March 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The mainstream press has praised it to high heaven as the Cobain book to buy. However, there are some major issues here. It was a collaboration between Courtney Love and Charles Cross, which is a red flag off the bat. Love is blatantly trying to change history in it, and paint herself and her late husband in a totally different light. Some of it is based on diaries Kurt left behind. Diaries that could have been easily manipulated at some point or another. It's no secret that Kurt was prepared to divorce Courtney before he died. She admits it herself in taped conversations with Tom Grant in 1994 and 1995. People around them have also spoken out about the turmoil between the two at the time. Yet this book wants us to believe that they had a great marriage. Remaining Nirvana members are also accusing Courtney Love of changing history and pasting herself into things so they benefit her. Clearly a slap in the face to them, as well as Kurt's memory. Cross also likes to take speculation and present them the same way as he does facts. He writes of Kurt's last morning like he was actually there. Heavier Than Heaven has some major flaws, so read this book with caution.
2 Comments 73 of 80 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
If the author wanted to write Courtney's biography of Kurt, why not just be honest and say this on the front cover? There are many ways to do this. It could have said "by Courtney Love with Charles R. Cross," "by Courtney Love and Charles R. Cross," or "by Charles R. Cross and Courtney Love." It is so skewed in so many regards; if I were Cross I would not be able to sleep at night. Some things were funny, such as the assertions that Courtney touched heroin only because bad-boy Kurt lured her into doing so. Also interesting to me was the fact that Cross continually painted Kurt as a liar, talked about how similar his and Courtney's personalities and backgrounds were, yet never managed to infer that, duh, Courtney might be spinning a largely fictional account for him. I also don't find the book very well written; a brutally honest editor (with the ability to say things like "this is droning on and on," "your disdain for the subject continues to show through," "you're editorializing--who told you this?" and "the prose is a little too affected here") could have helped the project tremendously.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this book with great hopes, but about halfway through it I became thoroughly disgusted with Cross's writing. For a biographer, he takes too many liberties when filling in the unknowns in Cobain's life. For example, the bit about Cobain walking around the entire day after first getting laid, smelling his fingers. Please. Cross ruins a potentially good story with fabrications like this.
Cross also neglects to write about Cobain the artist. We learn nothing of his creative process, of his long hours spent practicing guitar, nothing from anyone he's played with. This is too bad because to understand Cobain's life, one must appreciate the role that art played in his life. You cannot remove the music from Cobain's life and tell the story of an ordinary man, because Cobain lived and breathed music for most of his life. Alas, we are left to figure out for ourselves when events in Cobain's life occurred relative to his musical achievements. The only glimpse we get into Cobain's art is when we learn about the woman who inspired several songs on Nevermind, a token account when considering the consistent brilliance of Cobain's songwriting.
The worst problem with this book by far is that Cross relied too heavily on Courtney Love's version of events. This leads to numerous errors in the book, for example, we are told that Love helped Cobain pen Pennyroyal Tea, but any bootlegger knows that Cobain first performed this song in late 1991, before he ever met Love. One can only wonder how many other inaccuracies sprout from Love's egocentric retelling of events, events for which there is only Love's side to the story. For this reason, I consider virtually one third of the book entirely worthless, since it is based on interviews with a person proven to lack credibility.
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