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Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain Paperback – August 21, 2002
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
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. His commentary on this image, how it destroys the conventional familial image established moments before, is some of his best work.
Sometimes, however, Cross can go a bit overboard with the facts. Just because he found out a little tidbit like, "[Kurt's] favorite [infant] game was peekaboo, his first tooth appeared at eight months, and his first dozen words were, 'coco, momma, dadda, ball, toast, bye-bye, hi, baby, me, love, hot dog, and kittie,'" doesn't mean it needs to be included. Too often Cross recounts, in laundry list-like prose, trivial facts like this, which really do very little in terms of illuminating the life. It comes across more as showing off his knowledge.
He also, at times, can't help indulging into a bit of pop psychoanalysis, where pop psychoanalysis is not welcome. In Cross' hands a picture of the Cobain family, taken when Kurt was 6, supposedly does a precise job of predicting the sorrow to come. Based exclusively on body language on posture. The picture is included here for your perusal. I, for one, didn't see anything near to what Cross saw. He also, at one point, compares Kurt's image in early band photos to "Christ in Leonardo da Vinci's 'The Last Supper'". I suppose one sees what one wants to see.
And anyone who lived through the period, like I did, will find dubious statements such as the following: "'The Cobain baby' was as talked about across lunch counters and supermarket checkout lines as the Lindbergh baby had been decades before." The Vanity Fair article that revealed Courtney had used heroin during her pregnancy was big news, true. But only within the community. It was not nearly the global tabloid scandal that Cross makes it out to be. Misleading analysis like the preceding calls into question every other statement Cross has to make. It does a lot of work undermining his credibility.
Further compounding the problem is Cross' hit-or-miss writing. For the most part he utilizes an objective, almost journalistic prose style, laying the facts at the reader's feet without unnecessary ornamentation. But every once in a while he will indulge in odd analogies: "Like senior citizens going to a dentists' appointment, the band made sure they were early for this all-important show." Was that bit of superfluous style really necessary? These bits appear out of nowhere in the text, and come off as if the writer had a burst of inspiration, albeit a rather dull one. Though, even when he's playing things by the book, Cross is still prone to blunders. He clumsily describes the *melody* of the song "About a Girl" as "sweet, slow, and *melodic*".
Despite the numerous complaints I've outlined above, Cross' book is still consistently readable; although I suspect that the power of the story being told has a lot to do with that. I've always thought that a biography should be judged on how the author was able to stay out of the way, and let the events of the life present themselves. In this case, Cross is, like I noted above, mostly a success. His reputation as a respected music and entertainment journalist is apparently well-earned, despite some missteps along the way, and his objectivity is very rarely questionable. That being said, his greatest feat, paradoxically, is the way he handles Kurt's final days. Much of it of course is speculation, for no one but Kurt knows how it all went down. But what Cross comes up with to tell this part of the tale is moving and powerful, without ever pandering to melodrama. The final moments are recounted with credibility, pathos, sorrow, and, most importantly, empathy. The book breaks from being a standard biography at this point, adding untold emotion to these well-written scenes. Cross even manages to tie up the book's (and, consequently, the life's) main themes. These final pages do yeomen's work making up for any errors Cross has made along the way, and, ultimately, they make the book a worthwhile read.
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.
All in all, it's worth reading, but I don't consider it a worthy biography of Cobain. The John Lennon of generation X deserves a more professional biography, but for now we will have to make do with the shoddy journalism that plagues so much of the literature on Cobain.