photo by nacrowe
much like his later JIMI HENDRIX biography ROOM FULL OF MIRRORS (SCEPTRE, 2005) which we reviewed (linked HERE), CHARLES R. CROSS in HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN (HYPERION, 2001) arguably provides a definitive account of another troubled SEATTLE musical icon, KURT COBAIN of NIRVANA.
and i don't think that is an irrelevant connection to make. aside from both being part of the bullshit "27 Club," they both navigated multiple worlds and transcended less than hospitable family situations. HENDRIX dealt with issues related to RACISM and VIETNAM, as well as dealing with fame that came from his genius remolding of BLUES and ROCK traditions and bending them to his singular artistic will, essentially defining his era. COBAIN similarly reinterpreted INDIE ROCK and HARDCORE punk culture into what later was termed GRUNGE and ALTERNATIVE ROCK and effectively transformed 90s culture in his image.
both in my opinion dug from a deep well of pain that was rooted in isolation (HENDRIX being an army brat and COBAIN the forgotten, neglected son of a painful divorce) and their gifts were transmitting that depth of feeling into music that touched the world.
HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN is a well-researched, dry affair that relies on public records, published interviews and background info from COBAIN's family and former bandmates and peers. you get the sense from reading it that CROSS strove to create a definitive document and it reads as such. that choice has its pros and cons as there are moments when as a reader i do not feel that COBAIN was in his right mind and could be counted on for accurate information. case in point: his excuses of stomach pain necessitating his abuse of heroin. seems like an excuse to a layman, but i understand CROSS' dilemma. bullshit excuse or not, that was the logic that informed his decision so he needs to report it. i just wish junkie excuses like that would have been given some context by professionally as, no doubt, there are people out there that will mimic such in their misguided fealty to COBAIN as some type of doomed demigod or divine messenger. people are crazy and the story of COBAIN seems to be a teachable moment as any to provide the proper support needed to readers dealing with issues of drug abuse or mental illness.
or maybe that isn't the job of the author. i don't know.
well-researched and expertly written in an almost academic way with little flair. a must for any fan of COBAIN, NIRVANA and the 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene in general.
photo by nacrowe
much like his previous book on another legendary SEATTLE musician (HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN / KURT COBAIN), ROOM FULL OF MIRRORS (2006, Hachette Books) by CHARLES R. CROSS is a sensitive portrait of a transcendent cultural figure whose modesty and private introversion belied his public persona.
the striking thing i walked away from this book, aside from new knowledge of the formative experiences of JIMI HENDRIX on the chitlin' circuit as a hired gun for the likes of LITTLE RICHARD and THE ISLEY BROTHERS among others, was his evolution. ever expanding his musical lexicon to incorporate new ideas, technology, chemicals, etc as a means of further refining an expression of consciousness that only he could translate.
in a way he was a shaman, a gatekeeper temporarily transporting us to another reality. whenever i hear his music i feel the higher ideals he promoted so ardently, those notions of free love and brotherhood which seem so naive in the modern trump-ocalpyse we are all currently living through. HENDRIX invites us to a metaphysical world that isn't defined by race, gender or worldly possessions, it is a landscape of sound and vibrations.
CROSS balances presenting the many sides of HENDRIX by those who knew him best while largely conceding that the man was a vagabond, a self-described gypsy that transcended his early modest upbringing to produce some of the most epochal music of the 20th century. he was HENDRIX not because of SEATTLE or his childhood, but because of the choices he made as a self-made entity. he was the ultimate cultural sponge, learning from all his experiences. his real genius in my opinion was his ability to contextualize blues, jazz and rock n' roll into a singular cohesive statement.
this genius of taking what came before and creating a new lexicon for all that came thereafter is something i can only point to composers/musicians like IGOR STRAVINSKY or LOUIS ARMSTRONG as comparable in the last century. he literally changed modern guitar playing, arguably the featured instrument of 20th century popular music.
regardless, this book is worth looking into as well as his equally excellent HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN about NIRVANA frontman KURT COBAIN.