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.
so much of this HIT SO HARD (DA CAPO, 2017) by HOLE drummer PATTY SCHEMEL is about self-destruction. the enduring image of KURT COBAIN, a friend and former collaborator and even housemate of SCHEMEL, is seen as an example of being too far down the road of despair and drug abuse to turn back. he isn't portrayed as a victim as much as someone resided to their own fate. with SCHEMEL we see someone who took that road to its logical conclusion, losing literally everything: friends, family, financial independence, even her sexuality.
this memoir is less concerned with the story her journey from being an awkward, red-headed lesbian teen from eastern WASHINGTON who found in HARDCORE and drums her identity as it is about the harrowing depths of depravity associated with her road to recovery from opiate addiction.
her being a famous musician is only noteworthy within the arc of this book in that it showcases the cottage industry of enablers and hangers-on that provide celebrities with the means of their own destruction within the entertainment industry. i feel like reading as many biographies as i have about musicians, the recurring trope of drug abuse is a known cliche. that being said, any jadedness i had to the topic was obliterated by the honesty and clarity by which SCHEMEL dissects her actions and behavior and the wake of destruction that followed for bother her and those that cared about her.
to me this hit home, because an overriding theme of this book was kinship. the connection between musicians that is almost asurrogate family. there are surrogate families that fall apart (HOLE) and others that come and go as a means of support from friends (JULIETTE & THE LICKS, IMPERIAL TEEN). even her actual family, especially her brother and father, support her even when all was dire and hopeless. i have family and some friends that have been on similar trajectories, though nothing thankfully as harrowing as described in this book, and it feels comforting to know that an addict like SCHEMEL sees love and human connection as a means for maintaining sobriety.
and that is what makes the death of CHRIS CORNELL so poignant in this book, not just because it bookends the death of fellow SEATTLE musician KURT COBAIN. CORNELL's recovery mirrors that SCHEMEL and serves as an example that once you are an addict, always an addict. recovery is always ongoing and having a support system is your lifeline. which ultimately positions this book as being earnestly involved with the redeeming potential that hope and human connection can foster. it is easily one of the most affecting memoirs i have read to date.
artwork by nacrowe
watch HERE for our most recent episode of DEER GOD RADIO where we play nothing but 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.
with the recent 25th anniversary of his passing it was only fitting that there would be yet another entry to the canon of written work dedicated to KURT COBAIN, especially given that a long rumored and awaited COURTNEY LOVE memoir is in the works. SERVING THE SERVANT (Ecco Press, 2019 ) encapsulates the recollections and experiences of NIRVANA manager DANNY GOLDBERG as he navigated the group from northwestern obscurity (post-BLEACH) to global domination.
whereas other books dealing with this subject, notably HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN (Hyperion Press, 2001) by CHARLES CROSS, tend to fixate more on the self-destructive aspects of his life as well as his unhappy upbringing, GOLDBERG here chooses to present his friend as he knew him: intelligent, funny, talented and ultimately flawed. what made this read ultimately interesting were his retelling of how media-savvy COBAIN was how he used this hyper-awareness to manipulate the media to present an image of himself that successfully melded several strains of underground demographics.
if you're interested in tales of drugs, excess and self-defeating behavior, this book shies away from anything remotely sensational. on the other hand if you are interested in marketing and how to successfully position a musical act, this book will satiate that itch.
i do want to commend GOLDBERG for speaking his truth despite the barrage of misinformation regarding his former client and the despicable innuendo projected on him and the family of the deceased. this also marks the first addition to the canon that hasn't felt exploitative, much as the JOURNALS and the recent documentary MONTAGE OF HECK did.
artwork by nacrowe