It is a little weird, when you think about it, how we ignore people's privacy when they're dead. Anything they might have said or wished concerning their legacy gets overlooked, as if the living know better what to do with the deceased's mental remains than they did. When Kafka was on his deathbed, he asked a close friend to burn his life's works --- notebooks, stories, letters, everything. The friend agreed. Kafka died. The friend took all Kafka's works to the nearest publisher, and voila: "Kafkaesque."
Remove the dust jacket from Kurt Cobain's Journals, and you'll see a reproduced red spiral Mead notebook cover with Cobain's scribbles and a warning: "If you read you'll judge." It's almost too tempting.
Under the pretense of trying to understand Cobain, you'll open the book. Maybe you were a huge fan who held candlelight vigils when he died. Maybe you're a casual fan --- like me --- who doesn't even own Incesticide. Whatever. To say Cobain played a major role in the '90s music scene is to say Jesus had a little something to do with Christianity. You want to know.
Open to the first page and you'll get a more ominous warning: In Cobain's left-handed scrawl, he's written, "Don't read my diary when I'm gone." There's a skipped line, then, "OK, I'm going to work now, when you wake up this morning, please read my diary. Look through my things, and figure me out."
So why do this? Would you be willing to fork over your diary ("journal" for all you writing graduates) to that guy on the street, or the girl working behind the counter at Sears? I wouldn't even trust my mother with mine, let alone Courtney friggin' Love. And now you're dead, so when people read these things, they'll put together an idea about you that you won't be able to deny or argue.
You can't really rate this book. It's honest, it's a peek into the life of a rock star, and yes, some of it looks like it was written while on lots of drugs. It could easily pass as a novelty for the Nirvana fan, but its inclusiveness --- praises of The Melvins and other bands interchange with recipes and cartoons --- is something you can't get from writing graduates, who take everything so seriously. Cobain wasn't trying to write the Great American Novel, but he did like punk rock --- a lot. His journals are free of posterity-seeking anecdotes and conscious "poor-me" sentiments. The power comes from Cobain simply being honest.
Journals will most likely become something of a Bible to the lost and desperate, those kids who clung to every word and who thought Cobain was the Lennon of Gen X. Again, whatever.
There are parts in this book that are so glaringly real, it's a little unsettling. Why? When Cobain talks about playing with dolls, his aggravation with being famous, or hating the jocks, it's not only Cobain speaking, but about ten bezillion kids out there that are trying to deal with the muck of growing up. Parents should be given Journals along with Dr. Spock's handbook --- there's more going on in your kid's mind than you think.
For Nirvana fans, this book will be a treat. For example, there are reprints of pieces of paper on which "Smells Like Teen Spirit" finds its way through scribbled-out missteps of rhyme, chord diagrams, and love letters to --- ichhh --- Courtney ("I wear you on my sleeve. I spread you out wide open with the wing span of a peacock, yet all too often with the attention span of a bullet to the head. "). Whether you feel dirty about looking into someone else's mind or not, Journals is definitely eye-opening.
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