Heavier Than Heaven: The Biography of Kurt Cobain
by Charles R Cross
Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN13: 9780340739396, Paperback, 400 pages
We’ve always been fascinated with the lives of the artists and musicians that we admire. This is why Patti Smith’s book M Train is still flying off the shelves, it gives everyone a chance to take peek into the life of one of the greatest living artists from the 21st Century. And while Smith’s book gave fans a more poignant depiction of her inner life, that isn’t much the case with the book we’ll be discussing today.
Heavier Than Heaven is the closest thing we’ll get to a Kurt Cobain autobiography after the Nirvana frontman committed suicide back in 1993. Author Charlie R. Cross gives readers a peek into Cobain’s brief life via the singer’s unpublished journal entries, letters, drawings, and home videos. Cobain’s widow and feminist icon Courtney Love gave Cross access to the documents, which was more than helpful because the singer was notoriously for keeping notes of all of his thoughts and experiences.
Cross gained access to the material by earning Love and the Cobain family’s trust. They wanted to make sure that they weren’t going to hand over all the material to someone who would misrepresent Cobain’s memory. The amount of material Love gave Cross makes Heavier Than Heaven the late singer’s definitive biography. And while this may have meant that Cross had to sift through a lot of material, Cobain’s enduring words and ideas are a goldmine for today’s generation of artists. Kurt’s propensity for writing down his thoughts and experiences continue to influence musicians even today, as evidenced by a well-circulated note that details his preferred settings on the Electro-Harmonix Stereo Polychorus which helped shaped Nirvana’s signature sound. And while this little tidbit is one of the more light-hearted revelations, the degree of closeness that the book affords its readers in some of the areas in the book may make some people feel a little uncomfortable.
The book gives readers a clear picture of Cobain’s final days. How he dealt with rehab and the struggles that came with voluntary sobriety. One anecdote from the book is particularly bleak as Cobain’s counsellor asks him to illustrate a couple of words. When asked to draw “determined” Cobain drew a foot that was stomping on a syringe. For the word, “surrender” Cobain drew a man with light shooting out of him. Hindsight is 20/20, so it would be futile to speculate on whether this was a cry for help or not but what’s certain is that Heavier Than Heaven paints a picture of a deeply troubled man — and one can’t help feel a little perverse when flipping through the pages of this book as it could be interpreted as trivialising the demons that Cobain has dealt with for most of his life. Funnily enough, this seems to be a recurring theme with Cobain’s death as a shirt with Cobain’s suicide note printed on it was being sold on Etsy back in 2015. Whether intentional or not the book also functions as a meta-commentary on fame and how it erases the boundaries, how your life (and eventual death) will be freely consumed by generations to come.