Kurt Cobain's Journals includes no dates, no notes about who edited it or how it was compiled–nothing to put it in any sort of context. At first, the absence of guiding information only compounds the ghoulish negative space from which it streams. Was Cobain a genius, or just a receptive being whose clipped couplets had a way of eliding into eerily resonant soul cries? Was he even especially smart? Is it unfair to read diary entries dashed off in varying states of innocuous boredom and drug-induced despair? Did he pass his driving test? How did his mom's recipe for Seashell Shrimp Salad turn out in the end? Journals doesn't begin to answer such questions, but it does chart the arc of a life whose restless intensity outruns suspicions of an editor's invisible hand. Composed of straight facsimiles of handwritten notebook entries, Journals starts with talk of recording early Nirvana demos and smashing Eagles records during a cleansing acid trip. Drafts of letters to The Melvins and to an early drummer who was fired strip away the romance of band life, focusing on the tedious tasks of shopping tapes and playing shows to uncaring drinkers. But even during the darkest days of Nirvana's last tour, Cobain's conflicted faith in romance practically simmers off the page. Railing against magazine writers and numerous "so-called 'alternative' bands," he remains at least somewhat hopeful that the Nirvana-stoked revolution provides respite from the "overall feeling that you paid way too much for literally nothing stimulating." Content-wise, Journals presents Cobain much as he came off during his star time: sweet but snide, grossly troubled by others' misogyny and racism, quiet but loud in his silence, governed by a mix of glam fantasy and earthy pragmatism. But Journals' lingering effect owes less to what Cobain wrote than to how he wrote it. The book abounds with the kind of chopped-down poetry that made up his lyrics, and the look of his messy handwriting and nodding-off sentences brings the subtext of his heroin addiction disturbingly to the fore. In a number of entries, he writes about heroin with a certain detachment, but it's hard to imagine a cry more deep and direct than a Nordic Trac phone number presumably scribbled during a late-night binge on dope and infomercials. But even when facing self-destruction, Cobain was mostly a guy who liked to doodle new guitar shapes and plan out mix-tapes. Journals casts some light on Nirvana's music ("On all drums–get rid of Hi Hat Hiss," pure rock through and through), but ultimately the mix of smart and dumb ideas casts Cobain as more real than surreal. There's no telling what was left out of Journals, but what's there feels less like exploitation than exposition for a career still squirming eight years after its end.
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