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The Private Writings of Kurt Cobain

posted by Chad on 12/21/02

From Kurt Cobain’s final interview with Rolling Stone:

RS: Even as satire, though, a song like that [I Hate Myself and I Want to Die] can hit a nerve. There are plenty of kids out there who, for whatever reasons, really do feel suicidal.

KC: That pretty much defines our band. It's both those contradictions. It's satirical, and it's serious at the same time.

I read the Kurt Cobain Journals yesterday, but couldn’t immediately write on what I had read. I felt incredibly dirty for owning this collection of Cobain’s private thoughts. I went to buy this book for myself, but couldn’t justify purchasing it. Not because of the cost, but rather because Cobain was an intensely private man that loathed his life being unfolded and distorted in the media. This book is something that Cobain would never have released – but the same can be said for thousands of dead poets and writers. When I unwrapped this book on my birthday, I knew it would be the first thing I’d read over the holidays.

A day later, and I feel like filth. I went to put the book up on one of the bookshelves, but I had to take it down. It haunted the room, and by putting it on a shelf, I was literally putting somebody’s most private self up to public display. It just felt wrong. I feel wrong for reading it. And by writing about what I’ve read, I feel worse than one of those rumour-mongering morons that forced Cobain to seek solitude. The following quote from Journals only reaffirms my guilt:

It’s my fault but the most violating thing I’ve felt this year is not the media exaggerations or the catty gossip, but the rape of my personal thoughts, ripped out of pages from my stay in hospitals and aeroplane rides hotel stays etc. I feel compelled to say fuck you FUCK YOU to those of you who have absolutely no regard for me as a person, you have raped me harder than you’ll ever know, go again I say fuck you although this phrase has totally lost its meaning FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!

Here we are. Entertain us.

The sleeve for Journals is simple and straight forward: Kurt Cobain Journals. Really, what else could be added to the cover to increase the significance of this book? Wouldn’t anything else certainly detract? The cover is sharp, focused, and noticeably marketable. Cobain would have puked his guts out if knowing his personal thoughts had been sold off for $4 million, packaged up for public consumption, and whored out to a world he was so completely ashamed of.

Removing the sleeve, you’re left staring straight at the front cover of one of Cobain’s notebooks, the exact cover of a journal he wrote his thoughts in. The entire book is packaged to give it the rawest feeling possible, with the pages being replicas of the hand written documents, the rings from the books showing on each page. Not for a second while reading this book are you able to forget how private those pages were to Cobain.

At the top of the front cover is a title crossed out in doodles. A title defines a project, but here lies proof of self doubt, a later Cobain erasing previous thoughts. But what remains on the cover speaks truth, speaks my embarrassment in opening the book. “If you read you’ll judge” sits smack dab in the middle, completely inescapable, pointing one last accusing finger at me.

I have read. I have judged.

A conflicted Cobain

Reading Journal’s illuminates the depth of Cobain’s inner turmoil, painting his persona as a collage of opposites. The book leaps back and forth between complete sincerity and mocking parody, just as his lyrics did. In Journals, Cobain writes, “My lyrics are a big pile of contradictions. They’re split down the middle between very sincere opinions and feeling that I have and sarcastic and hopefully humorous rebuttles towards cliché-bohemian ideals that have been exhausted for years.” The polar opposites found in Cobain’s lyrics are also laced throughout Journals, but Journals shows that these opposing thoughts flowed one after another. You get a feeling that it was Cobain’s nature to question the validity of every thought he had. By reading Cobain’s private writings, his complete lack of self confidence seeps through.

Would the real Kurt Cobain please sta… er, sit down?

His continual self-critiquing illustrates how uncomfortable and confused he felt in his own skin. Often in Journals, sentences contradict the previous ones, rather than building from them, giving the sense that Kurt is truly learning about himself through writing. By having the pages directly copied as opposed to retyped, Cobain’s emotional state is revealed through the calligraphy, the body language of the text embodying the emotionally state. Perhaps the two most disturbing sentences are found where the book’s dedication would normally sit: “Don’t read my diary when I’m gone” and “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.” Above all else, Journals shows a man trying to understand himself in a fatally flawed world.

The Contradictory RollingStone Covers
On Left: Cobain’s t-shirt says, “Corporate Magazines Still Suck”
On Right: Nirvana in suits.

Journal’s reaffirm Cobain’s desire to be left alone from the public, but also traces these feelings to his younger years. Even in the days where Cobain still attended high school, he felt absolutely devastated by the thoughts of others. “Because a lot of people liked me the sides were even but I couldn’t handle the ridicule so on a Saturday night I got high & drunk & walked down to the train tracks & layed down & waited for the 11:00 train & I put 2 big pieces of cement on my chest & legs & the train came closer & closer. And it went on the next track beside me instead of over me.” The tainted voices of an accusing public haunted Cobain throughout his life, and fame was the worst thing that could have happened to Kurt. Cobain spent his entire life trying to maintain a private life, and here I am, flipping through and commenting on his most personal self. What a dink I am.

“censorship is VERY American”

Above all else, Journals illustrates the diversity of Cobain as an artist. The poetics and drawings found throughout Journals reflects the wide range of Cobain’s talents, and his use of multiple forms to parody all that he saw as corrupt. From the original conception of the band’s merchandise to preliminary music video plans for Heart-Shaped Box, Journals contain the beginning foundation for much of Cobain’s experimentations with lyrics, poetry, comics, t-shirts, and other art forms. The comic strips drip with loathing sarcasm, but noticeably absent from Journals is any presence of Courtney Love. An ex-girlfriend of Cobain is mentioned more than Love herself. Given Love’s recent legal threats against The Smoking Gun over publication of her continual drug use, it wouldn’t be surprising if her absence in Journals isn’t partially due to Love’s having the possession of the source material before public release.

Much can be learned about Cobain by reading through his Journals, from his loathing of the public from an early to age, to his mental and physical strain touring and the shallowness of fame, to his personal downward spiral due partially to continual drug abuse. It’s all here, folks, an autobiography of Kurt Cobain’s mind. The question remains though… do we really need to know?

Be a good consumer. Buy Kurt Cobain’s Journals this holiday season.

-Chad | email

Click here for Previous Nirvana thoughts ala Dave

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