A sentimental but precisely rendered account of the life of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain by one of his first music industry backers.
Goldberg (In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea, 2017, etc.) was a key player in the 1990s alternative rock explosion, moving from his management agency, Gold Mountain, to Atlantic Records. In between, he connected with Nirvana when the Seattle band was young, untested, and hungry. He recalls those early days: “Kurt connected very deeply with the audience….It was a particular form of rock ’n’ roll magic I’d never witnessed before.” Regarding his role in the band’s meteoric rise following 1991’s “Nevermind,” Goldberg re-examines old debates about “selling out” and the industry’s role in dispersing the regional punk-rock underground. Admitting his unfamiliarity with the scene that inspired the young Cobain, the author’s writing is most acute in revealing the complex machinations of the ’90s pop music industry, which was reliant on radio and MTV. As Goldberg shepherded Nirvana to David Geffen’s DGC Records, he recalls, “in marketing terms, the band wanted to keep its credibility with its early fans while also pulling in lots of new ones.” The author provides a close-up take on the familiar tale of what happened next, covering Cobain’s contradictory, sometimes-hostile responses to stardom, his attempts to stay true to an artistic vision, and his distress regarding media coverage of his marriage to Courtney Love. He focuses on Cobain’s loyalty to his circle, kindness, generosity, and artistic temperament. Though he mostly elides examination of his flaws, Goldberg acknowledges they were always part of his creative development, and he provides a terse account of Cobain’s sad, chaotic decline. Cobain returned Goldberg’s regard, calling him “the most honest man in show biz.” Some will note the author’s continued loyalty to the perspective of Love, a controversial figure for many Nirvana fans; still, Goldberg comes off as likable, a successful insider still befuddled by Cobain’s demons.
An intimate perspective on Cobain’s short life, told in the spirit of burnishing a friend’s legacy.