Review: The Journals of Kurt Cobain

I liked reading Cobain's journals in his own handwriting.
I liked reading Cobain’s journals in his own handwriting.

“I don’t think you’re going to come away from this ‘decoding’ knowing anything more about him than what is already commonly known. You may learn something about him you, personally, didn’t know before, but as for ‘decoding’ him? Not gonna happen. Not from photos of his journal pages alone.”

And so another dismissive, journalist wannabe tried to put me in my place.

When I inadvertently heard that Kurt Cobain kept a journal, I stopped what I was doing right then and found them on Amazon and ordered them. I have been re-reading them for two years since then.

I read some reviews of Kurt Cobain’s Journals in preparation for writing this review. They were all over the place, from praising Cobain’s rawness, candor and expressiveness, to ultra-unforgiving criticism of Cobain’s widow Courtney Love being a sellout for publishing it.

Cobain wasn’t the kind of kid who hung in my high school circles, and he wouldn’t have been comfortable for a minute with my adult friends. Nor was he the school bully or misfit, prom king or quarterback, trumpeter or debater.

That mostly just leaves one category: burners. Those guys were assholes in school, but they all ended up (or already were) in the throes of self-destruction. So sure, I can see Cobain behind a dumpster on a Saturday night when he was 12.

A teenage girl I knew on the day Cobain died told me, “Kurt Cobain was a genius.” At the time, I was very annoyed with her, since his suicide seemed so petulant and selfish, but today I might reconsider. Why? As my brilliant reviewer/journalist/social commentator friend Dan said in his review of Nevermind, “Nirvana was on the forefront of (a) change, a blast of hard rock that was totally different than the plastic, corporate-sanctioned music that had ended the Eighties.”

I know, I’m shifting all over the place, but so did Cobain’s journal.

In the end, I like Cobain’s journal because I can relate to them. I journal, and that journal can be dark, overly honest, contentious, jittery, and chaotic, although I also yearn for a sense of chaos that Cobain clearly mastered.

Here are a few phrases I circled or highlighted while I was reading it…

“I hope I die before I turn into Pete Townshend.”
“Smells like thirtysomething.”
“I’ve collaborated with one of my idols William Burroughs.”
“Television is the most evil thing on our planet.”
“Fuck now, suffer later.”
“I don’t want a granddaughter of mine changing my soiled rubber underwear while I suck on Ry-Krisp, clinging to existence just so I can reminisce about my life as a professional reminiscent.”
“I like passion. I like innocence.”
“Censorship is very American.”
“The king of words is everything.”
“God how I love playing live.”
“Thanks for the tragedy. I need it for my art.”
“Recycle, vote, question, or blow your head off.”
“The revolution will be televised.”
“Life isn’t nearly as sacred as the appreciation of passion.”
“If you think everything has been said and done, then how come nothing has been solved and resolved?”
“I hate myself and want to die.”

Cobain’s most common illustration in his journal is of rooftop snipers aiming at Nazis or Klansmen.

Cobain once wrote a letter to a congressman accidentally using a cigarette instead of a pen.

My sister pointed out that Cobain had terrible taste in woman, since he married one of humanity’s worst, Courtney Love.

For years and years, intimacy seemed to hover around my journals. Now I look back at them (more on that soon), and see how valuable that is, even when others dismantle and criticize them. They are real, raw, unpolished, unprotected, and vulnerable.

I recommend that you, too, read Kurt Cobain’s journals.

Writing something on paper summons a very different part of our minds than typing or texting.
Writing something on paper summons a very different part of our minds than typing or texting.