Compelling and Conflicting: Cobain Unseen
Kenny Squires
10/27/2008 7:08:53 PM

In a new book, Charles R. Cross fills in the missing piece to the biography of Kurt Cobain. Seven years after publishing Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain (Hyperion), Cobain Unseen (Little, Brown) chronicles the artistic life of the most influential songwriter of the 1990ís. Filled with rare photographs and reproductions of the odds and ends of Cobainís possessions, this book lets fans experience the full extent of Cobainís artistry.

Looking at the artwork on the back of Nevermind and In Utero and on the cover of Incesticide, one gets a taste of Cobainís aesthetic, a painter with an affinity for collage with birth and death as subject matter, but Cross is able to show a deeper, more vivid sense of where that comes from. As a compulsive collector (of quirky board games like Leave it to Beaver: Ambush and Archie Bunkerís Card Game, a variety of wind-up monkey toys, medical dolls, and much more), Cobain absorbed nearly all media he came in contact with, processed it, and recycled it through music, visual art, and writing.

Almost identical in concept and design as Lennon Legend: An Illustrated Life of John Lennon, Cobain Unseen also includes a CD, but whereas Lennonís is full of interviews, Cobainís stays focused on artistic expression as he reads a short story from his journals, titled, ďCrybaby Jerkins.Ē For avid fans, this book could be considered an addendum to Journals as well, because it includes cartoons, letters, and prose that have not previously been published.

As interesting as this book is, I canít help but feel a little ill at ease over the fact that almost nothing is withheld from the public about Cobain, a truly sincere artist who struggled to stay that way while his music and image were commercialized. Yes, I feel like Kurt Cobain the artist is as compelling as Kurt Cobain the front man for Nirvana, and yes, I think that the evidence should be available to everyone, but the downside is, now everyone can hear Nirvana songs in the background of their favorite TV shows, everyone can read Cobainís personal diaries, and for $35 plus tax, everyone can peruse his private possessions, his artwork, and even his infant immunization card. I struggle with this, having bought and thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Fans will love this book and will not be able to put it down. This book, in addition to Nirvanaís music and Journals, shows the full spectrum of an artistic genius. Nearly fifteen years after his death, people now have the chance to really get to know Kurt Cobain, short of having known him during his lifetime. However, the inescapable question is still there. Is this what he wouldíve wanted? ($35 at Borders.)


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