The Biography of Kurt Cobain
Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99 hardback
In the week after Kurt Cobain's death in 1994, a music paper devoted a whole issue to the Nirvana frontman. Amidst the recollections and tributes, one sentence on the front cover stood out: "a bloody end to a troubled life". It's a line that will haunt you throughout 'Heavier Than Heaven'.
In the years since Cobain's suicide, there have been numerous books and countless half-baked theories about how a star with seemingly everything going for him - like many before him - could throw it all away. Cross' book is the most complete picture to date of the journey which took Cobain from a small logging town to the stadiums of the world and the dreams and desperation that followed him along the way.
Having conducted 400 interviews and been given unprecedented access to the singer's private journals, Cross presents a deeply unnerving portrait of his subject's life. Cobain's idyllic childhood was shattered by his parents' divorce when he was eight - an event from which he never fully recovered. He blamed himself for the split, withdrew and began to suffer the stomach problems which would torment him until his death.
While these mental and physical traumas raged, his artistic talents blossomed. He became the best pupil in his art class and at the age of 14 was making his own short films on a Super-8 camera. One film was about a Martian invasion but another's title was both shocking and prophetic: 'Kurt Commits Bloody Suicide'. Not long after a friend suggested Cobain should be a painter to which he replied: "I'm going to be a superstar musician, kill myself and go out in a flame of glory".
If such instances give you the chills then this book may prove too harrowing. 'Heavier Than Heaven' feels more a countdown to disaster than a celebration of a talent. Even when things are going well for Cobain it seems that another crisis is always just around the corner. Having appeared on the career-making Saturday Night Live in January 1992, he returned to his hotel, overdosed and had to be brought back to life.
Cross' best work is in documenting Cobain's early and teenage years, the growth of his gift and the confusion of his family life. Relatives and friends provide the depth which other books have lacked and Cross brilliantly captures the contradictions inherent in Cobain's character.
Once Nirvana make it however, the downward spiral is as rapid as it is disturbing. Those who read interviews with Cobain during the years '91-'94 will recoil at the extent of his drug use. By March of 1994 he had abscesses on his arms and Cross reports that he was sharing needles and shooting up in $18 motels.
As 'rock books' go, this is one of the most compelling and meticulous. While Cross' prose is occasionally overdramatic, he eschews hagiography and Cobain's role in the cultural sphere to minutely document a beginning, a middle and an end. By the close you're both angered and saddened by what've you read – which in an age of sanitised, over-the-top biographies is some achievement.
The only solace to be had of course, is in the recordings Cobain left behind. And after spending nearly 400 pages with him, you know that he wouldn't want it any other way.