Wednesday 3 April 2013

Devouring Books: Come As You Are- The Story of Nirvana by Michael Azerrad

"Kurt Cobain's reaction to bad times was as direct as can be, and a hell of a lot more honest. He screamed."

There aren't even words to explain how much of a formative influence Nirvana had on me when I discovered them at the tender age of 14- all I can really say is that I was a completely different person before I found them, and after I did, everything felt different. Better. Or maybe I wasn't different, so much as that there was something inside me that needed an outlet that Nirvana (and, just generally awesome music) provided and from then on I felt better. More understood. Less alone.

That thing inside me? I think it's called adolescence.

Being less adolescent and vaguely better adjusted now, I inevitably listen to Nirvana a lot less now than I did from the ages of 14-17, but that doesn't mean that I forget exactly how much they meant to me, and it doesn't mean that I forget to appreciate the musical journey that they set me off on. I also find it impossible to forget that the 5th April is the day that the coroners say Kurt Cobain died, and that the 8th April (the day before my 5th birthday, if you want to get all exact) is the day his body was found. It is ever so slightly ridiculous to have something that happened when all you knew about music was nursery rhymes make you sad when your birthday is approaching, but I never said I wasn't ridiculous.

As a sort of tribute type thing, I seem to read a book about Nirvana around this time every year (last year it was this book about Dave Grohl, which... Was not a good book. Don't even bother.) and this year, Come As You Are, which I have had for the LONGEST time, was the lucky pick. It's the weirdest thing for me to read though, because it was originally published in 1993- as in, it was written when Kurt Cobain was still alive, which means that every sentence isn't filled with the anticipated sadness of the end. It's incredibly odd to read something like this:
"Kurt walks across the top of his amp stack. It's not that high off the ground, but he's riveting anyway, like a potential suicide walking along the ledge of a building."
and feeling like it's FILLED with foreshadowing, when actually it's a fairly innocuous statement when someone hasn't actually killed themselves yet. But still...
 The fact that it was written in 1993 also means that there are some things in it that have been sliiightly left out/glossed over/are only half truths, but I only know this because I've read too many books about Nirvana, and besides, it's still interesting reading the story as told by the main person involved, because the things they leave out can be just as revealing as the things they say, and so reading this knowing all that I know... It's definitely interesting.

Interesting up to a point, because the thing about this book is that, whilst it's actually pretty awesome (I read it in about 3 days, and it's not really short...) it's also pretty much the base material for EVERY other book about Nirvana ever written. Which makes sense, of course, but it also means that I didn't exactly learn anything new, at least not in terms of facts. I guess, though, that the details are what are really important, and there were enough of those, at least for me, to make this book worth reading (and if you haven't read anything about Nirvana before, then it's definitely worth reading.)

Some of those details:

  • There's a lot of stuff in here about the context of the times, and kind of an exploration of why Nirvana got so big. There's a little bit of that in some other books, but it's always pushed aside in favour of the suicide, which becomes the big story. 
  • There's also a BIG exploration of song lyrics which I definitely haven't seen before, at least not without the inevitable 'were there signs of suicide?' subtext, and I really appreciated that. I was ever so slightly bemused to find out that the songs on Bleach actually HAD lyrics, but there you go.
  • Dave Grohl is amazing: "'Thank God those two [Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love] didn't do cocaine,' says Dave, 'because they'd be the biggest fucking assholes in the world.'" THIS IS SO TRUE. 
  • It's always fun when things are out of date- Azerrad does a lot of pining for certain songs that Nirvana recorded but hadn't been released, and hey! They were released in 2004! (Also I'm just coming to understand how lucky I was that I didn't have to wait TEN. YEARS. for such things. Lucky me.)
  • And also, this: "When he screams 'a denial, a denial' over and over again at the end of 'Teen Spirit', it's something that's understood on a deep level. And either you get it or you don't. It clearly draws the lines, even as it deals in universals. And it's one of the most transcendent moments in rock music." I GET IT!
So, this was a bit of a word vomit, but apparently I can't read things about Nirvana without getting ever so slightly carried away. Call it a teenage obsession, call it whatever you like, but 20 years after this book was written, I still care about the people it's about. And that's what we call love, children.
"Kurt doubts the band will have any lasting influence, say, twenty years from now. 'Fuck no,' he says."


  1. Aww yay for teenage music loove.

    I don't have anything really tos ay in this comment other than that BUT if you manage to make it to Seattle they have a Nirvana exhibit at the Experience Music Project. I saw it when I was there last summer and it's apparently still going on. People at the museum (and I think those in Seattle in general) take Nirvana VERY SERIOUSLY so you could be among your people.

    1. I know, right? All the nostalgia. All the love.

      Dude, when I go to Seattle (cause it will happen, someday) it's ALLLLL going to be Nirvana based. Like, ridiculously so. And also I'll probably have to go to Aberdeen and also Olympia because they're very important Washington places too! But I am TOTALLY pinning the shit out of that exhibit because YES PLEASE!

  2. Oh man, one cannot argue with someone's teenage loves.

    I started liking Nirvana liiike two years ago? Maybe three? And yeah, they are awesome. I guess I was about nine when he died. I remember my friend mentioning Smells Like Teen Spirit and I was like "The deodorant?" And that was most of my interaction with the band until 2010.

    1. I know right? I mean, a person could literally say ANYTHING about Nirvana to me, and I'd just be like 'Yeah, but... You don't UNDERSTAND, man!' Ohhh lordy, teenage love is the best love.

      You were NINE? Man, you are soooo old (I jest, I jest). But I LOVE THAT YOU LOVE NIRVANA! (Or like. I've upgraded it to love because I'M JUST SO EXCITED!) I enjoy your Smells Like Teen Spirit story, because it's like the opposite of how that song was named *puts on Nirvana historian glasses* because Kathleen Hanna wrote 'Kurt smells like teen spirit' on his wall because that's the deodrant his girlfriend at the time wore, but HE didn't know that and liked how it sounded and that's the story of Smells Like Teen Spirit.

      As seen in every book about Nirvana ever. Including this one. That is a FUCKING good song though.

  3. ALL THE COBAIN LOVE! I discovered 'Nevermind' at about the same time you did, I think. I went into Woolworths and they had a copy for, like, £4 or something crazy, and I thought, "Hey, that's that band everyone seems to talk about, I might as well try it." WHAT A FUCKING REVELATION. I couldn't get enough, and Lithium was my personal theme song for about a year and a half. When Kurt sings 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?' at the end of the Unplugged set it still gives me goosebumps. And Amanda Palmer's cover of 'Polly' is possibly the awesomest thing ever.

    Okay now, does it count for my book ban if I'm taking back my own book for a read? Cos this book is ON OUR MUSIC SHELF right now in the shop, because I didn't think I'd get round to it, but now I'm thinking maybe a little read might not be so bad? VERDICT PLEASE!

    1. Ellieeeeeeeeeee, I love this about you! And I never knewwwwwww! LOOK AT US CONNECTING BEYOND BOOKS, WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?! We got sky tv at arouuund the same time as the 10th anniversary of Kurt's death, which was really really lucky and awesome and I'm so happy that it happened, even though I cried an intense amount around that time because Kurt was dead, so.... That's normal. I knew I had issues when I was watching the video for You Know You're Right (LOVE that song) for like the millionth time and just started crying all the cries. OMG INTENSENESS. *sigh*

      Annnnnd, I don't know. But it's a really good book. But if you've read many other Nirvana books then you probably don't need to read it. But maybe you should. I DON'T KNOW! But I wouldn't be cross if you did feel the need to take it back.