By Charles R. Cross, Gillian G. Gaar, Bob Gendron, Todd Martens, Mark Yarm, Jim DeRogatis, Alan di Perna, Greg Kot and Andrew Earles; photographs by Charles Peterson, Kevin Estrada, Jay Blakesberg, Ed Sirrs, Ian Tilton and Steve Double. Voyageur Press, 2013. $27 on Amazon.com.
Kurt Cobain was a frontman in every sense of the word; not only Nirvana’s creative visionary, but the dynamic sun around which his bandmates revolved — shining warm and bright and intense when things were good, or a churning ball of fire who blistered, burned and eventually fizzled out when the dark tides of his depression rose and blotted out everything else.
His tastes, moods and behavior both shaped and drove the band, a dynamic that’s made clear in both color and black-and-white in Nirvana: The Complete Illustrated History. This new 192-page book chronicles the band’s seven-year tenure, from the ’80s-era ads Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic ran in alternative biweekly paper The Rocket (“DRUMMER WANTED. Play hard, sometimes light, underground, versatile, fast, medium, slow, versatile, serious, heavy, versatile, dorky, nirvana, hungry”), through Nirvana’s epic rise out of Seattle’s grunge scene, to Kurt’s appalling suicide at age 27 and its aftermath.
The dozen or so contributors (both writers and photographers) pair linear storytelling with abundant images. Scans of old gig posters, handbills, ticket stubs, album art and backstage passes, and pics of gear both intact and post-concert smashed are scattered amid stills of the band at work and play, in posed portraits looking goofy, indifferent, cool, awkward and even lounging relaxed in the grass, or more kinetic live shots, most featuring Kurt head-banging, thrashing through riffs, smashing his guitar, springing into the air, playing while kneeling, lying down or crowd-surfing, or the odd candids — Kurt staring numbly into space, brow furrowed in thought, throwing out his trademark grimace/smile, even napping backstage before a show.
Nirvana’s three studio albums serve as Illustrated History’s timeline stamp and chapter marker (from pre-Bleach to the present), while his hand-written “Top 50 Albums” list (first published in 2002’s Journals) is introduced in the first few pages and short review-style write-ups of all 50 are dotted throughout the book, emphasizing his wide-ranging musical taste and shedding some more light on his influences. Most significantly, Nirvana: The Complete Illustrated History seems to capture the many sides of Kurt’s personality — sweet, contemplative, silly, humble, tormented, aggressive, depressed, misunderstood, earnest, indifferent, dazed and confused — and the band’s character as a whole.