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Poor little Willy is crying so sore,
A sad little boy is he,
For he’s broken his little sister’s neck
And he’ll have no jam for tea.

–Harry Graham, Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes

Kurt Cobain’s diaries have been published. Amazon.com publishes several reviews from buyers:

” If you are a true fan–no, a true human being, you will allow Kurt Cobain to rest. If you feel a need to peek into his thoughts, buy his albums.”

“If you love Kurt
Dont buy this book

If you respect Kurt
dont buy this book

Nirvana = Music”

“..the whole spirit of grunge – the iconoclastic stiff upper lip, the music for a lost generation …all bites the dust with this final nail in Curt’s coffin…plainly put Grunge is being SOLD OUT.”

“this book was really sad… includes all of his social problems including depression and drug abuse… I really liked it…”

“I felt Cobain came off as a much more gentle soul than my original perceptions of him had ever allowed me to consider. I felt almost like he forsaw his life spin out of control and was just overwhelmed by the thought of stopping it. I was thoroughly fascinated.”

None of this, of course, tells us what was in those journals. Nancy DeWolfe Smith, writing in The Wall Street Journal, claims that the professional reviews don’t, either:

“Grotesque fantasies of homosexual rape and homicidal rage fairly leap off the pages, suggesting that the anti-establishment icon from a remote Washington State logging community was tortured by a lot more than the hot spotlight of commercial success. Yet we haven’t heard a peep from reverential reviewers about such things. Why do you think that is?”

Smith explains, highlighting such vignettes as this from the work:

“Neil Strauss, writing in the New York Times… cryptically refers to his revealed anguish at ‘being teased to the brink of suicide at school.’ Well, it’s all there in the diary, if not in the Times. For our purposes, the story begins when Kurt decides to have his first sexual affair with a classmate widely believed at school, though not by him, to be mentally disabled. ‘One day after school I went to her house . . . and she offered me some twinkies and I sat on her lap and said let’s —-.’ The experience repulsed him physically, but things quickly got worse when everyone from her father to the police wanted to question Cobain about taking advantage of a ‘cronic retard.'”

Let’s take a look at another charming scene:

“Suddenly one of my father’s office clerks appeared in the drawing-room doorway and announced that the comet could be seen from the terrace…. While crossing the hall I caught sight of my little three-year-old sister crawling unobtrusively through a doorway. I stopped, hesitated a second, then gave her a terrible kick in the head as though it had been a ball, and continued running, carried away with a ‘delirious joy’ induced by this savage act. But my father, who was behind me, caught me and led me down in to his office, where I remained as a punishment till dinner-time.”

This story is not, however, from Diaries. It comes from The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, written by Dali himself and published in 1942.

From both books, I could quote many more such gruesome incidents — Cobain sounding like one of the Columbine killers, Dali confessing to his bride-to-be that he wants to kill her. But I think you get the flavour of it all.

George Orwell takes to task Dali’s autobiography, and his art, in his exceptional essay Notes on Dali:

“In an age like our own, when the artist is an altogether exceptional person, he must be allowed a certain amount of irresponsibility, just as a pregnant woman is. Still, no one would say that a pregnant woman should be allowed to commit murder, nor would anyone make such a claim for the artist, however gifted. … And, after all, the worst crimes are not always the punishable ones. By encouraging necrophilic reveries one probably does quite as much harm as by, say, picking pockets at the races. One ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being. The one does not invalidate or, in a sense, affect the other. The first thing that we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp. In the same way it should be possible to say, ‘This is a good book or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.’ Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human being.”

Was Cobain a talented songwriter and performer? I think so, yes. I’ve enjoyed several of Nirvana’s songs throughout the years.

But these diaries reveal that he was simultaniously a moral cesspool.

That is, as indelicately as I can put it, his own damn fault. Blame depression, blame bad homes, blame the drugs, blame whatever the hell you want — plenty of people face those demons. Kurt Cobain chose surrender to them, in the end delivering his life up to them. He didn’t have to. He chose to. The mystique of his music shouldn’t disuade us from realizing this simple fact.

It’s not suprising that fans don’t want to view this. To try and reconcile their brief and torrid love affair with the art of a monster.

Here’s hoping that most of them are afraid of a seeing eye, not a mirror.

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About Colin Wyers