The first thoughts that come to mind in relation to Everett True’s Nirvana: The Biography, are focused on the issue of what merits yet another rendition of the Kurt Cobain and Nirvana story. Countless publications on the subject, credible and otherwise, have populated America and the world since before Cobain was even gone. The answer lies, this time it seems, in Everett True’s reputation as Entertainment Weekly coined it, “the man who invented grunge.” Nirvana: The Biography boasts sharing a publication date with the anniversary of Cobain’s death on 5 April, 13 years after Cobain, as Da Capo Press states, “took his own life.” True seems to address the obvious question of the need for another Nirvana book by expounding in his introduction about his close relationship with Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, and the 1990s music scene in general. He drops names, but the effect is mildly informative rather than obnoxious. True shares his opinions of events that are now considered part of music history, the defining ethos of a generation. Addressed head-on is also the fact that “great chunks,” in True’s words, of his book are taken from his earlier volume, Live Through This: American Rock Music In The Nineties. True explains to readers that he felt the information within the earlier book “just deserved a wider audience.”
True addresses the controversy around Cobain’s death early on in the book, and ultimately presents an oblique comment. True states that no one can ever know the exact story, but indicates that he believes none of the hype perpetuated by the Courtney-did-it faction that still persists. True’s main advantage, a plus that his constant notations do not let the reader forget, is that he experienced Nirvana on an intimate level. He was a personal friend of the band, as well as a respected peer in the music industry. One of the anecdotes included is that he is the person who pushed Kurt Cobain on stage in the infamous wheelchair entrance at the Reading Festival in August of 1992. True punctuates each chapter of the book with nearly exhaustive footnotes, explaining everything from Frances Bean’s middle name to clarifying rumors about chronology, drugs, and the facts behind the mythology that is Cobain.
Each chapter here is filled with interview material, personal observations by the author, and much-reported information with clarifying facts and quotes added. This book is enjoyable enough, but the dense nature of the information and sheer size of the book may indicate that the volume is ultimately reading material for diehard fans. Though written with verve, the detail in True’s cataloguing can become exhaustive.
An obvious strength, however, is the book’s well-crafted history of Northwest music. Following a classic formula, many earlier volumes on Cobain and Nirvana only addressed the context from which they rose in dismissive detail. Readers and listeners are familiar with down-on-it’s-luck Aberdeen and the mythic bridge under which Cobain so debatably spent teenage nights. True does an exceptional job of taking his time cataloguing and crediting some of the lesser known but truly influential musical pillars of the Northwest. Readers can expect entertaining and well-written inclusions of such bands as the Replacements, Husker Dü, the Melvins, Mudhoney, and others. True examines both the individual bands, and their place in music, particularly their influences on the members of Nirvana.
True concludes his story with comments from members of varied music communities. They contribute their words and opinions on Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, and the much-debated factors that led Nirvana to become such an influential band. The author’s major assertion, expressed through quotes of others, is that Nirvana remains a powerful entity owing much to the fact that Kurt Cobain is gone. As the founder of Olympia, Washington record label Kill Rock Stars stated, “There’s no later days or cheesy records.” Producer and member of Pigeonhead, Steve Fisk, added his opinion that Nirvana remains powerful due to other bands’ continued emulation of the lyrics and form that Kurt Cobain used. True is hesitant to make definitive statements on anything but documentable facts, but his personal connection to Kurt Cobain and Nirvana do result in a well-written, detail-oriented, and satisfying biography.