Five things we learned from Kurt Cobain's ''Journals.'' Here's a look at what's new in the Nirvana frontman's posthumous book
Kurt Cobain
Credit: Kurt Cobain: Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect

Five things we learned from Kurt Cobain’s ”Journals”

Did Kurt Cobain want you poking around in his private scribblings? Maybe — and maybe not. At the front of ”Journals,” a new collection of pages torn from the late rocker’s notebooks, a note in Kurt’s handwriting reads, ”I’m going to work now, please read my diary. Look through my things and figure me out.” But in typically contradictory fashion, a note in the same ink on the same page says, ”Don’t read my diary when I’m gone.”

That warning aside, the book offers a look at what The Who’s Pete Townshend called ”the scribblings of a crazed and depressed drug-addict.” But the book also provides an invaluable glimpse inside the soul of perhaps the most important rock artist of the ’90s, a brilliant but self-destructive songwriter whose best work could still have been ahead of him. Here’s what we learned about Cobain:

1. He had a really bad resume. Had he not become famous, Cobain didn’t have much to fall back on. It’s both amusing and heart-rending to look at the application he prepared for a part-time janitorial position in Olympia, Wash., which lists a total of four menial jobs — none of which paid more than $4.50 an hour. Among the duties performed by the voice of a generation: ”maintenance, basic odd jobs, carpet cleaning.” He also lists a gig teaching ”preschool swimming” at a YMCA — the possible genesis of ”Nevermind”’s swimming-baby cover.

2. He actually practiced his guitar. The myth around Cobain (which he helped promote) suggests that he was too pure, too primitive to actually work on improving his musicianship. He even repeats the idea at times in his notebooks, writing, ”Too much practice is like too much sugar. Theory is a waste of the time.” But it was all a pose, judging from the painstakingly hand-drawn chord charts spread throughout ”Journals” — and a note firing early Nirvana drummer Dave Foster for his unwillingness to spend enough time rehearsing.

3. ”Smells Like Teen Spirit” was meant to be the anthem it became. Though Cobain later seemed to downplay the song’s significance, the multiple pages he used to nail down its lyrics suggest that he was, in fact, trying to capture the pent-up fury of kids everywhere. ”Your children have taken over — you have been warned,” he scribbled in the margins of one ”Spirit” page. In a discarded ”Spirit” lyric on another page, he asks ”Who will be the king and queen of all the outcasted [sic] teens?”

4. Cobain would’ve fit in with Rage Against the Machine. Cobain’s cryptic, introspective lyrics were rarely perceived as political. But his journals seethe with anti-capitalist and anti-male rants. A sample: ”And the hairy, sweaty, macho, sexist dickheads will soon drown in a pool of razor blades and semen, stemmed from the uprising of their children, …littering the floors of Wall Street with revolutionary debris.” Whoa.

5. He liked hip-hop. The first clue: a list of songs for a mix tape includes an N.W.A. track. ”I like the comfort in knowing that the Afro-American invented rock and roll, yet has only been rewarded for their accomplishments when conforming to the white man’s standards,” he writes sarcastically. In a more sincere moment, he adds: ”I [also] like the comfort in knowing that the Afro-American has once again been the only race that has brought a new form of original music to this decade: i.e., hip-hop/rap.” Luckily, Kurt never had to hear Limp Bizkit.

What do you think of Cobain’s ”Journals”?

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