Based on interviews conducted by the author, this book aims to tell the story of Nirvana. According to the press release it is a “you-are-there look at the life and work of the band that brought alternative music to the mainstream.” St. Thomas, a die-hard Nirvana fan himself, first interviewed the band in 1991 and eventually his conversations with the three members would end up as the Geffen disc, Nevermind, It’s an Interview. The author also booked Nirvana for a concert that happened the night before Nevermind was released in the US.
The fact that the author is a Nirvana fan is fairly evident when you read this book. He describes Nirvana’s career with a lot of passion and energy, trying really hard to capture what made the band so great. The book has an interesting structure as it is based largely on quotes from interviews with band members and others. Basically, most of the Nirvana tale is relayed with their own words (be it from Cobain, Novoselic, Grohl, or someone else relevant to the story). This is a bit of a risky way to approach the subject, but it works remarkably well because the quotes are meshed seamlessly with the authors’ own words. And, throughout the book, the quotes fit perfectly into the context.
For example, quotes from Kurt Cobain are used to describe many situations that would be difficult to grasp – had the author taken a stab at it. The drug use, for one, which is exhausted in certain other books.
The whole piece seems more authentic and “correct” when the own words of those who were there are used. Although Cobain was known to contradict himself constantly and make up fictional stories to answer common questions, the authors are careful to only use somewhat credible statements. This alternative method of story telling is actually what makes this book interesting, as that alone differentiates it significantly from the many other Nirvana biographies.
But, even so, the Nirvana story has been told many times before – sometimes in far greater detail – and I’m not sure if it was necessary to do it again. Indeed, the book doesn’t offer that many new facts which a person familiar with other biographies would find striking. Still, it manages to detail most of what there is to say about Nirvana’s career - all the ups and downs.
A good thing is that it doesn’t dwell on Kurt’s childhood and tragic life as much as most other Nirvana and Cobain-related books do. There is much more focus on Nirvana and the music they created, which is a big plus in my mind. Another thing I like is the fact that the authors try to describe the meanings behind the songs on Nirvana’s official releases (again, with the help of quotes from Cobain mostly), and most of Nirvana’s major concerts are chronicled – albeit very briefly. Some more coverage of Nirvana’s legendary performance at Reading 1992, for example, is missed.
The book also briefly describes what happened after Kurt died, and the direction that Krist and Dave undertook following the loss of their friend and bandmate. Finally, it contains an A-Z list of Nirvana songs (detailing where to find them), and a selected discography.
Basically, it is a good book if you are looking for a Nirvana biography that covers most areas and events of interest, but does not go into great detail. It is essentially told from the perspective of those who were there to witness the events as they unfolded. To some extent, they do indeed tell the story best, by the way of very well organized quotes from interviews and personal conversations, carefully (and skillfully) selected and structured by the author.
But, for a hardcore fan, there are too few “Wow, I didn’t know that. How interesting” experiences and various errors here and there also stand out. However, it is a nice alternative to some of the other books on the subject.