Journals (Cobain)

Kurt Cobain's Journals is a collection of writings and drawings done by Kurt Cobain, lead singer and guitarist of the grunge band Nirvana, from the late 1980s until his death in 1994. It was published in hardcover by Riverhead Books in November 2002, and in paperback by Riverhead Books in November 2003. Its release polarized fans, some of whom felt it constituted an invasion of Cobain's privacy, and others of whom saw it as a unique opportunity to better understand him. Journals opened at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list (non-fiction).


Journals contains a number of letters, either early drafts or unsent, that Cobain wrote to friends or peers. Included are friendly letters to Dale Crover of the Melvins, Tobi Vail of Bikini Kill and Eugene Kelley of the Vaselines, a tender letter to his wife, Courtney Love, a letter thanking The Advocate following his interview with the gay and lesbian magazine in early 1992, and even a letter to Simon Fair Timony, the then-9-year-old stepson of Half Japanese member Jad Fair, asking him to contribute artwork for what would become In Utero. It also includes a letter from Cobain and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic firing then-drummer Dave Foster from the band, and angry letters from Cobain to MTV and Rolling Stone.


Like many music fans, Cobain often made lists of his favorite bands and albums, several of which are included in Journals. His lists were generally eclectic and included artists of many genres, from indie and alternative rock (the Vaselines, Pixies, the Breeders, Sonic Youth, R.E.M., PJ Harvey, Jane's Addiction) to protopunk, punk rock and hardcore (The Stooges, the Velvet Underground, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Slits, Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Flipper) to hip-hop (Public Enemy, N.W.A., Tupac) to blues (Leadbelly) and heavy metal (Black Sabbath's Master of Reality, Alice In Chains' Facelift and Dirt). On his "Top 50" albums list, offerings from such obscure artists as The Shaggs, Tales of Terror, The Marine Girls, Swans, Rites of Spring and The Frogs coexist with albums by The Beatles, David Bowie and Aerosmith. The 1973 Stooges record Raw Power is listed at #1 on all of Cobain's "favorite album" lists. He also noted an interest in grunge and the Seattle Sound (The Melvins, Alice In Chains, Green River, Mudhoney).

Nirvana-related writings

Contained in Journals is an assortment of directly Nirvana-related material, including embryonic lyric drafts, early album tracklists, and even a set of unused liner notes Cobain had apparently written for In Utero in 1993. The lyric sheets are especially revealing, showing that some songs, including the band's biggest hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit", underwent major revisions before being recorded for release, while others, such as "Come As You Are", were changed very little, at least from the drafts included. The tracklists are also of interest, revealing, for example, that Cobain had intended to release "girl" and "boy" sides of Nirvana's breakthrough album Nevermind, with songs such as "In Bloom" and "Lithium" on the girl side, and songs like "Sliver" and "Polly" on the boy side.


Journals contains a number of Cobain's rough sketches and drawings, some of which are light and humorous, such as his drawing of "Eddie", the Iron Maiden mascot, his sketch of the band as choirboys on a hypothetical Nirvana album cover, and his drawing of "Elvis Cooper", in which Elvis Presley and Alice Cooper are combined into a single entity, but many of which are darker or more violent. Included in the latter are his drawings of a sniper shooting Nazis from a rooftop (with swastikas drawn backwards), his drawing of a gun-toting football player hanging from a noose, and a sketch of his own emaciated body (see: The "Forbidden Page"), as well as a comic strip called "Mr. Moustache", in which an unborn child kicks through its mother's stomach to kill its macho father. Journals also contains a number of drawings of images which would later become a familiar part of Nirvana lore, such as Dante's Vestibule of Hell (which appeared on a Nirvana T-shirt), a skinny man on a cross (which appeared in the "Heart-Shaped Box" music video), and male seahorses giving birth (which appeared on the cover of the "All Apologies"/ "Rape Me" single).

The "Forbidden Page"

According to an article written by Tim Appelo in the Seattle Weekly in 2002, journalists were banned from printing page 204 of Journals (hardcover) in articles or reviews, ostensibly because of its dark content. The page features a drawing of Cobain's face, torn from a comic book, shouting a refrain from the chorus of his most popular song, "Smells Like Teen Spirit": "With the lights out, it's less dangerous / Here we are now, entertain us!" Under the drawing is a sketch by Cobain of the rest of his body until his hips, its skeletal frame contrasting sharply with the furious-looking comic book image. Above the drawing-collage are six lines cut-and-pasted from an Alicia Ostriker poem called "A Young Woman, A Tree". The six lines, which begin the poem, describe a girl who passes a blooming tree, and envies its beauty; it has been suggested that by juxtaposing these lines with his emaciated self-portrait, Cobain was making a comment on his own loss of creativity and his personal image being in contrast to his public one.


  • Though the material in Journals is undated, it is arranged in an approximation of chronological order, starting with a letter Cobain wrote to Dale Crover in 1988, and ending with a rant about an interview between Sylvester Stallone and Larry King that he wrote perhaps during his final trip to Rome in 1994 (the notepaper is labelled "Hotel Excelsior - Roma").
  • The "Mr. Moustache" comic strip was first published in Michael Azerrad's 1993 Nirvana biography, Come as You Are.
  • Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett was asked to contribute to the book with a comment on Cobain and apparently replied back: "Please don't do this to me after I kill myself". It was not used.
  • Lyric sheets which originally appeared in Michael Azerrad's book Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana were airbrushed in portions upon their reprinting in Journals. This included removal of addresses and phone numbers.

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