With the recent induction of Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the time is ripe to relive the few short years the little band from Washington State twisted the mainstream.
The series of FAQ books from Backbeat Books intends to uncover the minutia behind icons of popular culture. At best, they add insight into creative artists; at worst, they retread articles and blog posts available to anyone on the Internet.
John D. Luerssen’s take on Nirvana is somewhere in the middle. Nirvana and Kurt Cobain lived a very short time but have been thoroughly examined in the 20 years since Cobain’s death. The tortured songwriter is on magazine covers to this day. Documentaries have explored his life and death. Both Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl went forward and remained in the public eye.
What’s left to say?
What Luerssen lacks in uncovering any real hidden gems about the band he makes up for in constructing an evenhanded account of the Nirvana story—something that is rare considering the often salacious, tabloid-driven works that plagued the band since Nevermind topped the charts.
Readers unfamiliar with the band will find this an excellent primer into a unique rock ‘n’ roll story. Heartbreaking and often difficult, it’s easy to forget how fresh Nirvana’s music and approach to the music industry was at that time—and nothing has approached it since. More than a rock band, they exemplified a cultural shift that very few bands have ever been able to do.
Luerssen uses the ample research available to share the details of that brief but explosive rocket ride of the early 1990s. He weaves the story together with the details that music fans would appreciate: Where did Cobain record his first demo? What is “Heart Shaped Box” about? How many drummers were in the band before Grohl? What’s with the album sleeve artwork on in Utero?