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Remembering Kurt Cobain as a sweetly childlike, achingly opaque creative force

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Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain
Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain

“Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain” by Danny Goldberg (Ecco. 304 pages, in stores)

The ever-expanding library of books about Nirvana and its frontman, Kurt Cobain, is surprisingly light on first-person accounts. Most of its canonical texts, like Charles R. Cross’ “Heavier Than Heaven” and Michael Azerrad’s “Come As You Are,” were written by journalists. “Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain,” written by the band’s co-manager, Danny Goldberg and published in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Cobain’s death by suicide, is one of the only books to come out of the singer’s inner circle.

Managers make for unreliable narrators. They are lied to by their artists, and in turn lie to us. They often don’t know the worst of it and might not be inclined to believe it if they did. “I was predisposed to see all things Nirvana through rose-colored glasses,” Goldberg admits. He oversaw Nirvana’s ascent from indie act to the most famous band in the world, and Cobain once told a journalist he regarded the older man as a “second father.”

Goldberg’s Cobain is a figure of childlike sweetness, sharp humor and great gloom. He was a savvy marketer and tireless creative force who was fiercely devoted to his family, and plagued by stomach problems that baffled his doctors (Goldberg gently suggests that they might have been psychosomatic).

Goldberg drops no bombshells, but “Serving the Servant,” which features recollections from Courtney Love, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and others in Cobain’s orbit, enlisted mostly to fill in gaps in the author’s memory, is empathetic and absorbing, illuminating but not gossipy.

Goldberg provides a fresh, eyewitness account of otherwise familiar tales: He was there the night Kurt and Courtney met cute-ish; during the custody battle for their daughter, Frances Bean; during the infamous awards show dust-up with Axl Rose (nobody comes off well); and for at least two interventions.

“Serving the Servant,” in its own understated, overprotective way, effectively conveys the frustration, the to-the-bone grief, that comes from losing a loved one who was fundamentally unknowable in the first place. It’s the closest thing we have to a survivor’s account, at least until Love finally releases her memoir, currently six years overdue.

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