Rough Guide's 'Nirvana'

Gaar’s book gives the unaffiliated a glimpse into Seattle’s music scene

The chronological ascension of Nirvana into the pantheon of rock and roll is without question on par with the likes of The Beatles though its lifespan was even shorter.

And equally similar is how each band changed the game of rock and roll in their time, abruptly ended their reigns, and remained socially vibrant for ensuing generations.

Seattle writer Gillian Gaar, writing for Rough Guide (the English version of the "fill-in-the-blank for Dummies" series) has compiled indeed a rough guide to the genesis and expiration of Seattle's greatest export.

It begins in Aberdeen, birthplace of Cobain, a sleepy lumber town that makes no secret of its tie to Cobain as it now greets visitors with its city-limit signs, "Welcome to Aberdeen, Come as You Are."

Gaar continues with accounts of the turbulent upbringing of Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain, how his parents' divorce when he was nine years old had shattered any hope of him having an idyllic suburban upbringing, which Gaar wrote, he "desperately wanted." Gaar continues with the story of how bassist Krist Novoselic and Cobain were hanging out in the same circles and were heavily influenced by the same music - particularly The Melvins.

Cobain and Novoselic play together informally for a while going through a litany of drummers and the occasional guitarist. The trio isn't finally formed until drummer Dave Grohl comes aboard. With the addition of Grohl a notable chemistry is formed and the band's second record, "Nevermind" becomes the record of a generation.

Gaar moves from point to point in the band's career, from its early days playing gigs in Montesano, Olympia and Tacoma, to making the big leagues at clubs in Seattle and eventually stadiums around the world. Readers also get a glimpse into the untapped reservoir of material Grohl would eventually release with his subsequent super band, FooFighters. The book also highlights Novoselic's solo projects including Eyes Adrift.

Much of the first half of "Nirvana" lists the various world locations the band had played and the increasing size of venues. Gaar's frenetic pacing adds to the exhaustive tour schedule (and trying to record new material on the road) and hints at the causes of Cobain's eventual addiction to heroin and suicidal tendencies. It also brings Courtney Love into light, and her heavy influence on him especially when it came to insisting that Cobain capture more publishing rights from his bandmates.

There are also frequent sidebars such as how the term "grunge" came about and how the grunge style of plaid shirts and jeans arrived. The latter had more to do with starving artists of Seattle having no other source for inexpensive clothes but thrift stores.

The latter half of the book deals completely with the music. There's the when and where of songs plus short, historical nuggets about their origin. There's a listing of albums, singles and a list of compilations.

In reporting for "Nirvana," Gaar relies heavily on interviews the band held with international magazines, conversations with Novoselic and her own insights-having been a fan since the band's inception. But because of the format of the Rough Guide series, there's not a lot of depth. It is a listing of events rather than a narrative. But anyone buying a Rough Guide book would know not to expect otherwise. And anybody visiting Seattle, might want to bring the book along as a quick primer into the city's famous music scene.

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