CNN SUNDAY MORNING
Interview With Julie Grau
Aired November 10, 2002 - 11:25 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN takes a look at fame, celebrity and privacy this morning. Grunge rocker, Kurt Cobain, of the group, Nirvana, committed suicide back in 1994. Now, his most intimate thoughts are being published in the book, "Kurt Cobain's Journals," not just a book, these actually are his journals. The journals contain private details about his life and career. But is this book a violation of Cobain's privacy in death? Julie Grau is with Riverhead books and edited the journals and she joins us live from New York.
JULIE GRAU, EDITOR, "KURT COBAIN'S JOURNALS": Hi, Carol.
LIN: Hey, I want to start with one of the passages literally from Kurt Cobain's journals. This is what he wrote. He specifically said -- "Don't read my diary when I'm gone. OK. I'm going to work now, when you wake up this morning, please read my diary. Look through my things and figure me out." I mean what does this say about the guy?
Now, I'm going to assume because he was really struggling with this concept of fame. But let's say, for example, he didn't want people to read his journals. Why are you publishing them?
GRAU: Well, I'm publishing them because I think that they have intrinsic merit, literary merit and they are of enormous interest because they show the development of the most influential musician of his generation. So for me, it was not a question about the value of these books. I didn't make the decision to offer them for publication, but I absolutely support that decision, and think that the passage that you showed is a perfect expression of ambivalence that Kurt Cobain felt towards celebrity.
However, it's also important to note that that passage was written -- it was not written to you or to me. It was written probably to a girlfriend as he was on the way to work.
LIN: Just a passage...
GRAU: Not a rock star job.
LIN: Yes. Well, how did you get a hold of these and whose decision was it to publish the journals?
GRAU: It was the decision of the estate, and not...
LIN: Not Courtney Love, but the estate?
GRAU: Well, Courtney Love is the executor of the estate of Kurt Cobain. And I'm sure it was not her single decision. I'm sure it was something that was made in concert with other people.
However, several years ago, Charles Cross wrote a biography of Kurt Cobain that has since been much acclaimed. And he was aware of the existence of the journals, as were many people who were within Kurt's circle. And I would make a distinction. These are notebooks. It's not like there's a -- they were a locked diary. These were spiral bound $1.99 notebooks that he worked his thoughts out in, his political positions, song lyrics. He did sketches in them. Charles Cross reported that they were often laying around and Kurt would ask people who were sitting on the couch beside him, people coming through, to take a look and see what they thought about this.
LIN: Yes, and it's interesting because they seem to express things that perhaps he couldn't express himself in person. For example, this next passage, he talks about when he was "13 years old and going through the common prepubescent, hate your parents, wish you could still play with dolls but instead, feel unusually weird around girls-syndrome." You know there were all of rumors that Kurt was actually gay and struggling with his sexuality. I mean does this offer insight into who he was?
GRAU: I don't think so. I mean, well, it's certainly offering insight and is a compliment to the music, but I think so much of what's expressed in the notebooks is also found in the music. And I don't think that there's a real divergence of mind or position or personality between the notebooks and the music and -- which is something I found funny because people -- critics in the press, before they saw anything other than the excerpts that ran in "Newsweek," decried this of the scrollings of a tortured mind, sick and depraved. And to me, they're of a peace with the music and it makes me wonder if they've listened to the music.
LIN: But it sounds like he was really in a lot of pain in the latter days. You know, he talks about -- or he writes about the first time he tried heroine, which was back in 1987, when he says it was in Aberdeen and that he proceeded to use it about 10 more times from '87 to '90. "And when I got back from our second European Tour with Sonic Youth I decided to use heroine on a daily basis because of an ongoing stomach ailment that I had been suffering from for the past five years had literally taken me to the point of wanting to kill myself."
I mean does this give insight into why he just finally had to literally pull the trigger?
GRAU: Oh, absolutely. I mean it's clear that this is something that he grappled with from the moment he started as a user. And I think that there is a terrific self-awareness in the journals from the very beginning. You see that this guy was ambitious, that he had a plan, that he was determined to create a place for himself in the history of music.
The fact that these journals also reflect his struggle with drugs and celebrity is part of their completeness and that's the interest to me, is that it really is an incomparable, complete portrait of someone of enormous artistic gift, very brilliant, tortured, and achieved the celebrity that -- well, he wasn't after celebrity. He was after getting his music out...
GRAU: ... which he did -- which he was successful at. But I -- it came as at a price for him.
LIN: You know what's kind of cool about this too and I don't even think they did this with Anne Frank's diary, but you're actually publishing it -- it's almost like Xerox copies of the actually notebook pages themselves. So you know when I'm looking at this book here, I see his cartoon drawings in his own hand; I see his handwriting and even the spiral edge of the notebook. It's as if I holding it in my hands.
GRAU: Thank you, Carol. That's exactly what we were hoping to achieve with this. We wanted this to be an unadulterated presentation of the notebooks. And we wanted it as closely as possible to replicate the experience of going through the notebooks. So the images were reproduced with a high-end digital camera. It's the first time, to my knowledge, that that technology's been used to produce a book. So you see unbelievable detail in the pages and it is as close as possible to going through these spiral bound notebooks in your own hands.
LIN: Yes, Julie, really interesting because you've gotten lyrics in here, too. And it's hard to distinguish between the lyrics and his actual own private thoughts. So you're right, a blending of the two. Thank you so much for sharing this with us today.
GRAU: You're welcome.
LIN: Julie Grau, I look forward to the publication.
GRAU: Thank you.
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