Music biz macher, political activist and author Danny Goldberg’s new book is Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain (Ecco), a reminiscence of his time as Nirvana’s co-manager and confidante to the band’s late leader.
For many, Cobain was the Last Rock Star, a purveyor of pre–hip-hop rock who combined snot-nosed edge and volume with melody, lyricism and gravitas, leaping tall radio formats in a single bound and, as Goldberg points out, appealing to fans of “punk, commercial alternative, metal, mainstream rock and pop.”
Goldberg maintains that “Kurt defined the entire breadth of his public life as art,” and treated everything from a recording session to a photo op as outlets for serious creative expression. He quotes Allen Ginsberg on Bob Dylan to describe Cobain as a carrier of “the bohemian torch of enlightenment and self-empowerment.” Like Dylan, like The Beatles, Goldberg notes that “Kurt’s art gave dignity to underdogs and did so in a way that cracked the code of mass culture so that millions could share in it.”
Goldberg was 17 years older than Cobain, who was born around the time Danny wandered the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood barefoot and stoned. (Disclosure: The author is a friend of mine and I read and critiqued an early draft of the book.) Yet Kurt and Danny shared certain traits, including the balancing act between respect for artistic integrity and desire for commercial success.
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From Goldberg’s work as Led Zeppelin’s publicist to his positions as record company chieftain and personal manager (currently in that longtime role with Steve Earle), his achievements have mostly been on the business side, but there are examples in this book of the acute attention that Cobain the Artiste paid to sales figures. (An amusing moment occurs when a journalist asks Kurt how he feels about Nirvana’s sales of 600,000 copies of first album Nevermind in the United States. Cobain corrects him: “Umm. We’ve sold 1.4 million in America.”)
Goldberg delivers his perspective on all the major points of the artist’s story: his relentless dedication to art, his loyalty to his friends, his rise as a rock star, his relationship with wife Courtney Love (she is defended — indeed admired — by the author), his depression and drug use and suicide. Not surprising given the author’s activist résumé is the focus on Cobain’s feminism and support for gay rights — refreshing and welcome on the oft-Neanderthal rock & roll beat.
“Many older rock critics saw Nevermind as a revival of American rock & roll that was about something,” Goldberg writes in this soulful, honest and engaging memoir.
Danny Goldberg will converse with Ben Lee about Kurt Cobain and Serving the Servant on Monday, April 15, 7 p.m. at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood.