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"Doctoring" the Document One Page at a Time: 
Doc I: A Psychologist's Subjective Analysis of the Kurt Cobain Journals
Publisher of the Kurt Cobain Journals: Riverhead Books, 2002, 2003
ISBN: 157322359X 288 pg.
By Dr. B.L.T., aka Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, Ph.D.,

Dear Editor: 
This is a rather unorthodox, piecemeal review of the Journals of Kurt Cobain, the self-slain former lead singer of the band Nirvana. Feel free to accept it or take a pass on it.
Nirvana fundamentally changed the face of modern rock. Kurt Cobain still has such a dedicated groundswell of followers, and Nirvana continues to profoundly influence so many artists of this genre. This suggests that interest in his music, his life, and tragic death will continue. 
Which brings me to this piece on the recently re-published Kurt Cobain Journals. I plan to study the whole book, along with the music of Nirvana, in order to expand my own fund of knowledge on the complex relationship between creativity, drugs and mental illness.  I would also like to speculate about how Christ may have transformed his life and where the music could have gone if Cobain had allowed Christ to intervene. I also want to add a subjective element that is missing in many psychobiographical works that many of my colleagues have offered. I believe that being completely objective in these types of analyses is unrealistic, and that offering subjective, often deeply personal reflections can make a profound difference in terms of impacting readers. My journey may not be one your readers are interested in participating in. 
My own ambivalence about exploring such deeply personal aspects of his life mirrors the ambivalence he had about his life, and will likely be incorporated as a common theme that is recurrent. You may not find my findings palatable and you may not see how it can possibly be beneficial to your readers as a longer series, and I understand and can readily accept that. Some of my writing is experimental and I certainly don't expect all of it to be well received. In fact, I don't take for granted that any of it will be well received. I'm just putting it out there to see if anyone will be blessed by reading it. Thanks again for all of your hard work and helpful suggestions.

Dr. B.L.T.
Dear Rock Doc:
Go for it!

The Phantom Tollbooth

Introductory Comments, the Cover and the First Few Pages

Some would say that I'm on a mission to shrink the brain of the late Kurt Cobain.  But shrinking Cobain's brain is the last thing on my mind. I'm looking for creative inspiration in all the right places-a fragmented sense of self, a creative, but otherwise confused mind on drugs, and a soul/psyche complex abysmally bereft of all but utter emptiness and maddening malaise. Admittedly, it's a pitiful place to find creative inspiration. But the universal principles that God has set into motion allow for the possibility of good to come from evil, for health to arise from sickness, and for creative beauty to be pulled from the junkyard of a mind bent on self-destruction and despair.  

My goal is not to form a definitive, wholly scientific explanation of the man or his music. For me, the Kurt Cobain journals are merely a muse. Sure, I will throw out a few hypotheses, but without having known the man, I cannot possibly offer anything definitive. 


It's hard not to, when, scrawled on the front cover of these journals, Cobain has apparently pre-judged any would-be readers' reaction to what lies between the covers, and what remains to be read between the lines. Yet the pre-judgment rings as true for me, as it should for you. "Judge not, lest you be judged!" Yet we all do it. It is human nature. So I will form judgments as I continue in my journey through the journals, but as I do, I will try to judge fairly, and as objectively as possible, which, I'm afraid will turn out to be really quite a subjective process.   

There are scribbles above the Kurt's prophetic front-cover declaration or pre-judgement, as I have called it. One appears to be a test to see if a pen is working. The one above it is clearly an attempt at self-censorship. I have sneaking a few peaks, and I can tell you that you can anticipate the presence of plenty of other crossed out and scribbled out words in the desultorily designed body of the journals. 

I'm now putting Bleach into my computer. No, I'm not a Luddite trying to destroy my computer as an expression of defiance against a society addicted to technological advance and electronic vice. I'm not referring to bleach in the literal, chemical sense. Although it may have been recorded under the influence of certain chemicals, I'm referring to Bleach, Nirvana's first CD. This is the only thing I will be under the influence of while I'm exploring Cobain's journals-that, along with my own personal biases, and, hopefully, the spirit of God, whom I draw from as a source of wisdom and knowledge. This multi-media exposure is all part of my psychological experiment to see how much creative inspiration may be drawn from chaos. The man, the mind, and the music are all related to the madness and to the malaise.

The pulsating beat of “Blew,” the first track on the CD, and the unmatched urgency reflect upon a man with an overwhelming urge to tell the world something-something that is weighing heavy on his mind. The name NIRVANA is hand-painted with a big, black marker, using bold strokes. I don't want to make too much of it, but it has narcissistic self-preoccupation written all over it. Nirvana was Cobain's playground of the psyche. It was where he drew his identity. It was where he shed the pieces of shattered glass from the broken, pain-stained-glass window of his soul and his severely severed psyche. For Cobain, Nirvana was likely experienced as a mass, an undifferentiated ego mass-one that he could dive into at will, as a means of drowning the self.  Track 7, “Negative Creep,” filled with self-contempt, has just invaded the speakers on my computer. "Reward if found," leaps out at me from the back cover of Cobain's journals. I'm wondering what that reward might consist of. "You can't always get what you want," The Rolling Stones once declared in a song. I have found that to be a truism that I can increasingly depend on. "Give me back my alcohol,” Cobain screams! I wonder if he thinks that people around him are engaged in conspiratorial machinations, united by a resolute determination to rob him of his last remaining vices. Am I reading too much into all of this? Perhaps. 

All that's left on the back cover is a recipe for who knows what, and a few seemingly insignificant lists that appear to serve as reminders or memory aids. I'm opening the cover. I see some sort of list. "Booze," is listed first, with the number, 30, printed next to it. Below that, it reads "Records/watch," and the number, 50, is printed next to that notation. Below that, it's "food," and the number, 20. At the bottom of the list is the word "ticket," with the number, 100, scrawled next to it. There's a line under all of the numbers and the total adds up to 200. Then, below the total, you'll find the number, 100. It's beginning to look like "You can't always get want you want," is going to be my theme song for this journey through the journals. Sure, I could say that putting booze at the top of the list suggests that booze was his top priority, but wouldn't that be grasping at straws? Perhaps not. My mind flashes back to the line in “Scoff,” where he screams, "Give me back my alcohol!" I hate to sound like such a Freudian psychobabbler, but talk about classic oral fixation! He sounds like a baby crying for his mother's milk.  

By now, I'm feeling a bit like a psychological voyeur, but here I go. Cobain's contribution continues as I flip through the pages. "Don't read my diary when I'm gone" There's no period at the end of that line. It leads me to believe he's not so sure of himself, and that he does not want his dubious command to be taken seriously or followed. He skips a line, and perhaps the second part of this statement was completed at a later moment. It reads, "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."  Now that I've been given permission, I don't feel as guilty anymore. I think it could be interpreted permission? Yet it sounds so tentative, so sarcastic, and so incredibly ambivalent. Guilt takes me back to the cover and it's bright red-too bright to be blood red. Or is it? It's more like the kind of red that you see on department store Santa's suits. The CD has now ended. If I had one word to describe its contents, I'd have to say it's "unstable." Since Christmas is upon us, this causes me to come up with a creative connection-unstable and stable. Hold on, here comes a burst of creative inspiration. It seems to be taking on the form of a brand new Christmas song for the mentally ill:  

There is a stable for the unstable
In Bethlehem it's brimming full of peace 
A place where every troubled mind can find Him
It's lit up with a great star from the East...
The first verse is interrupted, once again, by tinges of journalistic guilt. This is so incredibly personal. Yes, I'm a shrink, and I am doing this in order to glean creative inspiration and insight, and then reveal psychological those insights to my readers, but I still feel like there may already be bloodstains on my hands. Am I just a part of the mass media machine that exploited him, spit him out, and left him for dead? I don't know if I can continue in this quest.  That remains to be seen. 


 Copyright © 1996 - 2003 The Phantom Tollbooth