By MIKE CHAIKEN
April 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. And April saw Nirvana– the band that set the stage for the onslaught of grunge– inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
And just in time for the remembrances of Cobain and the Hall of Fame induction, Connecticut author Carrie Borzillo’s 2000 book about the seminal rock band has been re-issued.
Carrie’s original book, “Eyewitness Nirvana: The Day by Day Chronicle,” has been retitled, “Nirvana: In The Words of the People Who Were There.”
In a phone call from Los Angeles, Carrie explained that although she was knee deep in the world of music and entertainment journalism around the time of Cobain’s death, she originally had no plans on writing a book about Cobain or Nirvana.
But in 1999, Carrie (who in her younger days worked as a photographer selling souvenir keepsakes at Lake Compounce in Bristol/ Southington) said she was approached by a publisher who issued a book series called “Eyewitness.” These books reported on important events on a selected band’s timeline based on an oral history of those who were in the band’s circle. She said she was familiar with – and liked— the series because her former editor had written a similar book about R.E.M.
Carrie said she also “loved” the format of the “Eyewitness” series. She knew there was a pretty comprehensive biography available about Nirvana at the same time she was asked to write the book. So the “Eyewitness” series gave her the opportunity to take a different approach then what was covered previously. Plus, she saw the “Eyewitness” book as one that would appeal to fans.
Also, at the time she was approached for the book in 1999, Carrie said she definitely was a fan of Nirvana. And for those in the world music journalism, Cobain’s suicide was one of the biggest stories in recent memory. She was in Seattle at the time of the event so she witnessed first hand the impact of Cobain’s suicide on fans.
The book, which was based on interviews of people who knew Cobain, also tapped into Carrie’s journalism skills. Prior to becoming a young editor at Billboard magazine, her first job after graduating Western Connecticut State University was working as a reporter at the Record-Journal in Meriden.
So, Carrie explained, she had the right skills to pull off the assignment. The book was about a band she liked. And, most importantly, the publisher had asked her to write the book rather than requiring her to make a pitch.
So the book “was a no brainer,” said Carrie.
Researching the book in 1999 “was daunting at first,” said Carrie. Some important dates in the Nirvana’s history were easy to track down, such as tours and album releases.
But, Carrie said the internet in 1999 wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as it is now. So, rather than punching things up on Google, she had to do some old-fashioned legwork. She went to the library to look things up. And she set up, via a fax machine, interviews with people who knew the band first hand.
Finding those people who knew Cobain and Nirvana flowed a lot easier thanks to the kindness from strangers, said Carrie. She would do one interview and the subject of that interview would point her in the direction of someone else who could give her information.
In all, Carrie said she interviewed 50 people for the book. But she felt she could have done a more thorough job and interviewed more people.
But, Carrie explained, she started the book in 1999, Cobain’s suicide was still pretty fresh in the minds of those who knew him. So some people weren’t ready to talk about the singer for the book.
And there was also a fear of Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, and concerns about how she might retaliate against those who spoke with Carrie.
But with the re-issue in 2014 (one of several since it was first published), Carrie said she was disappointed the publisher didn’t give her the opportunity to update the book for the anniversary of Cobain’s death. If she had, Carrie said she was confident more people would be willing to speak to her.
Since this is a re-issue of the original book, said Carrie (who has written several books since than including “Cherry Bomb: The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Better Flirt, a Tougher Chick, and a Hotter Girlfriend,” “Living Life Like a Rock Star,”, and “Tera Patrick’s Sinner Takes All: A Memoir of Love & Porn”), she wanted to do something more than just let the book become another product that exploited the tragic anniversary. In an effort to give back, and in recognition of Cobain’s lifelong battle with depression, she is selling signed copies of her re-issued book on her website with a percentage of the sales of each book being donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
As someone who was a fan of Nirvana and who has written about Nirvana, Carrie was asked why she thought the band is still the topic of conversation and still resides in the hearts of music fans 20 years after its break-up.
“Good music lasts forever,” said Carrie, “first and foremost.”
Also, she said, Cobain was “the voice of the generation… of the misfit kids.”
The genius of Cobain was “he struck a chord at such a visceral level,” said Carrie. His feelings are shared by each generation of kids who don’t think they fit in.
Additionally, the band had a defining impact on pop culture at large.
Carrie said Nirvana “really turned the music industry on its ass and turned it upside down.”
Prior to the band’s arrival on the national scene, music fans were enamored with the “big hair” metal bands (think Poison and Whitesnake). Once Nirvana arrived, almost overnight, all of those bands disappeared from the charts.
Also, said Carrie, people still talk about Nirvana because Cobain did kill himself. “It just made him more of an icon like John Lennon or Elvis Presley.” If Cobain simply had passed away from old age, Carrie said his impact and the band’s impact would not have been nearly as great.
“We remember tragedy more than the good things.”
And what would have Cobain thought about his band being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, if he had lived?
Carrie was blunt. She said she didn’t think Cobain would have survived long enough to see the induction. If he had not killed himself in 1994, even if he had sought treatment for his depression, he still probably would have killed himself at a later date.
That said, said Carrie addressing the question, “Kurt struggled with fame. He didn’t want to be popular… He was very outspoken about his struggle.”
But if he were alive today, said Carrie, “He’d show up (to the Rock Roll Hall of Fame induction and make light of it) with some statement t-shirt… such as ‘Hall of Shame.’”
For more information about Carrie Borzillo and “Nirvana: In The Words of the People Who Were There,” go to CarrieBorzillo.com
By MIKE CHAIKEN