In 1990, music manager and Gold Mountain Entertainment Founder Danny Goldberg took a meeting with an up-and-coming Seattle-based group, at the recommendation of his clients Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, of Sonic Youth. A few days later, the members of Nirvana—Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl—arrived at his L.A. office. From that first meeting on, and for the next three years, Goldberg would oversee Nirvana’s rise from indie opening act to one of the most influential bands in the world, simultaneously playing the roles of manager, mentor, father figure, and friend. Now, on the 25th anniversary of Cobain’s death, Goldberg has written “a love letter” to his friend, that enduring totem of grunge rock and alt-music culture, in the form of the book, Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain.
Tonight at 6 p.m., Labyrinth Books in partnership with Princeton Record Exchange, will welcome Goldberg to the bookstore for a conversation about his book and his friend. “Grunge was a dirty sound full of distorted guitar and raw vocals, and Nirvana spearheaded the movement,” says PREX owner Jon Lambert. “Kurt Cobain tapped into that zeitgeist and changed the musical landscape forever.” Below, Goldberg talks about his fourth book and why it took him a quarter of a century to write it. “I needed the distance to be able to collect my thoughts and feelings,” he says. “I wanted to describe Kurt through my eyes.”
On first impressions: “Although Kurt rarely raised his voice, it was apparent to me that he made virtually all of the decisions for the band. Kurt knew exactly what he wanted to do creatively. He wrote the music and the lyrics, was the lead singer and the lead guitar player, had the ideas for the album covers and music videos, and did most of the interviews.”
On managing Nirvana: “For the first few months, my role was to be the older manager who knew the mainstream music business. However, in October 1991, a few weeks after Nevermind was released, Kurt got romantically involved with Courtney Love. I was one of the few around the band who got along with her and understood the depth of Kurt’s feelings for her. From that moment until Kurt’s death, I had a much more personal relationship with him.”
On the release of Nevermind: “The recording process for Nevermind went very smoothly. Despite an image as a punk and a slacker—Kurt had an incredible work ethic when it came to his art. The first single, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ was played on radio stations and the video was on MTV; it exploded with a velocity greater than anything I’ve ever experienced before or since.”
On the artist Kurt Cobain: “There are many great artists making music today but each of them is unique—and so was Kurt. I definitely feel he was a genius. He reinvented rock and roll. To me, he is in the top tier of rock artists, on a list with John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, David Bowie, and a handful of others.”
On Serving the Servant: “When I first thought of writing it, I asked Courtney what she thought; she was very supportive but said, ‘Write what you know,’ which was excellent advice that I took to heart. There are several other books that cover Kurt’s childhood; I wanted to paint a portrait of Kurt as I saw him during those years. I felt that Kurt was the servant of a Muse that only he could hear but whose energy he could transmit to millions, and that the job of those who worked with him was to help him do that.”
On Kurt’s legacy: “Part of why I wrote Serving the Servant was because I felt that his media image had come to disproportionately focus on his death and his struggle with drugs that led up to it. While I obviously couldn’t ignore those facts, and describe in detail many dark moments, I wanted to shine a light on his brilliance and his sweetness.”