Cross, Charles R.
CROSS, Charles R.
PERSONAL: Born in Richmond, VA; son of a psychology professor; children: Ashland (son). Education: Attended Parsons School of Design and Washington State University. Hobbies and other interests: Collecting jukeboxes and pinball machines, bicycling, hiking, swimming, and running.
ADDRESSES: Home—WA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Backstreets Publishing Inc., P.O. Box 60094, Shoreline, WA 98160.
CAREER: Rocket, Seattle, WA, editor, 1986–2000.
Backstreets: Springsteen, the Man and His Music, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1989.
(With Jim Berkenstadt) Nevermind: Nirvana, Schirmer Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Heavier than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain, Hyperion (Westport, CT), 2001.
Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to magazines, including Rolling Stone, Esquire, Playboy, and Spin.
SIDELIGHTS: Charles R. Cross, the long-time editor of the now-defunct Seattle-based music scene magazine Rocket, is the author of several books about popular rock musicians. Because of his work for that magazine, he had a front-row seat for the birth of grunge music and the dramatic rise and fall of that genre's iconic band, Nirvana. Nevermind: Nirvana and Heavier than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain, which is about that band's lead singer, sprang from those experiences.
Nevermind, which takes its title from Nirvana's now-classic 1991 album, examines how that record not only made Nirvana one of the most popular bands in the United States but also changed the course of music history by bringing alternative, post-punk rock into the mainstream. Heavier than Heaven, the more widely known of the two books, offers an insider's view of Cobain's self-destructive personal life through his journal entries and over four hundred interviews with those who knew him, including his widow, Courtney Love, and the surviving Nirvana musicians. The excerpts from Cobain's journals and interviews with his childhood friends are particularly interesting, critics noted, because they show how prophetic the young Cobain's statements about his future life were. In 1985 the then-homeless eighteen-year-old declared to a friend: "I'm going to make a record that's going to be even bigger than U2 or REM," but even before that, at age fourteen, he had decided that "I'm going to be a musician, kill myself and go out in a flame of glory"—all of which turned out to be true.
"The biography, which goes into grim detail about Cobain's self-doubts, grunge lifestyle and heroin abuse, is a pretty disturbing, sometimes shocking tale, and not for the fainthearted," Michael R. Farkash explained in the Hollywood Reporter. Because of Love's cooperation, Cross is able to offer an intimate look inside the relationship between her and Cobain, which frequently featured her using every means at her disposal to try convince or force him to quit drugs. Love also quickly learned to deal efficiently with his frequent near-fatal overdoses, one of which, described in Cross's opening chapter, happened only hours after Nirvana made their debut on Saturday Night Live. "Love is the Lady Macbeth of this book—without her, it would be a much duller story," Lynn Barber declared in London's Daily Telegraph newspaper. Cross also attempts to debunk some of the myths that Cobain himself helped to create about his life, particularly his exaggerated versions of the deprivations he suffered as a child and a teenager.
Several critics praised Heavier than Heaven. Farkash concluded that the book "is the best, truest kind of biography—an unsparing portrait laced with affection for the talent and the music," while Barber noted that "Cross's research is impeccable…. He writes with a fine mixture of sympathy and sense, weeding the myth of all of its lies and exaggerations, but never minimizing the complexity of his subject." James Sullivan, writing in Book, also commented on Cross's extensive research and declared the title to be "the essential volume on the subject." Booklist reviewer Mike Tribby concluded that the book is "probably too reverent for Nirvana nonfans," but, he concluded, "this is still a standout among rock bios."
Cross takes on another self-destructive rock god from Seattle in Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix. Like Cobain, Hendrix became a seemingly overnight star as a young musician and had difficulty coping with the stresses of fame; and like Cobain he also died at age twenty-seven, although in his case the cause of death was an accidental drug overdose rather than an intentional suicide. Hendrix's memory had already generated numerous biographies when Room Full of Mirrors was published, and, as Cross told Library Journal interviewer Robert Morast, that "initially made me think, 'I don't know what I can tell.' Yet I did know the story of Jimi's life in Seattle had not been told. Most celebrity biographies begin when the person is famous. I'm much more interested in what shapes the person." Indeed, a Kirkus Reviews critic commented, "Cross is strongest in his chapters about Hendrix's deprived upbringing in Seattle and the first stirrings of his musical urges." "Not only does this read like the definitive take on Hendrix," Morast wrote in his review of Room Full of Mirrors, "but it also positions Cross as the next great rock biographer."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Cross, Charles R., Heavier than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain, Hyperion (Westport, CT), 2001.
Billboard, May 23, 1992, Chris Morris, review of Backstreets: Springsteen, the Man and His Music, p. 61.
Book, September, 2001, James Sullivan, review of Heavier than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain, p. 70.
Booklist, September 15, 1998, Gordon Flagg, review of Nevermind: Nirvana, p. 182; July, 2001, Mike Tribby, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 1966.
Books Magazine, Christmas, 2001, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 25.
Book World, February 25, 2001, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 6.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), September 15, 2001, Lynn Barber, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 4.
Entertainment Weekly, August 17, 2001, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 64.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), September 29, 2001, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. D6.
Hollywood Reporter, November 6, 2001, Michael R. Farkash, "Never Mind Hagiography, Here's 'Cobain," p. 91.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2001, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 840; June 15, 2005, review of Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix, p. 670.
Library Journal, July 1, 2001, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 93; July 1, 2005, Robert Morast, review of Room Full of Mirrors, p. 82, interview with Charles R. Cross, p. 84.
New Yorker, August 20, 2001, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 174.
New York Times, August 20, 2001, Robert Christgau, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 160.
New York Times Book Review, October 14, 2001, John Leland, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 18; November 24, 2002, Scott Veale, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 36.
Observer (London, England), October 14, 2001, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 18.
People, October 8, 2001, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 59.
Publishers Weekly, July 16, 2001, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 174.
Time, September 10, 2001, review of Heavier than Heaven, p. 86.
Charles R. Cross Home Page, http://www.charlesrcross.com (August 22, 2005).