Kurt Cobain: The Last Session book review by Harriet Kaplan
You don't have to be a Kurt Cobain and/or Nirvana fan to love photographer Jesse Frohman's book, "Kurt Cobain: The Last Session" (Thames & Hudson). Anyone who has a passion for music will enjoy the book and learn more about what's going on his psyche. The iconic artist will always be associated with the "club of 27" and was labeled "the voice of his generation" that changed rock forever. In this book, the primary focus is on a pivotal time in the band's burgeoning career in 1993.
The setting is New York City during a 24-hour time period where the band was scheduled to play Roseland Ballroom and to promote their new album, "In Utero." Jesse Frohman took photos prior to the show and during the band rehearsals to accompany an article in the London Observer written by Jon Savage. Now, this article has been reprinted in the book along with hundreds of photos of the band taken by Frohman. New commentary by Frohman and Savage is also provided. Frohman gives an insider look into what it took to get the photos of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana and his impressions of Cobain.
Cobain's drug use is acknowledged and it colored the mood of sessions to a certain extent, Frohman said. In the photos, Cobain is more an advertisement for thrift store chic than grunge wearing Jackie O inspired sunglasses, a vintage Air Force cap and a leopard jacket. Refusing to take his sunglasses off during the initial shoot, Frohman
said he felt that Cobain was at once hiding from the glare of the media, and at the same time, courting it, therefore in essence: controlling it. Glenn O'Brien, in his detailed and illuminating essay, also touched on that internal conflict Cobain was having acting as conduit for his millions of fans but that he eventually burn out himself as a result of that. O'Brien also talked about what he thought Nirvana meant musically ("Grunge
was the fuzztone and feedback and vocals pushing the envelope of incoherence, moving from quiet clarity to raw-voiced berserker rage") as well as being a cultural force ("It was about resistance to bad systems, big-time resistance in the Mega-Ohm range") and what O'Brien called the Kurt Cobain aesthetic ("comfy, androgynous, don't-give-a-fuck-for-propriety rebellion...").
At the heart of it, O'Brien said Nirvana was rebelling against the way a man was supposed to be a man and how that affected gender roles. In the new commentary featured in the book, Jon Savage spoke about getting Cobain to open up and used his upbringing in Aberdeen, Washington as a starting point in the conversation to provoke hopefully meaningful responses. Using this tactic/method resulted in a insightful, wide-ranging interview touched on many of the factors that shaped Cobain as a person, artist and musician. Savage's interview transports the reader back to 1993, where at the time, Cobain was burdened by exceedingly high expectations brought on by enormous fame, yet somehow he managed to retain his own vision and identity and come across as very real and human.
Jesse Frohman is a New York-based photographer who has photographed a wide array of celebrities, including James Brown, Woody Allen, Diane Von Furstenberg, Philip Johnson, John Updike, The Strokes, and Josh Brolin, among others. His work has been featured in magazines as diverse as Vanity Fair, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, V Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Interview, Rolling Stone, and Spin.