Skip to main content

Serving The Servant Review


Serving the Servant by Danny Goldberg
Overall: 5
This is a biography about Kurt Cobain written by his former manager Danny Goldberg. I decided I'd give it a shot because I really enjoyed Me Elton John which I'd read last year, and I'd recently seen clips of Nirvana's MTV unplugged in a music documentary and was intrigued. Like with Elton John, I knew the basic details about Kurt Cobain before I started the book, but, beyond that, I had no clue what to expect. I'm actually listening to Nevermind for the fist time as I write this (though the more I listen the more I feel like I've heard a lot of it before without realizing it).
Anyway, I was immediately sucked into the book. It captured my attention in a way that nothing had been able to for almost a solid month. I really like Danny Goldberg's writing style. It's extremely conversational and makes the reader feel like part of the story or the discussion. He's telling Kurt and Nirvana's story, but he's telling his own first and foremost which sets the book in an interesting position both in a point of view and an objectivity sense.
You can tell immediately that even though Kurt and Danny started as business partners, they became like family, and, of course, that's going to color your recollection of a subject. Especially when it's someone who is gone who meant to world to you. Yes, I'm sure that the book is biased to put Kurt in the best light even in his worst moments, and there are pieces where you can feel Goldberg getting defensive, but I don't think that makes for a less accurate or compelling portrait. I've never read anything else about Kurt book or article wise so I don't really know thee story from any other angle, but I'm almost glad that I heard it this way first. I'd never read a biography written by someone close to the person, and I actually think it's a really great prospective to write a biography from. It provides the aspects of humanization and gives personal anecdotes that you'd get from an autobiography, but it also has an extra layer of commentary that you couldn't give as the person living it. Goldberg does an incredible job of contextualizing the whirlwind situation he lived in and giving his take on events as an outsider. I also just really appreciated his general stance through the whole books that life unfolds the way it does for a reason, and you're not really going to stop and change that. Especially when telling the story later. He doesn't seem to be a what if kind of person. Goldberg carries a level of respect through the whole book that makes it feel right when discussing the life of someone so used and spun by the media.
The way that Goldberg tells the story, every chapter is sorta centered around a major subject or event in each time period or phase. It sometimes means that timelines jumped around in different chapters, but, mostly, it moved forward in an easily understandable way that did a good job of emphasizing major events or parts of Kurt that Goldberg wanted everyone to take notice of. Most of these traits were recurring themes through his life. Again, as someone who knew nothing going in and coming from someone who reads and writes fiction, Goldberg does an impeccable job of building his character to be as multifaceted and compelling as he was in real life, which is no easy feat. He painted the picture of a guy who walked a lot of fine lines. Who engaged with music in an open minded way and never got caught in the common stiff genre lines or in the indie vs mainstream label issue. He was just going to make the art that he wanted to make and everyone else could shut up. But he was also extremely politically progressive, loudly a feminist and LGBTQ rights advocate as well as someone comfortable playing with the line between masculine and feminine. Someone who pushed back against harmful stereotypes that permeated music as a whole. It went with the just doing me attitude that runs through the whole book and every decision made. There's also tons of instances of walking contradictions. Smoking but telling the kid who walked up to him in the street not to. Wanting to keep his heroin use out of the media less for his own image and more because he didn't want teens thinking it was cool because he did it. Changing the album art for In Utero and compromising his artistic vision so that Walmart would carry it and it would be accessible to more teens. The little anecdotes make the intentionality of every action extremely clear. While the book emphasizes the best parts of Kurt and sorta downplays the addiction and more negative clashes with the media and paranoia, I don't think that's a totally bad thing. It's easy to picture an addict in your head. Everyone knows the negative side of that and how much pain and damage it causes, and, so often, how someone's life ends or the worst of their struggles becomes their story more than who they were as a person. It's all in there and properly acknowledged cause it happened, but it doesn't shape the story, it doesn't change who he was as a person at his core, and that gets lost in a lot of portrayals.
The book brings to life the kind of reality that would make fame feel like a trap. It illustrates how profoundly the media can effect the lives of celebrities, who, at the end of the day, are just people too. I think that the fame and media coverage are such an important part of the story towards the end that you wouldn't be able to fully grasp the impact and repercussions if it wasn't being told by someone who was right in the middle of it when it happened. Words and judgments have power that people might not even realize at the time when they write them, and that's one of the biggest things that you walk away from the book with.
Another major part of the book is Courtney Love who was Kurt's wife and is still close with Danny Goldberg. She was the lead singer in a band called Hole, and I already liked her music going into this so I guess I was biased to like her, but Goldberg paints another well done picture of someone who had deep flaws but an amazing heart and was dripping in wit and talent. I like that there's a significant focus in the book on the sexism and misogyny Courtney faced in the media for being attached to Kurt and for being an outspoken, unapologetic woman. There's a lot of quotes from Kurt in the book calling it out and a lot of commentary from Goldberg on that front too. I'm glad to see that getting pointed out and called out because it happens so often, even now, in how the press talks about women who make art and especially women who are involved with high profile men.
As final comments on the book itself, I'd say that this is a great read for anyone looking for a story to get lost in. You don't feel like you're reading a biography of someone it's so animated. Goldberg includes tons of quotes from other people in the business close to Kurt, from Courtney, from Krist, and from articles at the time to create a more well rounded picture that also contextualizes what was going on at the time from every angle. If you're not super familiar with the music world or the music business, Goldberg makes it accessible from the start by taking a lot of time at the start to explain the scene dynamic at the beginning, the labels and their relationships, and how the music business works in general. It makes sure you won't get lost, and, if you're like me and are fascinated by how that business works, it's an interesting additional story. I finished the book with a real admiration for who Kurt was as a person, and, even though it all unfolded way before I was even born, I was able to identify with the story and find elements of what draws me to my favorite artists in Kurt. I couldn't put it down.
If you want to hear more about what I learned about Kurt Cobain and Nirvana and Hole's music, I dedicated an episode of my podcast The Empathy Factor to further discussing the book. To listen that that one and our other episodes, check out the webpage here. For a direct link to just the episode, check it out here.

Links of Interest:
Every Other Weekend: Review Here
Into YA with Emma Lord: Here
New Blog Goals: Here
I Got Rid of (Almost) All my Books: Here

Music Musings and Me: Here

Comments

  1. Seems like it is a really great book! Thanks for sharing your thoughts - I'll definitely check this one out.

    Jamie @ Books and Ladders

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Bi Book Love

I'm so excited about this list and the upcoming list on Aro/Ace/Demi rep because I feel like these areas of representation have grown so much recently. I also feel like it's harder to find these identities on specific lists or super easily, so I wanted to share some of my favorites for those of you who are seeking them out. I've made book rainbows for Pride Month and made general lists (which you can find here), but I wanted to do something different this year. I didn't want to repeat the same list, and I also realized I don't have a complete rainbow of LGBTQIA spines anymore after getting rid of most of my books. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I picked a couple of my favorites that I wanted to spotlight. To learn more about each book, click the title to read my full review.

Verona Comics  by Jennifer Dugan This is one of my new all time favorite books (which I'm extra pleased about because my expectations were sky high from waiting well over a year). …

YA Book Review: I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver

I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver 
Overview: Ben is nonbinary. The book opens with them working up the courage to finally come out to their parents. Even though his parents are religious and conservative, Ben feels like it might be okay. Mostly, they feel like they can't keep living with a secret that big. They want their parents to know them fully. Instead of love and support, they get thrown out of the house. Ben calls their older sister who they haven't seen in ten years, but she shows up right away. As Ben transitions to living with their sister and her husband, they have to navigate a brand new school, a new family situation, and a new therapist all at once. While it's a lot to process, Ben comes out stronger, healthier, and happier on the other side. Overall: 5 

Characters: 5 Ben and I have honestly nothing in common yet I found them so incredibly relatable on a minute detail level. We have a ton of similar thoughts and reactions and just life philosophies, which…

Ace/Aro/Demi Book Love

Last week, I shared all my favorite recent releases with bi main characters. A lot of you commented and shared your favorites as well, and it was so fun to learn about some new books! As Pride Month comes to an end, I wanted to make one my post to celebrate. Today I'm talking about my favorite books with Aro, Ace, or Demi representation. Again, I've found it tricky sometimes to find books with this specific representation, so I wanted to share in case some of you are looking for new books! This is a quick, little post, so if you want to add more books to it, just leave a comment!
Tash Hearts Tolstoy By Kathryn Ormsbee I've been a huge fan of this book since I first read it a couple years ago. It was the first book I ever read with ace rep. Tash is such an intelligent, lovable character, and the friendship story is also strong too. Even as she achieves career success with her scripted YouTube series, she's still navigating what her identity means to her, and being open ab…

Into YA with Lindsay Sproul

Hi, everyone! I know I've been gone for a minute, but I'm excited to come back with my interview with Lindsay Sproul. Lindsay and I have been working on this interview for a while, ever since I first read We Were Promised Spotlights. I'm so excited to have a more in-depth discussion about the book and get to look at it through this new prospective. It was a super eye opening read for me and probably most other teens my age who weren't alive when the story takes place. If you haven't had the chance to read Lindsay's book, you can check out my review here to get up to speed.


1. The most notable part of the book right from the start is that it doesn’t take place in 2020. It’s set in 1999-2000 in a small beach town. Why did you decide to set it in the near past? How do you approach writing a book for teens who mostly hadn’t been born when the story takes place? 

Aside from the fact that I was a teen in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, I think it’s important for teens to b…

Books I'm Looking Forward To: July

Can you believe it's almost July? I'm shocked that June is coming to a close. Just like last month, June is packed with an amazing set of books that I can't wait to start reading. We're also starting to see some of the spring books that got pushed because of COVID come out, and I'm so glad that these authors are getting that chance, even though conditions are still less than ideal. I've been waiting for most of these books since I seriously started blogging again back in March, and I'm so excited to finally start reading them. I wanted to share a quick list of some of the books I'm most excited to read over the course of the month. I have ARCs for all of these, so expect reviews coming soon. I just started I Killed Zoe Spanos, and I'm already sucked into its atmospheric, mysterious world. 
As always, preorders, especially now, are so important for supporting authors. Many of them are offering fun preorder incentives if you send in your receipts. I&#…

My Eyes Are Up Here- YA Book Review

My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmermann
Overview: Greer's life has been governed by body insecurity. She hides in XXL sweatshirts to try to take her chest out of the conversation. It doesn't stop the cruel jokes, the pain, the logistical nightmare with sports, and the impossibility of finding a dress that feels made for her. Over the course of her sophomore year, she starts to test the self-imposed limitations as she gets closer to the new guy, tries out for the volleyball team, and takes her voice back from society and her body image constraints. Overall: 4

Characters: 4 Greer is such a fun main character to follow. She is sarcastic and has a worldview that really matches my own, so we clicked quickly. She's a realist with a streak of idealism. A lot of identity comes from her braininess as she leads all her classes, and she uses it as a way to compensate for trying to pretend her physicality doesn't exist. This emerges for a wide variety of societal pressures that is u…

I'll Be the One Review

I'll Be The One by Lyla Lee
Overview: Skye loves K-Pop, singing, and dancing. She's studied for countless hours and has gotten really, really good. When the first LA based K-Pop competition starts holding auditions, Skye knows it's her time to shine. While her dad and her friends are supportive, her mom hates the idea. She doesn't believe fat girls can dance. This only pushes Skye more as she's determined to prove to her mom and to all the fat-phobic haters that she can do whatever she wants and be proud of it. Even though the competition isn't an easy road, it's full of fun new friends, self discovery, glitzy performances, and a possible love interest. Overall: 5

Characters: 5 Skye is a character that's easy to like. She radiates light and determination without ever crossing into annoying territory. She has a clear view of what she wants, and she's not afraid to work for it. Despite years and years of hurtful, self esteem wrecking comments from her m…

YA Book Review Parachutes by Kelly Yang

Parachutes by Kelly Yang 
TW: Sexual Assault
Overview: Claire and Dani start out feeling like they live on two different planets. Claire has lived a glamorous life in China, cared for by live-in help and constantly picked up after. Every argument with her dad ends in a new purse or pair of shoes, and she's never had to seriously want for anything. Dani and her mom work for a housecleaning service to stay afloat. She attends American Prep on scholarship and works hard to fund her debate travel. Eventually, her mom signs up to host an international student to make a little extra money. While Claire and Dani originally clash, their experiences over the course of the school year make them realize they have more in common than they originally thought. Overall: 5 

Characters: 5 Every single character in this books was so well drawn and thoroughly paid attention to. Through subtle nuances, even the most minor characters were stunningly clear and realistic. Every character had their fair mix…

Into YA with Jennifer Dugan

I'm so excited to introduce my first repeat author for Into YA! Jennifer Dugan is back on the blog to chat about Verona Comics, one of my favorite books of the year (and probably all time). If you've followed my blog for any amount of time, you probably know about Verona Comics by now, but if you want a refresher or some context for our conversation, check out my review of it here.
Also, if you're curious about my first interview with Jennifer about Hot Dog Girl, you can find it here.  And if you want to get a copy of Verona Comics or learn more, here's a link to her author website with all the links.

1.I absolutely love that Verona Comics is such a clear nod to Romeo and Juliet. Did you set out to write a modern retelling? You explore and contextualize a lot of the more toxic elements of the original story. Were there any major changes that you had to make to Shakespeare’s outline to make it fit YA today?   
I actually didn’t go into Verona Comic’s with the idea of mak…

You Should See Me In A Crown YA Book Review

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Overview: Liz never thought she'd run for prom queen. It's a deeply entrenched tradition on the suburb of Campbell, Indiana. Though it's mostly a show of popularity, there is a scholarship for the king and queen. When Liz doesn't get as much financial aid as she needs to go to her dream school, she signs herself up to compete. After many weeks of community service and competitions, prom season manages to change the course of Liz's senior year. Overall: 5

Character: 5 I loved Liz! She was such a great main character to follow because she has the right amount of optimism and reality. She has a lot happening in her life that she has to juggle and keep up with, and I could definitely identify with her feelings of never having done enough. Over the course of the prom season, she forces herself to come out of her shell a little more and get comfortable with throwing herself in the middle of the mix. It also causes an identity st…