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“Grunge is Dead”

Apr. 23 2009, Updated 5:19 a.m. ET

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It was 15 years ago this month that Kurt Cobain took his own life in his greenhouse in Seattle, joining the 27 Club with the likes of Jim, Jimi, Janis, and Brian before him. And appropriately there’s a new book to mark the occasion—Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music (ECW)—that offers up another look at the Seattle scene, this time strung together in the words of those who lived it, like successful rock history tomes Please Kill Me and Andrew Loog Oldham’s Stoned before it. 

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Author Greg Prato talked to 130 people who were there when—there being Seattle, of course, and when being in the ‘90s when grunge ruled the music world—including, most impressively, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, along with members of Soundgarden and Alice In Chains and the founders of seminal Seattle record label Sub Pop. Going further behind the music, the book includes interviews with the women in the rock stars’ lives—Kurt Cobain’s pre-Courtney girlfriend Tracy Marander (and the inspiration for “About A Girl”), Susan Silver, Chris Cornell’s ex-wife and –manager, and the mother of late Alice In Chains singer Layne Staley, who speaks about her deceased son’s drug problem. 

The book spans over the decades prior to the rise of grunge as well, but gives credit where credit is due, focusing on the heyday. This, of course, is ambitious territory being that many great books on the Seattle scene exist; fans can find more in depth looks at linchpin Cobain elsewhere, most notably Michael Azerrad’s Come As You Are and Charles Cross’s Heavier Than Heaven, for which Courtney Love gave the writer access to Cobain’s personal journals before publishing parts of them as Kurt Cobain’s Journals in 2002. And last year, Nirvana manager Danny Goldberg’s Bumping Into Geniuses came out, giving fans an insider’s perspective on the enigma that was Cobain. 

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Grunge Is Dead doesn’t pretend to be an authority on anyone or anything. It offers a snapshot of a time in music by those who were there, in their own words, which in turn makes it rather authoritative. Author Prato, for one, was not there, but his love for the project comes through in his attention to detail. He spent three years researching the subject and conducting the interviews, with not just rock stars, but roadies, sound guys, djs, publicists, assistants, photographers and concert-goers. The book gets into a lot of the minutiae—like cover artwork, early concerts or the drums on an obscure album—which might be boring for the average reader, but will be utterly engrossing for fans.

Recalling an early concert in a small venue in Texas, Eddie Vedder sums it all up well, admitting, “I almost remember those shows as not being exciting, but when I watch them now, it was exciting on a hundred levels.” 

(Photo: From the book Grunge is Dead, by Greg Prato (ECW Press). Photos by Bootsy Holler.)

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