On March 25, 1994 — just 11 days before Kurt Cobain died by suicide — Danny Goldberg flew to Seattle in a desperate attempt to save his life. “I felt impotent,” he recalled of the intervention. “Just a few months earlier, he had told a journalist I was like a ‘second father’ to him…now I could barely reach him.”
It has taken Goldberg, who was Nirvana’s co-manager from 1990 until Cobain’s death, 25 years to tell his story. The result is Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain, a warmly told, richly detailed memoir that focuses solely on the three and a half years Goldberg worked with the band. Perhaps refreshingly, he glosses over Cobain’s childhood and begins in his turbulent teenage punk years: “I have little to add to that historical record of his early life and I didn’t seek out people whom I didn’t know from my work with Kurt,” he notes.
Goldberg’s first-hand accounts shed light on iconic moments in the band’s career: He vividly recalls when Nevermind made them international superstars. He was sitting in a VIP section with Cobain at the 1992 VMAs when the alt-rock hero nearly got into a fistfight with Axl Rose, and was present on the set of the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video (with his one-year old daughter in tow). He supported Cobain during the setbacks he faced while creating 1993’s uncompromising In Utero — which included being asked to remix the LP’s singles and altering its back cover art to please Walmart.
Goldberg, who was then married to Rosemary Carroll, Cobain and Courtney Love’s lawyer, dedicates an entire chapter to his attempts to shield the pair in the wake of an infamously unflattering 1992 Vanity Fair article. He also gets tangled up in the couple’s battle over custody of their daughter, Frances Bean, arranging for Love’s half sister to act as a temporary caretaker.
This “unbiased” devotion may not make Goldberg the most reliable narrator, especially when he confesses that “the memory thing is an issue,” heavily relying on other sources to jumpstart his recollections. (Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic was interviewed extensively for the book, while drummer Dave Grohl does not appear at all). However, Goldberg accomplishes the goal he strives for: admirably, he’s more interested in delving into Cobain’s music and creativity than relitigating the causes of his tragic suicide. If anything, he’s added a fascinating perspective to one of rock’s most harrowing stories, one that will certainly enhance the late icon’s legacy.