Paging Through Kurt Cobain's Diaries

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Publishers got a sneak peak last week at the journals of former Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, placed up for auction by his widow, Courtney Love, and widely expected to become a best-seller. Publishing insiders who have read excerpts from Cobain's 23 notebooks, about 800 pages written over several years, tell TIME the early buzz is warranted. The diaries include a handwritten draft of lyrics to Cobain's generation-defining single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," with verses crossed out and circled. Cobain obsessively lists his 50 favorite CDs during various periods, often naming albums by fellow Seattleites the Melvins. There are also letters — to bandmates, to lovers, even a note firing the band's first drummer.

Publishing sources describe the diaries as an intimate look at an artist who cherished his privacy. Says one, "I got a sense of him as a businessman, as a writer. His personality came through powerfully."

Several passages reflect Cobain's well-documented heroin addiction and bouts of depression (he committed suicide in 1994). Others — like a huffy list of band rules — reveal the surprising ambition of an artist who popularized a genre — grunge — that scorned popular success. — reported by Andrea Sachs