These days, intense emotional reactions followed by brutally honest self-analysis seem to be the only way people know how to tell the truth and in return, you believe in anything they say. Ninety minutes or so into the new documentary about the last famous person I ever related to or cared about, Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck, home movie footage shows “the voice of a generation” hold his infant daughter as she’s getting a haircut. At first it seems to be this sweet moment but when the definitely tired, possibly drug-addled, and likely disconnected Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain nods off and his baby begins to cry you realize all is lost.
Four times during the look into the driving force of one of my favorite bands, I turned it off and wept. The visceral way I watched Montage Of Heck speaks to not only the impact of Kurt’s art but also the nasty truths behind his life and death by suicide in April, 1994.
No one was ever there for him and he just gave up.
The top search term for this blog is “Kurt Cobain Sychophant”. There’s no need for me to sell you on the greatness of him as an artist or the deep way I felt related to him as a mentally ill person, and fellow “small, moody, and weird reject”. What Montage Of Heck does is slay every myth about Kurt Cobain and painfully reveal that despite years of red flags and cries for help, Kurt died alone and it seemed to be his destiny from a very early age.
The first half of the film shows his childhood. A lot of time is devoted to his diaries, journals, notebooks, drawings, and personal voice recordings beginning during his pre-teen and teen years.
I took away some stuff, a lot of it I already knew, but given new context, from the documentary.
1) Kurt needed therapy as early as age 9. His parents divorced in the mid 1970s. He acted out as a result, bouncing between equally clueless and selfish mother and father as they embarked on new lives with new spouses and new children. He had almost no family structure between the ages of 11 and 19.
2) Bullying and humiliation drove every single artistic thing he ever did. The next time someone tells you ridicule and boys being boys is just a part of life, show them Montage Of Heck. From his first sexual experience to his first bout of drugs and alcohol to his failures in school, it all stemmed from his inability to deal with peer pressure and relating to kids his own age.
3) His slacker image and anti-fame reputation were lies. Even though he had trouble keeping a job pre-Nirvana, when his girlfriend Tracy would go to work, he’d strum guitars for hours while watching television and write or draw in his notebooks all day. This was part of his “10,000 hours” of practice. Also, he was more ambitious than given credit because he knew the names and addresses of almost every independent record label in existence during the late 1980s before convincing Sub Pop to release Nirvana’s first album in 1989.
4) Drugs were in his life early and he used them for different reasons than “rock star lifestyle”. He did heroin for the first time in the mid 1980s, years before he was famous and or married Courtney Love. He wrote about drugs as early as 1984. A still mysterious stomach ailment led to him using opiates. Like a cancer patient using pot for pain, he used narcotics to stave off serious abdominal pain well before he ever released a record.
5) Courtney Love didn’t kill him any more than Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles. Giving Courtney credit for anything about Kurt’s death is feeding the teeming narcissist what she wants, attention. The two of them were quite screwed up before they met. While Kurt’s drug use escalated after their marriage, it was tied more into his mental illness and his failure to deal with his life than anything to do with his choice of spouse. Kurt was alone, no one helped him, not once.
For die-hards like me, there wasn’t a lot of new information, but filmmaker Brett Morgen animated Kurt’s journals and audio recordings to present everything in a clear, creative but very disturbing fashion. Montage of Heck is brilliantly made. It’s worth the two hours of time but it’s a chore to watch if you care anything about Kurt and or Nirvana. It took days for me to just get a hold of my own emotions.
As a father, the scenes of Kurt with then baby Francis are hard to watch. If anything, Montage of Heck humanizes him even more and gets rid a lot of the rock star bull crap that never belonged with his legacy. I think the biggest lesson I learned from Montage of Heck was that Kurt Cobain ended up the way he should have, because of his lack of family cohesiveness and his own failures. That lesson is hard to accept, but it gets me beyond fandom and makes me realize that adulthood, maturity, or whatever this is I’m going through at forty-something years old is okay after all. Kurt Cobain decided it wasn’t and his being gone is just dumb.