In April, 1994, my sister and I were sharing a one-bedroom loft in the home of a beautiful Victorian House in London, Ontario. The guy who owned it, Bulloch, was a close friend of our Mom’s long-term Boyfriend (who later became my Step-father), who spent many weeks away in Kingston where his girlfriend lived. Good for us, the house was always quiet, and at one point, when our TV’s picture tube blew (a common occurance for us), we’d sneak downstairs to his study, sit on his Freudian leather sofa and utilize his cable TV. It was there around 5 PM April 5, 1994 when Global News broke halfway through the Young and the Restless to let viewers know of Kurt Cobain’s death.
At this point in history, I hadn’t owned any Nirvana albums, and only followed their career via radio, TV, the local pub and my friend, Jenn (that’s the same Jenn who goes to see the Watchmen with me), a big Nirvana fan. Living in a University town like London, Ontario, news of Kurt’s passing funkified the entire city, making it sullen, moody, and distracting. It was particularly awful timing too, as April is commonly known as exam month at Western U. Kurt had a fanbase, and even those who weren’t fans felt the sadness of the news of this musician who shot to stardom, took drugs and then ultimately made the choice to end his life.
Being in a constant spotlight from 1991 to 1994, it was hard to ignore what was going on with Kurt – his drug problems, his hatred for interviews, his relationship with his wife, Courtney Love…it was all juicy fodder for the tabloids. It was difficult separating fact from fiction when the public is fed the same tales over and over. And since his death, there have been theories, and conspiracies about Kurt, his private life and ultimate demise.
As the years pass, documentaries pop up with Kurt Cobain at the centre. Most recently, I watched the gritty Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, a seemingly honest, candid and well-balanced doc that explores Cobain’s early life in Aberdeen, Washington, his troubled family life, his beginnings as a musician, all the way to his rise on the charts. Interviews from those closest to him, including his parents, sister, ex-girlfriend, and former Nirvana bandmates charge a compelling look at this guy who was reluctant to be part of the spotlight. I was surprised to see Courtney Love being interviewed here too. and she winds up being a large component to this doc as several clips from their personal home movies are shown, which, I have to say, are very raw and personal… and not meant for young audiences. Trippy animated adaptations of Cobain’s writings and personal interviews round out the film in compelling and disturbing artistry.
No doubt, I couldn’t help but feel sadness watching Montage of Heck, thinking about how damn talented Cobain was, feeling a lump in my throat as I sang along to Come As You Are (my favourite Nirvana song), Drain You, Smells Like Teen Spirit, among other fantastic songs. This dude had the attention of my generation, and continues to draw in the younger listeners. His legacy lives on in the bands that try to emulate his raw sound… and in decent films like this.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Dir: Brett Morgen