Brace yourself; it’s going to be a weird ride.
I sat down to watch Montage Of Heck with the attitude of any other 20-something too young to understand Nirvana’s impact, I wanted to learn more about Kurt Cobain, or at least learn more about his legend. If you’re in my shoes, an avid music fan that was only four-years-old when he rocked stages like Coachella into oblivion, do me a favor. Ask a few people you know from Generation X one simple question: who was Kurt Cobain? The responses will be astounding. I’ve heard just about everything, from “he was a drug addict,” to “he killed himself” to “he sings ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ right?’” All of which came with an authoritative force as if they knew him personally. My friend’s mother almost cried when I asked her, she looked at me with desperate eyes and gave out one long exasperated gasp followed by a long pause, “he was the best” she said.
This man was a musician? I mean obviously I knew he was a rock singer in a famous rock band, but I had no idea how influential he really was until I really thought about it. I mean I already knew who he was sub-consciously. He was in Nirvana. The Nirvana. You can’t be the guy at the party who doesn’t know Nirvana. “C’mon man, it’s Cobain! The band with the baby floating on their album cover? Hello, hello, hello, how low? You don’t know that? You never played ‘Rape Me’ on Guitar Hero?” Of course I did, even if I didn’t I would’ve said I did but I actually did. The T-shirts, the books, the references, I have yet to find someone who hasn’t heard his name in some form. Rappers have been spewing shitty punch lines with his name for years now, I just didn’t know why, until Brett Morgan’s documentary.
Intimate, visceral and disturbing as ever, Montage Of Heck paints a portrait of an artist like I’ve never seen before. True to it’s name, the “montage” features Cobain’s childhood drawings paired with haunting animated art videos, notebook lyrics matched with the Nirvana songs themselves, home movies, news clips, concerts, and interviews with friends and family. The film encapsulates his entire life, as if to give viewers the reasons why Cobain transformed himself from sweet, little blonde-haired, blue-eyed American boy to the rebellious leader of America’s counter-culture. Elaborating on storylines no other biography or film has ever done, Morgan explores how his parents met and divorced, his relationship with Courtney Love, as well as everything Kurt experienced up until a month before his suicide. I was stunned.
To re-live the angst of that era would be impossible. To understand the inner-workings of a mad genius would be futile. To depict the chaotic dystopia of a 1993 Nirvana show would be impractical. To grasp your head around a platinum-selling recording artist turning down a worldwide tour with Guns n Roses in the prime of his career to do heroin in his house with his wife would be inconceivable. But that was Cobain, in all of his infamy. He was a man unafraid of vulnerability. Or he was afraid, I still don’t know.
Either way it’s not everyday that an avid fan of music like myself can look into the journals of a starving artist, one who was deeply misunderstood, and learn. It’s almost as if you’re watching the pieces of a puzzle come together right before your eyes. Well, 80 percent of the puzzle at least. Now I can understand why my uncle wears that legendary album cover on the front of his shirt once a week. I can comprehend why grunge music thrived in the 90’s. Cobain’s music hit fans deep. His music affected people, a lot of people. Whether you love or hate him is unimportant, his impact will forever be remembered.
He was not the raging lunatic I had been told he was. He was a sensitive guy who loved music, but misunderstood. As Courtney Love told the New York Times, “it was time to examine this person and humanize him and decanonize these values that he allegedly stood for-the lack of ambition and these ridiculous myths that had been built up around him.” If the documentary taught me anything it was just that. Kurt was human. He took the deepest darkest fears of generation X and turned them into sound. He was the voice of the misfits. As I look around today, having grown up in the mind of Marshall Mathers, living in an era of immediacy, I can’t find another soul that can match the passion of Cobain: the dedication to his craft, the painful truth, and the anger. I just learned about him two weeks ago and he’s already missed.