KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Approached in 2007 by Kurt Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, Brett Morgen was offered a veritable treasure trove of material for this biopic of possibly one of the last great rock stars to galvanise a generation. Intimate, revealing, tender, sad and with no gloss plied onto the squalid and desperate lifestyle of its protagonist it is a step away from the usual portrait of a rock star; the fame and glamour more usually associated with such depictions seems a distant and unwelcome interloper.
Even at the height of his career with hundreds of thousands in a state of worship at events such as 1993’s Reading Festival the euphoria of the crowd is tempered with the melancholy of its attentions, who entered the stage on a wheelchair dressed in a hospital gown. Already viewing stardom as a sickness things deteriorated pretty swiftly after this moment which many others would have seen as an ultimate triumph but somehow he saw as a loss of control.
It transpires that the alienation Cobain felt when fame set its sights on him was nothing new. As a child hyperactivity and an unwillingness to be welded into shape by the pliers of either peers or parents was apparent, matters only worsened when the latter decided to divorce. Deeply affected by this the teenage Cobain was shunted around from relative to relative- grandparents, uncles and aunts were all drafted in to try and help ground him in some security and exert some influence over his errant ways- thus setting a pattern of nomadic rootlessness which stayed with him throughout his brief life.
Fixating on his music both his songwriting and guitar playing instilled him with the feelings other things in his life failed to deliver. Working incessantly on these he achieved small time recognition but his reputation grew and prior to the release of ‘ Nevermind’ in 1991 his mother on hearing the master tapes of the soon to be released global phenomenon warned him he had better shape up as fame was bound to come knocking and his fragile state was in no way ready for it.
And what a phenomenon ‘Nevermind’ was!
With success came access to the hard drugs he had already experimented with and also at this juncture came his great love, Courtney Love.
Opinions are always divided as to whether Love was as destructive an element as the drugs themselves but Cobain was on a destructive path anyway and she may merely have been a companion on his fatalistic route. Certainly the footage of them together prior to and post their daughter, Frances, being born show a couple completely at ease with each other and they do seem happy even if in hindsight it is happiness tinged with sadness and destruction.
Certainly the supposed glamour of a rock stars existence seems to be very absent and replaced with a squalor and desperation which belied their status as the world’s numero uno rock and roll couple. This was no Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg holding court at the palatial and opulent Nellecote on the French Riviera but instead could be a high rise on any council estate. There is not a shred of glamour on display and this does a lot to debunk the notion of any cache of heroism or cool anyone might attach to heroin or addiction of any kind.
When the end came for Cobain it was both surprising and expected. The clues were all there in the notebooks and artworks Love provided Morgen with. They reveal a mind and soul very much in torment and in April 1994 he joined that pantheon of rock and roll greats- Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison- who also departed at the age of 27. Like those stars of a previous generation it felt like a great talent had been wasted and like most of them it felt like he still had so much more to give.