I want to preface this post by saying I’m currently a couple of weeks shy of 27. I was not a teenager in the 90’s. I do not remember Kurt’s death – I was 6 and my parent’s have terrible taste in music. I discovered Nirvana at 16 and was instantly entranced by Kurt Cobain. I got a hold of all the albums. I watched videos. I read the biographies. I pored over his journals for hours upon hours. I bought T-shirts. (Even 16-year-old Caitlin 10+ years ago was a fangirl.) I listened to Lake of Fire and Drain You blaring out the windows of my 1997 Ford Edge for weeks straight. I adored him.
I wasn’t completely naive. I knew Kurt was a junkie. I think I just left that on the surface and never really dug into what that meant. I viewed him as this genius artist. A guy who couldn’t help but express himself, whether that was writing music, journaling, painting, doodling, etc etc.. the man was an artist in every sense of the word. I loved him for that. I didn’t admire him for being the spokesperson for Gen X (even though that is absolutely how the media portrays him) because I don’t think that’s how Kurt viewed himself. He wasn’t a role model – or at least he shouldn’t have been. I don’t mean to say I think he was a bad person. I think he was a good person who had some serious issues that were NEVER addressed. I think he was severely depressed and couldn’t handle any kind of rejection or humiliation.
Monday night I watched Kurt Cobain : Montage of Heck on HBO. I was super excited when I heard about this and couldn’t wait to watch. I snuggled in my recliner, turned the light out, and started. I think I started crying about 5 minutes in watching Kurt grow up as this angelic, beautiful child. He radiated happiness and love.
His mother talking about the changes he went through – going from a carefree only child to having attention problems and on to discipline issues. Seeing his mother and father talk about passing him back and forth then on to family and friends once they couldn’t handle him and then those family/friends turning him away once they were over their heads. This kid didn’t stand a chance. That was the single thought that resonated. Sure some kids in bad situations go on to great, normal lives, but that wasnt the case for Kurt Cobain. This was a sensitive, emotional kid who easily got his feelings hurt. A kid who couldn’t handle shame, ridicule, or pressure to be who he wasn’t. He never had a solid family to lean on or to seek help through. Everyone important in his life abandoned him. So, he turned to pot and punk rock for comfort.
Montage of Heck showed a chilling animation backed with Kurt’s own monologue telling the story of his virginity and his first suicide attempt. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this aching boy who was already so broken at such a young age. People think Courtney was the cause but Kurt’s issues developed long before he ever met the mess that is Courtney Love. My first thought after this scene was that the responsibility lies completely on his family. He was a troubled teen who needed love and guidance and HELP. Instead he got ignored and bounced from “home” to “home”.
The next few scenes were about his time with ex-girlfriend Tracy Marander and about the beginnings of Nirvana. I loved the way they illustrated Kurt’s art and doodlings. It was strange and beautiful, like Kurt. It was really interesting hearing Tracy’s story from her own mouth. She told of the beginnings of Nirvana, but also, she touched on Kurt’s drug addictions. Watching Nirvana’s first shows was pretty standard. Some new footage of the band playing house “gigs” and small shows was shown. That was fun.
Then came Courtney Love.
These two met and were together until the end. They needed each other. They were all each other had. Kurt wanted a family. He wanted that cookie cutter family so badly. They wanted babies from the get go.
Like I said above, I knew Kurt was a heroin addict. I think prior to last night I always at least partially blamed Courtney for his addiction. The footage I saw last night stripped me of the blame I laid on Love. Kurt had problems long before he met Courtney, and while she wasn’t a good influence, she certainly was not the only person to blame. She was (and probably still is) as messed up as he was.
Footage of the two shortly after they wed was just downright awful to watch. Knowing that Courtney was pregnant made it sickening. You could see these were two kids very in love with one another but so very sick. Frances Bean was born and you see the three of them. In some shots you can see the love just oozing out of Kurt for that baby, and then you see the scene of her first birthday – where was Kurt? Outside? And the first haircut scene where Kurt is holding Frances, so severely sedated that I’m not even sure he knew what was going on. I couldn’t handle it. Thats when Kurt’s addiction became real to me. Seeing it. Facing it.
I immediately felt so much pain for Frances. She was watching these scenes just like we were. She doesn’t remember her father and THESE are the videos she will see of herself with him. Not only did he die a senseless death but he spent what time he DID have with her as a complete junkie. I’m still shaken by that today. The main understandings I got out of Montage of Heck were only half-formed and mostly questions. Where was Kurt’s family? Where were his friends? SOMEONE had to have seen this coming. The signs were all there. If the heroin didn’t kill him, he was going to do it himself. It was in his journals, his lyrics, his art. The things that were truly HIM. Why did no one say “Hey Kurt… let’s go see someone..”. His wife? His mother? His sister? His father? His band mates? During this whole documentary the only person interviewed who seemed to have any guilt was Krist Novoselic. I think Krist was completely genuine in everything he said and it was chilling. He said they should have seen it and that he didn’t know how he didn’t. Hindsight is 20/20.
I hope, at the least, that this documentary put a light on the fact that heroin isn’t glamorous. Drug addiction isn’t the rock start way of life – and if it is – it shouldn’t be.
I was rattled all night after watching Montage of Heck. It was beautiful and most of all honest. It did what Frances wanted. It didn’t speak of Kurt like a god nor did it rip him to shreds. Kurt’s art told the story and it was honest and it was him.
The movie ended much like the life of Kurt Cobain. A black screen stating he committed suicide at 27.
And it was over.
“I’m a spokesman for myself. It just so happens that there’s a bunch of people that are concerned with what I have to say. I find that frightening at times because I’m just as confused as most people. I don’t have the answers for anything.” -Kurt Cobain