BY ANDREW MOODY
Recently added to Netflix was Nirvana biopic Montage of Heck, a film that redefines the misery, addiction and depression usually associated with lead singer Kurt Cobain. Written and directed by Brett Morgan, the extraordinary celebration of Cobain’s life is comprised of animated shorts, surreal, grunge era stock footage, talking head narration and glorious footage of both early, formerly unseen and also classic Nirvana performances. It is, in many ways, the clearest portrait of Cobain’s genius ever created, and for the most part, it is a celebration of his career, not an essay in sadness, although his rage, unhappiness and drug addictions are well covered by interviews with band and family members. It is clear from today’s auto-tune social media pop scene that Nirvana are, in many ways, The Last Rock Band. Nobody will ever go this far ever again.
“I definitely feel closer to the feminine side of the human being than I do the male—or the American idea of what a male is supposed to be.’ The doomed icon told Michael Azerrad in Rolling Stone, “because they have always been a threat to me. [I’ve been] taunted and beaten up by them…”
The soundtrack is exceptional, filled with underground, unreleased, low fi recordings, and endless snippets of Nirvana classics including an amazingly doom-laden choral version of the video to Smells Like Teen Spirit. If you don’t like the nihilism of grunge, this won’t be for you, but everybody else will be in hog heaven, especially if you’ve ever spent time drinking cheap beer from a plastic cup in a darkened club rocking out to your favourite rebel metal band.
As NME journalist Chris Salewicz writes in 27: Kurt Cobain “For some time, (at least since the mid 80s) Kurt had wanted to become part of a sort of Sex Pistols-like punk act, exploding quickly and suddenly. When they had been about to sign their deal, he had joked of getting the DGC advance and immediately splitting up. An emulation of the Pistols seems to have been an aspect of Kurt’s thinking, certainly if we recall how Courtney reminded him of Nancy Spungen.”
As I write I am listening to Nirvana Unplugged in New York , which is my choice for the best, and last, great rock show, which took place on November 18th 1993, a mere five months before Kurt blew his brains out for reasons that have never fully been decided and are gracefully unexplained in the movie. ‘Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club: I told him not to join that stupid club.’ Wendy O’Connor, the mother of Kurt Cobain told the press upon his death on 8 April 1994. The stupid club referred to musical stars who had died at the age of twenty-seven.
Nirvana Unplugged in New York, their final show, is a musical and emotional masterclass, climaxing with one of the most haunting covers in rock history, Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”
A song about Courtney and her alleged infidelity as she implies in Montage of Heck? A song about the horror of heroin addiction? A song about the Remington rifle he was shortly to buy in his hometown of Seattle?
Whatever you like, I guess, but don’t accuse Kurt of playing on autopilot, especially with that look in his eyes before the final note, as if he has seen beyond and will never be able to explain what he has seen to another living soul. As William Burroughs once commented after meeting the young musician, “There’s something wrong with that boy, he frowns for no good reason.”
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