photo manipulations by nacrowe
i dont understand the reason for this film.
i do understand that since his untimely death in 1994 (when i was in elementary school) there has been a demand for material and content related to KURT COBAIN and NIRVANA as their enduring legacy continues to be that they are the last ROCK AND ROLL band of consequence of the last 30 years. the impetus for this immersive documentary, MONTAGE OF HECK (HBO FILMS, 2015) came about when COBAIN's daughter FRANCES BEAN became executor of his estate and commissioned BRETT MORGEN to direct it based on an inherited treasure trove of unreleased recordings and artwork left in the family's privately held archives.
that is not to say that the film is not visually arresting. as a constructed project, it is cleverly edited utilizing various art and nonart pieces from notebook scribblings and paintings to sculpture of his to create animations that draw home the point of his intense alienation throughout his life. it really makes the narrative come alive as his very words come alive.
but with all that being said, what was the point? what statement was this film attempting to make about COBAIN? watching this film felt uncomfortable since any NIRVANA fan knows the lengths to which COBAIN went to secure his privacy from the unforgiving, glaring eye of the media. especially post-VANITY FAIR article. this film is effectively a worst-case scenario for an artist that jealously controlled his band's public image. it doesn't seem a stretch that he would be rightly horrified by the publication of his tapes that were his sanctuary to experiment and hone his craft. as a fan, i don't need to hear it.
there was also numerous claims in the film that seemingly don't hold up to scrutiny by those who knew him at the time in Aberdeen (i.e. BUZZ OSBOURNE of THE MELVINS). key of which is the proposed sexual conquest of a mentally disabled girl by COBAIN in his late teens. the fact that such made it to print is reckless and wholly irresponsible as there is no way to corroborate such.
in my opinion, this film is an equal mistake to that of the publication of COBAIN's JOURNALS (RIVERHEAD BOOKS, 2003) which was heralded for its "transparency" with fans but in reality was just another cash grab 12 years earlier.
finally, after watching this i didn't feel like i new COBAIN any better. yest the home footage of him and COURTNEY LOVE with their infant daughter showcased their undeniable affection for one another and may be the only worthwhile inclusion in this well-produced yet innately hollow film.
i honestly wish i could unsee it. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND this from my memory. it desecrates the memory of COBAIN and feels like an uncomfortable intrusion and needless debasement of his legacy. the fact that such a project originated with his immediate family just compounds the mistake. i dont question their right to pursue such, just the rationale.
leave the man alone. let him and his memory rest in peace.
photo & text by nacrowe
much like his later JIMI HENDRIX biography ROOM FULL OF MIRRORS (SCEPTRE, 2005) which we reviewed (linked HERE), CHARLES R. CROSS in HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN (HYPERION, 2001) arguably provides a definitive account of another troubled SEATTLE musical icon, KURT COBAIN of NIRVANA.
and i don't think that is an irrelevant connection to make. aside from both being part of the bullshit "27 Club," they both navigated multiple worlds and transcended less than hospitable family situations. HENDRIX dealt with issues related to RACISM and VIETNAM, as well as dealing with fame that came from his genius remolding of BLUES and ROCK traditions and bending them to his singular artistic will, essentially defining his era. COBAIN similarly reinterpreted INDIE ROCK and HARDCORE punk culture into what later was termed GRUNGE and ALTERNATIVE ROCK and effectively transformed 90s culture in his image.
both in my opinion dug from a deep well of pain that was rooted in isolation (HENDRIX being an army brat and COBAIN the forgotten, neglected son of a painful divorce) and their gifts were transmitting that depth of feeling into music that touched the world.
HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN is a well-researched, dry affair that relies on public records, published interviews and background info from COBAIN's family and former bandmates and peers. you get the sense from reading it that CROSS strove to create a definitive document and it reads as such. that choice has its pros and cons as there are moments when as a reader i do not feel that COBAIN was in his right mind and could be counted on for accurate information. case in point: his excuses of stomach pain necessitating his abuse of heroin. seems like an excuse to a layman, but i understand CROSS' dilemma. bullshit excuse or not, that was the logic that informed his decision so he needs to report it. i just wish junkie excuses like that would have been given some context by professionally as, no doubt, there are people out there that will mimic such in their misguided fealty to COBAIN as some type of doomed demigod or divine messenger. people are crazy and the story of COBAIN seems to be a teachable moment as any to provide the proper support needed to readers dealing with issues of drug abuse or mental illness.
or maybe that isn't the job of the author. i don't know.
well-researched and expertly written in an almost academic way with little flair. a must for any fan of COBAIN, NIRVANA and the 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene in general.
photo & text by nacrowe
so much of this HIT SO HARD (DA CAPO, 2017) by HOLE drummer PATTY SCHEMEL is about self-destruction. the enduring image of KURT COBAIN, a friend and former collaborator and even housemate of SCHEMEL, is seen as an example of being too far down the road of despair and drug abuse to turn back. he isn't portrayed as a victim as much as someone resided to their own fate. with SCHEMEL we see someone who took that road to its logical conclusion, losing literally everything: friends, family, financial independence, even her sexuality.
this memoir is less concerned with the story her journey from being an awkward, red-headed lesbian teen from eastern WASHINGTON who found in HARDCORE and drums her identity as it is about the harrowing depths of depravity associated with her road to recovery from opiate addiction.
her being a famous musician is only noteworthy within the arc of this book in that it showcases the cottage industry of enablers and hangers-on that provide celebrities with the means of their own destruction within the entertainment industry. i feel like reading as many biographies as i have about musicians, the recurring trope of drug abuse is a known cliche. that being said, any jadedness i had to the topic was obliterated by the honesty and clarity by which SCHEMEL dissects her actions and behavior and the wake of destruction that followed for bother her and those that cared about her.
to me this hit home, because an overriding theme of this book was kinship. the connection between musicians that is almost a surrogate family. there are surrogate families that fall apart (HOLE) and others that come and go as a means of support from friends (JULIETTE & THE LICKS, IMPERIAL TEEN). even her actual family, especially her brother and father, support her even when all was dire and hopeless. i have family and some friends that have been on similar trajectories, though nothing thankfully as harrowing as described in this book, and it feels comforting to know that an addict like SCHEMEL sees love and human connection as a means for maintaining sobriety.
and that is what makes the death of CHRIS CORNELL so poignant in this book, not just because it bookends the death of fellow SEATTLE musician KURT COBAIN. CORNELL's recovery mirrors that SCHEMEL and serves as an example that once you are an addict, always an addict. recovery is always ongoing and having a support system is your lifeline. which ultimately positions this book as being earnestly involved with the redeeming potential that hope and human connection can foster. it is easily one of the most affecting memoirs i have read to date.