I don’t remember the specifics of the first time I heard them but they changed my musical interests indefinitely.
I was in fourth grade and my parents were having a home built for us to move into the coming summer. I don’t think I was too excited about it but I remember we would make the drive out to the new house frequently to see the progress. It was during those trips that my brother introduced me to my first rock band.
I think my interest stemmed from being a little sister who wanted to love everything her older brother did. I listened to Nirvana CDs on a portable CD player in our Ford Focus, which would later become mine, while my brother was walking around the new house with my parents.
When he got his license and we would go adventuring, such as late night visits to the local Meijer to cure summer boredom, we would blare Nirvana. We were those rock kids that played their music too loud in a small town in the Midwest.
The older I became the more eclectic my tastes became, all within the umbrella of rock, but I always return to Nirvana not only for a sense of nostalgia but also the inescapable connection to the inner misfit.
When I heard about “Montage of Heck” I was excited but apprehensive. I’m the nerd that watches documentaries and behind the scenes programs and had seen too many about frontman Kurt Cobain to count. I figured it would be like all the others; Kurt had a dissatisfying childhood, Kurt was on his own, Kurt became part of an internationally successful band, Kurt has drug problems, Kurt has a family, Kurt kills himself.
It gets real redundant, real quick.
Even though that is the basic story you still yearn for a more in-depth look at the man behind such profound music that truly shaped not only a generation but also music for generations to come.
I felt relieved when I found out Frances Bean Cobain, Cobain’s daughter, was a producer for “Montage of Heck.” How could it be typical if his legacy was involved? After reading an article in Rolling Stone magazine where Bean Cobain said she wanted people to see the true Cobain instead of what he has been perceived as, I was flat out excited for the documentary to come to HBO on May 4. Unfortunately, being a working college student I was at work and had to play catch-up and watch “Montage of Heck” on HBO Go the following Wednesday.
I was amazed. I think the puzzle pieces that many fans felt were missing to the complex character of an icon were finally revealed. Maybe they weren’t completely put into place but at least we know they exist. Old home movies, interviews, photographs and recordings served as a great background to the interviews with Cobain’s parents, stepmother, sister, ex-girlfriend, former band member, and widow. Orchestral instruments cover hits like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “All Apologies” clash against raw recordings of Cobain writing songs and playing with the recorder. Animations fill in where photos and videos cannot reach to illustrate the words narrated by Kurt, including a scene where Cobain and “friends” would distract a, by Cobain’s preferred description “quiet,” girl while one of the friends would steal alcohol out of her basement.
It’s not all a pretty and a romanticized tale of small town misfit to global admiration.
Heroin plays a title role in the documentary beginning roughly halfway through. Some footage shows a visibly high Cobain holding baby Frances while wife Courtney Love cuts her hair for the first time. Love admits in the documentary to doing heroin while pregnant and assuring Cobain that the baby would be fine. News clippings from different organizations show stories printed about Bean Cobain being born as a drug addict, Child Protective Services stepping in and taking Bean Cobain at only a few weeks old and the Cobain regaining custody of her. These clippings are filed in between home videos of the Cobains playing with their young daughter and acting as if there was not a world outside their home.
Die-hard Nirvana fans know how the story ends but the flow of “Montage of Heck” gives you hope it will end differently. Instead of using old news footage and police photos, a black background with white font appears on the screen proclaiming Cobain’s suicide.
Pain is a funny thing. Some people feel they need to feel it in order to live and others find ways to escape the feel of it. “Montage of Heck” is an essential documentary not only for Nirvana fans but also music enthusiasts looking for a cool and emotional look at one of music’s most influential icons.