Saturday, August 16, 2014

From beyond the grave

In an interview snippet towards the end of A J Schnack's 2006 film Kurt Cobain: About A Son, its subject expresses despair at the state of music and concern that in twenty years' time it would be worse. 21 years on from that interview, grunge is back in fashion and he's being celebrated as an icon. He'd probably have been disgusted.

Unusually for a film of this sort, there is no narrator or talking heads - simply Cobain talking over footage and stills of the places in which he grew up and lived, with a soundtrack tracing the evolution in his tastes. That makes it feel all the more intimate and personal, if a little unnerving - the viewer getting a guided tour (geographically and historically) by a dead man.

The landmarks of Cobain's life are all covered: his twin childhood obsessions of art and music, his temporary homelessness, his move to Olympia, the early days of Nirvana and their rise to prominence. Despite initially telling Michael Azerrad not to expect him to be any more candid than for any other interviewer, he talks openly about his feelings on his parents' divorce, his teenage struggles with self-identity and fitting in (or rather finding other like-minded people who didn't want to fit in), his misanthropy and drug-taking, his relationship with Courtney Love, and his fury at journalistic invasions of privacy. Generally, he comes across as likeable, though certainly troubled and conflicted.

The interviews were conducted in late 1992 and early 1993 (for Azerrad's biography Come As You Are), but even then it was obvious he was looking for an exit - talking about escaping hounding from the press, wanting to record with people other than Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, fantasising about once again being permanently in bands just on the cusp of popularity.

A year later, of course, he found a way out of sorts. Towards the very end of the film, Love can be heard asking him to bring up a bottle for Francis Bean - a stark reminder that when he did find that way out, it wasn't a clean exit, instead causing untold collateral damage.

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