Posts Tagged ‘Kurt Cobain’

A few days ago, I sat through the 2-hour documentary dissection of Kurt Cobain’s life. The ex-lead singer of 90s grunge band Nirvana, rose to fame, defined a generation, then took his own life. Directed by Brett Morgen, and executive produced by Cobain’s daughter, Francis Bean, Montage of Heck, was full of surprises and not at all what I expected.

The film took a real in-depth look at Cobain’s life, using his old journals, artwork, home videos and the like to paint a very real picture of his tumultuous life. To most people, Kurt Cobain was Nirvana, they were one in the same, but Morgen did a great job of keeping this all about Cobain, while still making Nirvana and his music, footage of earlier gigs and video shoots, an important part of it.

Unlike most documentaries, there wasn’t a lot of narration, or extra information added between takes from the movie makers themselves. They interviewed his mom, dad, stepmom, ex-girlfriend, sister but very superficially. Of course ex-wife Courteny Love made an appearance; Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic offered some insight into Cobain’s mind, and even teared up during the interview. Drummer Dave Grohl was nowhere to be found. There was a lot of audio of Cobain himself talking and telling stories taken from previous interviews, and it felt like he was talking to us.

There was a lot going on at once in certain parts of the film; like sensory overload. Loud images, graphic images, noises, They showed parts of his journals growing up that he kept; words of alienation, loneliness, hate, rage flew across the screen, animated, as though Cobain himself was writing them in that moment, not 25 years ago. Violent figures, distorted drawings, popped up intermittently with no warning, and often seemingly no reason. It felt like you were inside Cobain’s troubled mind.

What was most shocking were the home movies that he and Love made. An extremely invasive insight into their most personal moments. You don’t see a musical genius on screen, but a struggling, confused, unloved kid who didn’t know how to cope with people finally paying attention to him. It was them horsing around, smoking, clearly high on something. Love was nude in more than half of it, prancing around. As a fan, it was really hard to watch. I wanted to remember him as the guy who sang “All Apologies” unplugged, not the guy whose body was deteriorating, while he and his drug-addicted wife tried to raise a newborn.

There was a lot of emphasis on how Cobain was always doing something creative. He just had to write in his journals, he just had to make music, it was the only way he knew how to feel anything. He also loved performing live, even when it sometimes made him sick. That need to express oneself isn’t lost on me, and it made me wonder about the whole idea of musical genius. Whether you like Nirvana’s music or not, you have to at least respect that Cobain’s writing was phenomenal, as dark as it may have been. He died at 27 years old.

Cobain was ignored as a child, likely suffered some sort of mental illness, was addicted to heroin, but was also a fantastic musician. I’ve always wondered if certain artists need/use that struggle to create. Like maybe if he had a happier childhood, he’d have no reason to drown himself in music. What if all his issues were actually precursors to his genius? Or those who believe in a higher power would say he died so young because he had nothing left to give. His impact on the universe was already made, and he had nothing left in him.

I don’t recommend the film for those faint of heart, because there are a lot of disturbing images; not just of him, but of things he wrote, things he drew. The lack of narration made it challenging to put the facts together, like you’re supposed to interpret everything you were seeing your own way; except there was just too much going on. As a fan, I now have a completely different idea of who Kurt Cobain was, and I’m not sure I’m okay with that. Montage of Heck is the perfect title for this film because it really was a mish-mash of Kurt Cobain’s mind, his life, and his chaos, .

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Nirvana dropped their often overlooked debut album Bleach in 1989. 25 years later, they were inducted into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame, the first year they were eligible for the honour. Their illustrious career spanned only five years, but what they left behind was legendary.

Nirvana made their first big splash with their single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” off of their sophomore album Nevermind. Sentiments of apathy, angst, and social alienation were put in the forefront, and understood by far more than anyone imagined. Nirvana’s music was raw, painful, emotional, and most importantly, relatable. Especially amongst young people, because let’s face it, all teenagers go through a rough time. The unpopular, the uncool, the unnoticed ones, finally had a voice, and everyone had someone to turn to during darker times. Their lyrics were real, honest , and addressed actual issues. The band’s image was the epitome of minimalist: ripped jeans, t-shirts, plaid shirts, and unkempt hair. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became the anthem for the newly termed Grunge music, and Kurt Cobain was its unintentional poster boy.

Blame it on drugs, blame it on the unwanted fame, blame it on mental issues; whatever the reason, Cobain took his life in 1994, at that magical time, right before Nirvana hit their peak. It was unfathomable that someone in his position would want it all to end, and it was even more difficult to grasp that there would never be another Nirvana album. It felt like they were just getting started. Maybe that’s why their fans never really got over his suicide. Why some people continue to theorize that it was all a conspiracy, and he was in fact murdered. Other grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden also emerged around that time, but none of them were as monumental as Nirvana, and the genre which had been led to the spotlight, slowly faded away.

A large part of my high school years revolved around a music genre essentially created by Nirvana. There was never a moment when those melancholic voices, those angst-filled lyrics, and those heavy distortion sounds, were not around. Every basement birthday party was full of mosh pits and headbangers. Grunge became a culture. Everyone dressed like it, listened to it, wanted to be a part of it. Any time I hear any of their tracks, all I can think about is that particular time, those specific memories, like they became part of that life’s soundtrack. No one knew it at the time, but we were part of something big.

As teenagers, we all think we are invincible, that everything is going to last forever, that nothing is going to change. When Cobain committed suicide, we were stunned because we could not imagine the rest of our lives without them. As adults, we realize we are destructible, that nothing lasts forever, that everything is going to change. I still sometimes wonder what Nirvana could have been, if Kurt Cobain was still around. Maybe what he already gave the world was all he had in him. Maybe he had so much more.

You often hear people talk about what it was like in the 60s hippy era, the 70s funk times. I always wondered what it would be like to witness something like that, to, in a way, be a part of history. To live through the rise and fall of an entire musical movement.  Nirvana allowed me to experience that.  Now 25 years later, all I can do is wonder if my life would have been the same without that music, without that band, without Nirvana.

Hats off to Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic. This was a long time coming.

 

 

 

 

Music’s history is generally created by movements. The birth of new genres developing into entire music scenes, all capable of defining an entire generation. Here’s a look at two institutes of music that happened simultaneously in different parts of the world.

Grunge

Origins:  Late 80s, early 90s. Seattle, Washington.

Affiliated Bands: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden

Sound: Punk, heavy metal, indie and alternative rock influences

Attitude: Apathetic

Grunge music was all the rage in the U.S. during the early 90s, when it made its way into the mainstream. Its heavily distorted, static noise sound became recognizable anywhere, and it started to take over the music charts,. Grunge music deals with feelings of discontent: with the ways of the world, with society, and with appearances. Thematically speaking, grunge gave voice to issues like social prejudices and unpopularity, apprehension, depression and carried over punk music’s notions of anarchy and revolution. No sugar plums and fairy tales here. They were not in it for the fame or the glamour. Their shows did not have fancy lighting or pyrotechnics; it was just a group of friends, dressed in ripped jeans, with long unkempt hair, headbanging and playing music together.

Nirvana went on about reality vs. expectations in “Come As You Are;” Pearl Jam discussed social outcasts in “Jeremy;” Soundgarden spoke up about depression on “Fell on Black Days.” There was no way they could predict  the number of people who shared their angst and would respond to their lyrics. They approached real issues and it struck a chord with more people than anyone could have imagined: they were the classic tortured soul. Teenagers and young adults related the most – as we all know, high school can be a very dark and difficult time. These kids finally had someone who understood them, who represented them, who made them feel less alone. Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain, unwilling poster boy for grunge, committed suicide on April 5th, 1994. That single event would be the start of the demise of grunge music. Post-grunge (think Bush) developed in the mid 90s, but did not have the same foundation as grunge, as it only springboarded off of it, and catered more to the radio-friendly crowd. In the late 90s, grunge faded out and was replaced by the unfortunate comeback of boy bands.

Britpop

Origins: Late 80s, early 90s. England.

Affiliated Bands: Blur, Pulp, Oasis

Sound: Punk, pop, indie and alternative rock influences

Attitude: Optimistic

The roots of Britpop began with the Madchester scene in England in the 80s. Bands like The Stone Roses and New Order fused dance music and rock ‘n roll, paving the way for a more uplifting sound compared to moodier bands of the time, like The Smiths. In the early 90s, England was finally looking to a brighter future:  Margaret Thatcher and her radical conservatism were on the brink of being ousted, multiculturalism was on the rise, and England seemed to be opening up. The British were finally in a good mood. However, once American grunge music started crossing over and invading the British music scene, they wanted to dispel all that angst and negativity, and prevent it from poisoning their country. Britpop started in an effort to defeat grunge music by being the exact opposite: spreading cheerfulness, positivity and promise. Their sound had heavy elements of guitar pop, and infused British pride throughout their music.

Blur basked in the glory of “Park Life;” Oasis wanted to “Live Forever;” Pulp wanted to see the world through the eyes of “Common People.” Their music was fun, lively, and likely to cause a dance party wherever it went. When anyone reaches a certain amount of success, however, their demise is usually self-inflicted. Once Britpop was well established, Blur and Oasis took it upon themselves to get into a bitter battle. They each released a single – Oasis’ “Roll With It” and Blur’s “Country House” – on the same day to see which one would sell more copies. Blur won that battle, but Oasis was overall much more successful commercially. In 1997, Oasis’ third album Be Here Now was released and poorly received for its unpleasant sound.  Blur released their self-titled fifth album, with a sound far deviated from their previous albums. British fans eventually lost interest and turned their attentions to Spice Girls and the more mystic sounds of Radiohead. Britpop disappeared into the background.

Keep in mind folks, this is just a brief insight into the histories of these genres. But what’s most interesting is the idea that one movement was created out of the disdain for the other movement. Britpop would not have existed without Grunge. Who knew?