Monday, August 10, 2015

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, and Kim Gordon

Over two nights I watched the groundbreaking and well-received documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. Like countless others I'm a casual fan of Nirvana and own a copy of Nevermind. You grow up hearing about Kurt and what happened to him and what he did to himself. I've never read any of the books or seen any films about him though, until this one.

What's so great about Montage is its use of archival footage. The filmmaker had full authorization from Courtney and Frances and so he got access to everything-Kurt - his journals, drawings, paintings, recordings, home videos, etc etc. I read somewhere that 85% of this film is new, unseen footage. There are few actual talking-head interviews, and even so they're only with his close family and with Kris from Nirvana. Apparently Dave was interviewed but for some reason wasn't included in the final cut. I wonder what he had to say.

The film is disturbing at parts, mostly due to Kurt's own drawings, at least for me. The guy was seriously disturbed from a young age. I've had a fair amount of experience with mental health/illness, and it seems to me Kurt should have received serious therapy since at least his teenage years. The stuff that he was drawing, what he was writing, etc - the guy needed help but couldn't get it, because hey we know that poor people in this country have great access to healthcare, right?! And by the time Nirvana blew up and Kurt had money, he was already a heroin addict...still, if only someone had taken him to see someone. Maybe it would've been too little too late, and also, what's the point of doing all these what-ifs - still for me, from a mental health perspective, it was clear that Kurt needed professional help. Actually, maybe someone did try to get him to a mental health professional, what do we know after all.

Since most of the film consists of Kurt's own artistic outputs, its kind of like seeing things from his perspective, or as close as we can get to that. May he rest in peace inshallah.

Since watching the film I read about Kurt and Frances, and about Nirvana, and came upon videos of Nirvana being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year in 2014. It was at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and was open to the public - if only I had known! Dave, Kris, and Pat performed, and for Kurt's vocals they had 4 women singers. It was a pretty great nod to Kurt's feminism. Joan Jett and St Vincent I feel were good, but they also just kind of imitated Kurt's recorded vocals. Lorde did her own thing but I don't think it really worked.

Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth though - wow, what a revelation. I LOVE THIS PERFORMANCE. I think its how Kurt would've done it and/or he would've definitely approved. Kim is badass and punk to the core here. I love it. I've been watching it on repeat.

I've included the full video of all 4 performances so that you can compare. Kim's starts around 15 minutes in.

The New Yorker did a piece on Kim and here's a bit about this mindblowing performance:

"The performances with Lorde, St. Vincent, and Jett had an odd, denatured quality that left both song and singer exposed, missing the viscera of the thing and, in effect, the point. For her number, though, Gordon chose “Aneurysm,” not a hit but a B-side, released on the 1992 compilation “Incesticide.” Wearing a black-and-white striped minidress of the sort she favored in the early nineties, Gordon seemed to pull the song from her guts and trap it in her throat, her body switching, bouncing, and lurching to get it free. “Love you so much it makes me sick,” she spat, “Uhhhhhh-huhhhh.” Not a singer, exactly, Gordon was perhaps the only hope for a song like “Aneurysm,” which in the absence of its author requires less a vocalist than a medium for translation.

In the final pages of “Girl in a Band,” Gordon’s sober, ruminative new memoir, she recalls that night. One of her first appearances following her split from her husband and former bandmate, Thurston Moore, for Gordon the performance became “a four-minute-long explosion of grief,” a purge involving both “the furious sadness” of Cobain’s death, twenty years earlier, and the recent end of her nearly thirty-year marriage, her band, and whomever she was inside of both. Afterward, Gordon reports with some pride, Michael Stipe told her that her singing was “the most punk-rock thing to ever happen, or that probably ever will happen, at this event.”

I've been listening to more Nirvana of course since watching Montage, but I'm also gonna read Kim's book and check out her tunes. Rock on Queen Kim! 

- Cross-posted on The Ashraf Obsession