After having the same lyric from “Territorial Pissings” on loop in my head for three days straight, I caved.
I watched the Kurt Cobain documentary.
Mind you, I was gonna watch it anyway. It’s just that the tale – which you know the ending to – is depressing enough that you kinda hafta be in good spirits to watch it if you’re easily depressed like me (probably why I identified with him so much). I adored the dude when I was little. One of my favorite memories was jumping up and down on the furniture with my sister and headbanging to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. In fact, I blame him in large part for the plethora of skater boyfriends who’d later traipse in and outta my life. But you know what I don’t blame him for? Auditory poisoning of the culture somehow. Or blowing his head off. You wanna know why? ‘cause back in my day we didn’t take drugs to get turnt up for the club. We took drugs to quell suffering. While his suffering was magnified by the spotlight of celebrity, it was a thing we collectively experienced – generally wrought from socially induced standards our parents accepted as their own – and then placed upon us too. And that’s all Kurt was trying to do. Ameliorate the agony while speaking out against the source – even biting the hand that fed his rockstardom, just to show how little he valued the esteemed position (“You’re watching [e]M[pty]-TV,” he’d say when MTV came back from commercial break).
All in all, stylistically, it was a pretty good documentary: there were copious notebook bits, memorabilia, home movies, and (the best part IMHO) this amazing rotoscope style animation set to actual recordings Kurt made of himself while experimenting with what sounded best. And then there were the interviews… which left me feeling a bit… weird. I’m not sure who exactly was doing the interview (only heard his voice), but he must’ve been a redoubtable looking gent. ‘cause every damned person talking about Kurt seemed unnecessarily nervous – like they either A.) had something to hide or B.) were replying to someone holding a pistol in the hand that wasn’t holding the camera.
They also did a nice job of – whether or not they intended it – having the parts his parents shared about his childhood persona match up to the way he was well into his fame reign. Like how his mom reflected on how he’d worry endlessly about others’ well-being as a tot – making sure they were okay, physically and emotionally. Then later on, toward the end of the film, there’re these two clips that happen in succession: one (a home video) where Kurt and Courtney are in the shitter (not shitting, but primping – at separate mirrors) and Love is discussing her insecurities about being hated by all of his fans. The scene on the tail of that is the performance where Kurt asks his stadium full’a fans to say “We love you, Courtney!” Ya know, to try and make her feel better. Sweet gesture – and a definite manifestation of that same trait he had a spastic li’l kid.
The other personality quirk that carried over, sadly, was the one he’d come to obtain when his parents split: ruining the family unit. As a teen he was starting over with his new stepmom, her kids, and his dad – insisting they have family game night and quality time. On the one hand, he’d want that closeness of a family. But, on the other, he’d inevitably end up chaotically decimating these familial gatherings each time (says his stepmom), especially if he didn’t win. In a way, I feel like ruining it was his form of control – which I can understand. I mean, putting myself in his shoes, I’m thinking – I couldn’t control when my parents split and the depression that followed. So, like, if you can control the parameters of when and how the happiness in this family ends – each time things get good – at least that saves me the pain of being blindsided by it. And how’d that carry over later on? The family videos go from a silly, probably high, but functional Cobain playing with his newborn (adjacent to scribbled entries about how much he loved her), to a full on doped up nod-squad member as he holds a baby Frances getting her hair cut. Real sad stuff.
Courtney can be heard saying, “You don’t want your daughter to see you like this,” to which he opens his eyes just enough to try and express a defensive look through a numb mug before giving the same reply you’ll hear any junkie in denial say: “I’m not high! I’m just tired.” All of which didn’t happen terribly long before he, as we all know, took his own life. Whether or not that was a form of controlling the “end” like he did as a kid with his step-family, I dunno. I might just be reading too much into it. Maybe it’s something simpler – like the fact that he allegedly said to Love that his goal was to make it to $3 million so he could comfortably become a junkie and die high.
Like I said, it’s depressing. But, if nada else, by sharing all these little excerpts from his notebooks – I feel like a different kind of light got shone on the torment his talent belied. Like, if we can look at a celebricon demi-god like Kurt (because people always wanna try and identify with a celebrity they like – dead or not) and say, “Wow, now I see why he’d do such a horrible thing to himself and everyone he left behind,” then maybe – just maybe we can dredge up the same compassion toward the everyday faceless folk who fall by the wayside in their own way and just need a hand to get back on track. People don’t become fcckups ’cause that’s what they dreamed of as a tot, tinkering with G.I. Joes ‘n slutty dolls. Kurt was no exception. And the dude was no idiot. He turned to drugs because he was discontent not only with his own family failing him, but also with the fakeness of the world around him. In that way, I see a strong similarity between him and an idol of my own: Russell Brand. Also came from a broken home. Also felt an anger at society he couldn’t express. Also turned to heroin (making it even tougher to express said discontent in anything but an indirect way). But he was fortunate enough for his story to head the opposite direction of Kurt’s when he became willing to get clean. Identify the source of the problem. Work toward a resolution. Now he does his best to “be the change” via revolutionary efforts against what formerly’d seemed too daunting an undertaking.
While Kurt may not have had that same happy non-ending, it sure as shiz isn’t because he was dumb. It’s just easy to stay lost once you get lost. Also, while the dude was a musical genius – part of his brilliance, he admitted, came from his physical (intestinal) pain and depression alike. So much so that he was worried if he ever “got better”, he wouldn’t write well. Reminds me a bit of Morrison of The Doors. But I still respect him for what he tried to do with his message – for all those little prosaic, elusive interview quips he’d do through the chemical fog – ones I never understood as a kid, but can appreciate now. I also still never get tired of blasting his music when I feel emo.
And I still definitely have “Gotta find a way! A betttter WAY! WHEN I’M THEREEE!!!!” stuck in my head.
Maybe that’s ’cause – thanks to my idol – I have indeed found a better way.