Heart Shaped Box: The Musical Kurt and Courtney

This week Courtney Love’s co-manager revealed, under oath during a lawsuit, that Courtney is considering a musical of her life with Kurt Cobain. The immediate reaction from the world media was a combination of disbelief and yet more commentary on Courtney’s eccentricity. In the interests of playing Devil’s advocate, perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad?
Taking their tale apart there’s certainly a substantial quantity of drama that could be woven into a stage production — first meetings, drug bonding, beach wedding, Vanity Fair controversy, Kurt Cobain’s suicide threat at the time of Frances Bean’s birth, fights in Rio, all the way to Rome, Police attending the couple in Seattle, the drug intervention, last call and curtain close. A writer of quality would need to work out how to organize this into a properly structured plot but that’s a minor item to overcome. Likewise perhaps it wouldn’t be so hard to soundtrack each spell of their existence to a Nirvana tune — so long as one didn’t rely on lyrics matching on-stage action. Perhaps this combination of music and events could work?
Ugh…Who am I kidding? Yes, something could be done, but only in the sense that any idea could theoretically happen with money and will behind it. That still doesn’t make the idea of Kurt n’ Courtney: The Musical (A.K.A. Heart Shaped Box: The Musical) one that appeals. Green Day’s musical production of American Idiot gained credibility due to the band’s direct involvement. It also helped that it wasn’t tackling a true-life event that still carries emotional weight. Green Day have a playful, non-serious reputation also that meant critics and fans alike gave them the benefit of the doubt when the idea first emerged — it sounded like fun.
The musical life and death of the Cobain marriage really doesn’t appeal. It’s a plot arc retold only as a tragedy, one not lending itself to the fluffy uplifting style of a musical. The intended audience also seems unclear; if aimed at serious Nirvana fans then it fails to account for how horrified most Nirvana fans will be to see the band taken so lightly; if aimed at the average lover of musicals then is the unpretentious, un-melodramatic and unglamorous music of Kurt Cobain really what they would want to see? It seems a risky commercial proposition.
To emphasize, the only audience that would care about the life of Kurt and Courtney are precisely the audience who would find the topic far too sensitive a subject to be treated as a musical. I admire originality, of course, there’s not been a musical rendition of Elvis, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix — but sometimes maybe the reason something hasn’t happened is for very good reasons.
I would happily read a Courtney Love memoir, her interviews and public statements have always been entertaining, intelligent, edgy and sharp. I can’t conceive of feeling the same sympathy if the tale was presented as a grunge Grease. A simple play, rather than a musical, might feel a little more appropriate — perhaps that’s all that’s meant by ‘a musical’? The music of Kurt Cobain would drift in the background as the story played out; no need for the cast to batter anyone with lung power.
There’s no denying there’s a story worth telling; it’s all a question of how. I don’t see evidence of Courtney having committed many sins against the memory of Nirvana. As a result I have faith that this will all turn out to be a lot of media foaming concealing a far less egregious truth.


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