Buzz Osborne Ranting About Cobain and Montage of Heck — So What?

The media landscape is all about opinions – people giving their views. The debates over what they say hinge, firstly, on the basic test of ‘provable lie/fact’ then, if that can’t be answered either way, secondly, on a questioning of legitimacy. In the case of Buzz Osborne speaking about the accuracy and/or merits of “Montage of Heck”, Osborne kicks off that game by stating the case for his authority at the start (in summary; I was big buds with Cobain and the Nirvana boys and played shows with them from start-to-finish.)

There’s definitely no disputing his centrality to the Nirvana story (re: and his presence as a witness – Tad may have played far more shows with Nirvana (enter “My Friends” into the search bar on here to check the stats) but Melvins played with Nirvana across more years – five of seven years of the band’s existence – than any other and that’s ignoring Cobain’s pre-Nirvana outings with either Dale Crover or Buzz Osborne. The issue, however, is that his legitimacy as a witness doesn’t have much bearing on whether his views on “Montage of Heck” are worth much.

Osborne states three elements are untrue; Cobain’s self-told tale of his failed attempt to lose his virginity and to take his own life; Cobain’s claim to having had stomach issues that predated, were an excuse for and independent of his drug addiction (again, legitimacy; Osborne is a former heroin user so could be deemed to know that of which he speaks); then Courtney Love’s tale that the Rome suicide attempt was provoked by non-consummated cheating.

In the first case, Cobain’s claim that everyone in school knew about it does seem overblown – but ultimately all the story illustrates is that, if it was a fiction, then Cobain had one sick and slightly morbid imagination for grim detail, and if it was true then he was a pretty morbid fellow who perceived people were talking about and criticizing him. It doesn’t undermine the overall picture or necessarily say charming things about him. On the second question, again, I admit I feel there’s substantial room for doubt regarding the nature of Cobain’s stomach issues – given the evidence that he was using drugs of one sort or another throughout the Nirvana years, given the disorganized dining arrangements resulting from poverty plus touring, given his apparently fussy eating habits, disentangling drug challenges from medical challenges seems tricky. Again, Cobain seems to have believed in his stomach issues, but there’s room for doubt over their origins. On the final point, about what provokes the Rome suicide attempt – well, I’m guessing we’ll never know for sure. Certainly Courtney Love’s relationship with gospel truth has been an unstable one and I’m far from granted Cobain psychic powers either.

Thing is…Osborne’s point doesn’t seem to be to argue for some more positive vision than what the film suggests; he sums up the entire second half of the film as “malodorous, doped-up rock & roll miscreants deeply fouling an unsuspecting apartment.” His point regarding Cobain’s stomach issues is that Cobain was a lying junkie. His point on Courtney Love seems to be that she was a lying CHEATING junkie. His point about the ‘retard’ tale seems to be that Cobain was a liar. Osborne has been on record before basically in a self-righteous growl about how fed up he is of talking about Cobain, how Cobain was a “fucking loser,” and how much he despises Courtney Love – this doesn’t seem dramatically different. His issue seems to be with the narrative of the damaged teenager growing up into a damaged adult who ends up in a damaged relationship…Except he’s in total agreement with the last two bits of that.

A separate point was made at the Seattle Q&A for Montage of Heck by Alice Wheeler:

Wheeler’s point is that the Cobain she knew was a pleasure to be around, a nice guy – the “Courtney’s view” she objects to is that air of morbidity that clings to Cobain and that the film certainly doesn’t dispel. I heard a similar perspective from a friend who knew him during the Tacoma/Olympia days who, again, thought the film chopped out those years of Cobain altogether. They have a point – that Cobain wasn’t always gloomy, or sad, or unfunny, or gross…But the film’s focus was on two things; his childhood upbringing and his own marriage and child. The Nirvana story has been fairly well-covered and the film deliberately reduces the band story down to shreds of imagery rather than retelling a story that’s been told over and over again. Criticizing the film for not being a different film – a band documentary – would seem harsh. I can understand though that losing those crucial four years where Cobain seems to have been a popular presence in town, someone who wasn’t outgoing but was warm and friendly and enjoyed his band…It’s sad that little window wasn’t opened. But then again, if that wasn’t part of the footage and material that exists in the Cobain vault, if no one was able to capture it, then it’s hard to make a film of it.

Morgen’s film is set up as a mirror – Cobain’s parents’ marriage and his upbringing versus Frances’ upbringing and her parents’ marriage. That’s where the film’s focus is and it does that successfully using the materials available. Morgen does show Cobain had a multifaceted character, that he was humorous, that he did take pleasure in his success, that he could parody himself…The film can’t ignore the rather grim tale of Cobain’s artistic creations, self-image and self-reporting even though it does mitigate those elements. Intriguingly it seems Osborne would like to see the tale blackened further to show a lot more of the squalor of the final years. Krist Novoselic and Cobain’s parents and sister all tell their parts and the audience is given credit for intelligence and is allowed to pick the bones out of their stories – I think that’s respectable and brave, to allow audiences to make their own minds up. I thought that Cobain’s mother was still spouting bile at her husband several decades after the end of the marriage which gave a telling indication of how poisonous the atmosphere must have become and why Cobain’s own view of his father might have been damaged further if that’s what he was around; I thought her tale about “buckle up,” sounded like nonsense but at least showed Cobain being proud of his success; I thought she looked scarily like Courtney Love does too. All those points don’t invalidate the film – they make it interesting.

It seems Osborne would like a film that shows Cobain as the dupe, rather than the partner and co-conspirator, of a ‘devil woman.’ His claim that “90% of Montage of Heck is bullshit” seems to be a case of Osborne letting his dislike for Courtney Love and his renunciation of his own druggy past overwhelm critical distance or assessment of the film. I certainly don’t hold that Osborne’s legitimacy as a commentator makes him the arbiter of truth or fact in the story of Kurt Cobain. Osborne is just one more truth added to the pile.


12 thoughts on “Buzz Osborne Ranting About Cobain and Montage of Heck — So What?”

  1. This is all spot on. I always felt there was a certain amount of jealousy when it came to Buzz and Kurt. Kurt was the fan boy and then he eclipsed Buzz. Or perhaps Buzz is simply sick of people asking about Kurt (although that doesn’t explain why he wrote that piece).

    I can understand his hatred of Courtney since she accused him of trying to give Kurt an overdose once. On the subject of Courtney and MOH, I personally believe she cheated on Kurt with Billy Corgan. I’m not going to judge her. There are plenty of famous male rock stars that cheat on their spouses and are given a free pass. I don’t think its right but I also don’t think she could have admitted she was cheating on him in the film now that Kurt is regarded as some kind of demigod to kids these days.

    I wasn’t a huge fan of MOH. I felt like some of the home videos were very intrusive (the haircut) and we really didn’t need to see him like that. Unbelievably it’s given the murder theory gossips even more ammunition to push with their theory. I did think they were hilarious together and very loving towards Frances. It’s so difficult to watch as you know what happened in the end. There’s always a feeling of doom, even watching the sweet moments.

    The live sections were incredible, especially watching on the big screen. I understood why Brett kept asking people to tell their cinema to turn the sound up on Twitter. I would be happy just watching that footage and nothing else.

    1. My feeling is it always provokes both positive AND negative feelings to see one’s friends succeed in a way one does not oneself – especially when both individuals did want to achieve some kind of success in music, to have ears listening, on their own terms. Buzz may rightly despise Cobain for what became of him, but imagine how it must feel then to rarely be able to get through an interview without a mention of that dead former friend, to see one’s name permanently linked as a sub-clause to someone else, to be a sub-title under the names ‘Nirvana’ and ‘Kurt Cobain’. I can understand wanting to tear down the thing one is chained to.

      Naturally still think Melvins are awesome in their own right! And, again, I don’t think Buzz’s comments are illegitimate but I don’t think they negate MoH as a decent bit of work.

  2. I liked the film as a ‘film’ – it was great visually and stuff and was great seeing some of Kurt’s art come to life and so on but have to admit as a Cobain ‘documentary’ is was pretty poor stuff and i can well understand the criticism and irritation from the likes of Buzz Osborne , Dale Crover and Alice Wheeler and of others. Theyll be many others who knew Cobain who will say so soon as well.

    Buzz Osborne is bluntly very correct again i think.
    The retard girl story did sound like another Cobain tall story. A typical Cobain bullshit story or highly exaggerated (when did he record that audio btw ? – again no mention) plays into mythos. It was in journals or whatever but certainly parts do seem exaggerated and actually different from written verisom – considering NO ONE but Kurt has ever mentioned it or the dad coming into school looking to beat him up when likes o Dale Crover in same year (?) its safe to say most of that story was crap.

    One thing i noted with Alice Wheelers criticism ( that i agree with was that this film stll in tone tried to present this idea suicide was somehow inevitable or pre-destined which despite Brett Morgens talk of breaking down mythos actually adds to that and inadvertently makes a complete mockery of serious drug abuse and mental health in general. Nevermind Cobain. Its just bad and deliberate stupid narrative talk . Charles Cross was guilty of this as well in his Heavier Than Heaven Talk when seemed to mention suicide every couple of paragraphs. They don’t seem to understand drug abuse and the illness behind it and that comes from it at all. Despite all their talk and Freudian crap they really don’t understand the simple mundane biology and boring chemistry of the head and body and mind.

    This idea that Kurt Cobain had a shit time growing up (which he did) equals an inevitable suicide as a 27 year old man is insulting not to just Cobain but many people around the world and would get i was a synopsis a fail at most secondary school psychology exams.

    Also there was big lumps of Cobain’s life missing in this ‘documentary’ . To not even briefly mention the likes of Tobi Vail was very notable if not suspiciously so. Those times when Cobain was in Olympia etc. Considering a good portion of Nevermind was written around that period.To not even briefly mention that period is frankly suspicious. Omissions like that were suspious to say the least/

    I liked all the animation and stuff and what Morgen did with some of editing but despite what Morgen insisted this film / ‘documentary’ reeked of a certain someone else..

  3. Just a note, I am friends with Everett True on Facebook (not actual friends. Anyone can be and he does seem happy to accept people who add him). He posted about Buzz on his page “How can King Buzzo rag on the film of our Lord Saviour, Kurt Cobain is beyond me” (his sense of humour about it is great) and some friends of Kurt commented.

    Carrie Montgomery who was close to Kurt for a number of years:

    “Ill chime in just for the sake of a case study here. I was very close friends w kurt for a few years, starting before he and courtney were together. He did tell me the retard story, did have tummy issues and had extreme back pain. He never mentioned suicide or buzz to me ever. Also keep in mind his drug use was off the charts, not only heroin but a LOT of cocaine there at the end. I dont believe courtney killed him or had him killed, but Im willing to be wrong also. I wasnt around them the last year of his life, so I cant say, but I will watch soaked in bleach. I liked montage, we all know courtney is a pathological liar and that she cheated on kurt w billy and evan at least”.

    And Charles Peterson who was of course the official photographer of grunge 😉

    “Both my father and brother were/are bipolar so I think I know a bit about mental illness. So many people dislike Courtney so much they can’t see the trees for the forest so to speak. So many people want to write off mental illness as something that only affects truly insane people wearing garbage bags spouting nonsense but we know that’s not the case. Look how the Germanwings pilot fooled so many people. I’m sure Courtney didn’t help matters, but neither did the industry a-holes always pushing for more, etc etc. Lots of factors but people just don’t want to see it. Also, people with mental illness are famously stubborn, and often don’t feel the need (or don’t know how) to seek help”.

    Interesting to see their perspectives. I don’t think we will ever know the truth but I don’t think Buzz is right with his 90% bullshit claim.

    1. Think i’d kill myself if my wife cheated on me with Billy Corgan. Billy fucking Corgan?!
      Billy ‘despite all my rage i am still just a bald dickhead on stage’ Corgan ? OK he still had some hair in 1994. But my god no wonder why Kurt felt ‘shamed’ as Brett Morgen would put it.
      Imagine being cheated on for people as obnoxious and shit as Billy Corgan and Evan Dando. Fucking hell. Wheres the gun?
      Then again Kurt should not have been such a fucking lightweight overly sensitive or whatever idiot or married such an idiot in first place.

      George Harrison’s Dong telling it like it is.

  4. There’s an interesting little bit here, of Morgen addressing Buzz on the “Aberdeen” story:

    NME: The Melvins’ Buzz Osborne used the story told on ‘Aberdeen’ – about Kurt sleeping with a special needs girl from school, and the shame that drove him to attempt suicide afterwards – as an example of how the film was ’total bullshit’. How did you respond to that?

    Brett Morgen: “I was surprised, because the genius of that story is that it’s a piece of art – it’s a very clearly performed and constructed narrative. Did Kurt have sex with that particular woman? I doubt it – it’s a story, like ‘Floyd The Barber’ is a story. But it reflects Kurt’s experiences of life. I’ve never publicly said this, but I’m fairly confident that it’s an origin story Kurt was metaphorically disguising, because one of his earliest sexual experiences was clearly incredibly humiliating and shameful to him, and that’s what it reflects. I’m also pretty confident that Buzz does not know what the real origin story is. When you start to get into Kurt’s art and try to deconstruct it for fact, you miss the point of it.”


    I happen to think Morgen’s interpretation now is essentially correct (and listen closely – in the version put in the MOH film Kurt says “skinny little dude” which he was – but in this soundtrack version he says “fat little dude that never got laid”). However, Morgen gives no indication that he caught this, or that he *thought* this, before Buzz called bullshit. One gets the impression that Morgen assumed it was close to the literal truth. Obviously it was a rehearsed story, so specific wordings and things could have been for effect, and I think we all got that from the fact that it sounded like an entry on The Moth, but that was certainly not how it was presented to the MOH audience. I am pretty sure that we were supposed to think “this happened,” and Morgen himself thought “this happened,” and that’s why he “never publicly said this” until Buzz snapped him out of his uncritical acceptance of the story. Remember, it was already in the Journals and Cross. It was already part of the canon. So kudos to Buzz for finally speaking up in June.

    That said, there’s a good chance that Morgen finally gets it now, whereas I think Buzz still doesn’t get that just as there’s plenty of Osborne’s life Kurt knew nothing about, despite being there, there’s plenty of Cobain’s pre-fame life that Osborne knew nothing about. Just think back to your own teenage years and who knew what about you, and the various reasons why they did or didn’t know. I mean, geez, it’s pretty obvious that “I tried and failed to fuck a fat mentally retarded girl” wasn’t the kind of thing that you want the cool older badass rock and roll god quasi-mentor to know about. Yes, it contradicts the idea that everyone knew about it – but Buzz’s failure to know anything about it means nothing. I don’t see any indication that this thought even occurs to Buzz. (Also, in theory – can’t at least the part about visiting this girl and stealing the liquor be confirmed or debunked? It seems that Kurt’s pot posse must still be around, not to mention this girl, if she actually existed. Of course those parts too could be invented, but his pot dealer Trevor isn’t – Cross interviewed him, and a very real person by that name is in Kurt’s junior high yearbook in Montesano.)

    Paranthetically, Buzz’s repeated protests that he has nothing to gain is ridiculous; he got paid a few bucks for the MOH review, it is clear that people are still interested in what he knows or could say about Cobain, and indulging that keeps people listening to him. Furthermore, since Courtney accused him of almost murdering Cobain, he might have a natural human need to keep poking fingers in her eye and in the eyes of the Nirvana machine (speaking of which, in Mark Yarm’s book, Buzz even had the balls to complain about his band’s placement at Reading ’92 first on the bill that day – Melvins were on that bill because of Cobain, and Buzz thinks he was fucked over because he went on early).

    As for other elements singled out by Buzz, such as his stomach pains, look no further than the ghoulish evidence of Cobain’s attempt to figure out his stomach pain – this hospital visit was two days before Teen Spirit was debuted, when 90% of the rock and roll world had no idea who he was, or cared:

    Buzz wrote “Kurt also told me there was absolutely nothing wrong with his stomach. He made it up for sympathy and so he could use it as an excuse to stay loaded.” This could probably only apply after they were famous, but hardly would explain private hospital visits before. Did Kurt tell Buzz that? Sure, why not? Might him telling Buzz that as an excuse to not be seen as a whiny little bitch complainer to his hero and mentor? Again, Buzz doesn’t seem to have any comprehension that some of Kurt Cobain’s artifice could have been for *his* benefit.

    1. The film doesn’t have Kurt saying “skinny little dude,” they just edited out the word “fat.” Another part they edited out of that monologue (that can be heard on the soundtrack version) is Kurt saying that the tension from school made it so that he had to attend a different school. Pretty obvious at that point that it’s not a true story. I don’t think it matters what Buzz’s “motive” was for writing his review, I’m just glad he did. The “retarded girl” story has been an accepted part of the canon for far too long now, all because Charles Cross was too stupid to realize while reading Kurt’s journal that it wasn’t a true story. I mean, you’d think the fact that nobody from Kurt’s high school ever mentioned it would have tipped him off.

      1. Hey Selena, you are of course right. I was writing from memory, and forgot that it only said “little dude.” I’m glad I checked to follow this post for replies.

        Seriously, how manipulative of Morgen? It’s bizarre, actually, especially considering that he was in charge of the soundtrack. Maybe he just forgot to use the edited track from the movie. Either way, crude manipulation on his part, and I cannot even think of a justification for doing it, other than to shape it into a better story.

        Cross has many problems (and yes, I am jealous as hell about his access 😉 For example, in his silly book about the continuing influence of KC he speaks of fashion and goes on and on about Kurt’s poverty, which while true, had very little to do with holes in the knees of his jeans, or using bar soap to wash his hair. I’m pretty sure anyone with the very slightest knowledge or memory of the ’80s can well remember holes in jeans as trendy among metalheads, and Amerindie kids as well. Considering that Kurt seems to have owned dozens of shirts and changed his hair and look every six months, it’s pretty obvious that he was quite fashion conscious, even if not in a structured, corporate fashion-y way. I do think there are things about KC he didn’t get and was not critical enough to try to sort through what was fact and fiction or who might have motives. Speaking of motives–

        I’m also glad Buzz spoke up – but if he is going to mention motive, I am going to mention motive. “I have nothing to gain” is very often said by people who do have something to gain. Buzz has a very complicated relationship with Nirvana and KC, and he has not really held back over the years. And Buzz has been pretty clear that he favors hardworking fighters, like himself, over weaklings, and it’s pretty clear that he considers Kurt a weakling. It’s also pretty clear that he never quite saw him past the half-friend hanger-on that he was back when it was Buzz who was the biggest fish in the small pond. It’s also quite clear that Kurt was not Jesus, and it triply pisses off Buzz that somehow everyone thinks he was.

        BTW, Kurt definitely did switch schools in middle of high school. He started out at Montesano and switched to Weatherwax in Aberdeen – but that was connected with moving from his dad back to his mom.

  5. All these comments are conjecture. Why not appreciate Cobain for what he was? A gifted artist and musician. Stop nitpicking the one person who never wanted to be nitpicked. That’s the ethos of Nirvana, and it’s lost on far too many.

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