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: https://nirvana-legacy.com/2012/11/24/no-melvins-no-nirvana/) 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.