Cobain’s Montage of Heck: the Home Recordings…Capital A Artist, not Major Label Act


This is 114 1/2 Pear Street. Kurt Cobain lived with Tracy Marander in one half of the house (the right as facing), then he moved into a small one room cabin at the rear.

Across the Montage of Heck soundtrack, Cobain strains his voice, never letting loose his full force or volume. Partly it’s because, over an acoustic rather than the roar of a full band practice, the sound would be too stark – it would overwhelm his playing. Yet also, in such a small living space, every sound could be heard and would be fully exposed. Instead, he marked later intentions, where his yells would go – a guide in place for when he could later let rip.


That’s where the brief intervention of ‘Scream’ stands as a neat juxtaposition. One of Cobain’s signature elements – his scream – is isolated and captured in this single, solitary moment, otherwise absent. And what a scream too. It further emphasizes the distinction between ‘domestic’ Cobain (non-screamer) and ‘public performance’ Cobain (screamer) which the Montage of Heck project has so neatly picked out. The differences between the persona of Cobain and the private individual.

The Kurt Cobain – Montage of Heck: the Home Recordings soundtrack ultimately felt no more intrusive or voyeuristic than scrabbling through a painter’s paint palette – the ‘voyeur’ comment is shown to be just another cliche tossed at every posthumous project, not just Cobain’s. These are all the elements of his songs, these are sound recordings with artistic intent behind them, they’re part of his art – they’re not chunks of CCTV footage recorded without Cobain’s awareness.

Cobain’s vocal work stands out on the record. Cobain said many a time that he came up with the music first – that extends to the vocals too. Something like ‘the Yodel Song’ shows him finding the sounds that fit the music long before he considers creating actual words. It’s like he’s writing a second song, first, the instrumental music, then the vocal melody – the rise-and-fall cadence showing where he might stretch for a note, where he might go from murmur to roar – then, finally, he converts those sounds into words/lines slaved to the initial tune. The music – meaning both the instrument and the vocal – is of far more significance than the words just as he always said.

The CD era did infinite harm to the coherence of albums with forty minute triumphs being replaced by forty minutes, plus filler, plus repetition, plus flabbiness – a seventy minute mainstream album is always at the limits of endurance. The soundtrack works for me because of the sheer variety therein; it neatly avoids the trap. Something still at the level of a first attempt or ad-lib, is replaced by a more developed instrumental, in turn passing to a song that’s reached the point of having a vocal line, then on to something that has made that next stage of having words too. The (brief) bursts of experiment are a neat contrast and, likewise, the spoken word pieces too maintain the uncertainty over “what comes next?” These interventions and deviations keep the surprise factor high throughout.

If they do come to do a Cobain ‘singer-songwriter’ record (which would seem a viable proposition) I hope they keep it down to 40-50 minutes. Anything over that consisting of song-follows-song-follows-song-follows-song would lack drama. The deviations within the soundtrack appeal and I can’t see how else one can really showcase the scale and variety of what Cobain was doing in a more polished record. Incidentally, whatever mixing was done, it sounds great – the sound is far crisper than I would have expected from cassette tapes originating in the damp north-west anywhere between 20-25 years ago.

The balancing act of ‘Rehash’ next to ‘You Can’t Change Me’ stands out for me. ‘Rehash’ features lines related to the typical bar band/cover band scene that dominated the Aberdeen/Grays Harbor area. What’s telling is that when Cobain barks “chorus!” it’s not a note for the future, it’s a deliberate lyric – he already has a chorus (i.e., “rehash!”) What he’s actually doing is parodying the local bands who just wanted to do impressions of Van Halen in a formulaic way hence ‘rehash’ and hence the lyrics “solo! Chorus!” – it’s the same point he made later with the title “verse chorus verse”, that there was a cookie-cutter song approach he felt was tedious.

On ‘You Can’t Change Me’ or ‘Been a Son’, by contrast, he really is making notes about the development of the song. Placing ‘Rehash’ and ‘You Can’t Change Me’ next to one another is a neat trick of arrangement as it calls out Cobain’s self-knowing comment on his way of creating songs. He’s using his approach to marking song structure to resolutely different effect.

‘Rehash’ fits into Cobain’s ’86-’88 spell of writing songs marking his disdain for aspects of his surroundings. This whole record is loaded with musical ‘ghosts’; they’re a real joy. A casual listener might wonder why Cobain kept all these random pieces, but the impression is reinforced that Cobain genuinely listened back to these pieces and cannibalised aspects that caught his ear and imagination. Again and again brief wisps of a later Nirvana song come through like hints at ‘Sliver’ and ‘Stay Away’ for instance. One can see that ‘She Only Lies’ acts as a potential origin point for the core riff in ‘Sappy’ while ‘Poison’s Gone’ bears markers that would later show up in the demos of ‘Old Age.’ It’s an indicator of Cobain’s deep listening, his ability to tease out a crucial motif and to turn off-the-cuff ideas into something deeper and more developed.

In other places a single line might point toward the future, for example in the way ‘You Can’t Change Me’ echoes the chorus of ‘Swap Meat’ or how the word ‘recess’ creeps in alongside ‘rehash’ and ‘rehearse’ before he explicitly smacks “smoke hash” down at the end of ‘Rehash’ to show he’s knowingly playing with the word and how it might sound in his mouth, working it over, chewing on it, trying it on for size. No wonder people thought he was mumbling or incoherent when sounds were so malleable to him.

There’s a further sense of him finding his voice by testing others in the way he did very explicitly on the ‘Fecal Matter’ demo. He’s regularly testing what he could do with his voice whether that’s through his story-telling tone, the voice he uses for poetry, the different singing styles he attempts. Behind the tale of the ‘lazy slacker’ there’s this deeply active guy working hard and thinking about where everything could go.

Outside of the overt tribute of ‘And I Love Her’, other points seem to show Cobain learning from songs that caught his eye. There’s an apparent snatch from Shocking Blue’s ‘Venus’ in the ‘Rehash’ riff for one (thank you Marcus.) The way snags from one or another place in Cobain’s work appear in fresh contexts also entertains, whether that means the “why is that so groovy?” line taken from ‘Spank Thru’; or the bullying scene from ‘Beans’ (on ‘With the Lights Out’) reappearing as a distinct (and extended) element here; or his fixation with using sped up tapes to create squeaky helium voices… For the first time I’ve realised this wasn’t just a one-off, this was an approach to creating new voices Cobain enjoyed – something fun and worth a smile.

Sub Pop refused to let Cobain break the mood of ‘Bleach’ by putting ‘Beans’ on. Yet that song meant enough to Cobain that he pushed them to include it – he didn’t fight for anything else to be a part of that record, he even let Sub Pop choose the order of songs. Similarly, Nirvana’s very first single ‘Love Buzz’/’Big Cheese’, a first chance that he absolutely needed not to screw up…But he insisted on splicing pieces of his ‘Montage of Heck’ into the recording. That’s how key these playful elements were to him – he wanted them slammed right into the art of his first releases.

Cobain vented dissatisfaction with ‘Bleach’, most overtly with ‘Nevermind’, with ‘In Utero’ too (he told Azerrad he felt the record was barely different from ‘Nevermind’) – he was never wholly pleased with any of them because, ultimately, there was always a gap between his desires and his politeness. ‘Montage of Heck’ demonstrates the other Cobain that was always there in the background agitating for squeaky toys to be added to songs, for randomness to replace the grind of regularity, responsibility and compromise. I think he’d have loved this release for boldly stepping away from the expected, the norm, the tedious professionalism that left him cold again and again. This was who Cobain was when he was alone and who, in his own telling, he would have liked to have had the bravery to be in public with no apologies, no politeness, no pulling his punches at the last minute as he often did.

I heard some f***tard say something about “if this was any old eighteen year old and not Cobain we wouldn’t care about this.” Well, any child under the age of six months looks pretty much like any other kid and has no massive distinguishing characteristics – but a parent/sibling is still entitled to love THEIR child more than that of a friend or random stranger. Yes, I care about this recording because it’s Kurt Cobain and because that’s someone, a music, a topic, I care about. There’s no apology to be made for that and the denigration is meaningless. Origin matters.

Krist Novoselic, in his eulogy to Cobain, stated “Kurt had an ethic towards his fans that was rooted in the punk rock way of thinking. No band is special, no player royalty. But if you’ve got a guitar and a lot of soul just bang something out and mean it. You’re the superstar.” I remembered those lines a lot while listening to this record.

Do you need another Eighties’ vintage hard rock/hair metal demi-god or 2000s commercial hip hop bling merchant lauding it over you? Do you want to believe that great achievement only comes from the mythical 1% of magic geniuses who we should feel lucky are willing to share their gifts with we lucky mortals? I don’t. When I look at Cobain I see a mortal with few chances in life who worked hard, took chances, made something happen. I had hoped he’d killed the rock star image dead but it was resurrected in new form to reinforce the divide between creators and consumers.

That’s another element missing from critiques of the record. I’ll talk later sometime about the obvious criticisms that can be made of the commercial approach of the record label to this release, but in essence this isn’t anyone else’s work, this is Cobain. We’ve had the rock star major label Cobain image; the martyr Cobain image; now here’s a Cobain previously unseen – and some people are uncomfortable realising that they don’t like the person they see. The whimsical, DIY, ad-libbed, in development, noise-addicted, poetic Cobain. It’s amazing it’s taken twenty years to finally meet this guy on record – “hello Kurt, nice to meet ya.”

If I heard an 18 year old who could put something this intricate together – I’d be impressed and I’d encourage them to keep going, to keep ignoring the haters and those with nothing but spite to share. Cobain took the base metals present on this release and shaped them into gold through persistence and experimentation. Anyone could do this – and that feels great. That’s alchemy – and it’s a magic open to anyone who wants it.


Tom Grant Withdraws (with Dignity) from the Cobain Fray….

With thanks to ‘Doombug’ for sharing this with me. This is Tom Grant’s note explaining the closure of his Twitter and Facebook accounts. I’ve nothing much to add to it. I may disagree with him on the matter of Cobain’s death but I can only wish him well in his life in general. Hope he does OK.

Dear Friend,
Thank you for noticing my Twitter and Facebook accounts are closed. I didn’t notify anyone in advance because I didn’t have the time or inclination to either read or ignore, (due to time constraints), hundreds of “private messages” or “tweets” about my decision.
The reason for closing my social media accounts is very simple—I spend far too much unpaid time online dealing with issues surrounding the Cobain Case. Now that I’m no longer needed here, I must create a source of income to supplement my inadequate retirement income. Like everyone else, I do have bills to pay.
Since the release of “Soaked In Bleach” you now have Ben Statlerand several highly qualified experts who are more than capable of taking the Cobain Case to the next level. It’s no longer a matter of MY opinion anymore! Prominent experts have expressed alarm and outrage over the improper handling of the case by the Seattle authorities as well as established evidence discovered about the events and details surrounding the death of Kurt Cobain. As most of you have seen, even the former Seattle Chief of Police, Norm Stamper, has stated that if he were the Chief today, he would reopen the Cobain case!
Even though my name seems to be permanently attached to the Cobain case, in reality, my name is now completely irrelevant. And I like that a lot!
Now that the basics of my story have been told on my website and through the release of Ben Statler’s great film, “Soaked in Bleach,” I’ve been personally analyzed and ridiculed by some, but all of that has been offset by compliments and words of encouragement from our supporters.
So I’m finishing a new page on my website at that will focus on the specific issues that should result in the Seattle authorities changing the findings in Kurt Cobain’s death to “Undetermined” or “Homicide.” I think you’ll be amazed and surprised at the simplicity of this approach. It details the issues I’ve wanted everyone to focus on for years.
It’s time to take the focus off of me and put it where it truly belongs. I’m not yet sure what I’m going to name the new website page but it will deal with the strategy needed to bring all of our hard work to a successful end.
Once I’ve finished the new page, I’m going to be developing another website where I’ll be selling E-Books based on a variety of short, true stories. I’ll also be writing about several of my favorite topical issues. These E-books will sell for just a few dollars each and will, hopefully, help supplement my monthly income.
Thank you all for your support and understanding.
Tom Grant

Courtney Love Asks “Soaked in Bleach” to Cease and Desist

Ah, the fun, the entertainment…

So, one of the many arguments I’ve heard shared over the years is the one stating “if the conspiracy theorists aren’t on to something…Why doesn’t Courtney take legal action against them? She must be scared of opening up a can of worms.” Well, here we go then. Ultimately I can understand why such an attempt has never been made; the only official releases have been the half-hearted pulled-punch ‘Kurt and Courtney’, the first book by Halperin and Wallace (then the reprise, rewrite in 2004), plus Tom Grant’s self-published efforts. There’ve been no big targets to take aim at until now. “Soaked in Bleach” is a worthy target and it’s in some ways a mark of respect, an indication of the scale of the effort, that it’s worth responding to.

Here’s the redacted letter from Courtney’s lawyers:

Click to access soaked-in-bleach-letter-redacted-2_redacted.pdf

The letter very usefully references the link to the outcome of the recent Seattle police investigation:


The film makers have responded by claiming they’re being threatened and that their right to free speech is being infringed if Courtney takes a civil action against them. Actually, my understanding of freedom of speech means they have a point. The First Amendment protects the individual from an attempt by the government to prevent them giving an opinion – it has since been taken as the basis for wider protections for the individual against entities other than the government.

On the other hand, Courtney is perfectly entitled to take action against the film makers for libel and/or slander. It’s complicated, however. While the Supreme Court states that labeling something as ‘opinion’ doesn’t give any first amendment protection against being judged to be libel/slander, some states do have laws that protect opinion to a greater degree. In cases between private individuals (which is what a case between Courtney and the film makers would be) the first amendment doesn’t infringe on common law definitions of libel/slander. The burden would be on Courtney’s lawyers to indicate that the film makers had malicious intent toward her and/or intended to cause her emotional distress and that according to existing verifiable evidence they’d made false statements in the film. She’s certainly correct in viewing a film that accuses her of murder as  being potentially guilty of libel/slander and she’d have a fair chance of winning.

So, far as I can see, it’s entirely reasonable of Courtney to take action against a film that calls her a murderer. If someone called me a murderer I’d do the same thing. It’s reasonable of the film makers to defend themselves. What would happen in an actual court case? Feel free to discuss among yourselves… 😉

Cobain Film Soaked in Bleach Sees Release — Respect Due

Wanted to share the link to the film site and trailer, likewise, worth keeping an eye on Facebook to see what’s on:

Genuinely sad to hear people have been taking potshots at the film’s rating on IMDB before it’s even out — seems illegitimate to judge someone’s work, not on the quality of execution, not on it’s merits as a cinematic experience, but on pre-established like/dislike of the film’s chosen perspective. I mean, sure, if the film comes out and it’s poorly executed then have at it! If it’s treatment of facts is selective and/or manipulative, then it deserves calling out…But be nice for the film to be out in the world before assessment is made of it. As someone said to me, “if you can’t take people raising criticism and issues of your work then just don’t put it out into the world,” it’s unreasonable to expect people to say nothing, stay quiet, not do their jobs as critics, not exercise their right to an opinion if one chooses to put out a commercial product exchanging your energy and effort for their money, time and energy…But that’s not the same as running a concerted campaign to hammer a cultural product sight-unseen. Criticism is legit but the film might just as well be seen as giving opponents of the murder theory another chance to point out that Tom Grant has refused to release all his evidence, has made no attempt in 21 years to find a judicial/law enforcement authority to review his evidence and was the man who failed to search the Cobain residence properly thus failing to secure his place in history as the guy who found Cobain.

That’s the reason I’m a supporter of this film’s emergence, it represents people pouring energy into something they believe in; it’s a catalyst for conversation; it’s a chance to see where the believers’ case stands in 2015; it’s a neat distraction and entertainment for a couple of hours  — respect due!

There’s a tendency for the media to prefer conflict to discussion; the former is us vs. them only one can prevail territory, the latter is “we differ but let’s see if we can feed into one another’s thoughts, views and perspectives.” The latter is boring of course and heck, I love a good argument as much as anyone. In the case of this film, however, OK, I hope they’ve made a good job of it. I’m no more bothered by the content than I am by “the Americans capturing an Enigma machine on a U-Boat in the mid-Atlantic and thus saving the planet from Fascism in World War Two!” I’m pretty sure people are smart enough to enjoy it as a film, for some people to want to examine things more deeply, and for everyone to come to their own conclusions none of which make a scrap of difference to the world bar providing good fodder for conversations at the pub.

Ultimately, it’s only entertainment – if it was a film denigrating the case for climate change then I’d argue against it, if it was a pro-fascist film I’d oppose it, but this is just one man and one tale. What the hey. I do wish more supporters of ‘Justice for Cobain’ were members of Amnesty so they could work on miscarriages of justice in the here-and-now but…

What’s the film about? Well, thank you IMDB:

“SOAKED IN BLEACH reveals the events behind Kurt Cobain’s death as seen through the eyes of Tom Grant, the private investigator that was hired by Courtney Love in 1994 to track down her missing husband (Kurt Cobain) only days before his deceased body was found at their Seattle home. Cobain’s death was ruled a suicide by the police (a reported self-inflicted gunshot wound), but doubts have circulated for twenty years as to the legitimacy of this ruling, especially due to the work of Mr. Grant, a former L.A. County Sheriff’s detective, who did his own investigation and determined there was significant empirical and circumstantial evidence to conclude that foul play could very well have occurred. The film develops as a narrative mystery with cinematic re-creations, interviews with key experts and witnesses and the examination of official artifacts from the 1994 case.”

As a side-bar, with absolute credit to P Leroy from whom I’ve cribbed merrily, just wanted to tackle the “Cobain couldn’t have taken so much heroin and still fired the gun” point…Here’s the 12 page 2006 study; “Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics of High Doses of Pharmaceutically Prepared Heroin, by Intravenous or by Inhalation Route in Opioid-Dependent Patients”:

Conspiracy theorists quote Cobain’s levels as “1.52 mg/L” and that such an amount would require an injection of 225mg which they state is “X times THE lethal dose.” Yet, this study makes clear that the maximum dose recorded by the addicts who took part in the study was “450 mg” while the median was “287.7 mg” and that “no serious adverse events occurred during the study.”

This report – “Morphine Disposition in Opiate-Intoxicated Patients” – discusses patients brought to hospital; “five of these patients were IV heroin overdose (OD) cases, four were dealers who had swallowed packets of heroin at the time of arrest, two were bodypackers in the course of spontaneously eliminating balls of heroin, and two had ingested Paregoric elixir.” The individuals possessed heroin levels ranging from “144 ng/ml” (roughly the same as Cobain’s) up to “891 ng/mL” (six times more than Cobain’s.)

Why were they able to exceed ‘the lethal dose’? Because there’s no simple exact figure for a ‘lethal dose’ – there’s ultimately no such thing, there are many different lethal doses depending on the individual situation. Ultimately there’s not even a way to tell what a ‘lethal dose’ for Cobain would have been because he died of a gunshot wound not of a heroin overdose. The variability of ‘the lethal dose’ in cases of heroin overdoses is caused by the combination of an individual’s physical constitution and condition (weight, height, body composition, muscle mass, how recently they ate, hydration level, status of addiction, etc.) and the physical constitution of what was injected (size of dose, composition of chemicals cut into the dose, presence/absence of moisture, etc.)

Next, the figure for Cobain – 225mg – was created by assuming that 75-80mg of heroin provided a blood level of 0.5mg/L. It doesn’t. The level of heroin in the blood varies over time and is almost undetectable after 30 minutes. In the first study an injection of 70mg created a blood level of 1.52mg/L after five minutes, twenty minutes later that level was 10 times lower – that’s how rapidly it fades. So, in the test case, it took five minutes for an addict to reach the famed “1.52mg/L.” The total doesn’t take time into account – it’s a measurement of Cobain’s perfectly tolerable blood level at some point between the injection and 5-10-15 minutes afterwards. Plenty of time for a shotgun.

Tolerance is always raised but to define it more clearly; an addict needs to inject larger amounts to create the same physiological response in the body – this includes the responses that lead to death from heroin overdose which are respiratory distress, arrhythmia and acute endocarditis (issues with the heart or with breathing.) None of those responses are instantaneous and their onset depends on the addict – I would need a far smaller dose to kill me than Cobain would require to kill himself. There’s nothing about the figure for Cobain’s blood level that means death is the conclusion.

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.

Brett Morgen: Montage of Heck Reviews from Sundance

An immediate thank you to my friend James who collated the Montage of Heck reviews thus saving me a ton of time and energy! Kudos and thanks.

I’ve nothing to add really – I would hate to comment too deeply on something I haven’t seen or where I only have a certain quantity of information. Basically it looks/sounds like there’s been some deep love gone into the visual realisation of the project, that the selection of footage and material has been pretty unflinching, its been reviewed by film critics not music critics so I can understand why there’s no mention of unheard Kurt Cobain music in the early reviews (picking out what is previously released versus unreleased would take quite a deep knowledge and awareness), sounds like the focus is precisely what Brett Morgen promised – far more interest in Cobain as a personality and as an emotional being and far less in recounting the well-known narrative of Nirvana’s career…Cool, all good. I await with pleasure.

The Montage of Heck Film: More Musings on Narrative and What Might be Delivered

Just a link from the Guardian regarding where editorial control is resting with the project – in the hands of the director with advice where required or solicited, which seems pretty darn reasonable all round doesn’t it? I’m good! I don’t mind who gets to give their thoughts so long as it’s clear and stated aboveboard which it has been.

My musings are elsewhere. There’s been a lot of focus on “rare music!” “Unseen footage!” “Art from the vaults!” “Unseen writings!” That’s led fans (and the media to be fair) into a bit of a frenzy of excitement over what may/may not exist and what may/may not be seen within the film. I admit i’m not sweating on that score. Why not?

Well, it’s a film. Sure, I don’t doubt there’ll be fleeting images and sounds that entice and intrigue – no doubt at all given how clearly statements in that regard have been made (while still keeping the big unveil of precisely what for another time.) A film, however, can only deliver so much. My expectation is scanning shots across a few canvas or installations in no intense detail, brief clips of old handheld footage from the pre-fame life then more professional stuff post-1991 but with nothing left to play longer than 15-20 seconds, music down low in the background behind commentary then flaring up momentarily over silent footage before disappearing again. That’s not a jaundiced view, I’m not being cynical, it’s the nature of the medium – imagine how tedious a cinematic experience it’d be if it stapled together a full five-ten minutes of Kurt tinkering away in his wardrobe with an acoustic, if it played the entire home movie of “Kurt attends a family barbecue” (sheesh, does anyone even watch their own family home movies in their entirety?), if it just let live footage run ad infinitum…I might watch it on YouTube or play that in the background but it wouldn’t form a crafted work that I’d wish to see in a cinema, or that would drag people back after a five minute home ad break.

A valid cinematic experience isn’t the same as an interactive archive or museum piece – I’m pretty sure I’m saying nothing controversial here. Brett Morgen has a quality record when it comes to creating film that has momentum and pace; again, those elements that stop an audience getting restless across a ninety minute/two hour documentary, mitigate against anything being left to run to conclusion so what the hardcore collectors are gaining here is glimpses, snatches, teasers to material residing in the ‘vault.’ Think more that brief glimpse at “Stinking of You” during the “Hit So Hard” documentary rather than the full songs performed on “Live! Tonight! Sold Out!” Different intentions, the latter was a live clip reel.

My focus, instead, is on the narrative – the ‘plot’ if you will – of the film that’ll arrive next year. This is where my curiosity lies given it’ll be the dominant foreground which the background sound (music), background visual (video/art/writing), excerpted statements (writing/lyrics) will serve and/or illustrate. This is where I’m wondering whether “Montage of Heck” might land a few surprises…

So, the declared format is (a) predominantly Cobain giving his own views and telling his own tale (b) a very limited number of crucial individuals such as Courtney Love and Krist Novoselic providing commentary or memory where needed. Fine and dandy! Cool! I’m wondering, of course, whether this is intended to be a celebration or an exploration and how revealing each individual or each surviving artifact might prove. For example, I’ve read quite a number of Cobain’s interviews – 250 to 300? More? And there’s only so much said because, understandably, no one says everything to a camera, to a tape machine, to a witness. The lost journal entries may fill in gaps but I’m not sure I expect Cobain to be wholly honest in any public source. That leads onto that celebration/exploration point. It doesn’t sound like it’ll be the hagiography that Tupac: Resurrection proved to be – I enjoyed that film but ye Gods, it really was an application for contemporary sainthood. It’s impossible to ask hard questions of a dead man and the surviving individuals whose cooperation was required were understandably unwilling to speak ill of the dead to camera. Given the necessity of getting and maintaining participation from people there’s a fair reason not to hammer anyone either – frankly it’s simply impolite too particular in something like a film about a cultural icon (which certainly does not carry the weight of the Watergate tapes or the Pentagon papers.)

Next, there’s my curiosity about whether the film will deviate from the well-established narrative that has been written and re-written since the authorised Nirvana bio in 1993 (Come as You Are by Michael Azerrad.) Essentially, the well-trodden path goes as follows; ‘tough childhood and legendary divorce, ambitious but still punk, surprise capitalist triumph met with discomfort, drug problems overrated and he wasn’t that bad, artistic resurgence and triumph, depression and shock ending for all concerned. The End.’ (Roll credits to maudlin piano-led rendition of a Cobain hit and some grainy footage or nature imagery fading into close-ups of the icon’s eyes.) If the film stays in that comfort zone then…Well…It’ll be nice to look at the short clips of art and video, to hear the short music clips and then to walk away having learnt nowt new of any consequence.

Brett Morgen, on the other hand, has promised a deeper glimpse at Cobain the ARTIST – if that’s been fully followed through on then that’d provide a potentially very enlightening and truly new approach. It would thread together Cobain’s childhood life in which he was surrounded by relatively musical and/or artistic relatives, where his father’s dismissal of those influences deemed ‘feminine’ (art, music, literature, contemplation) led him to take a side against his father’s definition of ‘masculine’ pursuits, would trawl for evidence of his teenager ambitions and desires in terms of pursuing the full spectrum of art (painting, collage, writing, video, drama, animation…Oh, and music too) then show how those elements blossomed in Cobain the young adult. This’d be a valuable shift away from the ‘soap opera’/biopic approach to an artist’s life story – a true focus on connecting up and tying their works into a lattice in which the mode of expression varied to fit the impulses or desires the individual was seeking to express. I’d be enthralled to see this less controversial, more unified, more complete vision of Cobain brough to the fore.

Even if that dramatic revision is not the approach, or forms only part of the approach, again I’ll come back to the point that there are numerous points of unclarified curiosity about the Cobain tale which would be intriguing to learn. Sad to say but I would be curious to learn precisely how many times (and for how long) Cobain was in rehab between 1992 and 1994 as it would either reinforce the extent to which he sought to fight his drug issues, or indicate that he didn’t feel much need to except when forced – each alternative would bring fresh clarity and a very different understanding of his last years. Similarly, disentangling his medical challenges would be welcomed given I think it’s fair to say even Charles Cross didn’t full explain them – Cobain’s narcolepsy was a cover story for when he kept nodding off in interviews, yes? No? He really did have curvature of the spine and it was/wasn’t treated or affecting him? The stomach issues weren’t actually resolved despite statements to the contrary (given he speaks of his burning nauseous stomach in the April ’94 note? I guess I sometimes want to ask “What Was Eating Kurt Cobain?” in that regard. The establishment of a clearer narrative of Cobain’s final year would also be beneficial; was there any truth to the divorce rumour? Did Krist or any other member of Nirvana believe they’d broken up in early March 1994 or was it really perceived as simply a pause in the band’s ongoing progress – what did they feel was going on? And did Cobain indicate at any point prior to departure for Europe that he didn’t want to go on tour or was it only as the tour progressed that fatigue (and drugs) and discomfort got the better of him? Understanding if the much vaunted ‘jam’ from November/December 1993 that was revisited during the Robert Lang sessions was actually a scrap of a song the band or Cobain had practiced any more fully would also be rather a welcome detail given it’d then become the second to last ‘new’ Nirvana song (Do Re Mi is not a Nirvana song just to clarify.)

Looking earlier in Cobain’s career it’d be quite the commentary to show precisely how poor he was in his late teens through early twenties – I’ve never found it much of a surprise that he should end up with dietary issues and so forth given a brief tour round the Pacific North West left me thinking “damn…This guy lived in shacks…” I met one guy who bumped into Cobain who was tossing an apple up and down in his hand. It turned out the apple was the only food he had been in possession of for about two-three days but he said he was “saving it until I’m really hungry.”

Anyways, there we go. That’s my primary speculation; (What’s the Story of) Morgen’s Glory? I’m intrigued to find out.

Yup, Brett Morgen Kurt Cobain Biopic Due in 2015: Montage of Heck

Intriguing…It does strike me as too much of a coincidence that a few weeks ago the press suddenly ‘discovered’ the Montage of Heck sound collage and claimed it was new/unreleased despite it having floated round the bootleg world and fan community for a decade and a half at least…And then this week the title “Montage of Heck” appears for the new biopic that is apparently neatly down the line. I suspect ‘priming of the pumps’ – getting that title out in the media, getting the name running around the Internet, getting the search stats up for it, then piling on the news.

Brett Morgen’s press release quotation doing the round is:
“…I figured there would be limited amounts of fresh material to unearth. However, once I stepped into Kurt’s archive, I discovered over 200 hours of unreleased music and audio, a vast array of art projects (oil paintings, sculptures), countless hours of never-before-seen home movies, and over 4000 pages of writings…”

Intriguing…I’d be curious to hear how the archive that Brett has seen differs from the archive that Charles Cross claimed access to for the ‘Cobain Unseen’ book, or that he used in relation to ‘Heavier Than Heaven’ – I can’t imagine that a guy who went from living in a one room apartment in Olympia behind the Pear Street house, then lived in hotels and temporarily rented apartments and so forth for most of summer 1991-late 1992, carted an unbelievably huge archive with him in a truck…Nor do I really believe that 1993/1994 was sufficient time to create a ‘vast’ archive of artwork though I happily believe he kept everything he could and had a remarkable memory for his projects. Potentially it suggests Cobain kept quantities of material with relatives and friends which has subsequently been centralised into a single archive – again, I’d want to hear more detail substantiating and explaining that…

…Then again…The early cuts of Live! Tonight! Sold Out! were built from video tapes Cobain had in Los Angeles and subsequently in Seattle. He clearly was accumulating video footage of Nirvana – I presume Geffen were supporting and assisting in this and that any local TV footage was copied to Geffen/Cobain also. That would align with Krist Novoselic’s 2009 comment:

“There’s not going to be any new Nirvana records, what there is, is video. There’s a lot of video.” Novoselic also, apparently, spent the 1992 Australia tour with a brand new camcorder and is known to have taken one with him on earlier European tours. It suggests that someone, somewhere, was gathering all this material and it seems understandable that Brett would now have access to that.

The ‘200 hours’ of unreleased music and audio…That’s quite a lot of material…OK, rehearsals, home demos, copies of taped interviews, live recordings, radio broadcasts – and general mucking about with tape. Do I believe for a second that Brett has compared those tapes to what fans have been accumulating over the years and that it’s ‘unreleased’ compared to the bootleg archive? Nope. Do I believe he means compared to the stuff on official Geffen/Universal releases and archive projects for Nirvana? Sure. That’s a picky distinction but does hold down expectations here. 36 minutes is already Montage of Heck it would seem. After that the mind can run riot. Also, to return to Krist’s comment, we’re clearly looking at a lot of Cobain solo material versus a range of lo-fi Nirvana stuff. It sounds like the studio material has been truly scourged in the quest for anything worth releasing – heck, if the boombox demos could be released then it suggests there are no formal sessions left and little from the ‘late period’ (i.e., anytime 1991 onwards.) That would have implications in terms of sound quality and overall quality of what is contained with that blank number…

As for the 4,000 pages of writing…Don’t want to be too cynical – this sounds like an awesome film with heavy and deep research committed – but how are 4,000 pages of writing going to translate into a cinematic experience? And likewise, having read the Journals, what would another 4,000 pages of them reveal that wasn’t clear in the first volume a decade and a half ago? My feeling would be a lot of ‘nice to know not need to know’ – “oh, another draft of early lyrics for a song…How interesting…” I’m assuming cherry-picked lines from the writing will be used to add dialogue to the film, likewise that photos of particular pages will be used as click-bait in the media campaign, maybe down the line there’ll be a Journals II (This time…It’s Personal…) where those 4,000 pages might be better translated.

So, overall, cool news – expectations duly managed, questions I’m curious to understand the answers to and definitely sounds like a top class job being done by Mr. Morgen and all involved. Delighted. And lucky ol’ U.K…Cinema release? How nice!

Waffling About Nirvana on Studio Brussel

Well, that’s my five minutes of fame all used up – nice! It was fun while it lasted, time to retire. Here’s the MP3 of me breathing heavily down the phone, using the present-tense rather than the past-tense when mentioning Kurt Cobain, giggling…

It was fun. I was genuinely surprised when this nice email arrived asking me if I was game to come on and discuss the interview clip…also fascinating seeing how reports slip around on the web these days – same piece in numerous locations within bare hours of first posting.