COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK | BOOK REVIEW

COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK is the companion book to the highly anticipated documentary about the life of Nirvana frontman and grunge legend Kurt Cobain, featuring expanded exclusive interviews with the family and friends who knew him best and never-seen-before photographs and artwork. I handed this one to Morgan to review, I nearly kept it, a stunning coffee table book of the legend, a man I am proud to brag and say I saw Nirvana live twice in my younger days and bloody loved them. Grunge was my era and I lived and flourished in this time. While this is a companion book to an amazing documentary the book holds its own with plenty of interviews and images to read. I have place the documentary trailer at the bottom. COBAIN: THE MONTAGE OF HECK is out now from Hachette Australia at all good bookstores or you can buy it from HERE. Enjoy Kernel Morgan’s thoughts on COBAIN: THE MONTAGE OF HECK……all the best……JK.

 

COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK BOOK COVER IMAGE
COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | BOOK COVER IMAGE

 

BY MORGAN BELL

COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK is a hardcover companion book to the 2015 documentary film KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK. The film and the book are about Kurt Cobain – musician, songwriter, Gen X icon, and frontman of the seminal Seattle grunge band Nirvana – who committed suicide at the age of 27 in 1994. The film was the first fully authorised feature documentary on Kurt Cobain’s life and death, and the book is the only book to be produced with the cooperation from his widow, Courtney Love, and the Cobain Estate. This is also the first project that Cobain’s mother, father, and sister have all participated in.

I found in the book, as in the film, that Courtney Love seemed very focussed on dispelling the following media reports: that her daughter was born addicted to heroin, that she introduced Kurt to heroin and encouraged his using, and that she cheated on Kurt. I imagine that time given to these issues was a stipulation of the access, but that is pure speculation. Cobain’s chronic stomach pain is discussed by several of the interviewees. This is endlessly fascinating to me, especially in the context of more recent understanding that substance abuse is often an attempt at self-medication.

 

COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK MOVIE POSTER IMAGE
COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | MOVIE POSTER IMAGE

 

This book has some images of journal entries (including an entry that confirms he took heroin for the first time in 1987 in Aberdeen), a few pen drawings. There is an extract from Cobain’s handwritten will saying it is against his wishes for his father to ever get custody of his daughter. There is a transcript from Kurt and Courtney’s home videos that was shown in the documentary, and some transcripts from interviews.

There is an interesting handwritten checklist with wonky checkboxes next to statements: “my emotions are affected by music”, “I use bits and pieces of others personalities to form my own”, and “I am threatened by ridicule.” The image description reads “A page from Kurt’s private journals that highlights his apparent fear of humiliation.” This idea is repeated with a pull-quote from Krist “Kurt hated being humiliated.” This is a major message of the film, and is reiterated in the book.

 

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COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | KURT COBAIN AND A CAT – DARK INSISTED I USE THIS IMAGE

 

The most unique element of the book is a transcript from Cobain’s private recordings where he tells a disturbing sex story where he attempts to take advantage of an intellectually disabled girl. The recording is played in the film with an animated re-enactment. It is not really clarified whether this story is memoir or fiction. When I see it written on the page as a transcript it has all the structure of short fiction, however in the film it was presented like real events. It is an interesting case of delivery medium altering context. Either way it is a confronting story of depravity and unbearable angst.

A collection of Cobain’s handwritten notes, letters, and drawings were published in 2002 entitled JOURNALS. What’s new in COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK is the transcripts of interviews from friends and family. The interviews take up the majority of the book. There are seven interviewees: Don Cobain (father), Jenny Cobain (stepmother), Wendy O’Connor (mother), Kim Cobain (sister), Tracy Marander (girlfriend), Courtney Love (wife), and Krist Novoselic (friend).

 

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COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | KURT COBAIN WITH GUITAR AND CIGARETTE

 

The book is basically chronological and is divided into six parts. Each part has a heading to denote the time period: Been A Son (childhood), Smells Like Teen Spirit (teenage years), Love Buzz (relationship with former girlfriend Tracy), Serve The Servants (struggle with fame and relationship with Courtney), Aneurysm (daughter and detox), and Ain’t It A Shame (overdose and suicide). The headings are all titles of Nirvana songs, which is a nice touch.

The majority of images in this book are either stills of animation by Hisko Hulsing for the film, art created by Stefan Nadelman based on personal art from Kurt’s archive, and grainy stills from old home movies. It was disappointing that there wasn’t more of Cobain’s original art. In the introduction we are told that the writer/filmmaker Brett Morgen was given access to a storage facility that houses all of Cobain’s personal artefacts. “When I first entered, I encountered dozens of oil paintings, over 4,000 pages of journals, and a box containing over 200 hours of unheard audio cassettes. I later discovered that the box included music, sound collages, spoken word poetry, and a short fictional autobiography.” The introduction itself has some great photography of toy monkey’s that Cobain had hand-altered, a heart-shaped box, and an extensive collection of medical models, and some modified doll heads. Given the unprecedented access to original work and collectables, I would have liked to see more of it, rather than so many still frames from the film.

 

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COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | KURT COBAIN WITH SMOKING GUN

 

The introduction is beautifully written. Morgen says “Of all the media Kurt used to express himself during his lifetime, I felt interviews were not his forte. He would come across as either sullen, abrasive, bored, or deceptive.” He says interviews with family members about Kurt’s formative years “will challenge and shatter many of the existing Cobain mythologies, including some which Kurt presented himself.” There is a statement that the film is not intended to be a comprehensive biography or educational tool with facts and trivia, it is a “visual expression of Kurt’s interior journey through life.”

If you are going to give this as a gift I would recommend pairing it with the film. It is essentially a bonus feature to the film, in 157 gloss pages. There’s lots to see here, lots for fans to inspect and analyse. There could be more, but there could always be more. As a companion piece to the film, it works well. It is like getting the outtakes or extended cuts of all the interviews. I appreciate that the page design attempts to replicate a collage visual, a nod to Cobain’s punk sensibilities and the messiness of his headspace.

 

4 Pops

 

 

Kernel Morgan is an author of short fiction, an anthology editor, and a technical writer. Her debut collection was SNIGGERLESS BOUNDULATIONS. She enjoys scowling at children and bursting bubbles. She can be tweeted and stalked at @queenboxi.