A sea of youth with long-scraggly hair, ripped jeans, and flannels mosh to guitar feedback paired with screaming – this was the 90s grunge scene. Although I couldn’t relate to the angst that fueled the movement, I found the grunge scene liberating. I was able to escape from the mundane, and discovered a freedom that couldn’t be found anywhere else. Above all, it felt cool to be a part of something, well, cool.
I grew up in a small, rural town about an hour from the big city. Most of my early years were spent drawing, listening to the radio, going to the movies, and playing summer baseball. Without a drivers license (or the Internet) there wasn’t much else a kid like me could do to experience the world around him.
I was sheltered more than most of my friends, not that there is anything wrong with that, but it made it difficult to be current. I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV or buy the cassettes of trending bands (Aerosmith, Guns n Roses, etc.). Most of the music I heard was either shared by friends or was played on the radio.
One of my closest friends during my early years was Alex. Alex’s grandfather lived next to my parents and every other weekend Alex would come to visit. I’m pretty sure that Alex introduced me to Nirvana. He’d share his cassettes of the band with me and I’d copy them with my boombox as soon as I got them. We would spend hours in my bedroom rocking out to Nirvana as we played air guitar, and staged dived off my bed into a audience of stuffed animals.
It’s hard to put your finger on what it was that Nirvana had that made them special. The band was able to touch something within you that you didn’t know existed. I think it was the rawness that Kurt brought to the music that resonated the most with me. The music wasn’t played perfectly, sung all that pleasantly, and to be totally honest, the band carried itself like a zombie waiting to be put out of its misery. Where is the appeal to all that? The appeal, I think, was the absence of flashiness. I could relate to Kurt because he was ordinary guy that ended up doing some extraordinary things. He gave me hope that someone – ordinary like me – could find success.
The documentary was different than others I saw because a lot more was shown of Kurt’s childhood. The director, Brett Morgan, did an excellent job of giving us a peek behind the curtain as we watched home videos of Kurt. We see Kurt blowing out birthday candles, dressed up as Batman, and playing the guitar – everyday kid stuff.The one thing that resonated with me, as I watch a three-year old Kurt eat saltine crackers and lovely wave goodbye to the camera, was that he was an innocent passenger in a car headed for a cliff.
Through interviews of family members we discover that Kurt became unruly following the divorce of his biological parents. We hear from Kurt’s biological mother and father as they talk about the difficulties they had with Kurt after the divorce. Kurt’s biological mother tried to convince you that she was there for Kurt, but something about her seemed hollow. Kurt’s biological father appeared distant when answering questions, as if, he still felt guilty about the past. It was Kurt’s step-mother that explained that Kurt just wanted to be loved and be a part of a normal family. Unfortunately, Kurt’s unruliness made it difficult for that to happen.
A theme that became clear throughout the documentary was that Kurt wanted things, but after he got them, it was difficult to accept them and therefore he rejected them. Another theme that became clear was that Kurt hated, absolutely hated, to be criticized/rejected. This became evident through a private audio recording that Brett Morgan unearthed of Kurt explaining what his life was like as a teenager. Kurt explained that through a misunderstanding of his schoolmates and other factors, he decided to commit suicide but failed at it.
We see the band hit their stride with the release of Nevermind and the difficulties that Kurt had with the success of it all. No doubt Kurt wanted to be successful, but when it found him, he wasn’t ready for it and he constantly rejected it. Things in Kurt’s life became even more complicated when he met Courtney Love. I was amazed by the home video footage we saw of Kurt and Courtney hanging out at home, behind stage, etc. – it was raw, raunchy and funny all at once.
A lot of attention was paid to Courtney’s pregnancy and whether or not she did drugs while pregnant. We can see the toll the media had on Kurt about the situation. Here he was, a rock god, but still people were criticizing him and rejecting him. Was it the black-eye that the media gave his family that pushed Kurt to suicide? We will never know, but it appears to be a similar situation (magnified 100x) that lead a young Kurt to first seek out suicide.
Not much was covered about Kurt’s suicide and the conspiracies surrounding his death. Also absent from the documentary was an interview with Dave Grohl. All-in-all it was a unique documentary that’s the most revealing I’ve seen made to date. Consume. Review. Repeat. gives Montage of Heck nine out of ten stage dives.