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Kurt Cobain, prince of grunge, was fuelled by shame

“Shame. That’s what made Kurt into who he was.”

I was on the phone with a writer friend from Los Angeles discussing the new documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.

“He suffered from imposter syndrome, afraid that someone would call him out for being a fake. That came into conflict with the knowledge that he did have talent. And partly because he came from a broken home where his strong mother constantly berated his father — which explains why he was attracted to Courtney — he was never able to resolve this inner battle, even as he was being anointed the voice of a generation. Hence the shame.”

This is one of the many conclusions that might be drawn from the film’s two-and-a-quarter hours, which attempts to humanize the complicated Cobain from his birth to just before he took his own life in April 1994.

When Courtney Love first approached Brett Morgen to create a documentary about her late husband in 2007, he thought it would take 18 months.  After all, he had previously tackled difficult celebrity topics with The Kid Stays in the Picture, the story of Hollywood film producer Robert Evans. No such luck.

Delays were caused by Courtney’s various legal black holes — the lawsuits, the financial issues and the turmoil between her and daughter Frances Bean, important because she eventually served as Montage’s executive producer. She was vital in securing the co-operation of the rest of Kurt’s family.

And then there was the storage locker. After Kurt died, Courtney heaved all his stuff into storage to prevent it from being picked over by “friends” who seemed hell-bent on stealing as much as they could. Nothing was organized or catalogued; no one knew what was in that locker. And because Kurt was such a pack rat — anyone want to psychoanalyze that? — there was a lot of stuff to go through before any kind of narrative could be sculpted. The one that emerged is much different than expected: Beyond the expected misery, Kurt was a warm, fun guy.

Montage gets especially eerie in the sections where Morgen uses Kurt’s own voice. It seems like he’s narrating his life story from beyond the grave.

Kurt was a complex character, someone we’ve been trying to figure out over the last couple of decades. And while we’ll never really know who Kurt Cobain was, Montage of Heck is probably the closest anyone will ever get.

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