Montage of Heck aired on HBO yesterday and it made me feel so many things. Even now, I’m struggling to get the words out. I want to make something clear before I continue: this is not about me. This is not about MY experience with Nirvana. This is not how I found out when Kurt Cobain died. This is about, after twenty-something years of avoiding everything Kurt post-mortem, that I was finally able to look into a deceased person’s life and I saw something I’d never seen before. I never read his diaries. I’ve barely listened to Nirvana since he died. Apparently the only ghosts I like hanging out with are the ones I let haunt me.
Earlier this week, a new friend who also happens to be a writer at MTV, Brenna Ehrlich, posted an unedited video of Kurt and I actually watched it. I watched the whole thing. This is not something I was capable of even just a few months ago. Years ago, when a boyfriend turned on Last Days with Michael Pitt (that merely resembled Kurt), I completely lost control of my emotions and bawled. We had to turn it off. I don’t know why I won’t let myself feel the sadness of death from people I loved from afar, I just won’t.
But last night, the same boyfriend that’s now a husband, was dying to see this documentary. He begged to see it in theatres but I hummed and hawed my way out of it and it just never happened. But last night, it was magically appearing on our television so there was no escape. Fully understanding my too wide spectrum of emotions, he said, “If it gets too intense we can turn it off…”
So we watched. We watched a boy’s life turn disastrous after a divorce. We watched as he bounced from home to home, unwanted by family members after he bit the hand that fed one too many times. I could write for days about what I think was going on in Kurt’s head, and his stomach, and how everything made me feel–but that’s not why I am here right now.
I am here because one thing became glaringly obvious to me while watching Montage of Heck: I did not see one single legitimate connection with a fan the entire time. Sure, it could have been in other footage–or done while the cameras weren’t rolling–but I never saw anyone from Nirvana actually connect with a fan, let alone a friend, about their music. The footage ranged from three guys making noise in a room while Kurt sang facing a wall, to touring in a van, to signing with Geffen and exploding the fuck all over the place.
Missing were the years of making friends on the road. Nowhere to be found were fans turned friends that opened their homes to the band and drove with them to the next few tour dates just to hang out a little bit longer. And what I realized, and what I hope I can express, is that I think that this is what has saved all of us.
And maybe that’s what did it in the end. Maybe it wasn’t heroine (as he spells it). It was isolation. If you can’t connect with a room of 20 people, how can you connect with a stadium of 20,000? Another thing became clear to me last night though, that Kurt Cobain was a true artist, and his music would have existed whether there was an audience or not. He definitely had a vision, and I admire that wholeheartedly.
In the mid 90’s my musical tastes went from Nirvana to Green Day to tiny niche local bands like the virtually unknown (at the time), Shai Hulud. I never questioned why or how that happened, it was just the way it went down. And I didn’t realize until last night, that this depressed, drug addled, reluctant arena rock star was the reason why. There was no personal connection. There was no one on the side of the stage (save for Courtney at the end). There was no “biggest fan,” that was also a photographer, on tour with them. There was no young “merch-slinger.” All of the things that make making music so much less lonely were missing.
And there was this one moment at the end, when Nirvana was playing their legendary acoustic MTV set, where on camera we see Kurt talk to two people, I’m assuming they were friends…? He says to them, “Can you sit up front? I hate strangers.” Whether or not it was sincere or sarcastic, I may never know. Even in that incredibly intimate acoustic setting, that was all fans were to him–strangers. The people in the audience (obviously, except for the two he was talking to) were strangers. We all felt like we knew him, could relate to him, and fuck, wanted to BE him, but we were just a faceless mass that wanted something from him… strangers. Fuck.