Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

I feel incredibly blessed that in the 11th hour, one of the people I work with gave me a ticket to the Los Angeles premiere of Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. The material used for the movie comes from family archives and gives the world a look inside the complex mind of the man who fronted Nirvana.

It has been 21 years since he took his life. Hearing his voice, seeing his words and perspective, absorbing his artwork, seeing his life laid out was a bit like stirring the 1990s pot that contains the essence of my 20s.

The movie is an accurate portrait of a gifted man. I doubt anyone ever recognized the giftedness. No one did back then. But the signs are there: the eidetic memory, the hypersensitivity to criticism and humiliation, the constant desire for perfection, the need for close and intense relationships, the ability to pull together many diverse concepts rapidly, the almost psychic ability to read between the lines to perceive the truth, and the never-ending anxiety caused by all of this. I have no doubt that Kurt Cobain was gifted.

But there is something else in Kurt that I also understand really well: the constant stabbing stomach pains, the restlessness and dark mood swings that come as your body tries to detoxify, and the knowledge that something is wrong with the food you eat but you are not able to understand what. We didn’t have a name for it back then but now we have plenty: celiacs disease, IBS, Crohn’s disease, food allergies.

There is a moment in the movie where his voice in the background reflects on the pain and complexity of his emotions, while the video shows Kurt as a child eating white crackers. This is extremely relevant and I think that the people in his life now suspect that he was sick… but there is no way of retroactively proving that this was celiacs or something else. Regardless, I’m not sure he would have done anything to change. He says in one audio clip: “I’m afraid that if the stomach pains go away that I will no longer be able to be creative.”

What a terrible, terrible burden: being able to make the connection between the pain and success, but not wanting to change because you think that your demons are what makes you relevant. To get well would mean losing the teenage angst and ability to write those anthems that make Nirvana the most popular band in the world. In a way, he sacrificed himself for us.

I suspect he believed that self-medication with heroin was the only way to numb the pain but still maintain the demons… like he could park them for a while and pull them out when he needed them. And, in the videos from this time he seemed really happy. He disappeared from the world for 2-years with Courtney and took the happiness that had eluded him for most of his life. But, after a while, the self-medication overpowered happiness and amplified the heaviness of being gifted. And, when it became too much, he ended his life.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that moved me like this one; it’s completely honest. I am thankful to Brett Morgen for making it and to Kurt’s family and friends for being brave enough to open their media vaults and share Kurt with the rest of the world. Their loss is our loss too.

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