‘Montage of Heck’ Reminded Me Why I Loved Nirvana and The Tragedy of Cobain’s Death

I don’t know about you, but it’s been a long time since I’ve even given the name “Kurt Cobain” a second thought. When I heard about a documentary called Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck getting critical buzz at various film festivals, I didn’t know what to think. If you were unaware, Montage of Heck is an audio collage put together by Cobain in 1988, featuring sounds from Kurt’s extensive and bizarre record collection, manipulated recordings of the radio, elements of Nirvana demos, and sounds created or recorded by Cobain.

Suit up 90’s rockers! Your flannel shirts, baggy jeans and middle-parted, long, greasy hair are beckoning to the tune of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Nirvana was a huge part of my musical upbringing as a young adolescent. In fact, one of the first songs I learned on my Breckenridge, a ripoff of Gibson Electric guitars, was “Come as You Are” by Nirvana off their Nevermind album. I still remember the feeling I got when I mastered that simple intro riff. I was going to be some one, one of the greats! Now, I write for a relatively unknown Christian Pop Culture site… nailed it!

Montage of Heck is one of the most entertaining, compelling and heartbreaking documentaries I’ve seen in years. Featuring interviews from everyone to Kurt’s Mother, Father, Step-Mom, Sister, Ex-Girlfriend, former bandmates and Ex-Wife Courtney Love, Montage of Heck walks you through the inspiring, albeit tragic, upbringing of one of the most influential rock musicians of my youth.  The word “genius” gets thrown around a lot in reference to Kurt Cobain. His vision, passion and singular focus made him an enigma to the media and a god to his fans. It was this genius, coupled with a search for a peace that he would ultimately never find, that caused him to fall deep into addiction. An addiction that would eventually lead to his death in 1994.

Credit: International Business Times
Credit: International Business Times

I remember when I was in 8th grade living in Normal, IL, hearing about the death of Kurt Cobain. “What do you mean he’s dead?” His posters were all over my room, magazine covers with his image peppered my walls, I was even trying to grow my hair out like him. He couldn’t be dead. His death hit me, and many people like me, hard. This is one of the biggest strengths of Montage of Heck. It brought me back 21 years to relive the tragedy all over again. When a film makes me feel raw emotion like that, even when it’s hard, it has done something special. Now, though, I understand the context in which his life ended. I understand now, more than I ever did, the value of life and the tragedy of suicide.

Cobain was considered the “voice of the disenfranchised,” despite his displeasure with the title.

Montage of Heck allowed me to put this man that I idolized for so many years in proper context. Kurt Cobain was a musical genius. His genius lead him to create a genre and is largely responsible for much of the music I would listen to for the next 15 years of my life. However, he was a deeply broken man in need of peace, love and redemption that he never found. Seeing this film broke my heart for the family he left behind, including his daughter who never got to know her father outside of archival footage.

Kurt Cobain’s life was equal parts inspirational and cautionary to would be rock stars attempting to make their mark on culture. Passion is great, but without something to keep you grounded, you’re bound to go off the rails. I’m thankful we have Montage of Heck to remember Cobain’s impactful legacy, lest we be doomed to repeat it. No thank you…

It probably goes without saying that a documentary about a heroin-addicted musician married to Courtney Love is not without it’s content warnings. The use of drugs, language and nudity are prevalent throughout Montage of Heck, making this movie unsuitable for most and unnerving for others.

Bryce Cooley
I've been doing some form of ministry since 2000. For 13 years I was involved in the youth ministry at Cordova Neighborhood Church as everything from youth intern to youth pastor. God has led me and my lovely wife Bethany to Church of the Foothills where I currently reside as the Digital Publishing Coordinator. I'm excited to see where God leads my wife and I.