Montage of Heck: A Look Inside Cobain’s Mind

Since his early death at age 27, millions have gravitated toward Kurt Cobain more than ever. The frontman for rock band, Nirvana, took over the Seattle music scene and quickly gained major stardom that still lasts today. This stardom deeply affected Cobain because his artistic visions had been misunderstood and underappreciated. Leading up to Cobain’s death, he had battles with heroin and mental illness. It is believed that his fame ultimately lead to his death, but there were so many questions that remained surrounding his suicide and his life.

Director Brett Morgen created a documentary titled “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” that was released earlier this year. The movie was released at the Sundance Film Festival and had a limited theatrical release. The movie has had generally positive reviews and has a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Sara Stewart, New York Post, stated “As the credits roll, it’s hard not to just root for the sensitive, progressive, fiercely creative Cobain and wish that he’d lived long enough to find a little peace of mind.” There was a bit of a hiccup when Buzz Osbourne, a friend of Cobain, said “People need to understand that 90 percent of Montage of Heck is bullshit. Total bullshit.” Since the movie is hard to come by, the music world was blessed with the release of the “Montage of Heck” soundtrack titled “Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings.” “Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings” was released on Friday, November the 13th, and it features thirty-one songs on the deluxe version. Rolling Stone Magazine said “Director Brett Morgen went through 200 hours of cassette tapes to find these song sketches and demos.”

"Montage of Heck", a documentary about Kurt Cobain directed by Brett Morgen.
“Montage of Heck”, a documentary about Kurt Cobain directed by Brett Morgen via

A few early demos by Cobain included “Sappy,” “Been a Son,” and “Clean Up Before She Comes.” The greatest insight into Cobain’s mind comes from these songs, specifically “Sappy.” While “Sappy” was later redone by Nirvana, the rhythm and instruments changed drastically. “Sappy” was much slower and raw when Cobain soloed the song, however the Nirvana version was much more fast-paced and almost angrier. Jayson Greene of Pitchfork stated “The few early demos—”Sappy”, or “Frances Farmer,” strummed and mumbled as he worked out the song’s skeleton—are so inchoate that lavishing any kind of attention on them feels perverse. They serve to remind us that ephemera provide mute testimony of a life’s existence, but say little about its meaning.”

“Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings” includes other audio ranging from a 1988 Capitol Lake Jam Commercial to a 25 second clip of ambient nature sound titled “Kurt Audio Collage.” The most interesting tracks are the two acoustic instrumentals, “The Happy Guitar” and “Retreat.” Despite not having lyrics, “The Happy Guitar” provides a clear picture for listeners of all that music did for Cobain. While Cobain is known for his deep, dark sound there is some sort of comedic relief in “The Yodel Song.” Collin Brennan from Consequence of Sound commented “After all, the only way to listen to Cobain spend half a song yodeling and the other half dicking around on an out-of-tune guitar (this actually happens on opener “The Yodel Song”) is on 180-gram vinyl, the way that God intended it.” This particular is quite true, because a computer speaker does not quite do Cobain’s humor enough justice in this case.

“Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings” is hard to describe in words because it feels like Cobain has finally accomplished his goal. Cobain always wanted people to understand his music, but his rise to stardom was more important to the media. The soundtrack is available for streaming on Spotify and can be purchased on Amazon or iTunes.

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