It was officially announced last week that an authorized documentary chronicling the life and career of the late alternative rock star Kurt Cobain is in the works.
Filmmaker Brett Morgen, who directed The Rolling Stones‘ documentary Crossfire Hurricane, has said that he is teaming up with Courtney Love to make a movie about the Nirvana frontman, which will be released in 2014.
Morgen goes on to say:
“We’ve been trying to find the right time to put this film together and the time is now . . . Kurt was not only an amazing songwriter and musician, he was an incredible artist and filmmaker. So we are going to do the movie sort of like a third-person autobiography — [as] if Kurt was around and making a film about his life.”
As a vocal proponent of free enterprise, lover of music, and member of the generation that was reared on Seattle “grunge” music from such bands as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam, I have no problem with a documentary such as this being made. Whether you cared for his music or not–whether you even know of his music or not–Cobain was a prominent and polarizing figure in the nineties, whose suicide in 1994 sent shockwaves through the culture.
My issue is, and always has been, that there is a lack of frank discussion regarding the overtly pessimistic, thoroughly depressing worldview that shrouded Kurt Cobain’s life, career, and the “movement” he represented. Music nerds can squabble over what “grunge” really meant and who actually epitomized it, but for all intents and purposes, Cobain and his band Nirvana were the apostles of that specific scene. They were the biggest band in America in 1994.
And the dude blew his brains out with a shotgun, leaving behind a grieving family and a stunned legion of young fans.
Of course I mean no disrespect to the late singer or his loved ones when I put things so bluntly. Depression and suicide are gut-wrenching topics to discuss, let alone have to deal with among members of your own family. But I think it a great disservice for so many journalists, artists, and nostalgic fans to rarely, if ever, bring up the fact that Kurt Cobain’s expressed worldview, song lyrics, and personal behavior would lead any human being to the same, miserable conclusion: life isn’t worth living.
He was addicted to heroin. He had reportedly been struggling with depression for years. He was utterly uncomfortable with being under the spotlight fame had put on him. He wrote songs with titles like “Rape Me” and often spoke about the emotional trauma he experienced after his parents divorced when he was seven years old.
Certainly there were millions of kids like me in the nineties who at first liked the grunge music we heard on the radio because, well, it was on the radio. And all the older kids liked it, so it had to be cool. But eventually, if you spend enough time consuming a song, movie, or book, and no matter how hard you might try to avoid the message people are sending you via their art, this stuff does seep into your conscience. What seeped in from the minds and mouths of Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, and the whole lot of them was this: life sucks . . . drugs and sex are helpful, but fleeting, respites in a stormy sea of dismay . . . everything is owned by evil capitalists . . . things like personal hygiene and the way you dress matter only to suckers . . . we understand why people kill themselves.
It is one thing to rebel and insist that there’s a better way of living, like some of the more well-intentioned cultural crusaders in the 1960s did. But what happens when the voices of a generation are telling the malleable members of the same generation that the big secret society won’t tell you is that there is nothing better out there for them?
Kurt Cobain’s story is a heartrending one, but it didn’t play itself out in a vacuum. He was influenced just as he influenced others. This fact warrants further reflection and inquiry, but I fear not the kind the new documentary being made about his life will offer.