Everything about Friday evening was wet. Soaked really. And that was fine with me (fuck droughts), even more fine when I began to take in the misty landscapes of Washington State that provided the stunning visual bulk in About a Son, the new documentary about Kurt Cobain, directed by AJ Schnack.
The film’s architecture is simple and grand: previously unheard conversations between Cobain and journalist Michael Azerrad mix with tunes by artists who influenced or emulated Kurt and Nirvana air out over drifting scenes of the Pacific Northwest. The footage built an atmosphere, a setting for the voice over. Amidst tales of his father you get scenes of logging and a lumber yard where his father might have worked and where Kurt was left to roam around. Discussions of living in dilapidated houses yield images of just that, and as he moves from Aberdeen, to Olympia, to Seattle, so does the viewer. Most of the time I simply accepted the camera as Kurt’s eye—it would focus on a crack in the glass, a dreary waitress in a diner, a happy couple you could tell he just hated. The footage was gorgeous, pertinent however random, and always grey or graying beautiful objects fighting decay. Line like, “these songs were about my battle with things that piss me off”, were ratified, elevated, by the footage. That’s not to say the man was glorified in this film–it wasn’t soaring scenes of Mt. Rainier and tales of rockdom that made this documentary relevant and worth walking through a deluge to get to.
Recorded mostly on Cobain’s porch between ’91 and the ’93, the interviews cover topics that the late-great had previously avoided. Drugs, parents, his childhood, his wife and child, and his fame. They actually reveal his attitude, complete with contradictions and fluctuations. At once he is sad and convinced he can be happy at times. He was consistent in his tirades about other humans: he was always angry at mostly at everyone, because everyone is stupid and dotty. I mean, I know where is coming from, and I grew up with a belief the Kurt knew a little something we all should. Hearing him confused and coping in these interviews helped me understand the music a bit better. With that the film did it’s job, especially considering I thought I understood an album I had listened to 450 times when my mind was most ripe to be molded by rock and roll. But Kurt thought that rock and roll was fucked anyway, so why was I wasting my time?
“Rock and Roll has already turned into nothing but a fashion statement–just a tool for them to fuck and have a social scene.”
You’d think that line would make the E street audience squirm, but considering there was about seven people in the theater, and most had grey or graying hair, I might have been the only one thinking about how many people were actually listening to the music at the last show we were at. In the film, music by The Melvins, Mudhoney, and Bad Brains was offset with new tunes by Ben Gibbard and Steve Fisk to give the audience time to take in what they were hearing and try and make sense of him, for him. For example, “Journalists suck, I have no respect for them,” as he spoke to one on his porch, and “Our parents were all fucking up at once, and we could not understand why,” one year before we all know what happened. He wasn’t demonized, or idolized though, he was explained well by himself in the end. He had a solid head on for someone who had been on the kind of 70 show tours he was experiencing one year after squatting and scrounging in Olympia. He was funny, quick, and terse, but he was open, and this was truly original insight on the front-runner of this sound and scene.
I went home longing for Nirvana, nostalgic about what the music meant then, and how I look at the man who made it now. Critical admiration for going so hard and fucking up so much. Anyway, it was Friday night, it was still pouring, and I was still sad about the way things went for them. As you might have guessed we didn’t go out too hard that night, but listened to a lot of In Utero for the first time in years while reminiscing and drinking in the living room. If you spent significant time listening to this music in the nineties go check this film out at E street Cinema.