The Twisted Mythology of Kurt Cobain
With the documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, director Brett Morgen promised a film that would demythologize Cobain and reveal the real man behind the curtain. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, had critics creaming their pants over what they believed to be the definitive portrait of the late rock star. In fact, the word “definitive” shows up in a lot of the reviews. But then, Cobain’s old high school pal came forth to tear a hole in an apparently inaccurate doc. Buzz Osborne wasn’t the first of Kurt Cobain’s friends to call out MOH. Alice Wheeler wrote a lengthy rant about it on facebook. However, Osborne’s review is the one that gained the most mainstream attention. In particular, Osborne takes issue with an early anecdote that comprises the first lengthy animated segment in the film. It’s based on one of Kurt’s tape recordings in which he narrates a story of almost fucking a developmentally disabled girl. After word spread around school, other students begin calling him the “retard fucker.” He couldn’t stand the ridicule, so he lay down on the train tracks and waited for the train to run him over, only to find that the train passed him by on the other tracks.
As shocking and harrowing as this story would be (especially coming from the first male celebrity to speak openly about rape culture) if it were true, it is not true. As Buzz points out in his review, news like that would have spread around the town in no time. But there have been people decrying Buzz’s claims, saying that “it’s not true because I didn’t hear about it” is a weak argument. Ordinarily I would agree, but in this case it’s not a weak argument. There is no possible way this could have happened without everyone in Aberdeen finding out. Sure, Kurt wrote it in his journal, but he wrote a lot of fictional stories in his journal. Not a single person who lived in Aberdeen at the time has ever brought up this alleged incident.
Although Buzz’s review gained a lot of media coverage, what Melvins drummer Dale Crover had to say about the film in an interview around the same time is a lot more interesting.
“Like that story he tells about the ‘fat retard girl,’ that’s totally fake. We would have known that story. Even talking to friends of mine from Aberdeen who saw it, it’s like ‘I never heard about that.’ I mean, you can tell he’s reading it from a piece of paper. He probably wrote it, but it’s not about him. The names of the guys he mentions in there, ‘Oh, I used to hang out with Bill and Bob and Jeff,’ it’s like, who? Those people don’t exist.”
So, the story’s not even about Kurt? Those people he mentions don’t exist? Well, Kurt mentions people named “Trevor, Ace, John, and Darren.” Those names never come up in any other discussion of Kurt’s Aberdeen friends, so it’s safe to assume that they’re fictional characters. But why is Dale saying that the story isn’t even about Kurt himself? Isn’t Kurt narrating the story in the first person tense? Well, the answer becomes a bit clearer when you learn that the version of the audio used in the film has been edited. The deluxe edition of the film’s companion album titled “Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings” has the full, unedited recording as a track called “Aberdeen,” and it begins like this:
“In a community that stresses macho male sexual stories as a highlight of all conversation I was an under-developed immature fat little dude that never got laid and was constantly razzed.”
Wait a minute, fat little dude? Fat? When was Kurt ever fat? The majority of the time he was complaining about how skinny he was. This is a hint that Kurt may not be narrating the story about himself but about a character whose life is based on his own. But the word “fat” is edited out of the version of the audio used in the film. Another bit that can be heard on the soundtrack version that was edited out of the film version was Kurt saying that the tension from school caused him to have to switch schools. This clearly doesn’t match up with reality because Kurt only changed high schools once, when he moved from his dad’s house to his mom’s.
A few things about Kurt Cobain that often get overlooked are his feminist stance and his dark and twisted sense of humor. The “retarded girl” story seems to me like a work of satire.
During an interview at the Tribeca Film Festival, Courtney Love and Brett Morgen discussed the scene.
“Oh, the retarded girl story,” laughed Courtney, “Well I don’t know if it’s true.”
“I don’t know if the story is true,” said Morgen, “But I feel like the experience is.”
Fair enough, but I still think it was manipulative of him to edit the audio to make the story seem more believable, especially knowing that many people would take the story as true in what was supposed to be the “definitive” documentary.
Maybe the best way to honor Kurt is to remember that we will never know everything about him. Maybe we should keep in mind that his legacy has been twisted and exploited for years and it probably won’t stop any time soon. Maybe we should just focus on his music like he wanted.