Title: Kurt Cobain: About a Son
Release Year: 2006
Director: AJ Schnack
Artist: Kurt Cobain
This film is about the life, music and death of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the band Nirvana and the leading figure behind the grunge movement from the late-80s to early-90s. It is a personal account that features conversations and interviews by Kurt Cobain and others around him. There are accounts from Courtney Love, his wife, and Michael Azerrad, who conducted the interviews and later wrote the book “Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana”. This film provides an insight into the mind and career of Kurt Cobain that had not yet been seen before. The film also provides insight into the world of Grunge and the Grunge Scene as seen through the eyes of those closest to it.
Kurt Cobain was born on February 20, 1967 and grew up in Aberdeen, Washington, about a hundred miles southwest of Seattle. Kurt showed an early aptitude for music and would prove to be a very talented performer and songwriter. Kurt was the lead singer, guitarist and primary songwriter for the band Nirvana. Kurt Cobain is largely credited for bringing the grunge scene into the mainstream with the success of Nirvana. Kurt and Nirvana burst into the mainstream in 1991 with their release of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from their album Nevermind. This song and album captured the spirit of a generation known as “Generation X”, who saw Kurt as their spokesman. Cobain and Nirvana went on to sell twenty-five million albums in the US and over seventy-five million albums worldwide. Kurt never really knew how to deal with that success and eventually spiraled downward into a world of drugs and depression. On April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead in his home as the result of suicide from a self inflicted gunshot wound.
This film exposes the heart of the genre known as Grunge. Grunge and the Grunge scene emerged in Seattle in the mid-1980s, which was inspired by hardcore punk and heavy metal, and characterized by a heavily distorted guitar sound matched with growling vocals and angst-filled lyrics. Grunge artists borrowed from punk the attitude of being independent, and were generally opposed to the theatrics and marketing of major labels and the music industry. The main goal was to remain authentic and vocalize their disdain for the state of society, an attitude that had become a social norm of the time. The style was marked by a “thrift store look” of torn jeans and flannel, which was in far contrast to the flashy aesthetic of the 1980s. The scene offered an “I don’t care” attitude that many of the youth, who were lacking a place in society, could identify with. This was a critical moment in the history of rock and roll, as Grunge was a showcase of rock history itself. It borrowed themes from the blues, which was mixed with the energy of early punk and metal, and addressed social themes reminiscent of the rock era of the late-60s. It was Grunge that would serve as a turning point in rock and roll history and would change the face of rock music forever.
This film is not a typical rock documentary and interestingly enough did not actually feature the music of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain. Instead, it featured an ambient instrumental underscore by Ben Gibbard and Steve Fisk, that constantly played in the background. The film also featured songs that were influential and important to Cobain and were played throughout this film between the instrumentals. The entire film consists of responses by Kurt as Michael Azarred interviewed him. As the film progressed, the music changed with the mood of what Cobain was revealing about his inner thoughts and feelings. Throughout the film, there are songs and artists featured in between the instrumentals that influenced Kurt Cobain or represented what Cobain was saying in the film.
Examples of Kurt’s musical influences that were featured in this film include songs such as “Banned in D.C.” by Bad Brains, “Bourgeois Blues” by Lead Belly, and “Up Around the Bend” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Banned in D.C." would be an example of the punk influence of Cobain’s music. Much of the energy heard in the Cobain’s music can be attributed to this style. “Bourgeois Blues” is an example of the Blues influence that shaped Cobain’s musical talents and soulful performances. The Blues played a major roll in shaping Cobain’s approach to songwriting and performing and would be a driving force in his approach to music in general. “Up Around the Bend” is an example of the rock influence of the late-60s and early-70s that was woven into the fabric of Cobain’s musical style and approach to social issues. The influential songs in the film were roughly presented in a chronological order according to when the music was important to Kurt. The songs presented here, as well as others presented in the film, helped to paint a picture of who Kurt Cobain was and provide insight into the musical styles and genres that influenced Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, and the Grunge scene. Other influences presented in the film include R.E.M., David Bowie, Mudhoney, the Melvins, and the Vaselines.
This film relied on Kurt’s own recollections, which were paired with still photos and footage of Olympia, Seattle and Aberdeen, Washington. This was intentionally done in order to create the perception of seeing the world through Kurt’s eyes. This film is an extremely chilling account of Cobain’s battles with success, depression, drug use, and society, and will evoke the feelings of the era that was Grunge.