This from a fantastic recent New Yorker article. It starts with a discussion around Kim Gordon (founding member of Sonic Youth) and her choice as singer for Nirvana‘s induction to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.
“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” (airing on May 4th on HBO), the first authorized documentary portrait of its subject, offers a study of how the anti-mythology mythology surrounding Gordon and Cobain took shape, and found its patron saint. Directed by Brett Morgen, the film makes abundant and often striking use of private footage, writing, and recordings—primary materials that, together with animation, kitsch-heavy montage, raw and imaginatively reworked versions of Cobain’s songs, and interviews with family and friends, form a kind of bio-collage of a man whose life and art, so perilously fused, seemed always at the point of flying apart.
Both Gordon and Cobain emerged from their childhoods with a morbid fear of embarrassment. Gordon describes the ridicule and humiliation she suffered under the spell of her charismatic, mentally ill older brother, Keller; Cobain’s mother, Wendy, claims that his father, Don, belittled and shamed him. His parents’ split mortified seven-year-old Kurt, so fervent was his attachment to the image, the fantasy, of the perfect family. To be embarrassed was to suffer a betrayal, and to betray one’s self. Multiple interviewees point out that Cobain experienced shame as the ultimate threat.
As a songwriter, he returned often to this formative breach, as in “Sliver” and “School,” songs of childhood innocence giving way to rage; lyrics of primal tenderness and disgust set to what Cobain calls “a very powerful, high-energy rock and roll.” He was a perfectionist, his mother says: he had to sing the best, play the best, and be loved the most. Embarrassing qualities, all, for an aspiring punk rocker. “Learn not to play the guitar,” Cobain wrote, in a list of self-admonishments. No chance of unlearning his generation’s tormented relationship to ambition, fame, success, authenticity, influence, performance—a self-consciousness so pervasive that its transcendence occurred against crushing odds, in moments that felt holy as a result.
Read the whole thing here.