The last days of Kurt Cobain, in his own words

Ciar Byrne,Arts,Media Correspondent
Friday 21 March 2008 01:00
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He was the voice of Generation X, speaking to disaffected youth with the lyricism of grunge music. Now, 14 years after his suicide, a new film – in his own words – gives fresh insight into the life and death of Nirvana's tortured frontman Kurt Cobain.

In About A Son, Cobain talks with candour about the tensions between him and his bandmates, his relationship with wife Courtney Love and his isolated childhood.

The documentary, released on DVD on 31 March, is based on 25 hours of previously unheard interviews with Cobain by the journalist Michael Azerrad between December 1992 and March 1993. The interviews formed the base of Come As You Are, Azerrad's definitive biography of Nirvana.

Just over a year after the interviews took place, on 8 April 1994, Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle with a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head.

Rather than focusing on footage of Cobain, the film, directed by A J Schnack and filmed by Wyatt Troll, shows scenes from the three cities in Washington State – Aberdeen, Olympia and Seattle – where the singer was born, achieved fame and died.

The soundtrack features music that inspired Cobain, by David Bowie, Queen, Leadbelly, Scratch Acid, Cheap Trick and Half-Japanese but not a single Nirvana track.

Nirvana rose from an underground scene to achieve international fame with their second album Nevermind in 1991. Cobain, a musician who valued his integrity above all, found it difficult to come to terms with fame and became addicted to heroin before taking his own life at the age of 27.

In the film, he talks frankly about disagreements with bandmates Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic over song-writing credits which nearly led to him quitting the band.

"It was a really big deal for Krist and Dave. They sincerely felt they deserved just as much songwriting credit as I do, which is bullshit, total bullshit," he says.

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Cobain also talks about how much he enjoyed writing songs with his wife: "It's so easy to play songs with Courtney. Every time we jam on something we write a great song." It has been claimed – and vehemently denied – that Cobain wrote Live Through This, the 1994 album by his wife's band Hole.

About A Son includes personal anecdotes about Cobain, who grew up, the son of divorced parents, in a working-class background in Aberdeen, Washington. Explaining his attraction to Courtney Love, he says: "She made me feel like a rebel."

He also reveals how school classmates thought he was gay after he befriended a fellow student who was homosexual. "I started being proud of being gay, even though I wasn't. I almost found my identity."

He also recounts sneaking pot from his mother's own stash and replacing it with oregano.

"Eventually she just had a bag of oregano sitting in her jewellery drawer. Then one night she offered me and my friend to come down and smoke some with her – so we had to sit there and smoke oregano," he recalled.

James McMahon, features editor of NME and a lifelong Nirvana fan, said: "Kurt Cobain is always one of those people who fascinate music fans. His death has turned him into an icon.

"The film is a beautiful piece of work. I'm 27 and got into Nirvana the year before Kurt Cobain died, but I don't think I'd ever heard his voice that much, so it's quite a strong experience hearing him narrate his life."

There has been much debate over the way in which Cobain's legacy has been handled after his death but McMahon believes the film is true to his spirit.

"There's something comforting and ethereal about it. It's enlightening about his life. It's pure, like he's being allowed to tell his story. He really did wear his heart on his sleeve."

Cobain met Azerrad in 1992 when the journalist wrote a Rolling Stone cover story showing the Nirvana front-man wearing a T-shirt inscribed with: "Corporate magazines still suck."

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