By Brian Ives
This week, HBO began airing Montage of Heck, the new and likely final Kurt Cobain documentary that focuses on archival interviews, “found footage” and his personal journals. I’d read through those journals over a decade ago, and even at that time I wondered if they’d crossed the line between “inside view” and “too much information.”
In the fall of 2002, I was on a flight from New York to Seattle to do some interviews about Cobain for an episode of VH1’s docu-series Driven (similar to Behind the Music but focused on the quest for stardom, not the salacious stuff that happened afterward). The impetus for the Cobain episode was the impending release of Kurt Cobain Journals, a hardcover book that reproduced the late Nirvana frontman’s aforementioned notebooks and sketchbooks.
On the plane, I cracked open the tome. I’d read a lot of interviews with Cobain, and of course a lot had been written about the man. But the book was something different. It felt a bit invasive. All of the sketches, they couldn’t have been meant for public consumption. All of the notes to himself, did we need to see them?
I wondered how his bandmates felt about this book, and I also found myself wondering: How much of this do we need to see?
On the other hand, towards the beginning of the book, he wrote, “If you read, you’ll judge.” That’s not quite an invitation to read it, but it’s also not a “DO NOT READ” sign either. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that reading these journals were some authorized version of A. J. Weberman diving through Bob Dylan’s garbage.
This went through my head a lot as I watched Montage of Heck.
I also thought about other music documentaries I’ve experienced, all of which surprised me in how much they chose to reveal about artists who have vigilantly guarded their legacy over the years.