Sixteen years have passed since the release of the "grunge"
genre defining, hair metal killing, groundbreaking album, Nevermind.
It has been thirteen years since Nirvana's leader and principal
songwriter, Kurt Cobain, died by his own hand at the ripe old
age of twenty-seven. Why is there still such a grand fascination with
Cobain, his life, his death and the music he helped create? He was,
according to some, his generation's John Lennon or Johnny
Rotten, he gave voice to the quiet, angry disenfranchised youth;
the people who weren't considered cool and grew up in a not so ideal
environment. In short, people like me. Did Cobain's suicide make him
a martyr for the ages or was he just another idiot dying a needless
death in the name of the rock 'n' roll fire? The answer depending
upon whom you ask is: both.
Michael Azerrad, respected rock journalist and scribe of the
finest (although a bit skewed in its look at the band and the downplaying
of Cobain's drug addiction) of the many Nirvana bios, Come As You
Are, is co-producer of a new documentary on Cobain by filmmaker
A. J. Schnack named Kurt Cobain - About A Son. Being
a fan of Nirvana since the Bleach days, I will most likely
pay my hard-earned money to see About A Son even though I know
how the story ends. But today my job is to discuss the film's soundtrack
so I soldier on.
Due to the present legal issues when it comes to Nirvana related
material (thanks Courtney!), there is no Nirvana or Kurt Cobain music
to be found on the disc. Instead of hurting the soundtrack, this development
actually helps it. Not being able to rely on the typical Nirvana "classics"
forced the album's producers, Schnack and Linda Cohen, to dig
for music that may have influenced Cobain's musical evolution. This
wise move has made About A Son one of the best, if not the
best, movie soundtrack I have heard in a very long time. Between snippets
of Cobain himself discussing hardcore punk, the limelight, hearing
his songs on the radio, etc
, are songs by some of Kurt's favorite
bands as well as his friends.
The disc is book ended with songs contributed by Seattlellite Ben
Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service,
the first being an instrumental piece entitled "Overture"
and the last is an excellent cover of the Beat Happening tune,
"Indian Summer." From there on, it is one jewel after another:
Arlo Guthrie's story song, "The Motorcycle Song",
The Melvins, "Banned in D.C." by the greatest of
all hardcore bands Bad Brains and Iggy Pop's "The
Passenger." There are original versions of songs that Nirvana
covered during their short career; David Bowie's inferior "Man
Who Sold The World" and the unique "Son Of A Gun" by
Cobain favorites, The Vaselines, a sped up version of which
can be found on the Nirvana b-sides album, Incesticide. There
are also songs by former tour mates and people Kurt thought of as
compatriots. "Graveyard" by The Butthole Surfers,
and the song that is second only to "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
in the Seattle Sound songbook, Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm
Sick." All of the musicians found here are giants in their field;
R.E.M., Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), Scratch
Acid, Half Japanese, and to round out the semi-strangeness
of the disc is "Bourgeois Blues" by 1920's folkie Leadbelly.
The most moving moment on About A Son is the offering by Lanegan
called "Museum"; though the stark, acoustic song was recorded
in 1990 for Seattle record label Sub Pop, it seems to foretell Kurt's
fate as it begs the subject to live long and "not to let them
make your life a museum." That is exactly the destiny that Kurt
gave himself on that April afternoon in 1994. He will forever be twenty-seven;
he will always be a hero, a junkie and a genius. Every song on About
A Son fits perfectly alongside one another. The tunes picked are
exactly what should be in a film about Cobain.
I hope that he can hear them wherever he is.
-Danny R. Phillips
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