Brett Morgen's documentary about Kurt Cobain, "Montage of Heck," has been hailed by critics and music fans alike not only as the definitive record of the Nirvana singer's turbulent life, but also as one of the most intimate and illuminating documentaries ever made of any rock artist. Reviewing the film for the Los Angeles Times, August Brown deemed it "revelatory."
Try telling that to Melvins singer Buzz Osborne.
In a new essay published on the music website The Talkhouse, Osborne — who met Cobain in high school, long before Nirvana rose to fame, and remained friends with him until his suicide in 1994 — writes that "90% of 'Montage of Heck' is bull...," dismissing the film as "mostly misguided fiction."
Morgen spent seven years poring through Cobain's private journals and home movies and interviewing bandmates, family members and the singer's wife, Courtney Love, driven to the point of obsession trying to understand what fueled both Cobain's creativity and his tragic undoing. "I have what I now refer to as the Kurt disease," he told The Times in an interview last month.
But, in his impassioned (and profanity-filled) rebuttal, Osborne claims that the resulting film skews more toward mythology than truth — though perhaps, he suggests, Cobain would have wanted it that way. "That’s the one thing no one gets about Cobain," he writes. "He was a master of jerking your chain."
Osborne disputes one of the film's most wrenching sequences: the story, told in Cobain's words, of a humiliating teenage sexual encounter with a mentally disabled girl that led him to attempt suicide. "That’s too good a story to have gone this long without me hearing about it," he writes.
He rejects the widely held belief that Cobain's heroin use was, in part, an attempt to self-medicate for his chronic abdominal pain, writing, "Kurt told me there was absolutely nothing wrong with his stomach. He made it up for sympathy and so he could use it as an excuse to stay loaded."
But Osborne reserves his most intense vitriol for Love, who, to put it extremely mildly, has long remained a controversial and divisive figure among Cobain fans. "A lot of what she says in this documentary doesn’t exactly jibe with things Kurt told me himself, but I suppose that’s not surprising when you consider history becomes elastic every time Courtney Love opens her mouth.
"For instance, she’d have us believe that Kurt tried to off himself when she’d only thought about cheating on him? Wow. That’s a whole lot different from the stories he told me in regards to Courtney’s behavior — and this was well before he ended up dead. And that’s just one example."
It may be tempting to dismiss Osborne's allegations as the hyperbolic rantings of an aging punk rocker, particularly given his history of lambasting other artists from KISS to Metallica to Smashing Pumpkins. But when you consider that Cobain himself called the Melvins one of his biggest influences, his opinions carry more weight than they otherwise might.
Then again, in a 2013 interview with Consequence of Sound, Osborne had some harsh words about Cobain himself.
"People have said to me, which I think is crazy, 'Do you ever get jealous that Kurt Cobain got fame and money?'" he said. "No, no, no. I win. I win. He doesn’t win. He loses. He’s a major loser .... He left a baby at the mercy of [Love]. And, it couldn’t be worse. There’s nothing good about any of that."
Osborne – who, for all his criticisms, says he watched "Montage of Heck" twice – does wrap up his essay with some praise for Morgen's doc, writing that he appreciated "the really cool animation" and the film's depiction of the grimness of Cobain's hometown of Aberdeen, Wash.
"For that," he concludes, "I salute them!"