Intended, presumably, for Nirvana fans still wanting a
glimpse into the tormented soul of Kurt Cobain, About a Son is less a documentary than a first-person account of
his experiences in and out of the band, set against a background of snapshots
from the Washington cities where he lived – Aberdeen, Olympia and Seattle.
While not as intrusive or blatantly morbid as the late singer’s published
diaries, it provides an eerie, unsettling picture, never moreso than when
Cobain speaks casually about his desire to kill himself.
Amassed from the roughly 25 hours
of taped interviews
journalist Michael Azerrad used to write his 1993 book, Come As
You Are: The
Story of Nirvana, the film offers some
unique insights into Cobain’s life – he was, by his admission, unduly irritated
by flies throughout his 27 years – and some that have been well-documented.
By now, his
disdain for jocks, his crippling stomachaches
and his $400-a-day drug habit are common knowledge among the initiated. Still,
it is refreshing to hear him reconstruct his early life and the humble
beginnings of Nirvana in his own words, rather than through fragmented
histories told from an outsider’s perspective.
Not that his observations are particularly sunny.
interviews, the last of which was recorded a year prior to Cobain’s death, find
the singer bitter, unfocused and disillusioned by his dealings with the media
and even his bandmates, who, he claims, deserved less than an equal share of
the profits. Most troublesome, in his mind, were the legions of fans who wanted
a piece of the man behind the music. Despite his desire for fame – “we didn’t
want to be one of those fringe bands that nobody paid attention to,” he admits
– the personal attention that came with it was unwelcome.
As an illustrated audio tour through
the life of a gifted
but self-destructive performer, About a Son
is enlightening to a point, but one has to wonder when filmmakers will stop
exhuming the corpse of a man who desperately craved privacy. Like The
Bridge, which documented suicide victims
plunging to their deaths from the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s like watching a
train wreck in agonizingly slow motion. Even casual observers know this story
ends in tragedy, making it all the more poignant when Cobain candidly addresses
his drug habit. “I need to go off on a little anti-drug tirade to put things in
better perspective,” he says almost wistfully. “If I’d have kept doing drugs, I
would have lost everything.” And, in the end, he did.