Review: Cobain — in his own words

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 more so 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. Azerrad’s 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 paoignant 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.

CREDITS Kurt Cobain: About a Son

** ½

Directed by AJ Schnack

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Private vehicles were banned from much of Market Street in January 2020, causing bike ridership on the street to increase by 25 percent and transit efficiency by as much as 12 percent. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA board approves new Better Market Street legislation

Advocates say traffic safety improvements don’t go far enough to make up for lost bikeway

San Francisco City Hall is lit in gold and amber to remember victims as part of a national Memorial to Lives Lost to COVID-19 on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
San Francisco joins national COVID memorial ceremony

San Francisco took part Tuesday in the first national Memorial to Lives… Continue reading

The S.F. Police Department has canceled discretionary days off and will have extra officers on duty for Inauguration Day, chief Bill Scott said Tuesday. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
SF ‘prepared for anything’ ahead of inauguration, but no protests expected

Authorities boosting police staffing, security at City Hall

Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said Tuesday that The City received only a fraction of the COVID vaccine doses it requested this week. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Unpredictable supplies leave SF running low on COVID vaccine

Reported reactions to Moderna shots prompt hold on 8,000 doses

The T Third Street train resumes service on Saturday, joined by a new express route between Bayview-Hunters Point and downtown.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Bayview-Hunters Point residents get first direct express bus to downtown

New Muni route to launch alongside the return of the T-Third train

Most Read