By Abigail Visco
A musician’s career is incredibly unpredictable. One minute, they can be number one on the charts internationally, and the next, it could all be over. Fame and fortune often approach quickly and without warning, causing pressure that can drive professional and personal relationships apart, and in many unfortunate cases, it can even lead to the loss of a life. But no matter how an artist’s career ends, if their music resonates with listeners, it will be passed on for generations.
Nirvana is a prime example of this phenomenon. The American grunge rock band unintentionally became the voice of a generation in the early 1990s. But their career was short-lived when lead singer, Kurt Cobain, ended his life in 1994. It has now been over twenty years since Cobain’s death, but Nirvana’s music is still heard and played by fans both new and old.
In 2013, the band celebrated the twentieth anniversary of their third and last studio album, In Utero. In 2014, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2015, Cobain as an individual has been put in the spotlight after the release of Brett Morgan’s documentary, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. Following the documentary, a soundtrack called Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings will be released as Cobain’s solo album on November 13.
The album will feature a variety of unreleased material, including early recordings of Nirvana songs, solo demos, and fragments of songs that Cobain just happened to record on tape. The album’s first single, “Sappy,” was recently released by Morgan on the Montage of Heck website. The song was written by Cobain in the late eighties and played at live shows, but it was never officially produced in studio. It made appearances for the twentieth anniversary editions of Bleach and Nevermind, but until now, “Sappy” has been undervalued and somewhat ignored. It has a very mellow feel compared to the rest of Nirvana’s music, but still fits perfectly with the contrast of their rough and haunting sounds. Overall, the single has received positive reviews from listeners. It will be paired with Cobain’s cover of the Beatles’ “And I Love Her” and released separately on 7” vinyl on as well as appearing on the full LP.
There are familiar songs on the album, such as “Been a Son” and “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle.” But a majority of the album is unfinished work— demos intended as a reference for Cobain during production. This raises the question of whether or not it is morally acceptable for his unfinished work to be exposed, as his intentions for these songs was and is still largely unclear.
While many fans—especially younger and newer listeners—are excited for new music some fans maintain a sense of guilt, worrying that this material falls short of Cobain’s artistic vision. It is important to consider that he might not have wanted this. Many argue that his death fell in the hands of his own fame. He was not prepared for his rapid rise to success, and it was clear from many of his interviews that he did not like being famous. The only reason Cobain tolerated the limelight and the business side of the industry was because playing music and sharing it with others was more important to him. Since the exposure of all this personal material, music, film, and otherwise would clearly not have been for him, fans wonder who is really benefitting from all of this. As with many other posthumous releases, it seems like the whole point of this project is to make a profit off the memory of a talented and admired individual.