Watch The Last 48 Hours of Kurt Cobain on the 20th Anniversary of the Musician’s Suicide

There are few things more fraught for a writer or artist than approach­ing a sub­ject that has already passed into pop­u­lar leg­end and myth. This is sure­ly the case with Kurt Cobain, who—deservedly or not—attained a sta­tus as cul­tur­al icon unsur­passed by any mem­ber of his gen­er­a­tion. Cobain com­mit­ted sui­cide an almost unbe­liev­able twen­ty years ago today, and some recent approach­es to his mem­o­ry have been, well, awk­ward to say the least. First, there is the ama­teur­ish com­mem­o­ra­tive stat­ue in Cobain’s home­town of Aberdeen, Wash­ing­ton. Var­i­ous­ly described as “bizarre,” “hideous,” and resem­bling a “cry­ing wino,” the mawk­ish statue’s exis­tence is made even more pathet­ic by the fact that Cobain’s home­town didn’t care much for him in life, and the feel­ing was mutu­al. Now Aberdeen wants to cash in, declar­ing a “Kurt Cobain Day.” Aberdeen May­or Bill Simp­son hopes the stat­ue will become “just as big as Grace­land, even­tu­al­ly.” Cobain had a mor­bid sense of humor, but I doubt know­ing he’d be turned into a kitschy tourist des­ti­na­tion would have light­ened the despair of his last days.

As exhib­it B, I offer the media’s cultish fas­ci­na­tion with new­ly-released police pho­tos of Cobain’s death scene. The cov­er­age prompt­ed a CNN arti­cle with what Dead­spin spin-off The Con­course called “The Worst Kurt Cobain Lede Ever” (they go on to mock said lede mer­ci­less­ly, and deserved­ly). Atro­cious though such cov­er­age may be, there’s good rea­son beyond nos­tal­gia, hero-wor­ship, or sick fas­ci­na­tion to revis­it Cobain’s lega­cy. On April 10, Michael Stipe will induct Nir­vana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for­mal­ly enshrin­ing the once scruffy out­siders in the hal­lowed com­pa­ny of ulti­mate rock insid­er-dom. This ges­ture might make some peo­ple (maybe it’s just me) feel a lit­tle con­flict­ed. After all, wasn’t it pre­cise­ly the grandiose, pop­u­lar-kid cul­ture of halls of fame that drove Cobain to the mar­gins, where he did his best work, and ulti­mate­ly drove him to hate what he’d become—a star? In his strange sui­cide note, we see Cobain beat­ing him­self up for being unable to live up to the hype—unable, as he put it, to be a “Fred­dy Mer­cury” and “rel­ish in the love and ado­ra­tion from the crowd.” There’s some­thing, per­haps, almost trag­i­cal­ly insen­si­tive, how­ev­er well-inten­tioned, in posthu­mous­ly turn­ing Kurt Cobain into Elvis.

One might con­sid­er such things while watch­ing the 2006 BBC doc­u­men­tary above, The Last 48 Hours of Kurt Cobain. In con­trast to the sen­sa­tion­al­ism of most Cobain-relat­ed media, its tone is dry and unaf­fect­ed as it can­vass­es the reluc­tant rock star’s life and death, inter­view­ing fel­low rock stars, band mem­bers, and jour­nal­ists, as well as reg­u­lar Joes and Janes who knew and inter­act­ed with him dur­ing his trou­bled youth in Aberdeen. Much more than its title sug­gests, the hour and twen­ty minute doc works well as a biog­ra­phy of Cobain and a brief his­to­ry of Nir­vana and the Seat­tle scene that birthed them. An Aus­tralian mag­a­zine accu­rate­ly describes the film thus:

The doc­u­men­tary includes inter­views with Nir­vana band mem­bers, friends, and wit­ness­es of his where­abouts dur­ing that dread­ful week. The DVD also focus­es on his incred­i­ble tal­ents, show­ing the mak­ing of the track Drain You, excerpts from Smells Like Teen Spir­it, In Bloom, Come As You Are and more. Also fea­tured is the sto­ry behind the con­tro­ver­sial Nev­er­mind cov­er and an inter­view with the star. 

Opin­ion on the film’s qual­i­ty is, unsur­pris­ing­ly, strong­ly divid­ed among Nir­vana fans on Youtube. But as you sure­ly know, with all such wide­ly sen­sa­tion­al­ized sub­jects on the inter­net, it’s gen­er­al­ly best if you don’t read the com­ments.

You can find The Last 48 Hours of Kurt Cobain list­ed in our col­lec­tion of Free Doc­u­men­taries, part of our larg­er col­lec­tion of 675 Free Movies Online.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kurt Cobain’s Hand­writ­ten Sui­cide Note (1994), With Parts Mov­ing­ly Read by Court­ney Love

Nirvana’s Home Videos: An Inti­mate Look at the Band’s Life Away From the Spot­light (1988)

Kurt Cobain’s Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track From ‘Smells Like Teen Spir­it,’ 1991

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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