There is a moment in Brett Morgen’s documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, which aired last night on HBO, when a young Cobain is heard having a phone conversation with a friend about teenage angst. They complain about high school, and Cobain asks his friend if he’s seen the movie Over the Edge. Suddenly, Nirvana’s “School” begins to gurgle from the soundtrack, set against scenes from the 1979 teenagers-gone-mad melodrama starring Matt Dillon. It is the most literal moment in a movie that repeatedly utilizes the literal representation of Cobain’s lyrics, diary entries, and private communiqués to tell a story of his life. And it works. In a land of explainers, this metaphor is king.
“School,” which appears on Nirvana’s first album, Bleach, is a sneak preview of the dark chords and swinging minor-key pop that would make the band the biggest in the world. In Morgen’s movie, as the children from Over the Edge chain their parents inside a PTA meeting and set their cars ablaze, Cobain howls “No recess!” his foot fluttering on a distortion pedal as wave after wave of noise pours forth.