Watching Brett Morgen’s 2015 documentary Montage of Heck, assembled from Kurt Cobain’s own journals, home-taped monologues, and family home videos, you felt a profound sense of intimacy, even violation. Eavesdropping on Cobain has been a lurid national pastime for nearly 20 years now, from 2003's Journals to the scraps collected on the With the Lights Out box, but Morgen took us closer than even the most brazen imagined we should be allowed to go: Courtney and Kurt, naked and bantering in the bathroom on home video about who gets to play the Reading Festival that year (Courtney, pregnant with Frances, complains jokingly about having to stay home and “get big and fat”). Cobain, nodding off and holding his toddler. Footage of the three band members, teenagers, thrashing around in an Aberdeen shack, watched by two profoundly bored audience members. The very idea that this footage exists, and that we might be given such unfettered access to it, lends the film an uneasy voyeuristic charge.
Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings carries the same unsavory aftertaste as the film, with none of its attendant illuminations. The scraps here were dredged by Morgen and used to wallpaper the film, and he’s rounded them out with some home recordings that didn’t make the movie. Home tapes by iconic artists are a tricky business. They can be revelatory, but they always carry a question: Did we learn enough to justify the intrusion? In the context of the film, the audio was an essential part of the film’s sometimes-unclean sense of immersion. Divorced from the images, the sounds on these tapes are little more than lint emptied out of the last pocket of a life.