About a Song

Local director AJ Schnack traces Kurt Cobain's musical influences in his poignant documentary.

Did you ever see them live?

I never saw them live. I had two chances, and both times I blew it off to go see other bands, which I can't even remember the names of now. [Laughs] [I figured] I'd have many, many opportunities to see Nirvana again, but I may never get a chance to see this unnamed band that's playing their first American show from Scotland or something.

It's a good thing you don't remember, because it would be embarrassing if it was someone who was really terrible.

AJ Schnack tells Cobain's story in pictures and interviews but nary a note of Nirvana.
AJ Schnack tells Cobain's story in pictures and interviews but nary a note of Nirvana.

I'm sure it was any random indie band that for a brief moment was the new Bettie Serveert or something.

Once you had the songs in place, was it difficult to figure out what song went where and in what part of the movie?

Difficult's not really the right word. It was definitely a puzzle, because there are several aspects to this. One is that that I had a stack of CDs of Kurt's influences — which was really fun, you could hear all these different kinds of music. I would go through and say, "OK, I wanted to make sure that each of these parts of his life are representing" — the arena-rock stuff he was listening to in Aberdeen, the new-wave stuff, I wanted to make sure the stuff in Olympia [was included], a lot of it was import and female-driven. And of course the early punk rock. You have ideas of certain things you wanted to use, of certain bands you definitely wanted to get in there. Even if you wanted to use somebody's, it would have to fit emotionally with the moment. There are bands I love that I know were important to Kurt, that I couldn't find the right place for.

It's like you're making a mixtape for someone you have a crush on. It's like, "I need to put this one here, there's meaning to this."

You discover things, too. I don't know how many times I listened to [Queen's] News of the World, and had never thought of "It's Late" as being one of the great songs on this record. When I listened to it in terms of trying to figure out what I wanted to put in the movie, and I came across "It's Late" for a moment when he's talking about his estrangement from his father. Even though that's a song about romantic love, it fit so well. And now that's so obvious to me that it's one of the greatest Queen songs ever. [Laughs] You rediscover things that were right in front of your nose all along.

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