One summer a few years ago, Frances Bean Cobain worked as an intern in the New York offices of Rolling Stone. Frances – the daughter of Nirvana singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain and an executive producer of the new HBO documentary on his life, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck – was “a 15-year-old Goth kid, so stoked,” she recalls with a laugh during a recent interview for the cover story in our new issue. She remembers providing research assistance on a cover about the Jonas Brothers – and working in a cubicle across from a wall with a giant painting of Kurt. “Yeah,” Frances says with a grin and mock-exasperation, “looking at my dad every day.” (Preview the cover story and listen to a previously unheard Cobain song here.)
That is one of many stories and revelations that come out over almost three hours late one afternoon in early March, as Frances, now 22 and a visual artist, speaks publicly for the first time about her father; life after his death; her complex relationship with her mother, Courtney Love; and the new film, written, directed and produced by Brett Morgen. “Kurt got to the point where he eventually had to sacrifice every bit of who he was to his art, because the world demanded it of him,” Frances says bluntly at one point. “I think that was one of the main triggers as to why he felt he didn’t want to be here and everyone would be happier without him.”
But “in reality, if he had lived,” she goes on, “I would have had a dad. And that would have been an incredible experience.”
What follows are additional excerpts from a remarkable – and moving – conversation.
Watch Mark Seliger share his memories of photographing Kurt in his “Corporate Magazines Still Suck” shirt and David Fricke talking about his first and last conversations with Cobain:
How would you describe Montage of Heck?
It’s emotional journalism. It’s the closest thing to having Kurt tell his own story in his own words – by his own aesthetic, his own perception of the world. It paints a portrait of a man attempting to cope with being a human. When Brett and I first met, I was very specific about what I wanted to see, how I wanted Kurt to be represented. I told him, “I don’t want the mythology of Kurt or the romanticism.” Even though Kurt died in the most horrific way possible, there is this mythology and romanticism that surrounds him, because he’s 27 forever. The shelf life of an artist or musician isn’t particularly long. Kurt has gotten to icon status because he will never age. He will always be that relevant in that time and always be beautiful.
There is, with any great artist, a little manic-ness and insanity. Tropic of Cancer is one of my favorite books. And [author] Henry Miller had this work ethic, where he would get out of bed every day and force himself to write five pages. It taught me that if you do the work, you progress. So many people are content to settle. My dad was exceptionally ambitious. But he had a lot thrown on him, exceeding his ambition. He wanted his band to be successful. But he didn’t want to be the fucking voice of a generation.