Kurt Cobain and Whitney Houston have always had a lot in common, but it was never more apparent than in Brett Morgen’s documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, which premiered on HBO last night. Both Cobain and Houston were addicts who died too young, yes, but through Morgen’s deep dive into Cobain’s private life, that same love/hate relationship both artists had with fame was made clear. Cobain and Houston courted fame, they complained about it, they checked out at key points in their careers only to return later for more. They are both definitive proof that human beings can get used to anything, including worldwide acclaim for their virtuosic talent. Fame is a drug, and that’s never more apparent than when it’s in the hands of addicts.

Cobain and Houston had particular disdain for the press. As early as 1991, Houston complained to Ebony, “Picture this: You wake up every day with a magnifying glass over you. Someone always is looking for something — somebody, somewhere is speaking your name every five seconds of the day, whether it’s positive or negative. Like my friend Michael [Jackson] says, ‘You want our blood but you don’t want our pain.’”

Here’s how Cobain put it in one of his journals after the success of Nirvana’s breakthrough 1991 album Nevermind: “I feel like I’m being evaluated 24 hours a day. Being in a band is hard work and the acclaim isn’t worth it unless you still like playing.”

I wonder how much shorter both Houston’s and Cobain’s careers would have been in the age of social media, if that scrutiny would have gotten to them much sooner were it constantly buzzing in their pockets.

In Montage, you see why Cobain so disliked the music press—he was constantly being asked very stupid questions. There’s a scene in which a reporter asks him and his band about sales, wealth, and critical acclaim. During the interrogation, Cobain yawns, puts his head down, and allows Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl handle the rest of it.

[There was a video here]

And yet, Cobain participated. Wouldn’t excusing himself to fuck the machine from inside be the morally responsible thing to do? Or was open disdain part of the act? Cobain famously loathed fame—there’s a montage within Montage of a bunch of magazine covers and excerpts in which Cobain and his bandmates scorn their popularity (the cover of Rip: “How they made it…and why they hate it”). The story of a band that through no fault of their own ended up blowing up by accident is way too tidy. It’s a lie. Excerpts from Cobain’s journals, which were published in 2003 and featured throughout Montage, reveal a rock and roll scholar who worked extremely hard to get eyes on his band, which he classified as “pop” years before topping the Billboard 200 was a distant dream, let alone a reality. And then, once he had millions more eyes than he was comfortable with, he dissected himself and his status. One entry begins:

And then later:

He’s kidding about the Poison thing, but not really. Nirvana did make a better commercial record than the prefabricated, glam boys in Poison, and the listeners showed agreement via their patronage. In Montage, we hear Cobain say, “It’s not my fault I never wanted the fame,” and yet last year, we heard Courtney Love say, “He was desperate to to be the biggest rock star in the world...He wrote to every major [and] minor label, ‘We’ll pay. Let us be on your label.’ He was desperate to be the biggest rock star in the world. But he made it look like it was thrust upon him.”

Which is right? Which is the true story? Maybe all of it is. Maybe it was a love/hate relationship. Maybe Cobain’s ascent to rock god was a be-careful-what-you-wish-for moment. Maybe Cobain only wanted to make enough money to live comfortably while still being able to pick his nose in the grocery store without creating a minor scandal. Maybe he initially thought fame could be controlled, and ended up with the disappointment of a lifetime.

Cobain’s various stunts—including showing up on the cover of Rolling Stone with a T-shirt that said, “Corporate Magazines Still Suck,” and his possessed performance at the 1992 Reading Festival, to which he arrived on stage in a wheelchair pushed by rock critic Everett True—suggested a media savvy that he probably wouldn’t admit to. The home video footage throughout Montage, particularly that featuring Courtney Love, does as well. Throughout, I got the sense that part of the reason they were filming themselves was so that one day the resulting footage could end up in a documentary about them. They discuss their spotlit lives and whether Cobain’s young female fans masturbate to his pictures. At one point, Courtney asks, “You wanna be the star for a while and I’ll film?” Later, during an In Utero recording session, she says, “This looks like the Metallica video. This is part of your Rockumentary.”

[There was a video here]

This footage reminded me of Being Bobby Brown. In both cases, we are afforded an intimate glimpse into the lives of a superstar couple that’s clearly in love and needs to do very little to be compulsively watchable. They are all effortless entertainers.

Courtney Love, by the way, had no pretenses about her relationship to fame. The 2006 coffee table book Dirty Blonde: The Diaries of Courtney Love reveals that she was fame-hungry as a teen:

And then when she achieved her goal, she wrote, “I love being famous.” This is from 1994, around the time when Love appeared on the cover of Spin (and around the time of Cobain’s death):

Love proved witty and insightful regarding her own experiences with notoriety. In an email to Lindsay Lohan from 2006, around the time that Lohan began crossing over from child star to problem child, Love sent her these words of encouragement:

I remember reading my first VF - my cover was nicer but the first article was a fucking nightmare - I thought the world had split open and was going to swallow me whole and all I wanted to do was kill that woman...I realize now that as hardcore as it was, it made me a lot more interesting and somehow more employable. Keep your chin up.

Love is referring to a 1992 Vanity Fair profile in which Lynn Hirschberg printed the rumor that Love had done heroin while pregnant with her daughter with Cobain, Frances Bean. In Montage, Love finally admits, “I did do heroin when I was pregnant and then I stopped. And I knew she would be fine.”

Regardless, Love comes off as downright reasonable compared to Cobain when it comes to managing popularity. Cobain’s relationship with fame seems like it was as fraught as any of his relationships (except maybe that with his daughter). The last line of his suicide note (before his signature and postscript) read: “I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” It was a definitive statement on just how much he cared about how much people cared.