Thursday, June 19, 2008

With the lights out : Understanding Cobain through lyrics

Every time you recreate something, somewhere through the act you glimpse into the mind of the creator. You don't understand, you don't know, but you do. They say the words didn't matter to him, that they just came as consonants surrounding the syllable sounds that the song needed. Maybe that's why they form the clearest glimpse into his mind, for there was no attempt to disguise them. He worried over the sound, double tracked, made catchy riffs, changed drummers, did covers, screamed, whispered, blew his throat, insisted on layers, he did this all because balancing the musical genius was a mind that knew exactly what he wanted and what was needed to make Nirvana what it became. The words didn't matter. They just came.

1) Smells like teen spirit -

The title of the song came because a friend of his spray painted, "Kurt smells like teen spirit" on his room wall". She was referring to a deo called teen spirit but the joker and the prophet in him saw a deeper meaning to it.

The song was formed without words. When the words came they kept changing.

"Load up on guns and bring your friends" (Album)

"Come out to play, make your own rules" (First live performance)

"Load up on drugs, and kill your friends" (BBC, top of the pops, 91)

I personally think the line was always load up on drugs, guns was just a perfect sounding censor, discounting his later developed gun obsession. The second part makes the song larger than the individual, I think it's an important line in the song becoming an anthem

"It's fun to lose and to pretend"

Typical of the writer, lost, drug induced lyrics written by a completely clear mind. Brilliant, signature, meaningless, open to unlimited interpretation. Like most of the lines it seems to be written from the point of an observer, outside and above the world.

"She's over .............. assured", Dave Grohl said these lines had to be for his ex girl friend. What's incredible about that if it is true is the mans ability to bring in a line like that into a song that has nothing to do with the girl. That either shows brilliance or a lot of pondering over the lyrics. For this song the second might be true for he took a lot of time to give this song the words. Having said that, its probably not the best song to study his mind but since it is the most important Nirvana number here's a little more.

"Hello, hello, hello, howlow"

Brilliant, to be able to say hello so many times in a song, the subliminal effects that must have on a listener. Incredible. He probably got fed up of singing it though and I find this part of the song to be the weakest in his later live performances. Digressing from lyrics, what most people love about the man is his willingness to sing things that he knew would push him beyond his limits. He obviously understood them very well and managed to stay just inside. It wouldn't matter even if he didn't, you can't grudge a poor mother for not buying you what she can't, you know she's giving it her all, sacrificing herself for you. Kobain did that, every time he sang this or a similar pitched song. You know his soul hit the notes, even when his voice quivered. . . . . or so the brilliant showman/Pr person/ charmer inside the man makes us want to believe.

Getting back to the lyrics. In this song

"Here we are now, entertain us"

He becomes the crowd, singing to the band

"A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido"

For those of you who didn't know, a mulatto is a person with mixed black and white ancestry, an albino is a person or an animal lacking normal pigmentation, a mosquito is a mosquito, and my libido, well....... we all have our own definition for that one.

This is probably just random connection of words, but I think the acute randomness is attempted, it makes one think. The more about the song, the better for the band.

Interesting note. There was a book released about misheard lyrics. Excerpt.

-----One insightful listener, however, thought he heard something that sums up Cobain far better: "I'm blotto and bravado / I'm a scarecrow and a Beatle."Cobain, who blew his brains out in 1994, was indeed a blotto scarecrow. A junkie who suffered chronic stomach pain, the always scrawny rocker would waste away to as little as 105 pounds during his many futile attempts to kick heroin. He was literally dyspeptic: his stomach problems twisted his view of the world.----

Getting back-

"I'm worse at what I do best, And for this gift I feel blessed. Our little group has always been And always will until the end"

He sometimes substituted group with tribe but either ways.

The above line is what is normally understood, I would like to believe the line actually is "I wasn't what I did best". Makes more sense, but either ways, lovely connection with the audience, talk of forever, of God (being blessed), larger than life.

"I found it hard, It's hard to find, well, whatever, nevermind"

Word play that the most seasoned poet would be proud of. Disrespecting the rules of wordplay in the second line in a way a seasoned poet would never dare to. If anyone doubts Cobain's gifts as a lyricist this is the line I would shut them up with.

"A denial"

Hurt. Anger. Repeated. Sung till his throat gave out. A soul in tune with what would be best for the song. The clearest recipe for a great song. Can't picture another way to end the song and can't picture anyone else ending the song this way and I find the claims that the end was influenced by "anarchy in the UK" (sex pistols) silly. It's just s similar drawl in the last word.

So there it is, a song dissected, a person remembered, words that were never meant to make sense, understood. I say understood because in the end that's the greatness of his words, whatever you make of them, they are.

I see in them further proof of a brilliant mind that could not only make the most catchy pop sounding riffs but could also make a genre out of them with a new style and the realization of the power of cryptic, isolated lyrics. I'll love the songs, I'll keep trying to sing them, I'll never try and write like he did, I'll keep hoping we shall meet in the afterlife for a brief little jam where (forgive the blasphemy) we cover some songs of each other. Then we'll talk, without cryptic lyrics, or maybe we wouldn't, maybe we'll just keep singing the same old lines, say hello, how low, and maybe then, I'll truly understand.

Till then,

Just another Cobain fan


Zedekiah said...

Cobain dissected and some more Nirvana lobotomy. Only this one wreathes of hope to give back the penniless God his crown back. No anger, no rage, complete submission here..Luvd the part ..."Word play that the most seasoned poet would be proud of. Disrespecting the rules of wordplay in the second line in a way a seasoned poet would never dare to."... for many vain reasons :-)

I guess there is a search for the eternal cobain in all of us wannabe artists :-)

Welcome to the blog

'Just another blogger'

Saahil Kapoor said...

hey zedekiah,
Thanks for the comment. The search for the eternal continues. But do you really see yourself as a wannabe artist? Thats an oxymoron if there ever was one. An artist is an artist the day he chooses to be one, sometimes even otherwise. He/she might be a bad artist, might never be appreciated, be popular, be known but that has nothing to do with the essence of being an artist for what popmpousness humanity must possess the day it deems itself truly capable of judging art.
Anyway, fellow artist. Thanks for reading :-)