Something in the Way

Posted: November 8, 2012 in Analysing Nirvana Songs

Hands in the air if the sight of Kurt Cobain on an acoustic guitar in a New York studio full of flowers is an image that’s been solidly lodged in your mind for years?

It’s a curious way to remember the man given the key releases during his life time barely featured acoustic guitars at all. The nearest Bleach came to acoustic strumming was turning the amps down for About a Girl, Nevermind spared time for Polly and Something in the Way but Incesticide had nary a one while In Utero made way for Dumb and that was basically it.

Something in the Way was, therefore, something of a rarity. It was also the last brief story Kurt Cobain told in song form describing an exaggerated version of his brief experience of semi-homelessness. It’s a rare example of Kurt Cobain describing on record his relationship with the animal kingdom. His attitude is intriguing, the idea that he can’t bring himself to kill animals except an occasional fish.

It links to two songs; the first being Smells Like Teen Spirit. It’s funny that the Nevermind album commences with an image “load up on guns, bring your friends” that suggests a hunting party outing then ends the album by pointing out that the gun-toting redneck was the last thing he could be described as given even hunger can’t drive him to kill what he catches. The second song is Sappy, a song inspired by his pets and how sorry for them he felt. The song describes efforts made to make them happy and keep them happy yet ultimately his knowledge that they were still prisoners trapped in a laundry room. It’s typical Kurt Cobain that his narrator self-identifies with the captives, those without an escape.

The song is a perfect example of the band’s ability to strip a song down to simple unpretentious elements (the guitar chords are almost autistic in their simplicity) and build something that expresses an emotional depth. The starkness of the presentation coupled with the downbeat tone of Kurt Cobain’s voice, the pauses between lines as if it’s taking all he has to dredge up the memories and tell them.

There’s a hidden point to the song, however. With Kurt Cobain it’s worth remembering that he was able to address private jokes, snipes and comments to his circle of intimates in songs that appeared to have a universal tale. In this case his family knew he had always had the option of a room, his friends knew they’d given him somewhere to crash. So to place a song on the album that claims he’d been so neglected in his late teens he’d been living under a bridge like a derelict is quite a stinging snipe at his family.

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