A month or so back Brett R. raised a point of which I confess I’d been utterly unaware; that the same year that Nirvana released Incesticide, JG Thirwell (A.K.A. Foetus) had curated a compilation called Mesomorph Enduros and contributed a song called…Incesticide.
Naturally, having written a book wrapped around the Incesticide album it was a jolt, in the most pleasant sense, to receive a question I hadn’t even known existed; did Kurt Cobain invent the title of Incesticide or was it a phrase fortuitously delivered into his hands? It’s a tricky question to find certainty on given Mr. Cobain’s absence, so I thought I’d take the direct path and simply try and ask Mr. Thirwell his thoughts. He very kindly responded:
Sure you can read it but the core piece reads “I already had the title Incesticide before the Nirvana album came out — I just thought it up, but I think it isn’t so strange that two people would think of that play on the word. I didn’t assume that he stole it from me, I just thought it was a coincidence (despite the fact that our mutual pals the Melvins and Jesus Lizard are on the Mesomorph Enduros compilation, which I curated.) I don’t remember what month that album came out.” To summarise further therefore, yes, JG Thirwell had the word already…But though an intriguing coincidence there’s still no clue whether Kurt Cobain, or someone associated with the Nirvana release, appropriated the title or not.
Let’s make the case for it being Kurt Cobain’s own invention then argue the counter-factual. Firstly, the title is a very Cobainesque phrase, whimsical word play was a fairly regular amusement for the man concerned, check his Journals (i.e., “Billbored…Bowling Stoned…”) for other examples. Similarly hygiene/disinfectant imagery wasn’t uncommon (Bleach, Incesticide/Insecticide, “kept his body clean”, Stain, Beeswax) while the dysfunctional family vibe had a recurrent presence. On top of that, the title fitted perfectly as the title of Nirvana’s family of orphaned songs and as his sarcastic Christmas gift to the masses (See https://nirvana-legacy.com/2012/11/13/incesticide-kurt-cobain-gives-a-christmas-present/.) All these points support JG Thirwell’s surmising that it’s just one of life’s coincidences.
On the other hand, it’s an unusual coincidence, a very specific one too — two releases both given an obscure pun on Insecticide in the same six month period. JG Thirwell’s song was certainly out prior to the Nirvana release as he states clearly. Similarly, the fact that both Melvins and The Jesus Lizard were involved, at precisely the time that Nirvana were conversing with The Jesus Lizard about doing a split single, has a nagging quality yet, again, it doesn’t come with anything approaching proof of a connection. In some ways I’m pleased if Kurt Cobain did actively think “yes! That title is what I need here,” rather than just splurging something down onto paper on a whim one evening in a hotel suite. It would indicate a moment of inspiration, a word he deemed perfect and appealing for what he had in mind.
What makes it all most tricky is that Mesomorph Enduros was a U.K. release at the time — despite Nirvana’s brief visitation to the U.K. in August there’s no indication if record shopping played much part in the trip, there’s no indication at all Kurt had a copy. Similarly, tightening the noose, the compilation was dedicated in memory of Charlie Ondras, founder of and drummer with the band Unsane, who died on June 22, 1992 of a heroin overdose meaning the compilation couldn’t have been released until July/August at the earliest. Nirvana meanwhile sent out the initial press copies of Incesticide around November 11, 1992 (according to Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna’s rather excellent Kurt Cobain: The Nirvana Years) but there’s no indication if the release was still under its working titles (Filler, Throwaways.)
Plus, I get stuck on the point about open theft. Melody Maker’s report dated August 15, 1992 is readily available explaining Killing Joke had just decided to sue Nirvana for, allegedly, stealing part of their song Eighties for Come as you Are. Borrowing a name isn’t in the same category but I could still probably accept a subconscious theft more than a deliberate one; unless there was an element of tribute about it, a tipping of the hat in the same way as “daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more” is so blatant it seems more a cheeky wink than a steal from Mudhoney.
So, yes, I’ll stop speculating. Where we remain is that though Nirvana were looking up songs for what became Incesticide from summer 1992, there’s no way of knowing when they chose the title unless Dave or Krist are forthcoming on the subject. Similarly, there’s no way of seeing what made that title the final selection, or when. Isn’t it nice not have the world locked down and filed away neatly…?