Archive for the ‘Analysing Nirvana Songs’ Category

The songs on Fecal Matter were among the most overtly personal Kurt would ever write; the early songs ranged across the standard life of a teenager — masturbation, jibes at teenage girls who didn’t fancy him, poking fun at classmates and those who bullied him, TV inspirations, violent imagery. Then, suddenly, in amidst these songs, there’s the occasional burst of oddity. I’d be more surprised if there wasn’t anything unusual featured given Kurt Cobain’s later lyrics and also the reality of the life he was leading during his teenhood — this wasn’t a normal childhood, it was one with significant impediments to normal development.

There’s a ‘knot’ of unfortunate tendencies circulating round the Cobain family. To recount a small number, on his father’s side Kurt’s great uncle Burle committed suicide when Kurt was twelve and had supposedly been about to be charged with sexual molestation at the time of his death. Meanwhile his great-grandfather on his mother’s side not only stabbed himself but then proceeded to reopen his own wounds and bleed to death — Sheesh, it’s a bit much when Uncle Kenneth shooting himself and Uncle Ernest drinking himself into oblivion (despite medical warnings that he was killing himself) then dying of an aneurysm falling downstairs drunk are the more mellow tales. Most children don’t have four violent deaths among their immediate blood relations. The other week we talked about Kurt’s living arrangements (https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/01/28/life-long-latchkey-kid-kurt-cobains-homes-part-1/), another unusual circumstance, then we can still add on the legendary divorce and related inter-parent viciousness. I’d be more surprised if Fecal Matter wore no stains as a consequence.

Laminated Effect stands out in that respect. It’s the one song in Kurt Cobain’s history that stands out as uncharacteristically ‘nasty’. In the first verse the male homosexual character is raped by his father then catches AIDS; in the second verse the female homosexual is ‘cured’ by heterosexual penetration. It’s disturbing to hear someone who grew to be as enlightened as Kurt Cobain was in later years laying out the myth that homosexuality is some kind of pose and that those born homosexual can be ‘cured’. It’s the equivalent of Eminem’s unreleased track in which he directed racial taunts at a former African-American girlfriend; it’s not so comparable to Axl Rose’s famed One in a Million track which was a deliberate release taking on the persona of a dumb hick from the country arriving in Los Angeles (an, at least, semi-autobiographical tale.)

I’ve been dwelling on this song for a year now, it’s been hard to know what to make of something so jarringly out of sync. My belief now is that there is a case to be made that the song was significant and should be considered as something more than a side-note to the career of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain. Nirvana were very frugal with their songs, almost everything they recorded found relatively rapid release, not many songs were repeatedly toyed with — Sappy received the most studio efforts (1989 studio, 1990 studio, 1991 studio, 1993 studio), the next was three shots at Radio Friendly Unit Shifter — nothing else popped up more than twice. This is a point about how songs ‘lingered’ in Kurt Cobain’s mind — answer; they rarely did.

In the case of Laminated Effect though, he recorded it in early 1986 (see Gillian G. Gaar’s Entertain Us) which suggests a late 1985-early 1986 writing. The song vanishes, yet in late 1989, a very rare thing occurs and he cannibalises a single line of lyrics from it. Firstly, this tells us how low on serviceable material Kurt Cobain was in mid-to-late 1989; Even in his Youth was recorded in studio in September that year before it ever made it near a live stage which seems to indicate hurried work to build up pieces for potential future use. It’s such an odd act, stripping a single line, one that to an external observer seems to have no particular significance or poetic quality that would make it memorable, and choosing to give it ‘life’ three and a half years later.

It’s a mark of the song’s significance that it’s one of the only times Kurt Cobain borrowed lyrics from an old track to use in a new one — “kept his body clean” was a specific reference to the homosexual male, it’s an image derived from Shakespeare’s Macbeth in which Lady Macbeth and also an image of guilt and shame — Lady Macbeth walks the castle attempting to wash imaginary spots of blood from her skin having murdered the king. It’s one of Kurt’s most articulate metaphors given he uses it, both in Laminated Effect and in Even in His Youth, in the original Shakespearian context (“told he was at fault, living life unhappy”/”Kept his body clean going nowhere/daddy was ashamed, he was nothing, smears the family name”). What’s also notable is that both songs share the issue of the father; in each case it’s the father who defines the context of the son’s entire existence; in one the rape is given as context to the later events of the son’s life, in the other the individual’s entire being is summarised by their father’s shame.

A second way in which this one song echoed on into the future is that the image of incestuous rape reoccurred in 1990 in the original demo of the song Rape Me. Again, the crucial point is that the person at the core of the event isn’t defined as a victim; they’re defined as being responsible with mention of “my embarrassment” and the invitational tone “rape me…Someone disgrace me.” That’s two further songs looped out of Laminated Effect.

It was easy, initially, to interpret all three songs as simply a recounting of Kurt Cobain’s own guilt, sense of male insecurity, the feeling that he’d embarrassed and disappointed his father. But the first song was on Fecal Matter which leads me, for once, to believe that there was a more literal source for the song — and there is a candidate.

In the book Heavier Than Heaven, Charles Cross recounts briefly the fate of one of Cobain’s relatives, his mum’s brother, Kurt’s uncle Patrick. Patrick died at age 46 of AIDS in the first days of January 1991. Patrick’s homosexuality was apparently a family secret, his parents refusing to believe he was gay, and likewise no one talking about Patrick’s insistence that he had been sexually abused by his own uncle Delbert. There are similarities in the tale being told on Laminated Effect. Kurt’s story focuses on rape by the father (not uncle), the parental shame associated with the son’s homosexuality which was indeed a crucial feature of the real-life case — Patrick’s parents initially refused to believe he was homosexual and Patrick was so furious about how he was ignored and shamed that he considered publically announcing what was happening to him. The next similarities are the move to the big city — Patrick indeed moved to California — and finally the catching of “a big disease”; the biggest disease of the Eighties, particularly in the gay community was AIDS. The fact the chief character is still alive at the end of the song again fits in that regard, Patrick was alive when Laminated Effect was written.

There is difficulty, of course, in establishing the timing (and there’s no extant statements from Kurt as to his intentions — sorry guys, I’m speculating again.) Patrick died on January 2, 1991, four and a half years after the Easter 1986 recording of Laminated Effect. A further intriguing coincidence, however, is that Kurt Cobain resurrected Even in his Youth, in its final released form, at a casual studio session on January 1, 1991. A song about incest, homosexuality, the man infected with the big disease — a memory of it inserted into a song that is then brought back to life one day before the family member who potentially suffered incest, who was homosexual, who was a victim of AIDS, who was a hushed family shame, before that man died. Another timing issue is that it is unknown if Patrick had still been living in State of Washington when he made his homosexuality known to his family, likewise it’s unknown when in the intervening years Patrick had made his accusation regarding Kurt’s great-uncle, or when AIDS was diagnosed.

In the context of ‘Illiteracy will Prevail’ a tape by a nineteen year old Kurt Cobain, on which personal circumstance and influences were worn on the sleeve, it would be more unusual if Laminated Effect was pure fantasy rather than an extrapolation from a known tale. Also, on that tape, there was a very rare feature which was Kurt made use of other voices and told stories through other people’s eyes (for example Buffy’s Pregnant). Rather than Laminated Effect being an unpleasant expression of Kurt’s own feelings, the song appears to be a recounting of the confused and intolerant reactions of his family to what was occurring; his family were genuinely unpleasant in their treatment of Patrick, unwilling to accept homosexuality as something natural. Kurt would go through these feelings again on Been a Son (written intriguingly at roughly the same time as Even in his Youth) which may have been discussing his parents’ response to Kurt’s sister’s lesbianism. Certainly I find it easier to believe that this wasn’t Kurt’s voice than that the sensitive teenager who already believed he was possibly gay, would write a song that was so spiteful toward homosexuals.

What’s a curious further thought leading from this is that Even in his Youth, potentially, may be a more sympathetic and introverted retelling of Patrick’s story; I’ll leave it here.

Clay Man/Sealed in Skin

Posted: February 13, 2013 in Analysing Nirvana Songs

Respect due to Michael Prodger writing in the Review section of The Mail on Sunday liberated from a local pub back at the weekend. I’d like to borrow his opening comparing Hamlet’s quotation “what a piece of work is a man”, to an earthy reality that “man is an amalgam of some 206 bones, 78 organs, about 640 muscles…assorted sinews, tendons and cartilages, all clothed in two square metres of skin…” This was in his review of Hugh Aldersey-Williams’ Anatomies.

In one of my personal favourite chapters of Dark Slivers I dwelt on Kurt Cobain’s liking for disease metaphors and his translating of emotional pain into physical symptoms. One item I hadn’t considered though was the relative absence of the human body as a tangible presence within his work. The review points out that Shakespeare was relatively fixated on the body “ ‘flesh’ appears 142 times in his work while there are 1,047 hearts, 82 brains and 44 stomachs.”

Within a piece of work I’ve not yet taken the time to pare down to manageable size, I analysed the verbs within Kurt Cobain’s songs and concluded there was an absence of physical action within his songs. Initially when studying for this article I was expecting to see a similar absence of human flesh within the songs but this proved untrue. What is fair to say, instead, is that the body occurs mainly in glimpses, the songs lack physicality and a result it’s rare for the body to be at the he…Centre of a song:

Lyrics_Bodies

In the case of this subject, I believe it’s a situation where the form Kurt Cobain’s songs took impacted on the subject matter; it’s hard to write about bodies, limbs, organs when most of one’s lyrics are thoughts, opinions, feelings and observations. Bodies are more usually visible in Nirvana’s music as glimpses, lyrical ghosts — someone’s eyes, a face — that appear then disappear; the preceding line, the next line, the physical being rarely persists or has a role or consequence. It isn’t that the songs are merely impressionistic daubs, it’s more that the body is irrelevant to the broader themes and points of the song — the songs are of an interior lived experience not the container surrounding that experience.

An intriguing shift, however, is that the presence/absence of the human body within the work of Kurt Cobain forms a series of peaks and troughs. Kurt’s early story song, Floyd the Barber, is arguably the most physically active song he ever wrote yet it’s still one in which the narrator’s body sits bound and still, acted upon not acting. Again, another song that long preceded Bleach, Paper Cuts, involved a physical action placing it neatly alongside Beeswax’s penile dwelling or Pen Cap Chew’s more observational “skin under a fingernail.” Nevermind barely manages more than a single corporeal element in a song, Sliver, Dive, Stain, Been a Son, Sappy, Even in His Youth, Aneurysm — flesh barely appears. Aneurysm is a great example of what occurs; Aneurysm translates each action into a physical symptom but into sensation on or within a body, the body remains imaginary. In Utero, surprisingly, is relatively low in physical presence…Unless one notes a different dividing line and looks instead for the songs most likely to have been written tight around the Rio De Janeiro sessions (MV, I Hate Myself and I Want to Die, Very Ape). The two outtakes/b-sides were the most focused physical musings Kurt Cobain had made in seven years and strangely that aspect simply vanished in his final recordings.

Mexican Seafood is the most perfect encapsulation of Kurt Cobain’s approach to the human body; it’s a song about being ill in which the body barely exists — what it recounts instead is the body’s ‘excretions’ not just in terms of the physical, but also primarily focused on the sensations. Think of the image of the transparent man gracing the front cover of the Dive/Sliver single (on the former song he appropriately sang “everyone is hollow”) , it’s a good metaphor for the body in Kurt’s lyrics — the body is a translucent object, it barely exists, what he’s sensitive to and most aware of is feelings.

Lillies

One of Kurt Cobain’s beauties was that he was simultaneously explicit about his reasons, but rarely simplistic. The matter of flowers is a case in point. I recall, back last month when I was suggesting that I didn’t find MTV Unplugged in New York a necessarily joyous occasion https://nirvana-legacy.com/2012/12/21/disquiet-mtv-unplugged-in-new-york), someone quite reasonably said “well, so what if Kurt asked for some flowers?”

Well, I feel there’s quite a big so-what. Kurt is absolutely clear that he doesn’t pick lilies as a key component of his decorative world because they’re merely ‘his favourite flower’ or because he finds them ‘pretty’. The request for MTV Unplugged in New York was very clear; lilies, black candles, crystal chandelier and as the all-knowing Oracle Wikipedia declares the show’s producer responded “you mean like a funeral?” to which Cobain replied “exactly. Like a funeral.”

But this isn’t the only reference to flowers. Within his Journals, in the sketched ideas for a video for the song Rape Me, he notes down “preferably lilies, orchids, ya know, vaginal flowers.” Wonderfully, however, this wasn’t the first time the vaginal flowers had been on his mind. Back in the spring of 1993 he had incorporated these same flowers into the artwork for In Utero with a piece explicitly entitled “Sex and Woman and In Utero and Vaginas and Birth and Death.” And again around the same time, for the Heart Shaped Box single cover, he was using the flowers again on a song that Courtney Love has stated is about her vagina. That charming comment from Courtney is backed up by the circling themes woven into the song; it was originally called Heart Shaped Coffin, it’s laced with ideas like the umbilical noose, a charming combination of woman and death all over again. And even this wasn’t the first time he’d gone with the flower angle, In Bloom in late 1992 had focused specifically on the stamen, the plant’s reproductive organs. It seems that for a period of somewhere over a year (at least) Kurt Cobain’s visual imagery was highly specific and focused. When it comes to covers and even stage decoration he loads the place with reproductive imagery and links it to death.

If we wanted to expand then it’d be easy at this point to comment on naked babies, pregnant women, seahorses too but instead I want to go in a different direction and refer to sex in the lyrics of Kurt Cobain — there isn’t much to be honest but let’s look. In total it amounts to four songs featuring rape — Floyd the Barber, Polly, Rape Me and the Fecal Matter demo track Laminated Effect — plus the song Moist Vagina, plus a mention on Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flowed Through the Strip. What I find intriguing is we’re looking here at songs involving sex and death (Floyd the Barber), an original title for M.V. which ended in “and then she blew him like he’d never been blown, brains stuck all over the wall”, rape and AIDS (Laminated Effect), oh, and Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol combines absence of sex with implied pregnancy and a missing period then has AIDS victim Perry Ellis guest-star.

I genuinely believe one of Kurt Cobain’s most unique qualities as an artist was his ability to work on multiple levels of meaning whether those combinations were humour and horror, delicacy and brutality, or in this case, the knowing use of flowers to represent sex and death, in public, uncensored, throughout that late period. Yet the association of sex and death (it’s the ol’ Doors vibe all over again) had more regular origins in his music with a long-standing issue returning to the fore in his married life. He doesn’t ask for flowers; he asks for a funeral and for vaginas – married, buried. Make of it what you will, I have.

Just as an aside, someone check me on this; Kurt chose the image of him in a Santa hat (partially obscured) for the inlay of In Utero, is it coincidence or self-parody that the frail old man in the Heart Shaped Box video (Christ pose, straggly hair, little beard, piercing blue eyes, thin, weary) also wears a Santa hat…?

There’s a late 1993 interview on YouTube in which Kurt Cobain, when asked about the meaning in his lyrics, straight up denies his lyrics have any meaning raising his hand in the air and declaring “swear to God brother…”

If he means, “I don’t intentionally write meaningful stuff” he would still be playing loose with the truth; he admits over and again to songs having a story line or an autobiographical element, he just refuses to do so in a uniform way or without disclaimers. If he means “my songs have no meaning” then he’d be either (take your pick) wrong, lying or willfully self-deceptive. It’s a well known fact that, at least after his early writing visible on Incesticide, Kurt often mashed lyrics together at short notice. Again, however, that wasn’t a uniform writing pattern. There’s no evidence of how long the songs written in late 1990-early 1991 took to write but they were written at home, in private, not in the run up to album recordings or on the spot at rehearsals.

Also, the key point is that ‘meaning’ isn’t automatically entangled in authorial intent. If an artist writes a song and deliberately makes it about a specific topic (i.e., Sweet Child of Mine was written, deliberately, as a wistful love song hence the focus of all the lyrics) then fine, its about that topic but it doesn’t mean that the images used aren’t tied to other ideas in an artist’s work. The other way to void meaning would be to do a William S. Burroughs style cut-up in which all lyrics are found and thrown together from other sources – the author doesn’t write any of them. But even Burroughs arranged those cut ups into narratives and stories that he did, deliberately, construct. Therefore authorial meaning was returned to words that didn’t originally have any.

In the case of Kurt Cobain, the fact that he wrote fast, that he wrote things on the spot, actually brings us closer to interior meaning. Why? Because all the words and images poured onto pages came from his internal world without being warped or corrupted by deliberate intention – these words and images were what spilt out of him.

This is why, when studying Kurt Cobain’s life and works, the same themes occur again and again whether in lyrics, in diary entries, in his suicide note, in the authors he payed homage to or in his art work. He didn’t deliberately set out to write more songs about rape than about heterosexual sex – but that’s what came out when he sat down. He didn’t mean to write numerous songs in which the character is restrained, bound, under control – but that’s what came out.

A good comparison would be to query the meaning of a quality film. The Godfather is a film about the Mafia. Well, yes! True! …But it’s also a film about the bonds of family, about inheritance, the corrupting of good intentions…And on top of that it’s a film displaying Hollywood’s love affair with glamorous violence and crime, its relationships with organised crime (the tale is that the word Mafia is never used because the makers were pressured by associates of local crime families) and also the influence on screen portrayals of crime can have on individuals who have modelled themselves on it since then. Kurt Cobain’s lyrics aren’t Transformers; all surface explosions and no depth. Kurt Cobain’s lyrics bear comparison to detailed cinematic work.

The quest for meaning has given too much credibility to his own statements regarding his ‘meaninglessness’ while simultaneously every Nirvana fan looks at In Utero and can add up countless personal references and links to other songs in the Nirvana catalogue. Its part of the reason I adore Kurt Cobain so much; I think he’s, inadvertently, one of the most psychologically honest artists ever to breach the mainstream world and the linkages and connections between songs written across his entire career are quite stunning to behold.

Rape Me

Posted: November 9, 2012 in Analysing Nirvana Songs, In Utero 1992-1993

I’m intrigued by ghosts, by what is present through known absence — the building that once was, the house sparrows gone from London skies. Kurt Cobain’s music contains quite a number of haunting presences and Rape Me particularly intrigues me.

The song endured an unusual trajectory in terms of its writing. The solo acoustic is quite a lengthy initial effort (admittedly degenerating into scratch lyrics.) Yet it is almost all stripped away leaving just a skeletal refrain when performed live in June 1991. That form is then retained all the way to its showing in Seattle on September 11, 1992. The ultimate second verse and bridge are then created in the fifty or so days leading up to an October 26, 1992 demo session. It’s very common for Kurt to retain the core of a song and shift the elements around that ‘spine.’ But it’s unusual to find three distinct iterations of a song. While some initially pointed out cosmetic similarities to suggest Rape Me was a response to Smells Like Teen Spirit, it was mainly reinterpreted as the female rape victim in Polly’s internal fury toward her attacker.

I’d first point to the fact that the time of the rewrite makes this song not an assault on the discomfort of fame as felt in late-1991/early-1992 but a comment on betrayal and external judgment which was his situation right then-and-there in late 1992. But then what I’d suggest is that, rather than Polly or Smells Like Teen Spirit, the real family ties for this song lie elsewhere in Kurt Cobain’s catalogue.

In its solo acoustic rendition, Rape Me’s true lineage stretches back through Even in His Youth, all the way to Laminated Effect on the Fecal Matter demo. In Laminated Effect, the first verse dwells on a key character who, “raped by his daddy” ends up dying of AIDS with the song ending with the refrain of “made not born” to suggest that his fate was the creation of the father. Rape Me begins not as an anti-rape song but as a song in which the father rapes his son. In the case of the former, the very next line is “told he was at fault” while, in Rape Me, the next line’s motif is “my embarrassment.” It’s an intriguing combination that it’s the victim not the perpetrator who is left with the guilt and negativity. It’s a connection he made again in Floyd the Barber with the raped victim responding with the chorus “I was shaved, I was shamed.”

Even in his Youth is overtly and knowingly bonded to Laminated Effect by the insertion of the line “kept his body clean” taken wholesale from the latter song. This ties the disappointing and shameful son in Even in his Youth directly to the unsympathetically treated and ultimately doomed son in Laminated Effect. While lacking the rape motif of Rape Me and Laminated Effect the crucial connection is the association of the father in all three cases with the main character’s guilt and shouldering of the responsibility for perceived failings.

The first ghost of this song lived within Kurt; in his retention of the memory of what this song’s inspiration and scenario had initially been, even long after all visible male-on-male rape motifs were erased. This can be seen in the way his Journals propose two video treatments for the song; one dwelling on the forced feminization of men in prison; the second in which a man takes on the female role and is examined in stirrups in a gynecologists’ office. Whenever these entries were written (late 1993?) it’s still about the feminization and abuse of a man, not a woman. He reinforced this once again by using the image of a seahorse on the cover of the single specifically because with seahorses it’s the father who rears the young.

So, the song morphed from a song about incestuous rape of a male child, into an anonymous refrain, into the ultimate version in which the refrain was harnessed to a commentary on the media’s treatment of his family. This same bonding of past family and present family seems to have haunted Kurt given it’s precisely the same sandwich he made on Serve the Servants.

On the October 26, 1992 demo of Rape Me it was creepy that Kurt should insist on inserting the cries of his two month old child into a song with this theme. Yet — as with the image of the male seahorse that rears the baby, as with the refrain “made not born”, as with the son accepting that his father’s shame was the son’s own fault — there’s a genuine point to it. The image of the seahorse fulfills a deeper purpose in that it is there not just as an inversion of roles but also because it shows the father influencing the fate of a child at the earliest phase of existence.

This was a song about family and specifically about what a father bequeaths genetically to his child — the guilt and self-critical negativity is the crux of the issue, not the rape itself. In the initial demo of Rape Me and in Laminated Effect what takes place is not a literal rape, it’s the father imposing, against the child’s will, a fate and an identity upon them via the sex act that created them. The line about “our favourite inside source” therefore possesses a double-meaning; the supposed traitor in the Cobain camp in late 1992 but also the internal source of his inspiration. Again, it’s the same trick as used in Serve the Servants where “that legendary divorce”, despite its sarcastic phrasing, is indeed a crucial event for Kurt — the fact he’s fed up of hearing it doesn’t erase its importance. The wry line about the “inside source” refers back to whatever it is that his father has placed within him that makes him who he is.

In each case, and in Even in his Youth, the child’s negative feelings about himself leads within the lyrics to a line holding destruction as the son’s ultimate destiny. The end result of the father’s presence in each song is that the son has no alternative fate other than the release of death. Placing Frances Bean Cobain in a rendition of Rape Me wasn’t just about being ghoulish; it was symbolic of the relationship between a father and their child. It was a statement of Kurt’s fear of what bad things he had willed to his baby made by placing his child inside a song originally about being raped by his father.

These are the ghosts within Rape Me. The first is Kurt Cobain the enraged husband railing against the media. The second is Kurt Cobain, the shameful and un-masculine son. The third is his father, the source of Kurt’s feelings of inadequacy. The fourth is Kurt Cobain, the fearful parent unsure of his influence on the child. Emphasize this by rereading his suicide note and the context in which he refers to the potential for his child to follow him and to become him.

 Thank you. Now, if someone could pass me a torch? I just crawled up my own ass and it’d take a lot of work to clamber back out of here in the dark.

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.

Sliver was banged out in mid-1990 with a single one hour studio session plus one more session for rerecording the vocals. It was invented in a rehearsal session bare weeks before so it’s a remarkable product of a very specific period of time.

In terms of Nirvana’s musical direction, Sliver represents either the start of the Pixies influenced mode  (guitar quiet, voice lead verses, then all out roaring choruses) or, alternatively, an abandoned direction the band was experimenting with.

Slilver was something different. As discussed in the book Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide, the song was a penultimate effort at a lyrical writing mode soon abandoned. Musically its approach was to start with no guitar, roar in for the first chorus, then keep the peddle to the floor right through to the end of the song. This was unusual. It doesn’t have a stereotypical Nirvana verse/chorus/verse approach. Instead the amplification comes on and stays on.

There are two songs to which it should be compared; Here She Comes Now, recorded shortly before Sliver, and the cover of D7 recorded soon after.

In all three cases the approach is the same, the song reaches a chorus, stamps the effects pedal and never takes the foot off. Kurt had long been a fan of the Wipers so it’s no surprise he would cover one of their songs. The Velvet Underground cover though came about only the request of a record label that Nirvana didn’t want to turn down – potential publicity and new fans not being so common at that time. Nirvana weren’t ruling the world just yet, they barely made any money.

Nirvana didn’t perform D7 in concert until late 1990, prior to its recording for the BBC. Here She Comes Now, however, was performed in concert in May 1990 making it the last NEW song to appear before Sliver was created. It seems possible therefore that Here She Comes Now influenced the creation of Sliver. Curiously, following Sliver, there aren’t many other songs that sound much like it. It would imply that Sliver’s place on Incesticide, a compilation showcasing abandoned approaches, was partly because it really was an experiment the band never followed up on.