This Is Bliss?
Alternative Press, January/February 1992
PAGE: 2 | back
Guns are mentioned in at least three songs. This fact isn't news to Cobain, but he can't explain it, either. "I don't believe in them," he says, "but then again I still think people have a right to own them. It would be nice if you could abolish all guns, but people are still going to kill people. You'd never be able to get rid of them in this country."
As if to strengthen his argument, the word "violent" pops up often in Cobain's speech. When asked how all this violence affects him personally, he mentions that there are places he'd like to visit but can't because of crime. The discussion takes several turns, eventually settling on gang violence. "if all the gangs across America would band together, dig up [civil-rights radical] Eldridge Cleaver and start a blacktop counterrevolution," he says, "they could make a target of Jesse Helms and people like him. It's a totally ridiculous and violent idea, but if you're going to be killing people, it might as well be your oppressors instead of each other."
People shouldn't, however, turn to religion for comfort, according to Cobain. The lyric to "Lithium," which is written in first person, dramatizes the weakness he feels is inherent in such a reaction.
In a daze
I think there's a large percentage of people who are born without the ability to detect injustice," Cobain says. "Those are people who usually resort to religion. I don't think it's their fault - I don't blame them - I have pity for them."
Cobain believes such people are born this way, not shaped by their environment: "You're obviously influenced by your surroundings. But even in the smallest redneck town there will be a small percentage of people with a higher consciousness than the rest of the people. There are just as many violent, idiotic rednecks in this town, in New York," he says, gesturing out the window, "as there are in the towns where we grew up."
But the lyrical theme Cobain returns to time and again on Nevermind is love. Does he feel love is an inexhaustible subject for rock lyrics? "Oh, definitely. Love's the most important thing," he says. "I can't stand political lyrics - they're so obvious. There should be a cryptic element to rock 'n' roll so you can't quite figure it out."
The lyrics to Nevermind's first single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," are definitely difficult to explain, even if you can decipher what Cobain is saying. But Nirvana's press release states that the song speaks to their generation's apathy, as does the album title. Nevermind supposedly pokes fun at the fact that these days no one wants to address important issues; people would rather say, "Never mind, forget it."
"That's what the press release says, but we made it up," Cobain contends. "It's a big lie." But the apathy theme does seem to make sense. Cobain refuses to discuss it. "We just can't elaborate on something so broad. I have no right to be spewing out things like that."
Cobain brought it up on the album, however, and perhaps because "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is about a very negative social issue, Nirvana decided to conceptualize it in the sarcastic video that has been splattered across MTV. Staged as a high school pep rally - without the authority figures or even the football team - Nirvana's cheerleaders sport anarchy A's on their uniforms. I think you can take it any way you want , " Cobain says. "It's ridiculous to be on such a serious platform politically. We don't consider this a crusade or anything. You have to have good humor."
Because of Nirvana's signing to Geffen, you can find their latest album at any mainstream record store near you - which you wouldn't have been able to do back when they were signed to Sub Pop. "on our last two tours, we were constantly bombarded with people coming up to us and saying, 'We can't find your record anywhere,'" Cobain explains. "So we decided that we wanted to be on a label that could ensure good distribution."
Nirvana would have preferred to sign to another independent label - a move which might well have prevented the band from achieving the popularity that's overwhelming them now - but no indie could have afforded to buy them out of their Sub Pop contract. "We had no choice but to go onto a major, and we're completely happy with that decision," says Cobain. "All the people that work at Geffen are so totally aware of alternative and punk rock music; they know exactly where we're coming from."
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