When I moved to Portland, Oregon in August 2000, I was a single mother with a four-year-old daughter. I moved to Portland to work as a website developer, but I also quickly got involved in the poetry and music scene.
from Live Through This. Virgin Publishing Ltd, London. 2001.
…Oh, and of course Kurt left a great narcissistic suicide note behaind, one that would ensure he’d be remembered for a fair few years yet. That Neil Young line he quoted in his scribbled handwriting – ‘It’s better to burn out than to fade away’ – what a great way to take that final stage bow! He did us proud with that one, and also with the use of a shotgun to literally put a hole through his head. Say what you like about Kurt, but he certainly had a sense of occasion. (p 64-65.)
gun – camera hole – hole (buried sun) head – leader of an organization
I met Kurt at a club in L.A. right before Nevermind came out. We took a picture and he said, “Come on, let’s give the finger!” So we did.
– Iggy Pop, Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Artists.
(Note: Run your pointer over the boldface words for more info if your browser is equipped to display definitions or additional information in “title” attributes.)
It’s difficult to start writing about rape, and all the time it shows up in grunge lyrics, and especially, videos. And by “grunge” I am talking about a specific community of musicians who got their start in the Pacific Northwest during the 1980s.
It’s difficult in part because everyone (even me – a little bit) wants to stay in denial, but more so because the rape imagery is so pervasive. It’s pervasive enough to make me think that a literal rape occurred. And that the victim was Kurt Cobain.
If this is true, Cobain’s 1994 suicide doesn’t make everything “ok.” Even if you don’t think the dead deserve justice, there are related crimes which continue to this day, including the continuing exploitation of Chris Newman (who is not, in fact, dead), the decade-plus smear campaign against Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, and the fact that Cobain’s daughter Francis has to live, without a father, under a cloud of lies. From my perspective, the truth is vital.
I already wrote a bit about two of Hole’s songs, Burn Black and Dicknail. Maybe the next logical thing to do is to go straight to the source and write about Nirvana’s rape songs, especially since Kurt Cobain went to such lengths to finger someone.
The key to Nirvana – and Mudhoney – rape songs is the song “Sweet Young Thing” by the Monkees.
In the TV performance of the song, the Monkees perform “Sweet Young Thing,” (1966) elderly people dance around, take turns in wheelchairs, etc. In the circus mirror, (uninitiated) innocence is represented by old age.
More notable are the lyrics:
And it’s love you bring,
No that I can’t deny,
With your wings,
I can learn to fly,
Sweet young thing.
People try to talk to me
Their words are ugly sounds
But I resist all their attempts
To try and bring me down.
Turned on to the sunset
Like I’ve never done before
And I listen for your footsteps
And your knock upon the door.
21 years later, in 1987, Mudhoney wrote a song with the same title (Sweet Young Thing), though this time the hook was “sweet young thing ain’t sweet no more.” It’s a snarly, sinister-sounding song about the end of innocence, shown by the lines “mommy’s little pills spilled all over the floor” and “mama can’t handle her on her own, she said ‘you just wait ’till your father gets home.'” It might be worth noting that the word “pills” sounds like “bills” on the Superfuzz Bigmuff version of the song. (Sweet Young thing full lyrics) Indeed – when you’ve got dogs, pigs, and ducks chasing you, you know there are big bills involved. (Ask Lady Gaga.)
Another contemporary Mudhoney song (also on the Superfuzz Bigmuff EP) which seems related is “Sliding In And Out Of Grace.”
Cry for mercy, relieve my hate
Sliding in ‘n’ out of grace
Spill my seed, suck my waste
Sliding in ‘n’ out of grace
Oh God, how I love to hate
Sliding in ‘n’ out of grace
Save me Lord, and fuck the race… etc (full lyrics)
Songs performed later, mainly by Courtney Love, suggest that “Sliding In And Out of Grace” was specifically about Kurt Cobain. The word “grace” comes up in a couple of her songs which I believe are about Kurt, most notably “Northern Star,” but also “Happy Ending Story” and in some of the live performances she’s done. In fact, I believe that “Northern Star” matches Courtney’s more recently penned “Honey.” I believe that both of those songs were written not about twins, but about triplets. Three other songwriters: Kurt Cobain, Chris Newman, and Mark Arm.
Anyone who really pays attention to Courtney’s lyrics, videos, and live performances would have a hard time missing the subtext she’s been weaving in since day one. But the ringleaders work hard to re-direct your attention anywhere but where you should be looking. That is, I believe, the reason for the seemingly never-ending smear campaign against Courtney Love.
Around 1990 (same era as Hole’s songs “Dicknail” and “Burn Black”), Kurt Cobain wrote two very important songs dealing with rape and abuse. One was written from the perspective of a kidnapper and rapist experiencing what seems to be dissociated shreds of empathy, and appeared on the 1991 album Nevermind. It is called “Polly.” The other was written, sarcastically, from the perspective of a rape victim. It was called “Rape Me,” and though, like Polly, it was said to be written around 1990, it didn’t appear on an album until 1993’s In Utero. There is a third song that is connected, which I’ll just mention in passing, and it is “Negative Creep.” Negative Creep, with it’s chorus of “Daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more” is clearly a response to the Mudhoney song “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More.” The fact that every single rock critic has missed that most obvious point for the past quarter of a century ought to suggest that something is really fucking stinky in Denmark. And everywhere else, too.
In any case, I believe that in all of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s songs, “Daddy” is Mudhoney’s Mark Arm. (With or without a “twin.”)
The name “Polly” means “parrot,” going back to the 16th or 17th century (OED), and the classic phrase “Polly want a cracker” makes the parrot reference undeniable. The distinctive characteristics of parrots are imitation. (They also tend to be yellow and green – “sun” colors. – see lexicon) Because the “night club” reflects and imitates the sun, and because the grunge myth is tightly controlled (everyone has a script from which no one ever deviates) Cobain was forced to “parrot” the party line. “Speak at once while taking turns” is the way he described it in a later song, Radio Friendly Unit Shifter. The parrot reference is the reason I think that Polly is specifically about Kurt Cobain, written from a place of dissociation. Dissociation is what happens when you experience severe abuse. Though Polly is also a “mirror” song. I couldn’t call it a “twin” song because there are multiple images in this mirror. It’s a POLY-MIRROR. (See how Kurt does that? EVERY. WORD. MATTERS. and sometimes every letter.)
The poly subjects are all crime victims and/or perpetrators: Chris Newman (as usual); and the 14 year old girl (who’s name was not actually Polly); and Kurt Cobain. Also the perpetrator/s of the respective crimes. I believe there are 5 subjects in Polly. And by that I mean that I believe that the crimes against Kurt Cobain and Chris Newman had the same perpetrator.
I also believe that Kurt Cobain was using the news story upon which he based the song as a metaphor for something that had happened to him (very possibly an actual rape), and something that he wanted to happen: escape from an untenable situation, and ultimately, justice.
Friend had picked her up near the Tacoma Dome in his car after she had attended a rock concert. She was able to earn his trust and sympathy by convincing him she enjoyed it. She managed to escape when he stopped for gas. She got out of the vehicle and made a scene attracting attention from surrounding people. – from Wikipedia Polly_(song)
Polly was saved, I guess because the “surrounding people” had no investment in her continuing captivity and/or silence. Kurt Cobain was and Chris Newman is in a different situation.
The perpetrator of the incident that inspired the song “Polly,” Gerald Friend, was thought at the time to be the Green River killer. (Wikipedia: Gerald Arthur Friend)
Green River, of course, was name of the first band to sign with Sub Pop, fronted by Mark Arm. In 1988 Green River essentially split into two bands: Pearl Jam and Mudhoney.
In terms Kurt’s “other” rape song, Rape Me, there are lines like “my favorite inside source, I’ll kiss your open sores” (suggests someone with a hidden heroin or other syringe-drug habit), “you’ll always stink and burn” (recalls a Sylvia Plath line “turn and burn” which in turn recalls the position of the hanged man, which is the sun), and then there are some very notable lines, like “rape me – hate me – waste me – taste me.” “Hate me” reflects a line from Mudhoney’s aforementioned “Grace” song, “Oh God how I love to hate.”
If you listen carefully to the song, Rape Me, Cobain is singing “I’m not the only one,” but he’s also slurring into “I want the only one.”
The photo was taken by Kurt Cobain and appears in Charles Cross’ Cobain Unseen. It shows Kurt’s purple and pink polka dot pajama bottoms, striped socks, and green shoes (untied). On the wall is a poster of a man holding a gun, pointed toward the photographer, Kurt. The man has a bullet hole in his head, as if he and Cobain were having a standoff. On the man’s lapel is a K Records logo. On the man’s crotch it says “Freemans” and beneath that it says something like “Police Combat Tactics.” The baby (Francis, presumably) has her hair gelled up like the Heat Miser in Year Without A Santa Claus, a Christmas movie that came out in 1974 and played on television (ABC) every year for all the Gen X kiddies like us.
A gun is a camera. Green is a sun color. Babies also represent the sun, and so does fire. This photo is further evidence that K Records is directing the surveillance against us, and that this illegal activity has been actively protected and/or supported by police.
I can’t believe I have to say this, but apparently I do.
When you refer to a human being with words that indicate that that person is in fact an animal (monkey, bear, lizard, cat, etc.) or a food (chicken, apple, waffle, pizza, etc.) or an extinct and/or mythical creature (dinosaur, mermaid, big foot, etc.) or other non-human things (sun, stone, plant, tree) you are dehumanizing that person.
When you dehumanize a person, you make it easier – even acceptable – to use, abuse, and exploit that person.
I am not saying that animals deserve to be exploited – because they don’t. I am simply saying that human beings should not be exploited, and certainly not in the way that I have been, and MOST certainly not the way Chris has been. In Chris’ case, this kind of behavior, over a period of more than three decades, has ruined his career and I believe, severely affected his life and health. And we are financially ruined with no hope in sight, because this blacklisting is very, very real, and because I didn’t sell Chris out, it extends to me.
The reality is that Christopher Lynn Newman a true musical genius the likes of which I have never seen before. He still writes and records (on his 4-track, because what else can we afford?) every single day. And what does he have to show for it? And perhaps more importantly… what do YOU have to show for it? (let me gue$$…)
The fact that Chris grew up in a small Washington town and didn’t read Shakespeare or get an MBA is NO EXCUSE for what you all have done, and continue to do to my family.
Another thing that I should not have to say, but apparently I do, is that when you slip someone a ROOFie, and they pass out, and you throw them into a hole and rape them repeatedly… even if they wake up the next morning with no awareness of what happened. IT IS STILL RAPE.
Kurt Cobain sang: “I’m not the only one.” Do you think he was just pulling these lyrics out of his A$$?
Monkeys, The Monkees, Apes, and Chim Chim come up a lot in Kurt Cobain’s album art and personal storytelling. For example, when he and Courtney first met (in the version that takes place at Satyricon in Portland, not in Everett True’s version of the story), supposedly he gave Courtney a sticker with Chim Chim on it.
Similarly, when an anonymous commenter named DJ was arguing with me on Collapse Board, he kept comparing Chris’ music to that of The Monkees. This was obviously some kind of in-joke and supports my idea that Kurt Cobain’s references to monkeys, apes, and Chim Chim are related to Chris Newman.
Chim Chim is a monkey sidekick in the Speed Racer cartoon. The Chim Chim which appears on the back of Nevermind album seems to have a battery pack on its back with wires attached to its head, and it’s holding onto a monarch butterfly.
I believe that with this particular image, Kurt Cobain was making a reference to the Monarch Mind Control Project.
In Charles Cross’ (beautiful) book, Cobain Unseen, there is photo of Kurt Cobain’s monkey collection. One of the monkeys appears to be pouring poison into another monkey’s ear. This reference recalls the method of murder used in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But what it really means is that the people closest to “the monkey” – Chris Newman – have been feeding him flattery, lies, deception. Since “they” (and by “they” I suppose I mean Illuminati, or whoever it is that calls themselves “France”) also call Chris “dead,” it makes me think that Shakespeare was also being metaphorical when he wrote about Hamlet’s father being murdered with ear-poison. Because this stuff goes back a-ways.
The Gravedigger’s Song is the opening cut from Mark Lanegan’s 2012 album Blues Funeral. The song, and most songs on that album, incorporates the lyrical iconography common to that particular family of bands: Mudhoney, Nirvana, Hole, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Babes In Toyland, etc.
The video for the song adds more symbols which in turn add context and meaning. The song and video interlink with other songs and videos about the same situation, in particular the videos for Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box and Alice In Chains’ Grind.
Blues Funeral is similar to Hole’s Nobody’s Daughter and Nirvana’s In Utero in that every single song on the entire album touches on the same topic, one way or another. That topic would be secrets kept by a small circle of recording artists and their label – two secrets in particular. Blues Funeral takes a more fatalistic stance than Nobody’s Daughter.
The final song on the album, Burning Jacob’s Ladder, hints at the forces holding the truth at bay. “Rage untethered – The soul a stony desert – I’m afraid I might fade away.” It echos the line from Kurt Cobain’s suicide note which in turn echoed a line from a Neil Young song. The fears are not unfounded, if Chris Newman’s fate is any indication.
The album cover suggests the subject to anyone familiar with the common symbols. Red roses (Seattle) spread over a black background, and in the lower corner is one sprig of white roses (Portland). Blues funeral may be Lanegan’s attempt at drawing closure to the situation.
Prematurely, I hope.
The Gravedigger’s song sung to somebody – my best guess is Courtney Love, due to the fact that the subject is addressed directly as “Love.” (“Love, is the medicine good?”) It is about someone who is honest (this is touched on in two ways, first with the allusions to “sharp teeth” – tooth = truth – and also with the line, “honest, it’s true” – though this last one may be a twist (get it?) on Everett True’s name. Courtney Love tries to tell the truth, but she has been painted as a liar. I believe this is one of the things the song is saying about her. In an interview, Lanegan describes it as a “Love song.”
Who is the gravedigger? I think it is Courtney Love, Mark Lanegan, and pretty much anyone who uses this symbolic lexicon. Who is in the grave? Chris Newman (buried alive). And there are others, including Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley, who have literally left our world.
The lyrics in the song use the typical symbols (teeth, love, dog, stars, rain, sleep, etc) to muse on the drama, and as with the videos for Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box and Alice In Chains’ Grind, the video uses additional visual iconography to flesh out context. I mentioned before that often, in Nirvana and Hole songs, written lyrics are different from the lyrics which are sung. In this video, there are contradictions as well in that some of the images in the video seem to contradict the lyrics. For example, when Lanegan sings “through my heart flows sleep” the little girl in the video appears to wake up.
On a personal level, this video was hard for me to deal with at first. The image of the wrapped body (presumably Chris’ body circa 1986-today, and as described in Hive Dwellers’ song Pine Shaped Box, and as pictured on the cover of Alice In Chains’ album, Dirt, and etc) was particularly painful. Chris’ life and catalog has been kept as a private secret, wrapped almost like a spider would wrap a fly (reminding me of the allusions to parasites in Nirvana’s lyrics). Later I understood that the video also shows that the story is unresolved. The mummy-wrapped body can still be set free, and helpful spirits wait in the shadows.
THE GRAVEDIGGER’S SONG
With piranha teeth
I’ve been dreaming of you
And the taste of your love, so sweet
Honest, it’s true
Through my heart flows sleep
And the dark, heavy rain
Where the gravedigger’s song is sung
You’ve been torturing me
Tout est noir, mon amour
Tout est blanc
Je t’aime, mon amour
Comme j’aime la nuit
Love, is the medicine good?
Is the crow flying eight miles high
Over wire and wood?
Shovel down six feet
With a head heavy pain
The magnolia blooms so sweet
And it fades just the same
To the stars, my love
To the sea
To the wheels, my love
‘Til they roll all over me
Oh love, I’ve been thinking of you
With razor white teeth, so sharp
Honest, it’s true
In my blood flows sleep
And the dark heavy rain
The magnolia blooms so sweet
Only torturing me
To the stars, my love
To the sea
To the wheels, my love
‘Til they roll all over me
imagery in the video
The opening scene shows an old country home. Seven seconds in, the camera flashes to an image of a wooden fence with barbed wire across the top, and a scene showing what looks like high desert. On the fence hangs a white mask. To me, this suggests the image of heads lined up along the fences around Kurtz’ home in the novel Heart of Darkness and/or the movie Apocolypse Now. It also suggests a line from a Dylan song that Lanegan has covered, Man In The Long Black Coat: “when she stopped him to ask if he wanted to dance he had a face like a mask.” And it reenforces something that I sense from the entire album: Lanegan himself is on the fence.
The scenery around the mask suggests the American west, and the costumes and setting of the video appear to be from the Victorian era in America.
At 00:14 there is another shot of the fence, this time with the sun poking its rays through the slats. The sun represents Chris Newman (lexicon), and though the song itself suggests the sun is setting, by the quality of the light, it appears to me that the sun is actually rising in this scene. (I like to think so, anyway.) If so, it is one of a few places where the images shown actually contradict the lyrics.
The camera then suggests walking up stairs (stairs/ladders are a common theme, maybe alluding to the ladder of success, Jacob’s ladder, etc) and into a room with a bed and a cold fireplace. At 00:24, as he sings “Through my heart flows sleep, honest it’s true.” there is a shot through a doorway – maybe two doorways – and a sun-filled window in the very back. Just beneath the window is an empty wheelchair. The wheelchair of course connects with the empty wheelchair in the heart shaped box video which connects to the wheelchair (containing Kurt Cobain) that Everett True pushed out on stage at Reading 1992. The sunny window with the wheelchair beneath illustrates a link between Chris Newman with Kurt Cobain. “Though my heart flows (sleep = deception), honest it’s true.” This is a liar paradox. When these lines appear in the song, the video footage runs backwards.
The image switches suddenly to an image of the bottom of a dress worn by someone who appears to be hanging above the bed, suggesting suicide. It isn’t clear whether she’s hanging or standing, weirdly, on something behind the bed – but the suggestion of suicide is very much there and comes up again later in the video too, except that later the body appears to be floating, or falling very very slowly. The window behind the girl is black, suggesting night.
Then come the lines in french “Tout est noir, mon amour / Tout est blanc” – and the image is another girl, the palms of both hands placed on a portrait hanging on the wall, swinging her head (and hair) around backwards, presumably toward the mummy-wrapped body. In French he sings, “Now it’s black, now it’s white.” Now a spotlight appears to move around the room. Red braids hanging over white curtains. You see the mounted trophy head of a buck (stag).
the fisher king
The Fisher King was charged by God with guarding the Holy Grail, but incurred an incapacitating wound for his sin of pride. A simple-minded Fool asks the King why he suffers, and when the King says he is thirsty, the Fool gives him a cup of water to drink. The king realizes the cup is the Grail and is baffled that the boy found it, as demonstrated in the closing exchange: “I’ve sent my brightest and bravest men to search for this. How did you find it?” The Fool laughed and said “I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.” (wikipedia: The Fisher King (movie))
The stag’s head is a hunting trophy. It may also suggest the stag’s head given by Perceval to the daughter of the Fisher King. The Fisher King is an archetypal symbol from Arthurian mythology. Charged with guarding the Holy Grail, the Fisher King who has been crippled by a leg injury. He spends his time wandering around the grounds of his castle, fishing in a nearby stream (wikipedia: Fisher King). Meanwhile, the kingdom falls into ruin, and stays in that condition until someone can heal the King. Gus Van Sant’s film Last Days also alludes to the Fisher King myth, showing the rock star spending his last days watching television or swimming in the creek behind his home.
Later in The Gravediggers Song video, you see that there are actually two stag’s heads on the wall, perhaps echoing the two ghostly figures who appear outside the home at the end of the video.
When Lanegan sings “Je t’aime, mon amour / Comme j’aime la nuit” (I love you, my dear / How I love the night) we see a tall, but slightly bent man standing in front of that same sun-drenched window, in place of the empty wheelchair, his head and body covered, ghost-like, with a sheet. I’m troubled by the line, “J’aime la nuit.” But at the same time, I understand it. “Let sleeping dogs lie,” right?
Next we see the three older girls sitting around a dining table, a bouquet of red roses at the center. There is a close-up shot of two women’s faces in profile, a middle-aged woman face to face with a teenager. It could suggest youth and wisdom, or perhaps the passage of time, as looking at one’s younger self in a mirror. (Courtney Love’s video for the song Samantha also suggests a rolling back of time as Courtney, dressed in a wedding dress, looks more and more like her younger self.)
When Lanegan sings “Is the medicine good?” We see a girl dressed in a white dress with black piping, holding an old fashioned sickle, suggesting harvest and/or the “grim reaper.” When Lanegan asks “Is the crow flying eight miles high” the image shown is a dark red pool, probably red wine, suggesting blood. Either one or both of these could be – and probably is – a drug (heroin) reference.
The red wine/blood imagery comes up a lot in these songs and videos. Mark Arm holds out a goblet of red wine in recent Mudhoney photos. The little girl in the Heart Shaped Box video has a drop of blood appear over her heart. Courtney Love has a tattoo circa 2010 that says “Let It Bleed.” Alice in Chains has a song called Bleed The Freak with lyrics that may provide additional insight.
At 1:16 Lanegan sings “shovel down six feet, with a head heavy pain” – and the image shows the hanging/floating/suspended girl again, this time seeming to rise up behind the bed. Next we see an image of the dresses standing before the fireplace, but the bodies inside them have vanished. Now he is singing “The magnolia blooms so sweet, and it fades just the same,” and we see the girl watching the wrapped body again, now with her hair covering her face completely. And now we see the writhing, impotent legs of the mummy-wrapped living body.
Legs (crippled or otherwise) are a symbol that comes up in these songs a lot. Alice In Chains had a three legged dog named Sunshine. Sunshine was featured on the cover of Alice In Chains’ third (self-titled) album.
Legs show up in other ways. In Samantha, Courtney sings “watch her wrap her legs around the world.” In The Priest, They Called Him, the piece Cobain recorded with William Burroughs, the narrator describes a finding a leather suitcase containing a pair of severed human legs, and he describes the process of removing the legs from the suitcase in order to peddle the suitcase for dope money. I believe that “legs” signify mobility, movement, and strength. Broken/crippled/wounded legs are wasteland symbols: an allusion to the wounded king.
In the Gravedigger’s Song video, the mummy’s legs are bound up with the rest of him. He struggles, but he can’t move. The girls watch him, coldly.
I don’t know if it is deliberate, but I keep noticing that I can see the striped mattress beneath the white sheet under the wrapped body. And I notice stripes do show up a lot. For example, Kurt Cobain is wearing a striped t-shirt beneath the silvery overshirt in the Heart Shaped Box video.
Anyway, in the next scene, the body, now wrapped with another sheet, seems to be falling, softly, in the hall, in front of the sunlit window. The empty clothes stand in front of the fire place, the faces and bodies within emerging slowly. The girl facing the wall turns back, her long hair twisting around her face. The hanging girl hangs vertically next to the dark window, and the mummy thrashes on the bed.
One thing I have noticed is that in every one of these videos, songs, whatever – there are at least two bodies, and two apparent crimes. In this video, there are three bodies. There is the vertical “hanged girl” body; there is the horizontal, wrapped, slowly falling body; and there is the mummy wrapped body writhing on the bed.
In this video, I believe Kurt Cobain is symbolized by the vertically floating body – the one that alludes to “hanging” – hanging not just in the sense of “suicide,” but also in the sense of “something waiting to be resolved.” The crucifixion. The hanged man.
The horizontal, wrapped, slowly falling body is hard at first to understand, except that later in the video, there are two (male) ghosts standing together. Because of the song’s subject matter, I think of Layne Staley.
The body that’s thrashing, the one wrapped like a mummy on the bed? That’s Chris. He’s still alive, surprisingly. But he’s struggling blindly. He’s not able to be heard, and he’s not able to move.
At 2:22 as Lanegan sings “Oh Love, I’ve been thinking of you” the girls around their table join hands as if at a seance, and the roses come into focus. You see the opening of the petals, and in that “hole” are sharp, white teeth. They look a little like dogs’ teeth. A “flower with teeth” is a line from my song, Bad Pam, but Vagina Dentata is a common symbol associated with dangerous women. In Hole songs, I believe “Rose Red” symbolizes Mark Arm and his Seattle “tribe”.
Next, Lanegan sings “in my blood flows sleep,” and there is a thick, dark, oozing substance on a prone woman’s head. The substance is not oozing out, its oozing in (more reversed camera). And as he sings about the sweet magnolia blooms torturing him again, a woman’s face rises out of the reddish liquid, chin first, as if she’s been hanging upside down.
Now he sings “to the stars my love” and there is a little girl in a black dress is holding a baby doll by the hair. (I think the baby is Kurt and Courtney’s representation of the small clone, and Chris Newman.) Now we see a person sitting in the wheelchair, in the sunlight. He is blurry at first, then he comes into focus. His face is covered by the mask that was sitting on the fence at the beginning of the video. A girl is watching him, sadly, it seems.
3:07 the spotlight swings around and you see two stag’s heads this time, and then, a man in a mask, maybe with a crutch, in and out of the shadow. Then another man in a mask. Two men now. Now we see the girls feet, suspended above the bed now, falling almost imperceptibly slowly.
Now the scene is outdoors. Now the two men in the masks are walking around in the dying sunlight. Now one seems to be sitting in the wheelchair, the other standing supportively behind. Now the sun has set, but the sky still shows traces of light. Now the man in the wheelchair is holding a light that looks like the sun flare through the fence at the beginning of the video. He shines it toward the house. It makes me think of a line from Nirvana’s Dumb: “The sun is gone, but I have a light.”
The next scene shows the exterior of the home at night, the windows lit from inside, and the camera moving back down the stairs, and away into the night. The men are still standing there, presumably, in the night, with the light shining toward the house.
Here is what I think about that final scene. The man in the wheelchair, the one with a light, represents Kurt Cobain. The man standing behind him behind him represents Layne Staley. Through their songs, lyrics, videos, they shine a light to help Chris find his way out. But Chris is still wrapped up in that weird room house with the ghostly girls (one of whom wants to help him, another of whom watches to ensure no one helps him) and toothed flowers.
My favorite HOLE song, Beautiful Son, was written for Kurt Cobain. But, like so many other Hole songs, it is also for (he who shall not be named) Chris Newman. It is a song not just about a boy dressed in his mother’s clothes – or a husband dressed in his wife’s clothes – it is a song about Kurt and Courtney’s relationship, especially musically.
Beautiful Son was recorded (in what various sources indicate was a fraught session) and produced by Jack Endino in Seattle, November 1992. It was released in April 1993. It is said to be written around the time that Kurt and Courtney got married. (wikipedia: Beautiful Son)
The single’s B Side, Old Age, is a song that I believe is about Mark Arm (Anne Boleyn) and Chris Newman (Hester Prynne).
Why do I think Beautiful Son is about Chris as well as Kurt? The obvious clue is the Sun/Son wordplay in the title. (see: lexicon) This is reenforced by the way Courtney often introduced the song live. She found all kinds of ways to nod to Chris and/or Portland before launching into the song (I’ll show some of these at the end of this essay).
You look good in my dress
I’ll get your friends to clean this mess
You look good in my clothes
I could feel where the doctor goes
My beautiful son
yeah – no – yeah – I know
He had ribbons in his hair
and lipstick was everywhere
you look good in my dress
you look good in my dress
My beautiful son
yeah – I know
you’re buried (barren)
you’re buried (barren)
yeah – I know
My beautiful son
If Chris is the “sun” then Kurt is the “son.” Kurt was young compared to the others. Kurt Cobain was born in 1967, Mark Arm in 1962, and Chris Newman in 1953. I believe Mark Arm is often referred to as “Dad” or “Daddy” in Kurt and Courtney’s lyrics. So the idea of Kurt Cobain as a “beautiful son” works in that sense.
It is possible that Beautiful Son is, to some degree, a response to Babes In Toyland He’s My Thing. There is a line in that song I always thought was strange: “Walks around in her boyfriends clothes – No one knows.” Why does no one know? Are the clothes invisible? Metaphorical?
In contrast, the primary image in Beautiful Son is the son (or husband) wearing the mother’s (or wife’s) clothes, and her encouragement and approval of it. “You look good in my dress.” Courtney is from Portland, while Kurt Cobain and his friends were more closely associated with Olympia and Seattle. “You look good in my clothes.” You often see photos of Kurt Cobain, Dylan Carson, and Mark Lanegan all having fun wearing dresses and smeared lipstick.
I believe that Kurt knew early on, if not all along, that his Small Clone effects box had come from Chris Newman through Mark Arm. And I believe it wasn’t the effects box alone that influenced Kurt’s playing. It was also Chris’ songwriting as heard through his recordings: tapes, records, bootlegs. “Sun shines in the window – when we play.” (from Kurt’s cover of Vaselines’ Son of a Gun)
When Courtney sings “I’ll get your friends to clean the mess,” that, too has a double or triple meaning (most things do). It’s clear that this whole Big Muff/Small Clone thing – and anything to do with Portland, really – was (and still is) seen as a potential mess, probably because it would expose the underbelly and (God forbid) unravel The Myth. Another potential mess was, I believe, the implications about Kurt’s sexual orientation. I have noticed how his labels seemed to downplay it, while he himself seemed assertively open.
The line “he had ribbons in his hair and lipstick was everywhere” echos a line from the B-Side of Hole’s first single, Dicknail/Burn Black. “She’s got vultures in her hair, and blood and feathers, they are everywhere.” This tends to reinforce my idea that Burn Black is a different angle on a similar, or the same, situation. Beautiful Son is a more “positive” song than Burn Black, but there is still a sinister feeling.
The line “I can feel you where the doctor goes” is weird, childlike – clinical? It suggests confusion between lovemaking and a medical exam (reminding me of the anatomy dolls again). It suggests “playing doctor,” a metaphor for (or literal description of) sexual experimentation in childhood, or even incest. (It is interesting that Nirvana had an album called Incesticide.) It hints at the cervical exams an expectant mother receives.
The bridge of Beautiful Son offers more evidence for the song’s connection to Chris Newman. When I search for lyrics online, they say “You’re buried, like me.” But when I listen to the words, I hear, “You’re barren, like me.” I believe that the written and sung lyrics may be different from each other in order to express two different, but related meanings. It’s obvious that Chris had been buried – and it seems obvious that Courtney couldn’t get traction in the Northwest after her first single.
Barren, on the other hand, means something different. First, it’s kind of a joke – men can’t give birth. (Unless they are male seahorses? Subvert the dominant paradigm?)
Barren taps into the empty side of Kurt and Courtney’s fetal imagery. “You’re barren,” means that you are not able to carry and give birth to a child (or perhaps an album, a tour, a career, or even your true self). Courtney isn’t saying that she is literally barren, but maybe she’s commenting on her lack of power in certain situations.
How the song is introduced
Here are some live versions of the song, and Courtney’s introductions.
In the first video, Hole performs Beautiful Son on the English television show, The Word, in March 1993. The host introduces the song as “Brother Sun.” It seems like an error, but I’m pretty certain it isn’t.
The second video is from Cologne (Köln) Germany, April 1995. Sounds like she introduces the song as “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Lots of meanings to this. First, the dog/kennel imagery that is so prevalent in Sub Pop’s first wave grunge lyrics. She wants to be in a different kennel? Or maybe it’s a reference to a song from Napalm Beach’s 1993 album, Curiosities. The song is called “My Master Calls” and in the chorus Chris declares: “I kill for my bitch – because I care.”
The third video is a full set: Live at the Gorge Amphitheatre, July 4, 1995. Beautiful Son come at 5:36. Right after inciting the crowd to call out 1-2-3 BITCH!!! (“I want you to say bitch” (4:56 – 5:35)) Courtney calls out to Eric, “Eric, should we do ‘Over The Edge’?” Then she launches into Beautiful Son.
Napalm Beach opened for the Wipers’ Over The Edge album release in 1983, and Hole had covered Over The Edge for the T/K Greg Sage/Wipers Tribute. “Should we do ‘Over The Edge’?” was Courtney’s way of (silently) shouting out to Chris and to Portland.
Shouting, but silent… but shouting… for more than two decades… waiting for him to hear.
Mudhoney are less known for their rapey lyrics and better known for witty onstage banter.
They also love to gloat.
One way that Mark Arm gloats (and gives himself away), is in the way he introduces songs onstage. This is illustrated by the following videos.
The first video was taken in Berlin 2009. Before playing Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More (a song I believe is for Kurt) Arm comments, “It was very nice to see Kurt Cobain up here a little while ago. Welcome back Kurt. You’re shorter than I remember.”
The second video is from a performance in Sheffield, 1992. Before playing Blinding Sun (a song I believe is about Chris Newman – though I think the “you” in the song is Kurt Cobain), Arm tells the audience they sound like a bunch of “British Walruses.” (Steve “Instant Newman” Turner finds this hilarious.) And just before launching into the song, Arm says, “We don’t understand why you’re calling us ‘fat.'”
[UPDATE June 16, 2014: When I wrote this article more than six months ago, I felt pretty betrayed by the writer who calls himself Everett True. I am still not very happy with him, though he has done some nice things for me in the past. My main problem with him is that he repeatedly lied to me, and engaged in psychologically destructive acts like gaslighting. So unless something significant changes about his approach to non-fiction writing, I do not think he should be considered a trustworthy source.]
Why are so many people motivated to lie? Fame, attention, money? All it takes is one good lie, blown up big and repeated often, to destroy the truth, especially if the truth-teller’s character has already been smeared and defamed.
Did Mary Lou Lord lie?
from Hole’s 2009 song, SAMANTHA (Nobody’s Daughter)
So you think that you could save him
And we know that someone died
Oh, an unkindness of ravens And we know that Mary lied
And through villages of ether
Oh, my crucifixion comes
Will you sing my hallelujah?
Will you tell me when it’s done?
In Everett True’s 2006 book NIRVANA: The True Story he reports the Mary Lou Lord “relationship” as if it is factual, claiming that she has “almost been written out of the Kurt Cobain story” as if writing her out of the Kurt Cobain story would be some kind of travesty – and – knowing what I know now? That is some funny shit.
Mary Lou Lord has a very detailed account of her supposed time with Cobain, and yes, I definitely think she has lied and exaggerated, and that Everett True certainly knows it. But here’s what Everett True does when he wants you to believe a story that is false. He lets you in on what Kurt Cobain told him “in private.”
Courtney long ago invented a scurrilous story about how Kurt was once disturbed in the middle of receiving oral sex from a Boston girl in the back of a van – and how this was the only time they met. Yet I have a strong memory from around this time of meeting a besotted Kurt going on and on about this girl called Mary Lou Lord, how in love with her he was, and how he was going to move to Boston to be with her.
Fantasy perhaps, but he believed it at the time. – Everett True, Nirvana: The True Story p 299
Fantasy, yes. Everett True’s fantasy.
The story sounds like a tall tale, Mary Lou Lord’s descriptions of personalities seems off. It’s a soap opera plot, with soap opera characters. It doesn’t ring true.
Of course Ms Lord insists Kurt had lied to Courtney, and that Courtney “forced” him to lie in that fax. etc, etc. Uh, no. Mary Lou is simply not a reliable source, and Everett True knows it. In fact, he pretty much gives himself away on page 302 directly after Mary Lou Lord’s overly detailed yarn. Everett True loves to gloat in front of Courtney Love when he thinks he’s kicked her ass.
I love rock n’ roll, me.
…You think that part of me didn’t enjoy this strange new power I had in the wake of Nirvana’s success? You’re crazy. I relished it, reveled in it, rolled around in the dirt with it, and got good and mucky…. I was Everett True. I was untouchable. Hate me or love me.. that didn’t matter. At least someone was paying attention. – Everett True, Nirvana: The True Story p 302
Besides the obvious narcissism, this is a big “In your face!” to Courtney. “I love rock n’ roll” is the first clue. Those are his fighting words. To Everett True, rock ‘n’ roll is a game and a war. And True can be a dirty fighter. That’s what he means when he talks about rolling in the dirt and getting good and mucky. (He couldn’t say “muddy” – that would be too obvious.)
I like how he worked the word “untouchable” in, too. Ha ha.
“Courtney Love is the best fuck” could have been just for Courtney – why not? But Everett True wants you to think it is for Mary Lou Lord. Was it for Mary Lou Lord?
I do sense the edges of a triangle, but not with Mary Lou Lord.
I believe the invisible third party is the primary subject of the song Skinny Little Bitch, but I don’t believe it’s Mary Lou Lord. And I think the LET IT BLEED tattoo is related to him as well. That’s the whole reason she made this video. To show the tattoo, and to remind someone about Kurt’s “best fuck” comment. And… maybe even to get my attention. Because it did get my attention, how much it looked like my video for Bad Pam.
Good one, right?
In conclusion, I believe that Mary Lou Lord lied about having a relationship with Kurt Cobain. And that Everett True has knowingly encouraged and supported this lie. I believe that Everett True misled us in order to stop an uncomfortable line of questioning as to whom the “best fuck” quote was directed. Why else would Everett True devote so much energy toward propping up this particular lie?
If what I say is true – why, you (should) ask, wouldn’t Courtney Love “out” the real third party and demolish this Mary Lou Lord tale completely?