Kurt Cobain and John Lennon: Memoria

I like to see the Nirvana song, “Come As You Are,” consciously or unconsciously, as Kurt Cobain’s memoriam (or rather “memoria” since the ambivalence doubles all values) to John Lennon. Many references are left vague in the song, but some things we can say we know. We know that he is addressing someone whose fate seems to have entangled with his own. He feels intense ambivalence toward that someone – an old friend and enduring enemy, and inspiration and a curse. He wants to arrange a meeting with this person and is torn between intense desire (“hurry up”) and intense reluctance (“take your time”) for the meeting. He feels the need to assure the person that he doesn’t have a gun, which makes perfect sense since the last time Lennon faced an obsessive worshipper/enemy whose fate was entangled with his, we all know what happened. But he may be doing more than pleading for soul-to-soul contact with Lennon, and assuring Lennon that his intent is not to shoot him like the last guy did. Considering that Cobain shot himself in the head three years later, he may have already had occasional suicidal feelings, and may have been assuring Lennon that the meeting would not lead Cobain himself to break down and commit suicide. This would have satisfied several unconscious needs at once: (1) the need to scoff at Lennon’s arrogance, (2) the need to express the magnitude of awe Cobain felt for Lennon, (3) the need to sublimate his own suicidal impulses into a concrete relationship – in this case his emotional dissolution is tied to the crushing ambivalence he, as a man defined by his musical creativity, had toward John Lennon.

Regarding the “doused in mud, soaked in bleach” lyric, I know it came from a needle exchange program slogan, and has led some to conclude that heroin is the “friend and enemy” of which Cobain sings. Of course the song could work on multiple levels, but it makes just as much sense to say Cobain saw the slogan and it resonated with his feelings about Lennon – whom he’d love to see come to the meeting dirty, ragged, deflated, exposed as someone who shits and pisses like the rest of us, but whom he also idealizes into a bleached white angel.

But he always comes back to, and ends on, the ominous keynote, the assurance he has to keep giving with a kind of obsessive-compulsive repetition, to Lennon … and to himself: “I swear that I don’t have a gun, no I don’t have a gun, no I don’t have a gun, I don’t have a gun.”

YouTube: Come As You Are, Nirvana

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