Episode 101–In Bloom

You should be forewarned that this episode takes a brief detour into subject matter that’s a little bit on the touchy side. Specifically, there’s a mention of a musician’s gender identity and how it’s affected their relationship with their fans and the media. I hope that’s not a problem for ye.

Anyway, you’re getting two episodes this week, to make up for the lapse I did two weeks ago. So either this is the bonus episode because it’s Monday, or yesterday was the bonus episode and this one is a day late. How you choose to view that, I care not. Anyway, are we good now?

But the members of Nirvana had a tough time dealing with their quick rise to fame in 1990 and 91. They discovered that a lot of their new fans would be bopping about and singing along with their songs without having a lot of idea what the songs meant.

There’s an old Steve Martin routine where he’s playing the banjo onstage, and he comments that “The banjo is such a happy instrument–you can’t play a sad song on the banjo – it always comes out so cheerful.” He even makes an attempt at it: “Oh death, and grief, and sorrow, and murderrrrr…” and that’s pretty much what Nirvana was going through, but in the other direction. Their songs had the benefit of being very catchy, even if the subject matter was kind of dark and alienated, so people were latching on to the hooks (‘scuse the pun, there) in the songs and not really thinking about the lyrics, or the emotions evoked. This provided a weird disconnect for them, and Cobain finally took that emotion and put it into song form. Which didn’t really help, of course, because now they’re singing along to a song that’s basically mocking them.

As the fourth single from Nevermind, “In Bloom” was Top Five in the US on the Album and Mainstream Rock charts, and Top 30 pretty much everywhere else. When the Singles box set came out in 1995, it re-surfaced on a few European charts for a bit. But at that point Cobain had already died by suicide, and Nirvana was no more.

Yeah, I think we’re good here.

Click here for a transcript of this show.

2 thoughts on “Episode 101–In Bloom”

  1. Nirvana wrote the ‘in Bloom’ song in like 89 or 90. This was WAY before they had outsider fans, so the conclusion doesn’t add up that he wrote this song to mock their new fans. Also the chorus ‘he’s the one’ is referring to Dylan Carlson, his best friend at the time.

    1. Someone else addressed the timeline thing with me on Instagram, so I guess I wasn’t sufficiently clear. Bleach came out in 1989. It got good press if not good sales, so based on that, people were showing up at the clubs to see what Nirvana was about, and because Nirvana had a way of getting decent hooks into their songs, these new folks found the songs catchy without quite realizing what they were about. (Another analogy would be Joan Baez’ “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”: catchy melody, anthemic, sing-along chorus, celebrating the antebellum Southern lifestyle.) By many accounts the band noticed these new, kinda clueless faces and it put some distance between them and their audiences.

      I’d heard about Dylan Carlson, but the story appears in exactly one place, that being Charles Cross’ book about Cobain. Anywhere else I saw that mentioned it was citing Cross. So I guess it’s possible, but I’m comfortable with what I recorded.

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