The Story Behind The Song: ‘In Bloom’, Nirvana’s bittersweet pop pill
If there’s one thing that you can lay at the feet of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana is that with all the fame and notoriety the band endured after Nevermind finally landed, they did with the utmost authenticity. Despite the album’s undeniable pop undertones, the group remained steadfast in their non-conformity.
In fact, the first song recorded for that LP was a deliberate thumbing of their nose at the very audience which was intent on swallowing them whole ‘In Bloom’. It’s a song which not only highlights Kurt Cobain’s increasing ability to perfectly showcase the duality of life but also the band’s ability to carefully weave themselves between the mainstream and the outside rim, laughing at the fools who followed them with the charts in mind.
The song was, to all intents and purposes Nirvana providing the growing set of fans with a grunge track doused in some lip-smacking sugary sweet pop. Like a chewable vitamin, this was all the nutrients you needed but with a palette-pleasing coating to get it past the music equivalent of children. Bassist Krist Novoselic recalled that it “originally sounded like a Bad Brains song. Then Kurt turned it into a pop song”.
The track was played just one day before Cobain and Novoselic began demoing the song in the studio. They were keen to nail down the song as soon as possible so Kurt took the track home and began playing reworked versions over the phone to Novoselic, desperately trying to find their groove with the new tune. It would be this original arrangement that they would add onto their promo CD which then circulated the major labels and eventually nailed down their contract for the release of Nevermind.
‘In Bloom’ would go on to appear as the second track on the record after the grunge anthem ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ took its spot leading the LP. With ‘In Bloom’, upon closer inspection, and especially when looking at the lyrics, we get to see an almost perfect distillation of Cobain’s character.
“He was cagey about his lyrics,” Novoselic later recalled in an interview with Rolling Stone. “You could read into them anything you want… Kurt — I would call him a windmill… He wanted to be a rock star — and he hated it.” This very sentiment, the one which would, in essence, seal his fate, is innately expressed in ‘In Bloom’.
While the lyrics, on the face of it, are largely created in a collage style one strong theme comes through the subtext, this was a song poking fun at the latecomers. While ‘In Bloom’ was being written Nirvana were at the very beginning of their ascent to superstardom. The underground clubs they used to play, with only broken bottles and empty chairs for company, were now slowly beginning to fill up. Something which hadn’t gone unnoticed by the sensitive frontman.
Aware of his growing popularity and more aware of the hypocrisy of the type of people that began to show up to Nirvana shows, Kurt loved to poke a finger at the Jocks and Jockettes that constituted part of his new fanbase. Here now were the gun-toting rednecks, ignorant to the foundations of his world view and swaying their heads to the songs he was writing about the isolation that, he felt, they forced upon him.
Cobain decided to use his art as his expression and create a new song, filled with ambiguity and intrigue, that would point and stare at the Nirvana’s latecomers. He wanted to single them out as not believing in the band form the star, they were the followers – the sheep. To make it the perfect contradiction, he wrapped it all up in one of Nirvana’s poppiest tunes. “He’s the one who likes all our pretty songs/ And likes to sing along and he likes to shoot his gun/ But he knows not what it means,” sings Cobain, taking aim at the newfound fans who had begun making their underground shows feel like surface-level crap.
Kurt Cobain wrote a song about his anger towards mainstream followers and gave the audience that bitter pill with the sugariest coating he could muster. It seems a spoonful of sugar really does make the medicine go down.