(Credit: Julie Kramer)

The Story Behind The Song: ‘In Bloom’, Nirvana’s bitter pill made sweeter to swallow

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.

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’.

The song was to all intents and purposes Nirvana providing the growing set of fans with a grunge track doused in some 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 children. Bassist Krist Novoselic recalled that it “originally sounded like a Bad Brains song. Then Kurt turned it into a pop song”.

The song was played just one day before Cobain and Novoselic began demoing the track. They were keen to nail down the song as soon as possible so Kurt took the track home with him and began playing reworked versions over the phone to Novoselic – it would be this arrangement that they would add onto their promo CD which circulated the major labels and eventually nailed down their contract for the release of Nevermind.

‘In Bloom’ would eventually 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 lyric son 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.

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.

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.

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