Friday, January 2, 2009

The saddest music in the world

A friend recently asked me to "explain Kurt Cobain." While condensing my case to a few minutes was an almost unbearable exercise in self-restraint, it got me to reconsider "Something in the Way."

It'd be absurd to argue about which artists pick the saddest subject matter, but it's also inarguable that no one can express sadness quite like Nirvana's lead singer, songwriter and guitarist. The chorus to "Scentless Apprentice," the climax to "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" and even the catchiest part of "Aneurysm" are as gut-wrenching as rock music gets, but "Something in the Way" might be the saddest song to ever find its way onto a Nirvana album.

The title, an apparent homage to Cobain's Liverpool-based heroes, characterizes the singer's look at his eight-year-old self during his parents' divorce. Unable to find a place for himself in the midst of a tumultuous break-up, Cobain cast himself as an inconvenience, something he beautifully expressed in a few minutes on the most famous album of the '90s.

Kurt Cobain sings in a hushed tone, almost burying his voice with a barely existent, two-chord melody on his acoustic. Like the narrator, the song itself is struggling to disappear, shrouding itself near the tale end of Nevermind while the protagonist (dubiously, but it doesn't matter) hides under a bridge near the Wishkah River.

Any hack emo songwriter can complain about being "nothing," but it takes a genius like Kurt Cobain to understand why being "something" can be so much worse.

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