Kurt Cobain (lead singer of Nirvana ICYDK), has been one of the most celebrated songwriters of his generation. It’s the opinion of this blog author (that’s me!) that Kurt Cobain is potentially THE greatest lyrical writer EVA! I know that sentiment gets thrown around too much nowadays, but I personally feel that way even though my favorite grunge artist hierarchy puts Nirvana at #3, behind Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. But Layne and Cornell, as good as they were, may have been a step behind Kurt when writing songs.
Think about how many bands, artists, poets, movies, etc. wrote lyrics, lines, and dialogue inspired by our Nevermind Anti-Hero. The 90’s and 2000’s are filled with artists trying to write like Cobain. And for good reason. He popularized (not invented) lyrics of various forms, including the now-cliché oxymoron. For example, from In Utero‘s “Milk It” the line “Look On The Bright Side, Suicide…” is contradictory, yet extremely insightful for anyone whose ever considered such a ghastly exit.
Lyrics From “Territorial Pissings”
But Kurt Cobain didn’t suddenly become a wise muse the second he wielded pen, paper and guitar. No, he had his inspirations too.
One of my favorite Nirvana lyrics is from “Territorial Pissings”. It goes like this “Just Because You’re Paranoid, Don’t Mean They’re Not After You.” I have quoted this for years, showing off my pop-cultural prowess, whilst reminding everyone of my distrusting, watchful eye focused on the world, and them. This collection of words has become part of my persona. But the ground fell out from under my pompous feet last week…
Joseph Keller’s Catch-22
See, I recently discovered those specific “Territorial Pissings” words were not Cobains’! No, Kurt ‘borrowed’ the words from an author by the name of Joseph Heller. Heller wrote the line “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” in his 1961 satirical war novel Catch-22.
Clearly Cobain borrowed the line from the novel. But just so you know, I don’t think less of the lyrics after finding this out. In fact, it raises my interest. At some point in his short, young life, the grunge od read this old book Catch-22 (even in the 80’s and 90’s) detailing the life and psyche of soldiers in World War II. Obviously this line popped out at him when he read the book, just like the line popped out at me when I heard it in “Territorial Pissings”. Now, as ridiculous as it sounds, I feel closer to Kurt Donald Cobain.
I will admit, I did not know of this lyrical origin. I also am mostly unfamiliar with Joseph Heller and his work, but I just picked up a copy of Catch-22. Because any book Kurt read is worth my time. It’s kinda like I’m in a book club with Curt Cobain!