This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #406: In Bloom by Nirvana.
“In Bloom” comes from the most successful and influential album of the last quarter century, “Nevermind”. “Nevermind” was the second album released by Nirvana. It was released in 1991. It contains such stellar hits as “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Lithium”, “Come As You Are”, “Polly”, Territorial Pissings” and “In Bloom”.
When Kurt Cobain was writing the songs for “Nevermind” he did so in a way that drew from punk bands such as “Black Flag” and “Bad Brains”. The album, also, was influenced by Alternative groups such as “The Pixies”, “The Melvins” and early “R.E.M.”. Finally, many of the power guitar chords used can be traced back to rock icons such as “Black Sabbath” or more radio-friendly rock groups such as “The Smithereens”. While some may dismiss Nirvana as simply a “grunge” band from Seattle, the fact was that much of the reason for the enormous success of their album, “Nevermind” was because it was such an amalgam of genres; all brought together in a manner that had never truly been done before. It had universal appeal. However, it was because of that universal appeal that Kurt Cobain feared its success and loathed the price he felt obligated to pay.
“In Bloom” is a song that chronicles the price of success for those who care about the craft of creative expression. Even before Nirvana became a headlining act, Cobain was distrustful of the music industry, as a whole. He was very much enamoured by the purity of creating songs that were expressions of his inner thoughts and feelings. He truly liked the feelings that came with playing in front of a tightly packed, sweating, madly thrashing crowd. He admired other bands who eschewed the limelight and stuck to their core belief system. He respected fans who stuck by those bands because they recognized the integrity with which their conducted their musical affairs. But, sometimes, talent being what it is, it is hard to stay small and remain ensconced in the humbleness of one’s family. Sooner or later, word seeps out and a newer, larger audience becomes aware of your existence. Mathematics being what it is, eventually, your visibility starts to grow exponentially until it reaches the point when you no longer recognize yourself in the faces of your audience. That was the point that Nirvana had reached by the time Kurt Cobain wrote the lyrics to “In Bloom”.
By the time he was writing the songs that came to fill out “Nevermind”‘s track listing, Nirvana’s audience began including jocks, preppy-types and all sorts of other folks who were simply there to have fun and sing and bop mindlessly along with the songs being played. The chorus to “In Bloom” captures Cobain’s disgust perfectly.
“He’s the one
Who likes all our pretty songs.
And he likes to sing along
And he likes to shoot his guns
But, he knows not what it means.
He knows not what it means.”
It isn’t easy to be creative and remain creative over the full course of one’s career. There is tremendous pressure to “just play the hits”. Some artists accept that deal with the Devil and become very successful and well known as a result. But, for Kurt Cobain, that was a deal that he could never quite reconcile himself to accept. At his core, he was a musician, a writer or words and a singer of songs that had deeper meanings than his new audience could have ever imagined. Their unwillingness to accept him for who he felt he was contributed to inner, mental turmoil which, eventually, led him to take his life a few short years later. Being under-appreciated and misunderstood is a tough cross to bear for anyone. It certainly was for Cobain.
The official video for this song won awards for Video of the Year when it was released. It draws upon the old “Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show” motif for its inspiration. The idea was to highlight the endless screaming and adoration being heaped upon the band regardless of the content of their lyrics. The band always found it somewhat amusing that the very people being mocked in “In Bloom” for mindlessly singing along were, in fact, always mindlessly singing along with the song (as seen in the video). If you watch this video, you will see that it opens with an announcer on screen. His voice will sound familiar if you close your eyes and are of a certain vintage. He is Doug Llewellyn, the announcer made famous on “The People’s Court” TV show. Anyway, enjoy “In Bloom” from Nirvana.
As you read this post, know that when I finished with this post, I was off to Walmart, of all places, to have my life-saving first dose of Covid vaccine. The irony of this song and of Walmart saving my life are simply too rich. Have a safe, meaningful day, everyone!
The link to the music video for In Bloom by Nirvana can be found here.
The link to Nirvana’s website can be found here.
Thanks to KEXP for always understanding good music when they hear it. A link to their website can be found here.