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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 204
Fri. Aug 3, 2012

“Heart-Shaped Box”
Nirvana

1993

“♫ Forever in
debt to your
priceless
advice
♫”

Can you believe Nirvana’s In Utero celebrates its twentieth anniversary next year? I remember twenty years ago I had my wall sized of the Nirvana In Utero angel poster above my bed, my personal dream catcher to keep my night terrors away. I would sing myself to sleep by mumbling the lyrics, of my private lullaby, to my favorite In Utero song, “Heart-Shaped Box.”

Who knew twenty years later, I have would discovered that those same words that comforted me to sleep from “Heart-Shaped Box” were inspired by Courtney Love’s vagina, as she crudely claimed when Cobain’s widow said, “You do know the song is about my Vagina right? “Throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back,” On top of which some of the lyrics about my vagina I contributed.”

I’ll try not to think of Courtney’s pussy lips when I hear “Heart-Shaped Box,” but seriously, listening to In Utero reminds me of one of my wife and I first date’s. We were on the way to the movies and we had “Heart Shaped Box” from In Utero blaring in our car stereo. It was such a memorable moment. Unlike most love affairs of our past, early in our relationship, we wanted to harness the energy by building emotional foundations in and out of lustful cravings outside the bedroom. “Box” reflects how relying on sexual tension between two dynamic personalities like Kurt and Courtney, could be explosive and damaging to any new relationship. Cobain wanted show how emotionally and sexually charged codependency could sound like.

A longtime companion of Kurt & Courtney and editor of the Riot Grrrl fanzine Hit It or Quit It once told Everett True [Editor’s Note: I recommend any Cobain fan to purchase Everett’s Hunter S. Thompson prose like biography that’s the first, last and only true account of the rise and fall of Nirvana] in Nirvana: The True Story, “I remember thinking “Heart-Shaped Box” was the best song they’d ever done. It was really dark and there was a part of me that wondered if it would be as big as “Teen Spirit.” There seemed so much more depth to it. It was really, really beautiful.”

So what inspired Kurt to write the beautiful song that became “Heart-Shaped Box?” Everett True was there with Nirvana and Courtney through out Cobain’s meteoric climb to superstardom, he explained the inspiration behind “Heart-Shaped Box” when he wrote in Nirvana: A True Story, ““Heart-Shaped Box” (or, as it was then called, “Heart-Shaped Coffin”) was the standout: Brimming over with rasping guitars and despair, and Kurt’s own realization of the situation he placed himself in with Courtney. The title was inspired by Courtney’s habit of laying out her collection of heart-shaped candy boxes in the living room and was, in part, a love song – although clearly line such as “I am buried in a heart-shaped coffin [box] indicated the bleakness that isn’t present in most relationships.”

By now, every aging Nirvana fans remembers the controversy following the initial recording sessions of In Utero. Nirvana wanted Infamous indie Steve Albini who produced two of Kurt’s favorite albums the Pixies Surfer Rosa and PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me to helm the In Utero recording sessions. After wrapping recording on In Utero, Nirvana felt that a few of the songs were unfinished.
The one part of contention during the recording of “Box” was this grating guitar solo that was eventually taken out of the final Scott Litt mixes. Bassist Krist Novoselic describes the debate in Gillian G Gear’s 33 1/3 tome on In Utero when he said, “Why do you want to take such a beautiful song and throw such a hideous abortion in the middle of it? Kurt was being self conscious. Why can’t you make it beautiful?”
Speaking of, Novoselic explained the reasons Nirvana hired Litt to mix “Heart-Shaped Box” making Cobain’s song more beautiful sounding when he said, “The record was good but it needed a couple more touches. I wanted “Heart-Shaped Box” to be a gateway for people to buy the record, and then put it on and have this wild sound, a true alternative album.”

Was “Heart-Shaped Box” inspired by Courtney’s outer kitty lips, maybe but it sounds like Love is trying to cling to the remnants of her deceased husband’s unheralded legacy? There’s no denying Love’s positive influence on Cobain’s songwriting after Nevermind. Although lyrics like “Broken hymen of your highness” gives credence to Courtney’s vaginal claims, but “Box” owes more to The Pixies vintage loud-quiet-loud method, a documentary on cancer victims and Cobain’s own lyrical explorations than Courtney’s vagina. “Box” is more about uncovering the spark between codependent relationships like Love and Cobain shared before his unfortunate passing.

Every time I hear “Heart-Shaped Box” it seriously reminds me of the poster of Nirvana’s In Utero angel hanging over my bed, looking out for me as I whispered Cobain’s lyrics. To this day, “Heart-Shaped Box” still rocks and soothes my worried mind, what more could you ask for? Inside the sounds of Cobain’s lyrics if only for a few moments, his “Box” found a way to comfort me by burying those demons inside, lulling them to sleep with one of the most beautiful songs in the whole Nirvana canon. Thank you Kurt, I hope you found peace in your Leonard Cohen afterworld!

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