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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 146
Mon. June 24, 2013

“Something in the Way”
Nirvana

1991

“♫ Have
all become
my pets/ and
I’m living
off of
grass
♫”

Today, I’m reeling within the lyrical shadows in one of Kurt Cobain’s most desolate songs. I am feeling like the last official song from Nirvana’s 1991 major label debut. “Something in the Way” is not only Cobain’s most honest song on Nevermind, is also Kurt’s most intimate. In Everett True’s book Nirvana: The True Story, producer Butch Vig talked about how Kurt’s eerie beauty came to life in the studio when he told Rolling Stone Magazine in 1996, ““Something in the Way” is the quietest song on Nevermind. We attempted to record it live, but Kurt was singing and playing the guitar so quietly, all I could hear through his microphone was the bled from the bass and drums. I suggested we isolate him in the control room and record his performance separately, Kurt decided to use his old, beat up five string acoustic guitar which he never bothered to tune. He slumped down on the couch and began strumming the guitar while I was setting up the mics, and he was pretty soon flat on his back.”


Memories of John Lennon recording “Revolution” for The Beatles in Abbey Road studio come to mind. It’s no accident that Cobain was emulating his hero Lennon. When trying to convince Cobain in the studio, Vig told Kurt that Lennon used to “double track” his own vocals. If it was good enough for his idol Lennon than Cobain would eventually relented. Butch Vig complete his story on how “Something in the Way” evolved to the finished take when he explained, “I unplugged the telephones, hung a Do Not Disturb sign, turned off the light, locked the door and hit record. [Kurt] had gone deep inside himself and brought out a haunting portrait of desolation, weariness and paranoia.”

If you’re wondering how “Something in the Way” got that eerie sound of desolation, it came from the sound of cheap guitar that Kurt bought at a pawn shop. Bassist Krist Novoselic recalled that vintage cheap guitar Kurt used on “Something in the Way” in Charles R Cross and Jim Berkenstadt’s Classic Rock Albums: Nirvana – Nevermind, when he said, “We bought [that acoustic guitar] in Denver, Colorado. Kurt took the twelve strings off and put six strings on it. But it wouldn’t stay in tune, so he took the head stock and tightened it as much as he could. He had the pair of pliers and when it would go out of tune he’d put the pliers to the tuning pick. It was a total fucking joke, but it worked for him.”

Producer Vig remembered that cheap guitar telling Cross and Berkenstadt, “He played his old five-string acoustic, and he never tuned, but it had a very unique sound, almost like a ukulele, and it gave the song a lot of character.” Although, “Smells like Teen Spirit” was the hit song from Nirvana’s first major label debut album, “Something in the Way” had so much character, this desolate acoustic beauty remains Nevermind’s one of the most memorable and inspiring songs Cobain recorded for his multi-platinum album. Just ask singer/songwriter Damien Juardo who explained in 2001 why he covered Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” when he explained, “But that [song] was different. It’s the only song that stands out on its own. I think that had to do a lot about the story of the song about how — at least what I heard anyway — that Kurt had the song and they weren’t sure if they were gonna use it or not. They were unhappy with some of the takes, so they just had Kurt on the couch with this guitar that was lying around and recorded it that way. If I remember the story correctly, the guitar wasn’t in tune with anything else, so they had to retune the cello to the guitar. It’s a really intimate recording. It literally sounded like a guy on the couch playing guitar. The track stood out for me in that aspect; plus, it’s a really pretty song. It’s simple. I think it only has two chords.”

Kurt Cobain’s “Something in the Way” might have had only been written, composed and recorded with only two chords, but because of this stripped down performance, the Nirvana singer sounded reborn in the spirit of a haunted Johnny Cash; crooning about his fears and desires with his trusty out of tune six string acoustic guitar, trying to express his darkest emotions in “Something in the Way.”

Today I am reflected with the lyrical shadows of this Nirvana classic. I feel like I can’t breathe, I’m aching and coughing and I just long to clear my head congestion; this annoying summer cold is making feel like the vivid desolation of Kurt Cobain’s “Something in the Way.” While most of the songs on Nirvana’s major label debut were mixed with colorful productions gloss by Andy Wallace, More than just another song from Nevermind, “Something” captures the true voice of an aching Kurt Cobain. Relive the beautiful darkness of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way.”

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