On the 29th anniversary of the release of this classic track, we celebrate the life of Kurt Cobain and the band Nirvana. The song “Something In the Way” resurfaced in 2020 after being featured on the trailer of the movie ‘The Batman’ to be released in 2021.
Nirvana’s “Something In the Way” was released on September 24, 1991, from their second studio album ‘Nevermind.’ There are many interpretations of the song, from being a real-life experience of Kurt Cobain himself to Kurt’s view on life. Either way, the song draws a very sinister picture of life in general.
The lead vocalist and guitarist of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain wrote this song, and because of this fact, the song’s eeriness is often compared with the life of Kurt Cobain himself. Cobain killed himself in April 1994, after years of struggling with drug addiction and depression. This song, talking about living “underneath a bridge,” is yet another manifestation of Kurt’s perspective of life.
It is also noteworthy that in the 1993 Nirvana biography ‘Come As You Are,’ Kurt Cobain explained his idea behind this song; “…like if I was living under the bridge and I was dying of A.I.D.S., if I was sick and I couldn’t move and I was a total street person. That was kind of the fantasy of it.”
Listen to “Something In the Way” by Nirvana
“Something In the Way” Lyrics Meaning And Song Review
There was a lot of lore behind Kurt Cobain actually living under a bridge when he was chansed out of his home by his parents at one point in his life. But this has been debunked since, and hence, is yet another glimpse into Kurt’s powerful imagination of the world around him in metaphors.
However, the bridge in the song may have been inspired by one of Kurt’s favorite fishing spots under the Young Street Bridge, close to his childhood home in Aberdeen, Washington. In ‘Come As You Are’ biography Kurt Cobain mentions that he enjoyed fishing in the Wishkah River, over which Young Street Bridge briefly flies over.
In the first verse of the song, Kurt Cobain draws a genuine picture of being homeless. He is living under a bridge, and the withering tarp over his head doesn’t do its job to perfection now. He tried to catch some animals for food, but they all seem to avoid his traps, so he would rather befriend them at this point. Cobain settles to eating the grass on the ground and fish from the river because; “‘Cause they don’t have any feelings.”
However, taking a deeper dive into these lyrics, we can understand that Kurt Cobain is not really talking about living under a bridge. If we take these lyrics into the context of Kurt’s life, the song has a whole new light.
Kurt Cobain was a victim of fame and the ‘rock ‘n roll’ lifestyle. Since the age of 13, he was exposed to drugs until the moment of his death at the age of 27. The pressures of life got to him despite the massive success the band was able to achieve. The band’s success worked towards deteriorating the physical and mental health of Kurt Cobain. This is also evident in the story behind their massive hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
In this context, underneath a bridge could be a metaphor for Kurt Cobain hiding from all of society and fame and fortune. He would probably find more genuine friends in isolation than millions of fans and ‘friends’ all over the world. There is no pressure to produce hit records, smile at every random person on the street, be at your best behavior for the paparazzi, and push himself to be someone he is not every passing second under this bridge. Even the thought of living under a bridge, disconnected from the whole world outside, must have felt good for Kurt Cobain.
Maybe this utopia is something Kurt Cobain wanted to cherish even in the form of a song. In the recording of the song, Kurt Cobain settles to an almost whisper, as if to treasure each word in his blissful escape of an imagination.
It’s okay to eat fish
‘Cause they don’t have any feelings
Do animals feel pain? is a question that had been raised from a very early stage of humankind as humans grew from hunter-gatherer societies. Despite if they feel pain or not, we should all think that they do, and act in more humane ways towards them. The mention of fish, specifically, in the lyrics can be seen as a correlation to Kurt Cobain’s star sign: Pisces. The zodiac sign of Pisces is depicted through two fish swimming in a circle. Through this, is Kurt Cobain referencing himself? And through this reference, is he mentioning that the world assumes rockstars have no feelings and it is okay to run over them whenever possible?
The chorus of the song is a repetition of the song title “something in the way” followed by a haunting hum. The idea behind these lyrics could be that Kurt Cobain feels as if there is always something in the way between him and his destination.
In hindsight, we could probably assume a dozen things Kurt Cobain wanted to achieve in his life. Less stress, less anxiety, freedom, privacy, to feel self-worth, have better relationships, etc. More success is probably not one such goal for Cobain. So what really was in the way?
Many can argue that ‘something’ that was in the way was Kurt Cobain himself. In practicality, there are only very few instances where an external party could help someone overcome their mental struggles. Medicine might ease the pain, but only you can cure yourself. So, it makes sense if Kurt felt as if he was the one in the way of his resurrection. But how can one help themself if the problem was themself all along? There could be a way, but Kurt certainly did not figure out it in time.
Whatever Kurt Cobain did want to say through this song, it is clear that a part of the life of Kurt still resonates through these lyrics and solemn vocals.
Let us hear what you think about this song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics and further meaning breakdown on Genius.