David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 323: Nirvana (All Apologies)

February 3, 2024

There are many days I simply want to tell the world, even beyond my small circle of acquaintances, "What else can I say? All apologies." The short statement seems a catch-all for the ruminations that can plague a conscientious person. Because of that phrase, and generally the whole context of "All Apologies," I understand Kurt Cobain's genius, especially when you add on "what else can I be? All apologies." Among other reasons, there is something nakedly honest in letting In Utero end with the coda of "all we are is all we are."

Because of the video generation Cobain came from and was immersed in, generally, the more widely known version of "All Apologies" is the MTV Unplugged version, not the electrified version that closed In Utero (my link below is to a less-than-ideal YouTube version from the album; they are hard to find amidst all the damn Unplugged versions). Of course, such unplugged versions allowed more people to praise Cobain's song-writing since the melodies and lyrics were clearer and cleaner, and the angst of his usual vocal style (according to Wikipedia, Dave Grohl apparently upon hearing the demo of the song, found it lovely especially for a guy "screaming all the time") was tamed. 

There is also a really cool version of "All Apologies" on Sinead O'Connor's 1994 release, Universal Mother, one where she also doesn't scream, even though she might have had every right when she starts with "what else can I say? All apologies." Anything that links Cobain and O'Connor has to be infused with tortured brilliance.

In the end, with someone as famous, a fame not diminished by early death, as Cobain, the eggheads line up to try and interpret the song. Take a look at the Songfacts entry for "All Apologies," which includes the lyrics and then 404 comments. Compare that to the 147 comments for The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," which Cobain manager, Danny Goldberg, claims inspired Cobain to pen "All Apologies." 404 versus 147? Really?

Among the bitter trolling for "All Apologies" on Songfacts are claims about Cobain's sexuality (what else do you do with the lines "what else can I say/everyone is gay?"), his relationship with wife, Courtney Love, her drug habit, his drug habit, his viewpoint about bands like Pearl Jam, and premonition for his suicide, which is finding a heck of a lot in a song that only has 20 original lines and fewer than 80 un-duplicated words within those lines. You can hate the internet for a lot of things, but it sure revealed human need to find meaning in anything and everything.

I think part of the reason I love the song is that I hear Cobain apologizing for this mythology from the grave: All these idiots who think they understood me? What else can I say? All apologies.

Frankly, I am surprised more eggheads haven't tried to find a direct connection between "All Apologies" and REM's "South Central Rain (I'm Sorry)." The bands were mutual admirers (Michael Stipe, of course, gave the induction speech for Nirvana at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, and was rumored to have been slated to front the remaining members for "All Apologies" at the ceremony). More importantly, there is significant melodic similarities between "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," from the REM song, and "married/buried" from Nirvana's song. Meanwhile, Cobain seems to transport his setting from a monsoon ("the trees will bend/the cities will wash away" sings Stipe) to a clear, sunny day ("in the sun/in the sun"). Ultimately, trying to really make out a clear singular message from either song is a waste of time, with Stipe imploring "go build yourself another dream," with Cobain muttering "sunburn freezer burn/choking on the ashes of her enemy."

Uh, gee, guess I am no better than those eggheads at Songfacts. All apologies.

Nirvana. "All Apologies." In Utero. DGC, 1993. Link here.

Day 322: Dusty Springfield "Son Of A Preacher Man"

Day 324: U2 "40"

See complete list here.