#435: Nirvana, "In Utero" (1993)

Kurt has promised to keep an eye on the baby while Court runs out for groceries. The baby is asleep in the middle of her parents’ king bed, splayed out and vulnerable, eyelids shuddering intermittently. Her onesie is striped purple and white, and bears a small spit-up stain just below the collar. In this context, it seems to say, Yes, I am able to eat, but I will not hold it all in simply because you expect it of me. In fact, just because you do, I will not. Blech.

Kurt lies next to Bean flipping through an old Cosmo he’s not sure why he has. He’s vaguely certain he took it weeks ago from the doctor’s waiting room. His gut burns, as usual, but today it is a mild burn, more like bad gas than death, and as a result it barely registers. The magazine’s mostly only getting flipped through, though every now and then Kurt stops long enough to black out the eyes of the ad models with a Sharpie whose butt he chews between vandalisms. There is nothing to this day. There’s not a lot of sun coming in, and the apartment is quiet but for the phantom riff in the back of his head; he’s not sure if it’s his or from a new Nike commercial.

Kurt’s been thinking a lot lately about who he is. Sometimes he’s certain he’s suffering from amnesia. He knows he is a father, and he knows he knows himself best, can feel himself most vividly, when acting dadly. Or in ways he assumes dads act: jet-plane mashed pea delivery, constant hum-driven cradling, bathtime, storytime, patience. But all the in-between parts he gets fuzzy on. What’s he done himself, and what’s he read or heard elsewhere about his life? He makes music sounding mostly like all his favorite music, not trying, not really, to make it better, just trying to do it justice. He sings and sometimes screams. He loves his wife and sometimes wants to kill her. He knows the feeling’s mutual, and he knows it’s what’s keeping them both alive. His name feels amorphous, his gender irrelevant, his future ultimately idle. He’s not so into the cameras, the interviews, the hoopla, but he remembers wanting it constantly only years ago. He is a prehistoric beast caught mid-motion by the meteor: more spectacle than human, more already dead than just thinking about it.

Bean stretches, turns, puckers. She is dreaming about her dad as a skeleton, the kind from the old Mickey Mouse cartoon, the bones that sing and dance in sync. In her sleeping mind, she laughs and claps her hands together, applauding his movements, very much digging the thrill of live performance, the goofy way her daddy moves in clatters. Bone-on-bone, one-step, two-step. She is unafraid; she loves this man.

  Illustration by Annie Mountcastle

Illustration by Annie Mountcastle

In a few days, Kurt’ll be off to a soundstage to make the music video for his band’s next single. The song’s not about anything, not really, but if it has to be, it’s about Courtney. About how he hates her, fears her, loves her. About her vagina and his daughter and his mother. Actually, maybe it isn’t so much about nothing as it is about a lot. The video will be red and hellish and feature a Christ figure in a Santa hat crucifying himself in the first 30 seconds. Kurt feels about the concept the same way he feels about the new record: he isn’t sure how much of it is him taking his fans to tasklaughing in their faces, waving his money aroundand how much of it is genuine. Only one more way he’s lost track of where he begins and where, if anywhere, he ends.

He is both thrilled and neurotic about this new album, about the number of ways a number of people are bound to hate it, but he tries not to think too much about it. Court would tell him to stop being such an asshole, a narcissist, a total buzzkill. He knows she’s right, and so does she. Their daughter makes a little gurgling sound, so Kurt gently picks her up and holds her against his shoulder, rubbing her back almost imperceptibly. He sings “SOS,” the ABBA song he can’t stop playing as of late, and his voice is quiet and sweet even when filling in all the guitar parts.

Sometimes he can’t help but see himself beyond himself and wish somehow this image could get out to the rest of the world without the image itself imploding. That is to say: the secret little life he and this smaller half-he on good days get to experience. Mom at the store, the band doing their own thing, whatever it is he doesn’t even start considering. He isn’t bored, isn’t bent double, isn’t hiding. He is sitting on his unmade bed and listening to his daughter dream about nothing but him. He has weighed his life and found himself mostly OK. No idol, no rock star, no artist, but OK. In this low light, this new person’s weight laid restless across him, he is happy, or could be. No: is, most certainly.

—Brad Efford