A country Nirvana song via Sturgill Simpson

NPR and Rolling Stone today both note the arrival of new country star Sturgill Simpson’s version of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” The second song on the epochal Nevermind album, universally agreed to be the band’s masterpiece, and as well Country Love’s fave song on the record, Sturgill completely upends it. Sez me.

The Nirvana version is as hard as rock can be; with massively crunchy guitars, Cobain at full yowl, and an abiding sense of discovery and self-loathing — or so it seemed to me. Of course I found out the song was an ode to a close friend of Cobain’s who loved to shoot guns but didn’t seem to understand what that could mean, which in retrospect makes the song darker than its prideful roar might indicate. Perhaps Cobain envied his oblivious friend.

To Sturgill, who was in middle school when the song came out, it sounded much different, as he discussed with Rolling Stone:

The Kentucky singer-songwriter penned every track on A Sailor’s Guide to Earth except one — a cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom,” off Nevermind. The tortured Kurt Cobain, and that seminal 1991 grunge album in particular, were an inspiration to the junior-high Simpson.

“I remember in seventh or eighth grade when that album dropped, it was like a bomb went off in my bedroom. For me, that song has always summed up what it means to be a teenager, and I think it tells a young boy that he can be sensitive and compassionate — he doesn’t have to be tough or cold to be a man,” explains Simpson. “I wanted to make a very beautiful and pure homage to Kurt.”

I love what Simpson has done with this song, even though to me it’s as different as it can be. Adding “love” to the chorus changes everything. Or does it? Love the gentleness, the sorrow, the deep understanding.

Must confess I don’t get the video at all, but oh well — I rarely do understand music videos these days.

More Sturgill? Sure — how about a Tiny Desk Concert? Man can that guy pick a guitar. Jeez.


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

3 thoughts on “A country Nirvana song via Sturgill Simpson

  1. In a lovely NYTimes story this Sunday we learn a little more about this song, and what it means to Simpson, as opposed to what it meant to the writer.

    “Kurt Cobain was singing about the dimness of his band’s late adopters, but Mr. Simpson heard in the lyrics a take on “that raw, primal, lusty nature of a 16-year-old boy.” But during the recording session, Mr. Simpson inadvertently changed a lyric in the chorus. He sang it the way he remembered it from childhood: “But he don’t know what it means/Don’t know what it means/To love someone.” (That last clause is an invention.)

    To have it cleared, he had to write “a very heartfelt letter” to the administrators of Mr. Cobain’s estate, who allowed him to release his version. Yet, even in this most humble of homages, Mr. Simpson has preserved his perspective. “Even now knowing what he says,” he said, “when I listen to it, I still hear it my way.”'”

    Cobain’s close friend Dylan Carlson was the reference, as I recall from reading Cobain biographies, the “loves to shoot his gun” friend and fellow heroin addict. So the disparaging message is even sharper than it seems, and more pointed than perhaps the critic knows.


  2. Sorry, forgot the link.

    Real question will be if musicians to come will choose the Cobain version of “In Bloom” or the Simpson version. After all, it’s generally agreed that the Cobain version of “The Man Who Sold the World” is more popular than the David Bowie original, however unfair that judgement.


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