From Women's Studies
Women’s issues in music have been examined by scholars in female artists’ songs, but what about males? Examining the lyrics written by Kurt Cobain from Nirvana one will find his music to contain serious topics that have traditionally been thought of as women’s issues such as rape and male violence against women. In these songs Cobain seems to take a feminist stance, using his music as an opportunity to speak out against these destructive behaviors. One of the most memorable and controversial of these songs is “Polly” a song originally released on Nirvana’s Nevermind album.
To understand the controversy surrounding this particular song one must understand the dark story Cobain’s lyrics tell. The first verse and chorus of the song read: Polly wants a cracker Think I should get off of her first I think she wants some water To put out the blow torch It isn't me We have some seed Let me clip Your dirty wings Let me take a ride Don't hurt yourself I want some help To please myself I've got some rope You have been told I promise you I have been true Let me take a ride Don't hurt yourself I want some help To please myself Cobain takes on a first person narrative in this song, singing the lyrics as if he were the villain. Author Everett True in his book Nirvana: the True Story reveals Cobain’s inspiration for the dark and hunting song, “It was inspired by a newspaper story of a real-life rape wherein a young girl was tortured with a blowtorch. Kurt took the part of its perpetrators, a common literary device but one rarely used within popular song…to explore both the horror and motivation of the act” (241). Cobain very blatantly describes the horrific actions of a man against a young girl in an attempt to reveal the true nature of rape as a violent crime.
Many fans were confused by Cobain’s choice to take on the role of the attacker in this song. Those who were familiar with his music where puzzled by this decision because Cobain often spoke out against male chauvinism and disliked what “macho men” had come to represent in popular culture. For those who were not familiar with the music of Nirvana the song could have been interpreted in the opposite way it was intended, as a pro-violence against women anthem. For these reasons Nirvana was always met with resistance when they wanted to play this song at events other than their concerts. Despite the controversy, for Cobain the ultimate consequence of writing a song with a catchy beat that held so much power in its subject was that over time people became desensitized to “Polly’s” message. “Years later, Kurt would regret writing such a memorable, poppy song with such unsettling sentiments when Nirvana played to 20,000 fans who sang lustily along, obscuring any meaning whatsoever” (True 241).
By Katherine Tuminello / Page Designed by: Zhanjun Chen