Nirvana

If you weren’t familiar with Nirvana and took a quick look at the title of “Rape Me,” you would understandably have some questions. But a simple internet search should clear up any confusion — Kurt Cobain was open about the meaning behind the track, clearing up any potential misunderstanding and painting it as a blunt anti-rape song. Enter Say Anything frontman Max Bemis, who picked the song for The AV Club’s Hatesong feature, which interviews artists about songs they can’t stand. Bemis professes his love for Nirvana, one of his “favorite bands,” but says that it was his least favorite song of the In Utero era and, even further, that it was his “least favorite of many, many different genres and subsets of music.”

BEMIS: Sonically and musically, this song annoys me. Lyrically, it’s vapid. And then on another level, it annoys me because, as someone who makes music and someone who admires Kurt Cobain as one of the greater songwriters and musicians of our time—to me, it’s the prime example of a musician feeding into or just being overly influenced by success, even if his knee-jerk reaction is to write a song like “Rape Me,” where it’s railing against his success. He probably wouldn’t have written the song if it wasn’t for becoming this unlikely icon. And so, clearly, he wrote the song to be a punk rock song about, like, “Fuck the fact that I’m a celebrity and screw the fact that the man has co-opted Nirvana.”

AVC: But it was written before Nevermind even came out.

BEMIS: Is that true?!

After being filled in that it was from the perspective of an abused woman, he still doesn’t get it.

BEMIS: The song is “Rape me, rape me, rape me again,” so even if it’s a postmodern take on rape and a feminist perspective on it, it’s still ironic, you know? It’s still saying that the person can rape them again. And that was something that I didn’t like about it in the first place. I know it’s ironic for him to be encouraging the rape to continue to happen. But it’s still encouraging the rape to continue to happen.

You know, since I had heard it after Nevermind, I took it as this kind of veiled thing about their success. But if you take it that way, he’s just inviting the rape.

AVC: It’s supposed to be, like, “Go ahead and do this, but know I’ll get you back.”

BEMIS: But it’s still like he’s still getting raped in the process of that.

AVC: Okay…

Bemis tries to backtrack and chalk his dislike for the song up to his teenage disappointment with Nirvana’s post-Nevermind output. He also added, “If it were a Soundgarden song, people would just not like ’Rape Me.’” Bemis thought the song was Cobain’s reaction to the press and put it on the record because he wanted to get a reaction. He then compares this to Miley Cyrus:

BEMIS: It’s the sort of baseline assumptions that one can make. It’s sort of like Miley — I’m going to get a lot of shit for this — but it’s just like what Miley Cyrus is doing right now. We don’t really know what’s in her head or why she’s doing this. But we can assume she’s trying to grow up and expand her image and no longer be a teeny-bopper icon, and she’s trying to be dangerous and sexy and hip. So that’s our assumption that may be miles from whatever she’s actually thinking about.

So in this instance, with Nirvana, Kurt was an intelligent, brilliant guy, so we don’t really know why he released “Rape Me” at the time he did or wrote the song or whatever. But from our perspective, from the general perspective, it certainly seemed that it was some kind of reaction against their success with Nevermind.

Read the full interview here.

Comments (49)
  1. ………And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead” are NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Check out my kickass new band name. (and I owe it all to Stereogum)

    …..Say Anything’s Max Bemis Rails Against Nirvana’s “Rape Me,” Which He Completely Misinterprets And Compares To “What Miley Cyrus Is Doing”

    Awesome right?!?!?!?!

  2. But what does Cee Lo Green think of the song?

  3. One of my best friends is absolutely in love with this guy, even going as far as to claim that he is “a genius, no really, like an actual GENIUS.” Needless to say, I was compelled to listen to Say Anything. Turns he makes marginally ambitious pop-punk with a not-so-subtle “hey look at how I use sarcasm to make fun of people who are sarcastic and pretentious” edge.

    Also, he sounds really stupid here. I don’t really get his point at all.

  4. While I do think AV Club has some cool articles, their “Hatesong” feature is always kind of a waste of time. They bring in comedians and stuff who talk about things they hate. 90% of the time, people railing against things they don’t like for extended periods of time just gets old. If they brought in people to talk about one song they really love? Way more interesting to read. At least in my mind.

    • lyntonn  |   Posted on Sep 2nd +10

      That was the first thing I thought of. I’ve not heard of the Hatesong thing … but the last thing I’d want to know about is why someone doesn’t like something. I get so tired of negativity about music …

      • Musicians understand what that section of A.V. Club is about, as well as people who listen to a lot of music, in general. There are just certain songs that get under your skin for one reason or another. Everybody can relate to that. And there are already dozens of articles written about musicians’ “favorite” songs. I think it’s refreshing to read about why certain people can’t stand certain songs. Everybody has a certain song that causes them to wince when they hear it. Creed’s “With Arms Wide Open” does it for me. I will – literally – LEAVE a place if I hear that song on the stereo, and won’t come back until it’s over. Everybody has a song like that. ;-)

        • P.S. In other words, it’s not about “negativity”, really – it’s just supposed to be a funny little piece every week or so about certain songs that drive people nuts. No big deal.

          • That’s fine, and I get that, but it’s not something I (and even a lot of people in the comments over there) enjoy. Plus, A lot of times HateSong just results in someone spewing their personal philosophies and relating them back to the song, making it more analytical than joking around. Interesting? Maybe, but more often than not it’s pretty monotonous.

            And yeah, there are plenty of songs I hate with a passion too. I can’t stand Karmin’s “acapella” (discussing it with my friends, I get physically (yes, physically) upset talking about that song), but I think once it gets more serious and analytical, the fun’s gone and it’s just pure (but justified (sometimes)) negativity.

        • I completely hear ya. Along the same lines is the music played in public places. We have a pretty nice steakhouse in town. But they play that uber neu country LOUDLY. I understand they are catering to a certain crowd. I’m not an idiot. But are there enough people that GO there because of the music to offset the people that will NEVER GO THERE because of it? Again, this is a small town and I seriously doubt they’ve done any research into the topic.

          PS – I feel that way about EVERY Creed song. And Nickelback…and P. Diddy, and….I need to stop now.

    • Jonah Rey shitting all over Sublime just because he wasn’t one of the cool surfer kids in high school was so fucking cringe worthy.

      • Honestly I don’t understand the overwhelming hate for Sublime at all.

        • Because bros.

          • I guess its because I’m a little young to experience Sublime at their peak of popularity. I’ve always thought they made pretty much the best white-boy reggae around. They incorporated a lot of influences, they didn’t try to put on some shitty Patois accent and they wrote songs about things that they probably did. I understand not liking a band for their fans but I really don’t understand the complete and utter hatred of Sublime from anyone remotely involved in an indie music blog/website.

      • And that’s the thing! A lot of times they interview guys I like (I think Jonah Ray is really funny, and Scott Hutchinson of Frightened Rabbit has done it before too) but even people who I know are cool and likable just come across as dicks. Criticism can be funny sometimes, but the whole fact that it’s “Hate”, rather than “Criticism” makes it more obnoxious than funny.

        Although Nick Thune’s association of “1st of the Month” with his mom catching him masturbating was amusingly bizarre. But that one had more to do with association with a personal story than straight up disliking something.

    • The Jon Daly one about Green Day is hilarious though.

    • Oh lighten up. Not all pop culture is good pop culture and every once in a while it’s refreshing to hear someone hilarious go on a rant about it. A few comedians have given very funny interviews through that column (for an example, please read Steve Coogan’s takedown of “The Lady in Red.” It’s comedy gold.) With that said, Max Bemis is definitely not someone who should have been given a soapbox.

  5. Who the hell are Say Anything?

    • Say Anything is an American pop-punk band from Los Angeles, California. The band was formed in 2000 with Max Bemis and four of his friends. Within two years, they self-released two EPs and a full-length album. Max Bemis is an unfunny clown.

  6. And Max Bemis is revealed as the DUMBEST person in music right now. Good Lord.

  7. Here’s what’s going on, here: this guy (Bemis) was born in 1984, which means he was only about SEVEN years old when “Nevermind” was released – and he was only NINE when “In Utero” came out. He’s simply just too young to remember when Cobain was explaining in dozens of interviews on MTV what the meaning of that song was. Anyone who listened to Nirvana who was older at the time learned all of that. In other words, it’s not necessarily stupidity on his part for not knowing; more like a stunning lack of knowledge about one of his supposed “favorite all-time bands”, coupled with a colossal unwillingness to admit that he was wrong about something.

    • Songs should stand on their own. Mostly every other Nirvana song stands on its own, but apparently you need the backstory for this one! So the song made him feel a certain way and he talked about it, who cares?

    • I’m young, but I very clearly remember Kurt saying something among the lines of “I get tired of people trying to find too much meaning in my lyrics” back in the day, which is frustrating in the case of a song about abuse. That’s the problem you have when there’s near God-like universal admiration for rockstars. Kurt said it’s an anti-rape song, but he never really seemed to elaborate it much, always leaving the initial premise behind it as enough of a reason. So even if his intentions aren’t harmful, it doesn’t mean the song shouldn’t have to stand on it’s own merits like every other song, or that it was so loosely written that even if you are aware of the intended interpretation, it can still bother you how it lacks real depth in talking about the subject matter (even if it tries to capture the anger behind the experience musically) and just becomes frustrating – and not definitely not in the sense Kurt wanted to.
      I think “In Utero” is Nirvana’s best album, but “Rape Me” really isn’t one of the best moments on it in my opinion, and that’s because it feels like it’s a track more worried about intensity, which would be fine in most cases, except, you know, a song about rape could use a little more complexity, and maybe even exploring more of the range of said anger, but it doesn’t. So yeah, I get thinking “Rape Me” is not exactly one of their best moments, and as I much as Nirvana is a great band, I do think Kurt songwriting is put too much on a pedestal sometimes.

      • “I’m young, but I very clearly remember Kurt saying something among the lines of ‘I get tired of people trying to find too much meaning in my lyrics’ back in the day, which is frustrating in the case of a song about abuse.”

        The quote that’s coming to mind for me regarding that is this one: “Why in the hell do journalists insist on coming up with a second-rate Freudian evaluation on my lyrics when 90% of the time they’ve transcribed them incorrectly?” And there’s also the one about Kurt’s songwriting style: “Music comes first and lyrics come second.” That’s not to say Kurt didn’t care about lyrics or intent. His journal proves otherwise. His lyrical style is just less immediate than most people’s, more reminiscent of the cut-up technique? I mean, “Polly” is obviously the more well-crafted song Kurt wrote about the topic. “Rape Me” does make me uncomfortable (it’s supposed to!), and it does seem sort of stylistically out of place on ‘In Utero,’ being older than most of that material as far as I know, but to say it falls short of its intentions… I’m not sure that’s accurate. And I can see where Bemis got the ‘railing against fame/the media’ interpretation. A lot of the other songs on the album touch on that theme, if only tangentially. But to say that’s the only valid interpretation, and then to compare it to ‘something like Miley Cyrus is doing’ when given context, that’s where Max fucked up.

  8. I dont always value their opinions of musicians but how can I not value the opinion of a 30 year old dude in a pop punk band named after an insanely overrated pile of shit movie?

  9. the guy might have been too young when the album was released, but he is certainly old enough to google a little research before taking the time to make a public statement. Therefore he is clearly stupid and clearly looking for attention. …..and in that he succeeded.

  10. This guy reads like a child saying something like “I hate tacos because they’re stupid and…and they smell funny”.

  11. Maybe YOU smell funny Max Bemis…maybe you smell funny.

  12. Man. Who gives a shit.

    • Nathan…you best watch your ass. Garrett White might come back and you two will have to have it out AGAIN.
      LOL

  13. What I took from the interview wasn’t as much that he was pissed off about the lyrics as much as he was annoyed by the repetitive musicality of it that seemed to rip off “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Also that it was overplayed.

  14. I always find it almost impressive how quickly people make their mind up about people from singular pieces of information. Max Bemis is a lovely, smart man who just happened to come off as a dick in one interview over the last decade. This also just seems like a terrible idea for an interview topic solely because there are so few ways to come out not looking bad.

  15. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  16. He clearly hasn’t heard the superior version “Waif Me”. The way it was intended to be.

  17. Ehhhh to be fair, I still find Rape Me to be an uncomfortable listen, and if you haven’t read interviews with Kurt and know his intention, it DOES sound like a tone-deaf railing against success. So I can see where that reaction comes from.

    On the other hand, if you’re going to give a published interview about the song you HATE the MOST, you might want to know some basic facts about the song in question so you don’t end up looking foolish.

  18. assumptions assumptions baseline assumptions

  19. wg  |   Posted on Sep 3rd 0

    This Bemis guy does sound like an inarticulate idiot at best, however, I get what he’s trying to say, and he’s not entirely wrong. I was 16 when “In Utero” came out and though I was extremely excited about the album when I bought it on release day, I always hated “Rape Me” and its meaning was never ambiguous to me.

    At the time I immediately took “Rape Me” as Cobain railing against “the media” and “the industry.” It really wasn’t a secret at the time (and even less so now that we know how much of a paranoid junky he really was – just google “cobain death threat phone message”) that Cobain felt violated by the media scrutiny – especially that damning 1992 Vanity Fair article written by Lynn Hirschberg that called out Courtney Love for doing drugs while pregnant.

    Cobain was incredibly selfish and self-involved, and I really don’t believe the song has any feminist intention or value whatsoever (in fact Cobain called women “cunts” and made sexist remarks with frequency). Just read the lyrics (there aren’t many). For example:

    “My favorite inside source/ I’ll kiss your open sores/ Appreciate your concern/ You’ll always stink and burn”

    This line is, without much doubt, about Lynn Hirshberg from Vanity Fair. “Inside source” = Lynn, an interviewer with the “inside scoop.” “I’ll kiss your open sores” = sarcastic remark about playing the game and sucking up to the media. “Appreciate your concern” = sarcastic reaction to Lynn’s calling out Courtney Love on endangering her unborn fetus. “You’ll always stink and burn” = fuck you Lynn, you violated me, so burn in hell.

    Maybe Cobain wrote most of the song while “Nevermind” was mixing (he could’ve altered the lyrics later), and he did his best to steer the conversation about the song to make himself look like a feminist hero (entertainers lie about the facts and fabricate their own histories all the time), but “Rape me” is allegory about being violated by the media, not some noble feminist message. Besides, whatever you believe the song is “really” about, at the end of the day it’s just a shallow, whiny, and tacky song.

  20. i dunno, i was 13 when I first heard Rape Me, and without the internet or research or whatever, I got that it wasn’t literally about “please rape me again.” I mean, sometimes it’s just obvious.

  21. Say Anything? Never heard of them.

  22. I don’t really care about this either way, but jesus, Max Bemis sure did a great job of making himself look like an uninformed tool.

  23. Say Anything s/t album:

    1. Bitches, Man
    2. He Likes Girls With Names Like Ashley
    3. I’m Incarcerated, Lloyd!
    4. Just Wanna Spend Time With Your Daughter
    5. Find Another Girl who Looks Exactly Like Her And…
    6. Joe
    7. Kickboxing – Sport of The Future
    8. (Hold Hands On Our Way To Oxford)

    • Say Anything’s “Is a Real Boy” and their actual self titled where pretty good pop punk albums by a relatively young artist. He is getting a bit too much MTV for my taste lately though.

  24. Is this guy relevant enough for anyone to give a shit on his thoughts on anything?

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