Monday, January 16, 2012

"Been A Son" - Nirvana

The Nirvana deep cut "Been A Son" is one of the power trio's buried gems. It's a short, taut, punky tune that I believe stands as one of the great feminist anthems in popular music. Kurt Cobain was notoriously sensitive as a youth, blond and slightly-built and bullied, with a tormented home life. Being targeted as "effeminate" seems to have given him a kind of visceral identification with females (think of "Polly""Rape Me", and "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle"). There is a cutting, even chilling quality to his evocation in "Been A Son" of the burdens and oppressions imposed on girls and women:

She should have had stayed away from friends
She should have had more time to spend
She should have died when she was born
She should have worn the crown of thorns.

She should have been a son
She should have been a son
She should have been a son
She should have been a son

She should have stood out in the crowd
She should have made her mother proud
She should have fallen on her stance
She should have had another chance.

She should have been a son
She should have been a son
She should have been a son
She should have been a son

The acerbic irony of the lyrics, combined with the nursery-rhyme repetitions and melodic lilt, makes this a promising choice for feminist-themed activism. As with a couple of our other anthems (see "Shaking the Tree" and "They Dance Alone"), the fact that a man is singing in empathy and solidarity with women may make "Been A Son" an attractive selection when men show up to support their sisters. Sing it for Kurt too, may he rest in peace.

Here's the studio version of "Been A Son," featured on the Incesticide album of previously-unreleased songs and outtakes (1992). It was recorded during the same UK Maida Vale sessions in 1991 that produced the blistering "Aneurysm", and finds the band in tight, no-nonsense form after the release of their game-changing Nevermind:

Kurt's 1990 acoustic demo for the song, from the With the Lights Out compilation (2004):

The best-known live version of "Been A Son" is from the Reading Festival in the UK (1992):

Other Resources

Original version available on Nirvana, Incesticide (1992), track 4.

Full lyrics here (though I basically just posted them).

"Kurt Cobain's Interrogation of Hegemonic Masculinity", an article by Cortney.

An interesting, jug-bluesy cover of "Been A Son" by Manic Street Preachers:

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