Song Lyrics Analysis: You Know You’re Right by Nirvana

Time for another installment of Song Lyrics Analysis where I discuss the meanings of certain songs. Today, I’d like to talk about You Know You’re Right by Nirvana. For reference, here it is on YouTube:

Here are the lyrics:

I will never bother you
I will never promise to
I will never follow you
I will never bother you
Never speak a word again
I will crawl away for good

I will move away from here
You won’t be afraid of fear
No thought was put into this
I always knew it would come to this
Things have never been so swell
I have never failed to feel [fail]

Pain [x3]
You know you’re right [x3]

I’m so warm and calm inside
I no longer have to hide
Let’s [There’s] talk about someone else
Steaming soup begins to melt
Nothing really bothers her
She just wants to love herself

I will move away from here
You won’t be afraid of fear
No thought was put into this
I always knew to come like this
Things have never been so swell
I have never failed to fail [feel]

Pain [x5]
You know you’re right [x12]
You know your rights
You know you’re right
You know your rights
You know your rights
You know your rights

Listening to it, you probably think you hear “failed to fail,” but I think the first time he says it, he’s saying “feel” with an accent that makes it sounds like “fail” as a homophone double entendre. Pretty clever. Then I’d say the second time he’s saying failed to fail.

Like I’ve said before, there are as many interpretations of an item of art as there are interpreters, and even the artist may not claim to have the only valid interpretation. That said, it would be nice if the song lyricist would publish their lyrics to give us a head start to understand their intent. This song has lots of mis-hearings because Cobain sings the lyrics rather ambiguously. Fail vs feel and steaming soup against her mouth vs sterling silver begins to melt vs steaming soup begins to melt and right vs rite. It’s a mess.

Most people believe this is an anti-Courtney Love song because she is a total bitch who doesn’t ever think she’s wrong, and maybe he’s singing about how he is going to leave her, and she only loves herself anyway. (And maybe if he’d left her earlier, he would be alive today.)

But all good lyrics, poems, scriptures have multiple levels of meaning. Another way to interpret this song is Cobain is singing to his drugs (again)- specifically heroin. In Spanish, heroin is feminine (la heroína), so nothing really bothers heroin. Heroin just wants to love herself. Heroin tar is the soup that melts on the spoon before getting sucked up into the “gun” for injection. With little thought he’s thinking about leaving heroin use- but he’s not going to promise.

He experiences pain because of his heroin use, but also he experiences pain in withdrawal.

In the middle of the song he goes back to heroin use (feeling all calm and warm inside, soup melting). Then he says he’s leaving heroin and the cyle starts over.

But also, the song could be the heroin singing to Kurt. Still works.

You know your right is the toughest lyric to jive with the heroin interpretation. I’m guessing that it’s just a call-out to the punk band The Clash and their song “Know your Rights.”

Song Lyrics Analysis: Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen

I’m introducing a new category to my posts: Song Lyric Analysis.

With any single work of art, there could be as many interpretations of that art as there are interpreters. So I recognize that my analysis of song lyrics is not the definitive, end-of-discussion interpretation. I would argue that even the music artists’ intention when writing it and/or their statements about its meaning are not the only valid interpretation either.

So with that acknowledgment, let’s talk about Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

There are some ideas proposed in this article:

  • It’s about Freddie Mercury being gay.
  • It’s about Freddie’s affair with someone.
  • It’s meaning is unknowable. Freddie never talked about it.

I don’t accept any of those- too inconsistent with the entire work, and I philosophically am opposed to the idea that it’s unknowable. I concede something could be completely non-sense, but I assume Freddie Mercury was trying to be coherent and convey a theme or thesis.

This article says it’s about death, which is closer to my interpretation.

My cultural and religious upbringing discounted reincarnation- so much so that it wasn’t even discussed. But then I opened my mind to the concept of reincarnation, and ever since I’ve felt a bit of despair about it. How is doing a mind wipe every time I reincarnate EVER going to allow my soul to leave this earth life system? Who is in control of that process? Is it voluntary? Is earth life a school or a prison? Is my soul just eternally board and playing a game?

But since acknowledging reincarnation, I’ve been seeing it in art and popular culture everywhere, and I propose that Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody is ALL ABOUT feeling trapped in endless reincarnation.
Before you read the lyrics, note some interesting definitions:

  • Bohemian: a person who has informal and unconventional social habits, especially an artist or writer.
  • scaramouch: Scaramuccia (literally “little skirmisher”), also known as Scaramouche or Scaramouch, is a stock clown character of the Italian commedia dell’arte. The role combined characteristics of the zanni (servant) and the Capitano.
  • fandango: a lively Spanish dance for two people…a foolish or useless act or thing.
  • Bismillah: Arabic: بسم الله‎‎ “In the name of God” or “In the name of Allah”) is the first word in the Quran and the incipit (the shortened form) of the basmala, a name for the Quran’s opening phrase in Arabic, bismillāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm (“In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the most Merciful”).
  • Galileo- another name for a christ or savior (h/t to this article again).

Now let’s review the lyrics, and as you read them, think about the author being endlessly reincarnated in a soul trap:

“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide
No escape from reality
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see
I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy
Because I’m easy come, easy go
A little high, little low
Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me, to me

Mama, just killed a man
Put a gun against his head
Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead
Mama, life had just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away
Mama, ooo
Didn’t mean to make you cry
If I’m not back again this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters

Too late, my time has come
Sends shivers down my spine
Body’s aching all the time
Goodbye everybody I’ve got to go
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth
Mama, ooo (anyway the wind blows)
I don’t want to die
I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all

I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the fandango
Thunderbolt and lightning very very frightening me
Gallileo, Gallileo,
Gallileo, Gallileo,
Gallileo Figaro – magnifico

But I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me
He’s just a poor boy from a poor family
Spare him his life from this monstrosity
Easy come easy go will you let me go
Bismillah! No we will not let you go – let him go
Bismillah! We will not let you go – let him go
Bismillah! We will not let you go let me go
Will not let you go let me go (never)
Never let you go let me go
Never let me go ooo
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me
For me
For me

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye
So you think you can love me and leave me to die
Oh baby, can’t do this to me baby
Just gotta get out just gotta get right outta here

Ooh yeah, ooh yeah
Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters nothing really matters to me

Anyway the wind blows”

I think by Beelzebub he is referring to the demiurge that apparently runs things and tricks us into staying here.

“Nothing really matters” when you’ll just be reincarnated forever. It sounds like Freddy Mercury is resigned to just go along with the program instead if escaping. “Any way the wind blows” is an attitude that could have brought him here in the first place: boredom or adventure.