Product Misplacement: How Kurt Cobain Wrote “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

By  · Published on January 23rd, 2017

Short of the Day

History told in animated form.

In the 20+ years since his untimely death, singer-songwriter-guitarist-Nirvana-frontman Kurt Cobain has been called everything from the voice of a generation to the godfather of 21st century rock n roll. While these are in fact debatable, what isn’t is our tendency to mythologize dead celebrities, especially those who became famous not because they wanted to, but because we wanted them to be after sampling their creative wares. In reality, Cobain was not some bombastic persona singing from his soapbox, he was a mild, quiet, introverted, typical-creative type more at home in his own head than he was in the world that wanted to worship him. He wasn’t some brooding wordsmith hunched over a desk wrestling his lyrics from the ether, he was a young, charmingly-reckless street poet who wrote songs the same way he lived life: as it came to him.

Case in point, the story behind Cobain and Nirvana’s breakthrough and most famous song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which receives an animated retelling in the following short film “Drawn and Recorded: Smells Like Teen Spirit” from director Drew Christie who wrote the film with Bill Flanagan and got Oscar-winning songwriter T. Bone Burnett to narrate.

In just under three minutes the history of “Teen Spirit” unfurls and spoiler: it involves a copious amount of Canadian Club, two-thirds of Bikini Kill, and a dash of willful ignorance.

Behind every great work of art there is the mundane story of how it came to be, which sounds pejorative but should be taken as hopeful and inspiring: from the smallest, most chance things can come the most life-altering epiphanies.

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