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#1
How to write lyrics like Kurt Cobain

Most aspiring songwriters admire Kurt Cobain's lyrical style. Many have tried and many have failed to write like him. So what did he do that was so brilliant that most people can't put their finger on? That's what I'm here to explain. After months of research and studying of his lyrics, I finally think I've reached nirvana on how to write lyrics like Nirvana.

1. Background to Kurt's Writing style

First of all, let's go over how Kurt came about writing his lyrics. Though it's hard to believe, he usually came up with the melody before the lyrics. For most people, writing this way makes the lyrics come out simple and bland. So, how did he avoid this? He took individual lines from poems he wrote and fit them into a song, thus creating the choppy style he is known for.

Another way to research his writing would be to read the Journals of Kurt Cobain. However, be aware before you buy the book that there are very few lyrics actually in the book, and those that are aren't the kind where he took lines from his poems, they're from when he wrote all the lyrics for a song at one time.

Another source to write like him is to listen to bands that influenced him, namely the Meat Puppets, the Vaselines, the Pixies and the Melvins. Of course, you should also listen to any and all songs by Nirvana.

All in all, I would suggest reading all of his lyrics to get a feel for how he wrote. NirvanaClub.com has all the lyrics conveniently located in one place, if you'd like to see them.

2. Writing Aspect #1: Sarcasm and Metaphors

A reason I have noticed that people do not like Nirvana is because they lack the sarcastic sense of humor that Kurt wrote with. For example, in "Rape Me" he obviously did not want somebody to rape him, but rather was using it as a metaphor (either to describe the way the media was "raping" him and Courtney, or to describe the justice in how rapists go to jail, and then get raped themselves, we'll never know for sure which). This shows the link between sarcasm and metaphors. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is a completely sarcastic view of high-school teens. Obviously, he didn't think things were less dangerous with the lights out.

So, how can you do this? I would recommend using obscure things as metaphors. For example, in "Drain You" he used babies to serve as a metaphor for love. At first, this may seem strange, but after reading the lyrics it's understandable. It also helps to write with a dry, sarcastic twist, but that takes time to develop.

3. Writing Aspect #2: Nonsense

A friend of Kurt's once said that even Kurt didn't know how much his lyrics really meant. At first sight of his lyrics, you might think they're complete nonsense, and that's probably how Kurt wrote them. However, they've been overanalyzed so much that they've turned into other things. These nonsense lines were also a part of Kurt's sense of humor. Examples of these lines include the chorus of "Milk It" (Doll steak! Test meat!), and the whole "tourette's" song (which is just a bunch of random lines he made up on the spot).

So, how can you do this? I'd suggest taking funny, random things that you can think of and writing them down. After you have a foundation for a song down, take out this sheet of paper with the nonsense written on it and pick out a few things that you can make loose connections with for a song. For example, you might use "Don't let the bed bugs bite!" as a chorus for a verse you wrote about a bad dream you keep having. They both have to do with sleeping right?

4. Writing Aspect #3: Cleverness & Puns

Many of Kurt's songs were based on clever or witty lines he'd come up with. For example "Territorial Pissings" is completely made of clever phrases. Other songs like this include "Heart-Shaped Box" ("Forever in debt to your priceless advice"), and "Dumb" ("I think I'm dumb, maybe just happy"), on top of many others. He also used many play-on-words in his songs. "Serve the Servants," "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," and "On a Plain" all have elements of both puns and clever lines.

So, how can you do this? It's a little hard to force, but any puns or clever lines you may think of or come across can become the basis of a song. Jot down anything you may come up with along these lines and see if it leads to any other things that can create a song.

5. Writing Aspect #4: Making Fun & Views of Society.

Kurt discreetly made fun of many things in his songs. "In Bloom" and "Very Ape" are both making fun of typical "macho-men." Again, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is making fun of teens. These also showed how he viewed society. Songs like "Been a Son" are a little more to the point but are still about issues in society.

So, how can you do this? These are easier; just write about how you feel about certain issues. If you can, try and make fun of these with a metaphor (like apes for macho-men).

6. Writing Aspect #5: Literature

One thing you may notice from his lyrics is that Kurt was a really smart guy. Even though he dropped out of high school, he still loaded up on literature. "Scentless Apprentice" was based on one of his favorite books ("Perfume" by Patrick Suskind). Also, if you read lyrics to a song like "About a Girl," you notice he takes a simple concept and uses really good words to describe it.

So, how can you do this? Read a lot. Reading makes you smarter, and that will allow you to write more sophisticated, intelligent lyrics.

7. Conclusion

Hopefully this was a guide to help you write better lyrics overall. You don't want to write lyrics that sound like Kurt Cobain wrote them, you want to write lyrics that have your own style. Good luck!

I'd also like to add that Kurt's lyrics are very much open to interpretation, so even with the research I did my analysis of lyrics may be wrong.

A special thanks to Tsunoyukami for contributing to this article.
#2
Or - drugs


Anyways, good article; though, I probably won't be using it...
#3
kurt sucks learn to write like Don Mclean or Roger Waters
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#5
I tried it, and my lyrics suck!
Didn't know he made Tourettes up on the spot though. That's neat
Originally Posted by jajp001
White man came (Cumming noise)
Across the sea (Wow!!!)
Brought us pain (Right in the eye, it was)
And misery ( Points to pregnant sister)
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#6
good article but i think he was 2 high 2 know wat he was on about most of the time!
#7
Normally I'm against invading threads like johnsonville did, preferring to leave idiots alone...

But seriously.
Here's my version:

TO WRITE LIKE KURT COBAIN:
Make up a bunch of angsty, whiney bull****.
Cut and paste the lines around until it makes little sense.
Whine a little more.
Put a big 'ol shotgun in your mouth and martyr yourself so people are too busy going 'LYK HE WUZ A GOD LOL RIP MNA' to realize how full of **** you are.
You know the bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar
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#8
this was kinda a pointless article
but im eating so good job
Quote by apocalypse13

Quote by Beckerism
I ain't ghetto foo! I's just keeping it real!

Keep it real man.
Click.
#9
When I think of great songwriters, Cobain isn't one of them. I think people got caught up in the image and the anti-hair band thing. If Nirvana came out in the mid or late 90s, towards the death of the grunge movement, they would've maybe been as popular as Stone Temple Pilots. IMO, Eddie Vedder writes better songs than Cobain did. And the fact that he sang like he was wasted didn't improve matters for me.
Hi, I'm Peter
#10
Quote by gunsnspaghetti
I tried it, and my lyrics suck!
Didn't know he made Tourettes up on the spot though. That's neat


Yeah, he didn't even know what he was saying on that. When they performed it live, he'd just shout out random stuff, like he had tourette's syndrome, that's how it got it's name.

And to everyone else who always feels the need to bash Kurt whenever they hear his name mentioned: I'm very sorry you feel that way and that you can't look at his music without taking his personal life into account.
#11
Quote by FadingRoots
Normally I'm against invading threads like johnsonville did, preferring to leave idiots alone...

But seriously.
Here's my version:

TO WRITE LIKE KURT COBAIN:
Make up a bunch of angsty, whiney bull****.
Cut and paste the lines around until it makes little sense.
Whine a little more.
Put a big 'ol shotgun in your mouth and martyr yourself so people are too busy going 'LYK HE WUZ A GOD LOL RIP MNA' to realize how full of **** you are.


Amen to that, I ****ing hate Kurt Cobain. I used Nirvana when I was stupid kid, and now I realise that Kurt writes ****ty lyrics and sings horribly. Nirvana=insult to musicians
#12
Quote by FadingRoots
Normally I'm against invading threads like johnsonville did, preferring to leave idiots alone...

But seriously.
Here's my version:

TO WRITE LIKE KURT COBAIN:
Make up a bunch of angsty, whiney bull****.
Cut and paste the lines around until it makes little sense.
Whine a little more.
Put a big 'ol shotgun in your mouth and martyr yourself so people are too busy going 'LYK HE WUZ A GOD LOL RIP MNA' to realize how full of **** you are.


You forgot "get loaded on heroin". And I think you need a little more whining in there.
#13
istn it weird that they always complain about kurt complaining in his lyrics
once you guys are superstars
yall can bash kurt
but for now
shut up
Quote by apocalypse13

Quote by Beckerism
I ain't ghetto foo! I's just keeping it real!

Keep it real man.
Click.
#14
I think this thread should be closed, it's stupid and pointless. Unless you can write a thread on how to write more meaninful, sophisticated lyrics, don't bother. I said it before and I'll say it again, KURT COBAIN SUCKS!!!!!!!!!
#15
Quote by hepzibahbaptist
istn it weird that they always complain about kurt complaining in his lyrics
once you guys are superstars
yall can bash kurt
but for now
shut up


IT GAVE BIRTH TO EMO!!!! If it wasn't for this douche bag, we wouldn't have these whiny eye-liner wearing faggots today. I can bash Kurt because I'm a better songwriter than him, my lyrics actually mean something, it's not a drug induced whine fest.
#16
well forgot about the emo part
nvm
i hate kurt cobain
lol
im officially bashing you now
EDIT:by you i mean kurt
Quote by apocalypse13

Quote by Beckerism
I ain't ghetto foo! I's just keeping it real!

Keep it real man.
Click.
#17
Quote by cockzit
IT GAVE BIRTH TO EMO!!!! If it wasn't for this douche bag, we wouldn't have these whiny eye-liner wearing faggots today. I can bash Kurt because I'm a better songwriter than him, my lyrics actually mean something, it's not a drug induced whine fest.


grunge did not give birth to emo
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#19
Quote by FadingRoots
Normally I'm against invading threads like johnsonville did, preferring to leave idiots alone...

But seriously.
Here's my version:

TO WRITE LIKE KURT COBAIN:
Make up a bunch of angsty, whiney bull****.
Cut and paste the lines around until it makes little sense.
Whine a little more.
Put a big 'ol shotgun in your mouth and martyr yourself so people are too busy going 'LYK HE WUZ A GOD LOL RIP MNA' to realize how full of **** you are.


Piss off wankshaft. Go hump your dad.
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#22
Again, you elistists on this site need to grow up. When you get big you can bash anyone you want to. Obviously you aren't doing the right things or you wouldn't be on this site you would be off signing autographs or doing commercials, or playing shows. Oh please, come and yell at me because music isn't about signing autographs and making commercials. Although that is true, doing music as a job is just as much about selling and giving the audience what it wants as it is doing it for yourself. You all just haven't realized it yet, or are too hard headed to accept it.
#23
Quote by frusciante_5
My question is - why would people want to write lyrics just like someone else?


The point is to write in the same style as he does, because many people like the style he writes with. I even said at the end that you should put your own twist on things, but this just gives you a direction to head if you want to write lyrics with the same feeling as his.
#24
Quote by cockzit
IT GAVE BIRTH TO EMO!!!! If it wasn't for this douche bag, we wouldn't have these whiny eye-liner wearing faggots today. I can bash Kurt because I'm a better songwriter than him, my lyrics actually mean something, it's not a drug induced whine fest.


Usually, I don't get involved in these bitchfests about how "Horrible Kurt Cobain" was, but...

If you blame Nirvana for Emo, than you must also blame everything that came before Nirvana and everything that came after. Before because bands before opened new doors for them to be allowed to do/say what they said. Also, Hair metal bands influenced Nirvana because of their excess/lack of care about music. After because although Nirvana inspired a lot of musicians, none of them had to be influenced by them, they chose to. Emo just happened to be created at this time. It would have happened anyway, at another time.
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#26
Quote by Johnsonville
kurt sucks learn to write like Don Mclean or Roger Waters


Yes, because kurt cobain was a folk singer and all
#27
thanks threadstarter. i was looking for this

anyone who doesnt like kurt or nirvana can just fuck off and dont post, how about that fuckers? the guy who thinks it started emo is an idiot and a no brainer fuck. i dont like that guy dimebag and i dont say anything about him. come on its music, its all about personal taste, dont be assholes. you can just fuck off if you just came here to say how much you think they suck. nirvana>you. end of story
#28
Quote by boredretard
thanks threadstarter. i was looking for this

anyone who doesnt like kurt or nirvana can just fuck off and dont post, how about that fuckers? the guy who thinks it started emo is an idiot and a no brainer fuck. i dont like that guy dimebag and i dont say anything about him. come on its music, its all about personal taste, dont be assholes. you can just fuck off if you just came here to say how much you think they suck. nirvana>you. end of story


#29
I'm not too fond of the idea, but if you will post it, my suggestion would be to combine sarcasm and making fun of society into one section on Satire and Sarcasm. I just think they would combine fairly easily.
#30
nice little article... i dont think it takes all that reasearch and/or thought , however, to know what cobain did.
an interview i watched has him saying about how its all garbage and bull**** he took from poems, and he often found himself having to come up with explanations.

he even admited that when he wrote Downer he was trying to be all punk rock and write a political song like everyone else, he said something like 'it really sucked and i didnt know what the **** i was doing or especially talking about'

im a big nirvana fan and it doesnt take much to know hes not a song writer...hes just a ****ty guitarist who wrote a lot of songs people liked and got caught up in drugs....oh well
#31
Quote by Dirk Gently
When I think of great songwriters, Cobain isn't one of them. I think people got caught up in the image and the anti-hair band thing. If Nirvana came out in the mid or late 90s, towards the death of the grunge movement, they would've maybe been as popular as Stone Temple Pilots. IMO, Eddie Vedder writes better songs than Cobain did. And the fact that he sang like he was wasted didn't improve matters for me.


that may just be you with a bad taste in music, yes i think so.
In/Rainbows
#33
Quote by Mr. 37
that may just be you with a bad taste in music, yes i think so.

And there was a reason to bring back a thread that's been dead for 2 months? And I was offering a rational opinion. If you don't like it, you can go play a nice game of hide and go fuck yourself. Don't impugn my taste in music just because you don't agree with my opinion.
Hi, I'm Peter
#34
Quote by Dirk Gently
And there was a reason to bring back a thread that's been dead for 2 months? And I was offering a rational opinion. If you don't like it, you can go play a nice game of hide and go fuck yourself. Don't impugn my taste in music just because you don't agree with my opinion.


ever heard of the sentense 'your wrong and i'm right', i think that would be suitable for me now.
In/Rainbows
#35
I'm sorry you were bashed so hard here Morgan ( ) I for one appreciate the time and effort you put into this {though I would respect you more if you didnt pwn me so hard } and I belive you should write some more, you gotta rather nice documentry style about you

(and I'm sorry to be bumping this right now but I figured it would be better now then say 2 months from now *shrugs*)
#36
jesus, the maturity!!!...
i thought it was a very awsome article.
all of you little children can go right ahead to sing about you college punk rock experiences.
if you'd listen to ummmm, anything! you might get a clue.

*cheers* for the thread rockon1824
...And The Nominees Are
#37
Kurt Cobain was a great songwriter but IMO his lyrics sucked. I think he was a good songwriter in the way of musical composition and structure, but lyricly I just am not a big fan of him. Overlooking that, however, why would we want to write like Kurt Cobain? Even if this article was called "How to Write Lyrics Like Bob Dylan" (master songwriter, both in musical composition and lyrics) I wouldn't like it. Why would I want to copy the style of someone else, no matter how good or bad?

Anyway, I think there are enough "HOW CAN I MAKE MY MUSIC/LYRICS ORIGINAL OMG I NEED HELP BAD" threads springing up in the Guitar/Bass Basics, Musician Talk, and Lyrics forums. Why should you fuel people on by teaching them how to plagarize a famous musician?
#38
hey...i saw this on musictalk.co.nr! almost like i put it there!
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#40
I have just a few things to say.
1. This is an artical about how to write in the same sor t of style as Kurt Cobain not how to write exactly like him.
2. This is not about weather or not Kurt was good at writing lyrics or songs.
3. Just because this is about how to write "Like Kurt Cobain" doesn't mean anyone will me for instance am influcened by Kurt's Lyrics I won't ever write like him I just want to learn from him.
4. I like Nirvana, and Kurt, I also don't think he commited suicide.
5. Stop winning about Emo bands being started by Nivana it's pathetic saying how much you hate Emo is pathetic in general. So stop blamming Nirvana for music you don't like. As I said that is not what this article is for.


Anyways I loved the article I think that I can reflect it in my music style so thanks.
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