When Nirvana gave Beavis and Butt-Head a controversially-titled song

It’s one of the strangest and darkest parts of the Nirvana legacy. The fact that the grunge gods even had a song called ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’ can be a bit shocking, and even a little upsetting, with decades of hindsight. Given the history of Nirvana, and specifically how the band ended, could this have been an omen? A sign of things to come?

The truth was that the title was a joke – a comment on Cobain’s public persona at the time. But fans understandably took it to mean something different after Cobain’s own suicide in 1994. ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’ was among the contenders for the title of what eventually became In Utero. In a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone, Cobain baulked at the idea that the title should be taken seriously, especially when asked if he meant it literally.

“As literal as a joke can be. Nothing more than a joke,” Cobain explained. “And that had a bit to do with why we decided to take it off. We knew people wouldn’t get it; they’d take it too seriously. It was totally satirical, making fun of ourselves. I’m thought of as this pissy, complaining, freaked-out schizophrenic who wants to kill himself all the time.”

“And I thought it was a funny title. I wanted it to be the title of the album for a long time,” Cobain insisted. “But I knew the majority of the people wouldn’t understand it.” Eventually, an unrelated song would be christened with that title, although it too would be left off the final mix of the album.

Despite its head-turning phrasing, ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’ doesn’t actually reflect any of the angst found in its title. Kicking off with a faint story from bassist Krist Novoselic about a painful pornographic movie scene, Cobain can even be heard laughing before the official take begins. A fairly standard In Utero era song follows, complete with buzzsaw guitars from Cobain and thunderous drums from Dave Grohl.

According to Charles R. Cross’ Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven, it was Novoselic who eventually convinced Cobain to abandon plans to name the album I Hate Myself and Want to Die. The song itself never says the title phrase. While it was meant to be a black comedy retort, Cobain did admit that the title came from a very real place.

“For five years during the time I had my stomach problem, yeah. I wanted to kill myself every day,” Cobain admitted. “I came very close many times. I’m sorry to be so blunt about it. It was to the point where I was on tour, lying on the floor, vomiting air because I couldn’t hold down water. And then I had to play a show in twenty minutes. I would sing and cough up blood.”

“This is no way to live a life. I love to play music, but something was not right. So I decided to medicate myself,” Cobain said. “Even as satire, though, a song like that can hit a nerve. There are plenty of kids out there who, for whatever reasons, really do feel suicidal. That pretty much defines our band. It’s both those contradictions. It’s satirical, and it’s serious at the same time.”

But even when Cobain was alive, it was decided that the song had no place on an official album. Instead, the band decided to give the song to a compilation album released as a tie-in with the MTV animated programme Beavis and Butt-Head. Nirvana had released the In Utero outtake ‘Sappy’ (under the title ‘Verse Chorus Verse’) on the charity compilation album No Alternative the previous month. ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’ was to become the B-side to the ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ single before its release was cancelled after Cobain’s death.

Check out the version of ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’ from The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience down below.

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