Gatsby's Favorite Nirvana Song

Thomas Calder

Nov 05, 2013

So I grew up idolizing Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Now at twenty-eight years of age, I'm wrapping up the latest draft of a novel I've been working on over the last two and a half years. And what does this novel deal (at least in part) with? You ready for this? A dude who grew up idolizing Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Fiction writers! How do they come up with their shit? As a teenager, I also fell in love with literature. Some of my favorite books growing up--books that have stuck with me very much like Nirvana--include The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, The Sun Also Rises and Catch-22. I thought it'd be fun to merge the two. To imagine what Nirvana songs some of my favorite literary characters would be into. Gatsby & "Heart-Shaped Box"
Perhaps my favorite character in all of literature, and certainly one of my top three favorite Nirvana songs, I can imagine Jay Gatsby finding "Heart-Shaped Box" relatable. Daisy Buchanan becomes the Pisces who eyes him when he is weak. And certainly Gatsby feels he's been locked inside her heart-shaped box (for years, not weeks). The music itself captures the range of Gatsby's emotions. The song's calm verse plays throughout his evenings' contemplations on the lawn, arms stretched out toward the green light. The song's chorus, in all its infinite rage, forever blasting itself inside the hotel room (as well as inside Gatsby's own head), when Daisy is unable to tell Tom Buchanan she never loved him. Yes, I can picture Gatsby enjoying a nice mid-afternoon swim, with "Heart-Shaped Box" set to repeat--the final chorus in play, just as George Wilson shows up. Holden Caulfield & "Serve the Servants" The first lines of this song would win Holden over: "Teenage angst has paid off well/Now I'm bored and old." Of course, in this version of things, Holden himself is old. Perhaps back in New York, after inheriting his parents' pad. He drinks his whiskey and plays the tune, enjoying Cobain's lamentations against the phony rock critics: "Self-appointed judges judge/more than they have sold." He shakes his head. Points at his iPod. Tells his nephew (whose name is also Holden, because Phoebe felt bad) that this song is the shit. His nephew nods a sincere nod. His sincerity excites Holden, who sits up and leans forward in his lazy chair. He eyes his nephew. Smiles, when he recognizes their shared sensibility. He then asks the boy what he himself is still dying to know: where do the ducks go during the winter? Jake Barnes & "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle" Old Barney primarily relates to this song's chorus. Alone in his Paris apartment, drinking a variety of drinks and thinking only of Lady Brett Ashley, he sings along with the chorus' repeated line: "I miss the comfort in being sad." Afterwards he pours himself a shot of absinthe, considers the line one last time and figures: isn't it pretty to think so? Lady Brett Ashley & "Drain You" In response to hearing that Jake Barnes is still living alone, listening to Nirvana's "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle," Lady Brett Ashley discovers her own favorite number by the band: "Drain You." She relates to the song's opening lines: One baby to another says I'm lucky to have met you I don't care what you think unless it is about me It is now my duty to completely drain you As the song comes to an end, Lady Brett Ashley downs the last of her champagne. Drunk, she decides to hit the clubs. See who she might find at bal musette. Yossarian & "Very Ape"
The energy of this song, along with some of its lyrics seems fitting for Yossarian--a man buried deep in contradionary flies. Maybe it's a stretch, but I can see Yossarian viewing himself as both very ape and very nice, as far as his antics go for getting out of the war. I also imagine that he sees other people in his life reflected in the song (perhaps Major Major Major Major in relation to the lyrics, "If you ever need anything please don't/hesitate and ask someone else first"). Lastly, every time the number of flights gets raised and every time Yossarian is unable to find his escape, I picture him projecting his future in the song's chorus: Out of the ground Into the sky Out of the sky Into the dirt But of course, we all know: Yossarian lives!