The Sexist

Date Rape Anthem: Nirvana’s “Rape Me”

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In nearly a year of chronicling songs about rape here on the Sexist, I've yet to profile one of the most well-known songs about rape. Or is it about rape? Either way, this track name-checks the word "rape"  about a bajillion times:

Date Rape Anthem: Nirvana's "Rape Me"


Relevant Lyrics: Let's take a look at all of them, shall we?

Rape me / Rape me, my friend
Rape me / Rape me again

I'm not the only one  (x4)

Hate me / Do it and do it again
Waste me / Rape me, my friend

I'm not the only one (x4)

My favorite inside source
I'll kiss your open sores
I appreciate your concern
You're gonna stink and burn

Rape me / Rape me, my friend
Rape me / Rape me, again

I'm not the only one (x4)

Rape me! (x a lot)

So, What Do We Do With This One: Is "Rape Me" a Randian invitation to rough sex? The cry of a demoralized rock star who felt he had been "raped" by a backstabbing media source? Or a revenge anthem about a rapist getting raped himself? Fans are torn (OK, nobody believes the Ayn Rand thing).

Official sources claim that it is a song about rape—at least on a literal level. According to Wikipedia, Kurt Cobain unpacked the song in Spin Magazine in 1993: "It's like she's saying, 'Rape me, go ahead, rape me, beat me. You'll never kill me. I'll survive this and I'm gonna fucking rape you one of these days and you won't even know it."

Tori Amos provided a similar interpretation of the song to New Musical Express in 1994. "I spoke publicly about that because I thought it was very clear what it was about. It was like 'Go on, hit me! Rape me! You cross this line, motherfucker, and I'll kill you...you'll never break my spirit.' It's a defiant song. But the scariest thing to a rape victim are the words 'rape me'. When I first heard it I broke out in a cold sweat, but when you get over that you realize he's turning it back on people."

So, is it a song about the horrors of rape? Or is it rather about how Cobain's experience with the media is really a lot like the horrors of rape? One of these things is not like the other . . .

Comments

  1. #1

    Huh. I grew up in Seattle and was a huge Nirvana fan, and I have some memory of "Rape Me" being about the Bosnian war -- maybe because Nirvana played it at various benefits for war survivors? I always interpreted it to be strongly anti-rape, and purposely kind of shocking, since the word "rape" just doesn't get used out loud all that much (especially not in the first person, especially not from a man). And Cobain, for all of his faults, was very progressive and feminist.

    That said? I still find the song disturbing and don't really listen to it, no matter what its intent.

  2. #2

    I somehow never got the whole anti-rape sentiment in this song. Though Curt Cobain was a feminist, this song creeped me out the first (co-incidentally the last) time I heard this song. I intend to keep it that way ;)

    ~ Jaded16

  3. #3

    It's kinda like Mad Men, where they showcase all the misogyny of the early 60s and the whole damn point of the show is to let us know how awful things used to be, but still, it creeps me out because I suspect that on a subconscious level, the producers are reveling in all that sexism.
    So the song "Rape Me" is good in intent, not so good in execution, I guess?

  4. #4

    I'd tend to agree with both his and Tori's analysis of the lyrics. It's a definance, it's a show of strength.

    Kurt was a self described feminist, probably due to his time associating with the Riot Grrl scene over in Olympia (as evidence by dating Tobi Vail?), and his noodling in supporting feminism was actually pretty well documented both live and through interviews. (i.e. Nirvana the Biography by Everett True...)

    The way I see it: It's not condoning rape. Period. Not a date rape anthem, if anything, the complete opposite. It correctly identifies that more often than not it's a 'friend', that they probably have done it before... and tries to harness the anger and the rage...

  5. #5

    I always thought he was ridiculing the idea that women ask to be raped. But at the very least, he certainly wasn't condoning it.

  6. #6

    "The cry of a demoralized rock star who felt he had been “raped” by a backstabbing media source?"

    This is the explanation I always went with. I never saw it as something condoning rape -- that would go against everything we're led to believe Kurt stood for. However, the casually use of the word "rape" never sat well with me, and figuring he went for shock value, I mostly wrote the song off as rock star angst. I'd never seen the Spin quote until now, so color me surprised.

  7. #7

    I've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this song. I tend to subscribe to the Tori Amos view of it. In part this is probably because I can remember screaming the lyrics drunkenly at my abusive ex when I finally left him for good.

  8. #8

    I am actually surprised by Cobain's interview.

    I always assumed that the song will actually about some dark, nihilistic desire to be raped in a literal or metaphoric sense. Listening to the song without outside commentary, I'm not sure there is much in the lyrics or content of the that indicates this more empowering meaning, and it certainly is not the approach that I or many of my friends took to the song.

  9. #9

    Way late, but my understanding is that "Polly" and "Rape Me" are both about this one news story Kobain had read in which a man (whose last name happened to be Friend) abducted a woman (whose first name happened to be Polly) and tortured and raped her. Polly managed to escape by acting as though she liked what Friend was doing to her, gaining his trust so she could catch him off his guard and run away. "Polly" is Friend's perspective and "Rape Me" is Polly's perspective of the same event.
    Both songs are about Polly's will to survive and the mental adjustments she had to make to convince Friend to untie her.

  10. #10

    And it's actually not about date rape. It's about scary stranger jumping out and dragging you back to his torture chamber rape.

  11. #11

    I thought it was about someone pretending to be your friend so they can exploit you.

  12. #12

    I always took it as being about molestation. The trauma. The sexual confusion it causes. And this is confronting it. Thats how I personally interpreted the lyrics. All of Nirvana's songs are open to interpretation. Thats just how they're written.

    I DO NOT believe that Cobain would have written a song about the media. That doesn't fit. Possibly for Fecal Matter but not Nirvana.

  13. #13

    (If Wikipedia is reliable in this instance) Cobain could have attached that meaning to it after having written the song. His lyrics were most often vague and simple.

  14. #14

    The guy was f'ing drug addict. He probably didn't even know why the hell he wrote it.

    It is certainly NOT an anti-rape song. There is nothing in the lyrics to suggest otherwise. People should stop adding their own positive interpretation to this song. It was and is a stupid little song that would long be forgotten if the word rape wasn't in it. Pure sensationalism.

  15. #15

    "Way late, but my understanding is that “Polly” and “Rape Me” are both about this one news story Kobain had read in which a man (whose last name happened to be Friend) abducted a woman (whose first name happened to be Polly) and tortured and raped her. Polly managed to escape by acting as though she liked what Friend was doing to her, gaining his trust so she could catch him off his guard and run away. “Polly” is Friend’s perspective and “Rape Me” is Polly’s perspective of the same event.
    Both songs are about Polly’s will to survive and the mental adjustments she had to make to convince Friend to untie her."

    Specious reasoning there. Firstly, he's not going to use the real name of the girl. Secondly, I doubt he's going to have two songs about the same incident, it doesn't fit his lyricism.

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