“Floyd the Barber”

One of the major themes of Bleach is Cobain’s hometown of Aberdeen, WA.  The Aberdeen of his youth, the Aberdeen of his adolescence, and the Aberdeen he saw himself leaving in the very near future.  “School,” “Sifting,” “Swap Meet,” “Paper Cuts,” “Mr. Moustache”- these weren’t just songs that represented, in some small way, Cobain’s worldview- they represented, literally, a panorama of Cobain’s world.  A song like “Mr. Moustache” isn’t just a song about Cobain’s views on gender roles and mores, it’s also about how they existed to him as an… Aberdonian?

So this brings us to “Floyd the Barber.”  Of course this song exists as a sort of a grotesque allegory, drawing on the concepts and iconography of perfect, sunshiney Americana and pulls back the curtain to reveal the ugly side.  Not a particularly original idea, but this song does have one thing going for it where it’s organizing principle is concerned- it’s pretty funny.

This is the Rickey Henderson of Nirvana songs, wherein Cobain refers to himself in the third person (well, let’s be fair- he’s quoting Floyd).  “‘Hello Cobain, come on in.’/ Floyd observes my hairy chin.”  Pretty simple, direct.  There’s a playfulness there that, after around 1992, completely and utterly disappears from his lyrics.  I don’t think I need to explain why.

“Andy ties me to the chair/ I can’t see I’m really scared/ Floyd breathes hard I hear a zip/ Pee-pee pressed against my lip.”  Over the course of the song, many Andy Griffith Show characters are mentioned- Floyd of course, Andy, Opie, Aunt Bea.  Of course, the idea is that these people we feel like we know and relate to are actually, when left to their own devices, completely monstrous.  Like, for instance, taking a poor, unassuming guy looking for a shave, and strapping him to the barber’s chair and mouth raping him.

Again, it’s not complicated.  It is good for a laugh, but it isn’t particularly revealing in any way.  It is the first instance in Cobain’s lyrics of the rape/ violation trope, which he would revisit a few times.  “I was shamed,” coupled against Floyd erectile invasion, are examples of this.  Of course, in this instance it’s treated largely as a pitch-black joke, which is very common for punk rock lyrics of the time, specifically SST-based West Coast punk/ hardcore hybrid bands, which we know Cobain was listening to at the time- especially Black Flag.  The song is also another of a dying breed sort as far Cobain “song-types” may go- it is a coherent, fully fleshed out idea expressed in one song.  No diversions, obfuscation.  An idea expressed throughout.

As a final note on the lyrics, there appears to be some dissent on the internet as to the last line of the last verse- “I die smothered in [fill in blank].”  Now, I’d always thought it was “I die smothered in Andy’s clutch” (this is, of course, after the Mayberry gang have taken turns cutting Kurt up).  In verifying this, I’ve also read “Andy’s butt,” “Aunt Bea’s muff,” and, “…and he’s not,” which makes no sense and is almost certainly wrong.  I still think my recollection is most likely to be the actual line.

Musically, “Floyd the Barber” is a little boring.  The verse is the leaden stomping between F and E barre chords.  This is not the Nirvana of Pixies like-dynamics and finesse.  The is the Nirvana of My War era Black Flag, or Master of Reality era Black Sabbath.  Both of these bands and their respective “periods” are excellent, of course, and are at no fault for the relative lack of strength of this particular influence.  It just so happened that Nirvana’s strengths lay elsewhere.

The chorus is just as leaden, but like the aforementioned influences that spawned it, it’s pretty catchy.  The best part of the song is the bridge, which expands a bit on the two-chord line from the verse, kicking up the tempo a bit in the process.

For reasons unknown, “Floyd” was never a consistent presence in Nirvana’s setlists, particularly once their pool of material deepened.


~ by Timothy Rogan on December 28, 2008.

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