Nirvana’s “Polly” Lyrics Meaning

In “Polly”, Kurt Cobain sings from a first-person perspective and takes on the role of a convicted rapist named Gerald Friend. The narrative featured in the track is actually based on a real-life incident in which Friend kidnapped a 14-year old girl at a rock concert in 1987. He held her in captivity for a while, torturing and raping her, until she managed to escape. 

Cobain became privy of this story via the newspaper. And this is his own personal take on the events which transpired, again being relayed by him taking on the persona of the kidnapper.

The Lyrics of “Polly”

This song has logically raised the eyebrows of some listeners. From the onset it would appear that Kurt is mocking the victim of the aforementioned incident. Indeed the titular “Polly” is the name given to her throughout the song. And he begins by stating “Polly wants a cracker”. This phrase is actually a colloquial term which in its most-common usage refers to feeding a parrot.

Simply put, he is joking about her being hungry (Gerald Friend is said to have starved the girl while she was in his custody). But instead of feeding her he decides to “get off her first”, meaning to sexually gratify himself at her expense.

This conclusion can be verified by the next lines, in which he states “she wants some water to put out the blow torch”. When the girl was with Friend, one of the means he used to torture her was via blowtorch. And the tone of that particular line can definitely be read as if Kurt Cobain is mocking or making light of the situation. Moreover the second verse and the symbolism used throughout the chorus share a similar vulgar yet playful tone.

However, in the third verse the story flips. Now the singer is aware that “Polly” is “just as bored” as he is. So at some point, the joy the singer was deriving from the situation apparently started to wane down. Then much to his surprise she “caught (him) off guard” and ‘amazed’ him with “the will of instinct”. This likely alludes to the fact that in real life, Gerald Friend’s victim was able to escape his clutches, unexpectedly of course, while the two of them were at a gas station.

All in All

So all things considered, Cobain faithfully portrays what would have likely been Gerald Friend’s general frame of thought throughout the entire criminal ordeal. And considering that Friend has proven to be a sick, serial rapist, the lyrics of this song can be equally as disturbing to some listeners.

Lyrics to Nirvana's "Polly"

Kurt Cobain talks about “Polly”

According to Cobain, “Polly” is a song against rape.

Nirvana's Cobain explains "Polly"

Facts about “Polly”

Although the exact date of origin of “Polly” is unknown, it is known to have existed from at least since 1988.

Moreover earlier versions of the song were entitled “Hitchhiker” and then “Cracker”. And its initial recording was actually in 1989.

“Polly” was eventually officially released on 24 September 1991 by DGC Records as part of Nirvana’s second studio album, “Nevermind”.

On the official recording, Cobain used a worn-down, secondhand guitar which he claims he had purchased (via a pawn shop) for only $20.

“Polly” is an enduring favorite amongst fans of Nirvana. For instance, NME and Rolling Stone have respectively ranked in numbers 18 and 29 on top tracks lists they’ve compiled specifically of the band’s songs.

Moreover Nirvana itself has featured different versions of the song on a number albums they have released after “Nevermind”, including some that came out after Cobain took his own life in 1994.

The particular version of “Polly” which is featured on “Nevermind” was a recorded in April of 1990 in the studio of the track’s producer, Butch Vig.

And the song was written entirely by Kurt Cobain.

“Polly” marks the only appearance of drummer Chad Channing on the entirety “Nevermind”, as he and Nirvana amicably parted ways in 1990.

Reportedly two men raped a girl while singing “Polly” shortly after the song was released. However, Cobain dissed them and in fact has used the publicity this song has generated in general to speak out against rape.

Indeed Nirvana in general are known to support causes (i.e. concerts) which benefit rape victims.

Polly by Nirvana

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