Nirvana’s Negative Creep: Angst-ridden ranting or minimalist neo-Marxist socioanalytical rumination?
This time we’re examining Nirvana’s Negative Creep. On the surface, Negative Creep appears to be a lamentably repetitive song about being a stoned outcast, but beneath the thin veneer it is really a complex riff on the neo-Freudian underpinnings of sociological intrafamilial hierarchies, and the way in which sex can be weaponised to reinforce or undermine the status quo of society and class boundaries.
The song’s main theme explores the Freudian incestuous possessiveness, power struggles, and sociodynamics of in-group/out-group psychodynastic delusions. Which is to say, that this song is about shagging a bird whose dad doesn’t like you.
The illusion that most men labour under is that they’re building or propagating a dynasty. The sheer egotism of which is hilarious. There’s something respectable to be said for planting trees for a future which one will never see, but while planting trees for the future is laudable, the framing reveals the shallow self-indulgence of the motive. The odds are that you are not an Egyptian Pharoah. You don’t have an aristocratic noble lineage. You are not special. It’s important to note that, neither are they – but at least they could convince themselves and other people that their delusions were, in fact, reality, by throwing up a pyramid or whatever. All of which suggests that we’d probably be better off if we left those grandiose self-conceptions to the historically inbred classes. Which, in turn is ironic as it leads us nicely back around to the notion of the fatherly possessiveness of daughters and so on.
“I’m a negative creep”
If we see the song as a struggle between a father figure and a youth figure, then we can extrapolate that this proclamation is an echo of a criticism from the father figure. The father figure can be read as the archetypical personification of a broader societal idealisation, the ‘high status’ 1980s male. The idealised American societal figure is a big city winner with the house in the suburbs, 2.5 bored kids, a dog, white picket fence, and an alcoholic wife sleeping with the postman after he leaves work. All those oft-quoted statistics that give economists throbbing erections. Here, it is taken in and repossessed, the insult is displaced, and the vector of attack becomes a source of pride, in the same way that ‘gay’ was reclaimed by homosexual people, turning it from a slur into an acknowledgement of identity and thus social strength.
“Daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more”
Translation: “Lolololol, I nutted in your daughter, mate, do one.” (Pro tip: You get an extra ten points if you do it, sans condom, in her parents’ bed.)
Do I also detect a bit of class war in this statement? This social transgression does not just undermine the authority of the father figure in the family, but also the self-given fatherly position of the aristocracy in society. ‘Daddy’s little girl’ could be read as being inherently associated with a high social class – an upbringing of privilege, wealth, and often naive or spoiled as a result.
The protagonist is insinuated to be of a lower socioeconomic background. It can be interpreted, in this case, that his shagging the daughter upends not only the father’s possession of her sexuality, and thus a transfer of value outside of the family, but of the broader social stratification implied by this transgressive sex. The value in this case is not merely transferred outside of the family, but across class divisions.
Much as self-ascribed authority figures would love to convince you that violence is only ever allowed to flow down the chain, so too would old money prefer that sex never flow down the chain. When it becomes apparent that both sex and violence can very easily and effectively flow back up the chain – and how periodic demonstrations of this fact are of utmost necessity for the health of the general populace (though, never the two shall combine) – the propagators of said notion become very agitated. But we’re becoming side-tracked.
We may not ‘keep it in the family’ anymore, but the idea that nobody fucks down, is (despite the questionable popular source) still present in the realm of psychosocial status.
“This is out of our reach, and it’s grown”
This is simply a description of the growing connection between the low-class narrator and the upper-class girl, elucidating the central tension point of the song. It serves as an admission that the arc of their connection is beyond their rationality, is outside of the control of the father figure, and thus has escaped societal mores in as well. The disapproval of the architects of the social framework is valueless, impotent, and holds no power.
“I’m a negative creep and I’m stoned”
A reiteration and an addition to the criticisms, with a twist. The narrator is both a negative creep and into drugs – two pillars of mainstream antisocial stereotypes in 1980s America – all he’d need to do is throw in socialism and he’d be the posterchild for the Reaganite vision of an antichrist. He embodies the corrupting influence of reefer madness and the red scare commies infiltrating universities and business, through distorted sonic invocations. The kind of thing Fox News is still frothing at the mouth about 40+ years later. An infiltration of the tower, merging it with the square, to the horror of the aristocracy.
“This is out of our range and it’s crude”
This line is referring to the fear that the father has of this outsider infiltrating his family unit, and thereby the elite fear of socio-economic competition by allowing too many low-class people to climb the socioeconomic ladder and displace them. The established economic framework renders society as a zero-sum game, in which the rich must constantly suppress the poor, fearing that the peasants will depose the aristocracy if given half a chance.
The allusion calls to mind a lower-class individual sitting down to a meal with an upper-class group, not understanding which forks do what or what rituals and ceremonies might be typical in such a setting. These rituals happen across all groups in society, and here they are performed in order to perpetuate the psychosocial status-quo re-affirmation of the ingroup ego-model of the aristocracy as being inherently superior. In such a scenario, the lower-class individual likely botches their uncouth attempts at imitating the affectations of the upper classes. Even should the untrained outsider manage to perform them, they do so without fluidity or subtlety, and therefore appear more parodic than natural. Similarly, the idea is inverted in visions of the upper class attempting to ‘slum it’ with the lower classes, not understanding the ingroup social practices there, as examined in the cynical drawlings of Pulp’s ‘Common People’ or, for a non-class-based example, the blunt statements of Nails’ ‘You Will Never Be One of Us’.
“This is getting to be like drone”
Drone here is symbolic of a reflection of the incredibly repetitive nature of the song. Negative Creep is just shy of three minutes in length and features a grand total of roughly 40 separate words. In addition, most of these lines are simply ad-nauseum – in fact the line “Daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more” occurs about 24 times over the duration.
This reflects the notion of hearing the same things or having the same conversations, circling the same drain over and over again. This may even point to the idea that his own words are starting to sound like a drone, merging into a singular blanketing mass of sound. This parodies the oft-heard criticism of heavy music as ‘just noise’. This parody in and of itself in reference to the rebellious foundation of heavy music, a direct and overt rejection of the mainstream easy-access tunes of FM radio. Which ties back to the outcast figure vs ‘society’ (we live in one, etc etc) reflecting the main conflict in the song – the lover vs the father figure.
It also may reflect an endless repetition of the class struggle, with constant cyclical conflicts of low-class people shagging high class people and pissing off other high-class people by actively destabilising the established concept of what can and cannot be done, demonstrating that the social rules that are framed as being iron clad are evidently not. This penultimate proclamation sounds almost Marxist. Really, though, everyone is simply sick of hearing about everything.
“I’m a negative creep and I’m ‘aah”‘
Here, finally, is a psychosexualised auditory manifestation of orgasm, rebellion, and fear as explored throughout the song, all in one vocalisation from all parties involved – bringing the concepts together into a single sound that conveys their thematic links despite their seeming disconnected nature.
And that wraps things up. The next time a punk-laced grunge band seem to be yelling vaguely edgy things into a microphone, don’t write it off as monotonous angst-ridden discordance; understand it for the intellectual minimalism it probably is. But you’ll never be able to confirm. Because the vocalist goes home and ODs on heroin or eats a shotgun or whatever.