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Song Guide: Lithium by Nirvana

Page history last edited by jb2410@... 15 years, 10 months ago

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Lithium by Nirvana



Single Cover


Lesson Overview


This lesson plan looks at the song “Lithium” by Nirvana and encourages the students to consider the representation, language, production, and intended audience relating to this song and the emotionally turbulent issues it confronts.  The lesson is intended to open up a safe space for participants to share their inner subjective experiences, and learn more about ordinarily taboo psychiatric topics.


In this lesson, students will grapple with the themes of loneliness and alienation, as the different wasys of experiencing and reacting to emotional pain.


As a result of examining this song, the popular narrative around Kurt Cobain’s suicide

“Lithium” by Nirvana, and a recent popular television commercial for a blockbuster anti-psychotic, students should develop a greater fluency in critical analysis of media messages, and especially the power of framing.




Song: Lithium

Album: Nevermind

Time: 4:17



I'm so happy 'cause today
I've found my friends ...
They're in my head
I'm so ugly, but that's okay, 'cause so are you ...
We've broken our mirrors (Alt: We broke our mirrors)
Sunday morning is everyday for all I care ...
And I'm not scared
Light my candles, in a daze
'Cause I've found god
Hey, hey hey [x6]

I'm so lonely, but that's okay, I shaved my head ... And I'm not sad And just maybe I'm to blame for all I've heard ... But I'm not sure I'm so excited, I can't wait to meet you there ... But I don't care I'm so horny, but that's okay ... My will is good Hey, hey hey [x6]

I like it - I'm not gonna crack
I miss you - I'm not gonna crack
I love you - I'm not gonna crack
I killed you - I'm not gonna crack

I'm so happy 'cause today I've found my friends ... They're in my head I'm so ugly, but that's okay, 'cause so are you ... We've broken our mirrors (Alt: We broke our mirrors) Sunday morning is everyday for all I care ... And I'm not scared Light my candles in a daze ... 'Cause I've found god Hey, hey hey [x6]

[x2] I like it - I'm not gonna crack I miss you - I'm not gonna crack I love you - I'm not gonna crack I killed you - I'm not gonna crack




Band Biography


Nirvana (Kurt Cobain - guitar/vocals, Krust Novoselic - bass/vocals, and Dave Grohl – drums) was a Seattle-based alternative rock band who released their first album, Bleach in 1989. Their 1991 release of the the album Nevermind topped the billboard charts and transformed the landscape of popular music, introducing “grunge” to the mainstream, and reinvigorated popular music with a healthy dose of raw sincerity and authenticity. The media referred to Cobain as the “spokesman of a generation” and the “flagship band of Generation X.”  While the group disbanded after Kurt’s untimely death, their music continues to be incredibly popular and influential.


Song History


 “Lithium” was the third single off of Nevermind released in 1992 and peaking the billboard charts in the US at 16. In the Nevermind press kit, Cobain said this about the song: "People who are secluded for so long go insane, and as a last resort they often use religion to keep alive. In the song, the guy's lost his girl and his friends and he's brooding. He's decided to find God before he kills himself. It's hard for me to understand the need for a vice like that, but I can appreciate it too. People need vices."   


Kurt Cobain’s Tragic Death


Kurt Cobain struggled throughout his life with alienation and loneliness. Though never publicly diagnosed with bipolar, his behavior was consistent with typical experiences characteristic of this condition. He struggled with alcohol and heroin addiction, likely in an effort to alleviate his psychological suffering. On Friday, April 8, 1994 Kurt Cobain’s body was discovered, killed by an apparently self-inflicted shotgun wound. 




Grunge – “A subgenre of alternative rock that emerged during the mid-1980s in the American state of Washington, particularly in the Seattle area.area. Inspired by hardcore punk, heavy metal and indie rock, grunge is generally characterized by heavily distorted electric guitars, contrasting song dynamics, and apathetic or angst-filled lyrics.” (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grunge_music)


Lithium: A mood stabilizer, typically prescribed to people diagnosed with Manic-Depression (Bi-Polar)


Light my Candles: Candles are often used to assist contemplative meditation, as a means for relaxing and focusing attention.


Crack: A slang term for a psychological crisis.


Literary Terms













Song Questions


1.    What is the overall mood of this song? Is the mood set by the lyrics consistent with the musical mood? Is it consistent with the single cover art?


2.    What emotions does Cobain convey in this song? How does the narrator in this song deal with pain?


3.    Do you think this song expresses Kurt Cobain's sincere personal feelings, or are the lyrics fictional?


4.    Who do you think the 'you' in this song refers to?


5.    What does the narrator mean when he sings “we've broken our mirrors”?


6.    Why does the narrator shave their head?


7.    If every day felt like Sunday Morning, would you be happy or sad? Why?


8.    “Lithium” has many lines which indicate the narrator is feeling confused –List two lines in this song which indicate contradictory emotions. Why do you think the narrator is so distraught?


9.    Are there any lines in the song that you think might have a double meaning? Why?


10.    Is your interpretation of this song influenced by the fact that Kurt Cobain committed suicide 3 years after it was released? How?


11.    Cobain’s suicide was widely reported by the media as a direct consequence of his heroin addiction. Why do you think the media chose to focus on drug addition as the causal narrative for Cobain’s suicide, instead of using the opportunity to education the mainstream public about depression and mood disorders?


Video Activity


Please watch this commercial for the Anti-Psychotic Abilify (aripiprazole), a drug being prescribed widely to children diagnosed with bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, and behavioral problems.


Abilify Commercial


Abilify Commercial: Unedited


YouTube plugin error  





1.    What kinds of people (age, gender, class, etc) do you think this advertisement is targeting?


2.    Are there ever situations where it is appropriate to feel very happy or very sad? List three of each.


3.    Do you have any friends or relatives who take psychiatric medications? Are they open about their diagnosis? Do you think their medication helps them function better?


4.    Do you think that psychological diversity is something to be ashamed about?


5.    What disorders has the FDA approved Abilify to treat? Have its long term effects been tested on children?


6.    What are some of the side effects of taking Abilify?


7.    There is something very ironic about this commercial. What is it, and why is it ironic?



Follow up Activities


 Find and clip depictions of mental illness and psycosis in popular media (fiims like One Flew Over the Cokoos Nest, 12 Monkeys, many movies in the horror genre). Post your clips to youtube and tag them ‘mediamadness’


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