Song meaning[edit | edit source]
Of all the festering complaints and settling of scores that the songs on Bleach give voice to, 'School’ is the one that most powerfully makes its point with the scantiest of lyrics. No story is told, no indictment read - the meaning is made clear through the singer's repeated cries of "No recess." It's the angry but unsurprised yell of someone who's been ripped off, but who expects no less from the powers that be - the cry of someone who takes an almost masochistic satisfaction in the fact that the one little bearable piece of a nearly unbearable situation has been, predictably, snatched away.
Although 'School' undoubtedly exorcised some lingering high school demons, the song was actually written about Seattle and, to some extent, about Sub Pop. For a while these inspiration were made explicitly clear in the song's working title - 'The Seattle Scene'. Cobain's complaint was that, having escaped the soul-sapping confines of Aberdeen for the supposed freedoms of Seattle, he perceived the same kind of cliquishness, snobbery and social politics among the city's music-scene makers that had made high school such a nightmare for him. All the work to escape and here he was, for all intents and purposes, stuck in school again.
By most accounts, actual school-time was never enjoyable for Kurt. Typical junior high school report card comments tagged him as a "restless, bored and uncooperative" student. At Aberdeen High School, Cobain made a half-hearted go of it for a while, barely getting by as spent his days in class either slumbering or eyeing instructors with murderous contempt. His one refuge was in art classes, where he could occasionally put some of his talents to enjoyable use. By eleventh grade, time at school was spent mainly at a smokers' shed in the school grounds. During senior year, with his class's graduation looming in the not-too-distant future, Cobain considered applying himself to a schedule of remedial courses in order to catch up. But with nearly two years of courses to make up in less than six month, Cobain called it quits. He wasn't a part of his high school class when it graduated in June of 1985 - he had dropped out a few weeks before.
Socially, Cobain didn't fare much better than he did scholastically. He had sensed early on in his schoolyard life that it was not going to be easy for him to "get along with each others." He felt like a misfit, and was frequently treated like one by shifting squads of bullies and jocks. Not that Cobain had very much desire to fit in with the prevailing cliques at Aberdeen High. Clearly he wanted no part of the jock crowd, but his other options seemed pretty much limited to groups of hopelessly uninformed nerds and hopelessly disengaged stoners. Cobain drifted through both groups without making any strong connections or friendships.
It was at the smokers' shed where at least one important friendship finally did begin to take shape - with a punk-rock loving drummer named Dale Crover , who had recently begun playing with the Melvins. Melvins rehearsals became the one place where Cobain not only felt accepted, but also saw a social group he wanted to be a part of. Guitarist Osborne, bassist Matt Lukin - a longtime Cobain acquaintance - and drummer Crover responded by taking Cobain under their wing and giving him a "punk" education. At Aberdeen High, Kurt was also aware of one person who looked like he might be somebody worth knowing - a gangly goofball named Krist Novoselic . But their friendship would not begin in earnest until school was just an unpleasant memory to be kicked about in a howling tune.