Melissa Rawlins
June 05, 1992 AT 04:00 AM EDT

What is this song/All about?/Can’t figure any lyrics out,” complains ”Weird Al” Yankovic at the start of ”Smells Like Nirvana,” his surprise-hit parody of Nirvana’s surprise smash, ”Smells Like Teen Spirit.” ”Smells Like Nirvana” has definitely touched a nerve among people who get intoxicated by the raw energy of the original hit but have no idea what lead singer Kurt Cobain is actually saying. I know the feeling all too well. In fact, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time replaying the original — unable to decode the words or understand the meaning, wondering why I care, but burning to know what Cobain is screaming; and 5,000 listens later — give me a call, Al I have finally figured it out.

Yeah, I cheated, but never mind. Perfect knowledge came, not from Nirvana, but from sensitive singer-songwriter Tori Amos, who does a cover of ”Smells Like Teen Spirit” on a four-song EP that also includes covers of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. I heard her clearly articulated version of ”Smells Like Teen Spirit” — accompanied by gentle piano strains rather than the enormous bass-grunge that drowns out Cobain — on the radio, where it has become a hot commodity. ”Requests for Tori’s version are far and away higher than Nirvana’s version,” says Bob Waugh, music director at WHFS in Landover, Md. ”People were saying, ‘Oh, libido? That’s what they’re saying? Oh, denial! That’s what they meant!!”’

Listening to Amos, and then to Nirvana, I realized that no matter what Cobain’s words mean, the key to Nirvana’s success is the delivery. And a good thing, too, since I obviously would never have gotten it right on my own. Just check out what my naked ears heard, what spewed from Cobain’s lips, and the nonsense that Al came up with:

MY ”TEEN SPIRIT”
Now all punk girls
Bring your friends
It’s fun to lose and to pretend
She’s overbored and self-assured
I know, I know a dirty word

Hello (repeat 15 times)

Turn the lights out, this is dangerous
Here we are now, irritate us
This is stupid, it’s contagious
Here we are now, in retainers
Turn the light out, and the vinyl
A mosquito, how did we know? Yeah

I’m worse at what I can best
Afford this gift I feel is best
A little group the summer’s been
And always will until the end

And I forget just why I taste
So yuck, I guess it makes me smile.
I found it hard, it’s hard to find
Oh well, whatever, nevermind

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