In an excerpt from his new autobiography, Sonic Youth legend (and close confidant of Cobain), Thurston Moore, recalls that Kurt had a completely different (and sadly prophetic) name for the record:
“We [Sonic Youth] played one last concert (before a much-needed three-month break) at Seattle’s Paramount theatre. The entire Seattle and Olympia scene, including Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, showed up. I asked Kurt how the new Nirvana album session they had just recorded was sounding, and he responded confidently.
Really, really good.” “You got a title?” “Yeah,” he said, and with droll perversity added: “I Hate Myself and I Want to Die.”
I paused for a second, thinking he was joking, but he seemed like he had made his mind up. I laughed. “That’s a fucking awesome title. The album was ultimately titled a little less brazenly as In Utero.”
Apparently, it was Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic who later convinced Kurt that the title was too controversial and that the band might end up getting sued. In response, Cobain reportedly changed the album’s title to Verse Chorus Verse. In the end, Verse Chorus Verse clearly didn’t stick, and In Utero it was.
In a 1993 piece with Rolling Stone, Cobain actually commented on the title, swearing at the time that it was meant as a joke:
“As literal as a joke can be. Nothing more than a joke. And that had a bit to do with why we decided to take it off. We knew people wouldn’t get it; they’d take it too seriously. It was totally satirical, making fun of ourselves. I’m thought of as this pissy, complaining, freaked–out schizophrenic who wants to kill himself all the time. “He isn’t satisfied with anything.”
And I thought it was a funny title. I wanted it to be the title of the album for a long time. But I knew the majority of the people wouldn’t understand it.”
When pressed by the interviewer if he suffered from suicidal thoughts, regardless, Cobain gave an honest response:
“For five years during the time I had my stomach problem, yeah. I wanted to kill myself every day. I came very close many times. I’m sorry to be so blunt about it. It was to the point where I was on tour, lying on the floor, vomiting air because I couldn’t hold down water. And then I had to play a show in 20 minutes. I would sing and cough up blood. This is no way to live a life. I love to play music, but something was not right. So I decided to medicate myself.”
Cobain of course did get his way, somewhat, as Nirvana did have a release with the ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’ title- a track that made it on the Beavis and Butt-Head Experience compilation album in 1993.