Nirvana's 'Heart-Shaped Box' Is As Much an Ode to Astrology As It Is to Vagina

Illustration for article titled Nirvanas Heart-Shaped Box Is As Much an Ode to Astrology As It Is to Vagina
Image: Wellcome Collection

As the lyrics suggest—and Courtney Love has flat out stated—the Nirvana classic “Heart-Shaped Box” is about singer/songwriter Kurt Cobain being enthralled by Love’s vagina at the beginning of their star-crossed relationship. If one stands back and squints, the female reproductive organs are shaped like a heart, and “box” is common parlance for the area a child I once babysat for also nicknamed her “tater.” But upon giving a listen to Amber Mark’s beautiful cover of the song this morning, I realized that in addition to being a dithyramb on those first weeks of a relationship during which it is almost impossible to stop fucking, the song is also about the relationship dynamics of a Pisces and Cancer in love.

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The portion of the song dedicated to the tater has been readily apparent to me for quite some time, what with the “umbilical noose” hanging out of the heart-shaped box like a ladder and all, but the lyric “I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black,” has always perplexed me. Was there some sort of malignancy up there? A blight hidden inside the tater? Perhaps the “cancer” was a metaphor for the ways that the darkest parts of our personalities can intrude on relationships, souring the nonstop fucking part.

But on this listen, I was struck by the phrasing “She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak” and wondered, not for the first time, which pronoun the phrase “like a Pisces” is modifying. Is the speaker behaving “like a Pisces” in his weakness or is the subject giving him the sort of look a Pisces would give?

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I knew that Kurt Cobain was a Pisces because I am also a Pisces, and in typical last child of the zodiac fashion, I have only ever learned celebrities’ sun signs insofar as I can use them to justify my own sign being the best one. But today, for the very first time, it occurred to me to Google Courtney Love’s birthday. I’d always assumed she was a Leo, but lo and behold, Love is a Cancer, with a July 9 birthday. Suddenly, the line “I’ve been drawn into your magnetar pit trap” makes much more sense, as magnetars are “the most magnetic stars in the universe,” according to NASA, suggesting not only the attraction between the speaker and the addressee but also the star signs of the zodiac.

The song also follows, almost to the letter, the description of a romantic relationship between a Pisces and a Cancer laid out in Sextrology: The Astrology of Sex and the Sexes, which reads: “Cancer Woman + Pisces Man: They push each other’s buttons, though, with the best of intentions. An absorbing bond: He uncovers old burdens, healing in the process. Cancer opens up, too. Sex is an escape from stresses.”

In “Heart-Shaped Box,” the speaker keeps remembering new complaints and using the addressee’s “priceless advice” to resolve them, then crawling back up into her absorbing vagina, which is open, to escape. Also, the symbol for Cancer is a crab with its pincers up, which looks a bit yonic, implying that the line could be about eating tater in addition to referencing Love’s zodiac sign. So this song is solved. It’s about the menacing allure of a warm, pink box but also the irresistible pull of the stars.

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Pisces are the oldest child of the zodiac. Aries the youngest