Kurt Cobain described this song as "About people, and what they're expected to act like." The lyrics are intentionally contradictory and confusing, with one line rebutting the next:
"As a friend, as an old enemy"
"Take your time, hurry up"
The chords in this song are a slowed down replica of Killing Joke's 1985 song "Eighties." The songs were so similar that Nirvana considered holding off releasing this as a single. Killing Joke decided not to sue Nirvana, and in 1992, Dave Grohl helped them out by playing drums for them on an album. (thanks, Jacq - Sydney, Australia)
In this song, Cobain sings over and over, "I don't have a gun." Less than three years after the song was released, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. This was an eerie turn of events, but it's unlikely that Cobain had suicide on his mind when he wrote the lyrics. The gun could be a reference to a time when Cobain's mother got mad at her husband (Kurt's stepfather) and threw his guns in a river. Cobain says he recovered some of them, sold them, and used the money to buy his first guitar when he was 15.
The lyrics, "Come doused in mud, soaked in bleach" were taken from a campaign in Seattle that encouraged heroin users to soak their needles in bleach after injecting to reduce the risk of spreading HIV. The phrase for the campaign was actually "If doused in mud, soak in bleach." The lyrics as used by Cobain could be about tolerating everyone no matter what they look like - black people being the "mud" and white people being the "bleach." (thanks, Heron - Toronto, Canada and Pat - Selkirk, United States)
Nirvana producer Butch Vig says that this is one of his favorites from the album. He says that Cobain used the same effects pedal on his guitar that he used on "Smells Like Teen Spirit
" to produce the "trippy, psychedelic, watery effect." Vig told NPR: "I think that song is about acceptance, and about misfits. You're cool no matter how screwed up you are. 'Come As You Are' is an ode to accepting someone for who they are."
Nirvana almost named the album "Sheep," a reference to people who follow the herd.
The line, "Take your time, hurry up, the choice is yours, don't be late" is referenced in blink-182's "Adam's Song" when they sing, "I took my time, I hurried up, the choice was mine I didn't think enough."
The cover of Nevermind shows a baby underwater reaching for a dollar bill attached to a fishhook. This symbolizes that you're taught to go after money from the moment you're born. Cobain got the idea for the image when he was watching a TV story on underwater birth.
One interpretation of this song is that it's about heroin:
"Come doused in mud, served in bleach, as I want you to be" - Drugs are cut with all kinds of rubbish.
"As a friend, as a trend, as a known enemy" - Drugs can make you feel good, like a friend. There's a trend with them, but they are bad (thus, "as a known enemy.")
"Well I swear that I don't have a gun" - A gun could mean a syringe. Cobain also mentions a gun in 'Smells Like Teen Spirit
"Load up on guns, bring your friends its fun to lose and to pretend" - Losing could mean giving in to drugs, and feeling high is to pretend. (thanks, james - melbourne, Australia)
In Cobain's hometown of Aberdeen, Washington, they put up a road sign after his death that read "Come As You Are." (thanks, Jonathon - Clermont, FL)
This was one of the songs the group chose to adapt for their MTV Unplugged in New York album, recorded months before Cobain's death.