What else should I be?

Nirvana were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Brooklyn, NY, on 10 April. This Hall of Fame malarkey doesn’t typically interest me a great deal (Americans seem to have halls of fame for just about everything – there’s probably a Hall of Fame Hall of Fame tucked away in Poughkeepsie – it just doesn’t cross the Atlantic particularly well), but Nirvana’s induction was a noteworthy one.

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Groups become eligible 25 years after their first album or single release, so with ‘Love Buzz’ being released on Sub Pop at the end of 1988, this made 2014 the first year in which Nirvana could be inducted. It’s hard to think of more deserving entrants at the first opportunity. It meant the ceremony fell perilously close to the 20th anniversary of Cobain’s suicide, but mercifully what in some hands could have passed off as a mawkish hawking of backlist became a memorable and fitting tribute to him.

The principal reason for this lay in how the remaining members of the band tackled the central problem facing them: how to perform the songs without Cobain, songs they hadn’t played together since 1994. The solution was obvious: guest singers; but it was the thoughtfulness of their selection that made the evening so memorable.

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Having been turned down by some male rock singers (I’m itching to know who), the band asked four female rock singers, from across the generations, each to give their own take on a song: Joan Jett, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’; Kim Gordon, ‘Aneurysm’; Annie Clark, ‘Lithium’; and Lorde, ‘All Apologies’. Each singer maintains the essential Nirvana-ness of their song whilst introducing bags of her own identity. These aren’t slavish covers; rather, vibrant reinterpretations. And by choosing the four collectively, the band were both making a statement and avoiding the performance being no more than a eulogy.*

Back in the 80s, Jett had been an inspiration to many women struggling to make a career in a horrendously chauvinistic rock business, and Nirvana had supported Gordon’s band, the über-cool Sonic Youth, in Europe in 1991. Gordon’s, err, singing might not be everyone’s cup of (pennyroyal) tea but it catches the vibe of song perfectly. Someone commented that Cobain would have been delighted that Gordon sang Aneurysm at the event; guessing what people would have liked is a tricky business, but it’s hard to disagree with that one.

Annie Clark (off of St Vincent) and Lorde (off of Lorde) I must confess to not knowing much about, beyond Lorde being ridiculously young, a Kiwi and in possession of a pink suit – though I saw a poster for St Vincent on the tube yesterday – but they reflect Nirvana’s enduring and wide-ranging influence, even at the poppier end of things. Cobain knew how to write a half-decent melody.

It’s funny (and poignant) seeing Grohl and Novoselic playing together again as a rhythm section twenty years on. Grohl was hitting the drums as hard as he ever did. And Smear still wears his guitar with more effortless cool than just about anyone.

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If you want to read a bit more about how it all went off, including the 19-song after-party gig at Saint Vitus Bar, here’s the recent Rolling Stone article about it, including interviews with Grohl and Novoselic.

*Dave Grohl and Courtney Love are reported to have kissed and made up at the ceremony. So that’s all jolly good news then. Am sure they’re now friends for life. Wonder if they asked her to perform one of the songs…

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About Mark Anstee

guitarist, Radio Seattle View all posts by Mark Anstee

Share, if it makes you sleep, if it sets you free, if it helps you breathe…

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