When the surviving members of Nirvana hinted that Joan Jett would join them for the band’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last night (10) via a photo on Instagram, the internet jumped on the news that she would fill in for the late Kurt Cobain like lions on red meat.
But it turns out that by throwing fans and press that little snack to nibble on, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear were able to pull off something much more impressive: a Nirvana set featuring not only Jett, but Lorde, St. Vincent, and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. Furthermore, they were able to keep the last three names a complete secret until they took that stage last night. Each person was picked for a deliberate reason that made perfect sense without exploiting the occasion.
And it turned out to be an evening that I bet Cobain would have loved. In one short set (and in a later secret show at a Brooklyn’s St Vitus club), Nirvana accomplished so many things:
*They paid homage to Cobain’s vision of a world where female musicians were given as much credibility as male artists
*By including Lorde, they showed that Nirvana’s music speaks for the current generation as much as for the Gen X’ers. Not only that, but Lorde has an individual style that is all her own, just as Cobain had, and is an artist that is deliberately inclusive without pandering to current trends.
*With the inclusion of Gordon, Nirvana highlighted a women who served as an influence on the band, as well as a contemporary. There's very fun footage of them together at the Reading Festival in 1991, and their connection is a long-lived one.
*Like Gordon, Jett influenced the members of Nirvana, has become very close to Grohl, and produced an album by The Germs, Smear’s early band.
Lorde performed “All Apologies,” St. Vincent “Lithium,” Jett “Smells Like Teen Spirit, “and Gordon, “Aneurysm”: each song perfectly matched to the performer. In the videos below, it’s clear that each performer put her own stamp on the song, while still honoring the original’s intent (Gordon comes in around the 7-minute mark in her video).
In almost any other situation, it would be easy to dismiss the use of women singers as gimmicky, but, in hindsight, it seems like the most obvious and smartest decision possible in this case.
In various interviews, Cobain made it clear time and again that he preferred the company of women, identified closely with what it felt like to feel like an outsider—whether because you were female or gay —and was ardently pro-female. Most famously, as Charles Cross noted in his book, “Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain,” in the liner notes for “Incesticide,” he delivered a decree to grunge fans: “If any of you, in any way, hate homosexuals, people of a different color, or women, please do this one favor for us—leave us the fuck alone. Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”
As Cross points out in an excellent essay for The Advocate, Nirvana played anti-rape and gay rights benefits. After “In Utero” was released, Cobain told Spin, he hoped the album “inspire[d] women to pick up guitars, and start bands — because it’s the only future of rock ’n’ roll.”
Nirvana’s selection of guests last night were spot on, though it might have been fun to see someone even a little more daring, like Peaches, play with them. Otherwise, it’s hard to think of a better way for Grohl and Novoselic to have honored Nirvana’s past and its future.