In April of 1992, Nirvana had topped Billboard, scored a platinum record, appeared on the cover of SPIN, and were being held without bail for instigating some sorta slouchy, shruggy, shouty sea-change in American popular culture. But, as legend has it, frontman Kurt Cobain didn’t actually realize he’d “made it” until Yankovic lovingly satirized their biggest hit. In Yankovic’s hands, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became “Smells Like Nirvana,” a song about the hilarious reality that the supposed voice of a generation was actually impossible to understand beyond a groaned bargle nawdle zouss. Yankovic seizing the moment was not only fortuitous for Nirvana, but Weird Al experienced one of the biggest of many “comebacks,” scoring his biggest chart hit since “Eat It,” and ultimately retaining his jester’s throne for another 20 years and counting (all recently documented in the coffee table tome Weird Al: The Book). The whole “Nirvana” ordeal was even dramatized in the 19th season of The Simpsons, when Homer’s grunge band Sadgasm got a Weird Al parody of their own.
“Weird Al” Yankovic: It was hard on my vocal chords. In the studio, oftentimes I’ll be singing for eight to 12 hours a day. And when you’re doing a song like “Smells Like Nirvana,” that’s a lot of screaming. Try screaming for 12 hours and see where that gets you. It’s tough on the vocal chords. I do have a memory of there actually being cookies in my mouth when I did the “bargle nawdle zouss,” unintelligible-mumble thing. I wish I could remember the brand. Some kind of Hawaiian Fig Newton, some kind of weird, off-brand exotic cookie.
Jay Levey, manager and video director: With the “Nirvana” video, all the stars aligned. We were able to track down and book the same soundstage. The soundstage, in essence, is four bare walls, so you could be in any soundstage and not know it was the one. But from a karmic standpoint, it was pretty heavy to be in the exact same place where they shot theirs. The vast majority of the fans in the bleachers were from the original Nirvana video. And the janitor, of course, was also the original janitor. I don’t know that he even knew a thing about Nirvana. I believe he was a real janitor.
Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, drums: Skating legend Tony Hawk was one of the kids in there.
Levey: Who knew at the time, right?
Yankovic: We got a couple of the same cheerleaders.
Levey: [Securing those details] was nothing more than talking to the folks who produced the Nirvana video. They were totally helpful because they knew that Kurt was on board. I will say with the extras, it was really quite poignant and moving in a way because those kids had a deep, deep connection with Kurt and with Nirvana. The seismic waves that Kurt and that band had created in pop culture, and in music, can’t begin to be understated. Their vulnerability and their hesitation was palpable in the room, but they knew that Kurt was on board with this.
Yankovic: Dick Van Patten was an 11th-hour addition. We wanted a random celebrity, and on the day of the shoot, we were like, “Does anyone know a random celebrity?” And someone knew Dick Van Patten.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum will unveil a new exhibit highlighting the 2014 Inductees and air the 2014 Induction Ceremony on HBO on Saturday, May 31. Honored this year are Peter Gabriel, Daryl Hall and John Oates, KISS, Nirvana, Linda Ronstadt, Cat Stevens, the E Street Band, Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldham.
Included in the exhibit:
• Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein’s diaries
• Contracts and other documents related to Andrew Loog Oldham’s management of the Rolling Stones
• Clothing and instruments from the E Street Band, including the tenor saxophone played by Clarence Clemons on the Born the Run album and the guitar played by Steven Van Zandt in the “Glory Days” video.
• A Peter Gabriel costume prop worn at the 1993 Grammy Awards
• Cape and boots worn by Peter Criss of KISS during publicity events and photo sessions while promoting KISS’ Dynasty tour.
• Clothing and various items from Nirvana, including a Dave Grohl handwritten setlist, a Kurt Cobain handwritten note, and a Kurt Cobain knit cap and cardigan sweater.
• A jacket worn by Linda Ronstadt on the cover of her 1978 album Back In the U.S.A.
• The guitar Cat Stevens played during his performance at the 2014 Induction Ceremony
• Guitars from Daryl Hall and John Oates.
The 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will air on HBO on Saturday, May 31 at 8pm ET/PT. Held at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York on April 10, this year’s ceremony featured appearances by Chris Martin, Glenn Frey, Michael Stipe, Questlove, Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Lorde, Kim Gordon, St. Vincent, Joan Jett, Peter Asher, Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris, Tom Morello and Sheryl Crow.
The 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee exhibit will remain open through 2014.
Pitchfork: Did it make sense to you that Lorde and St. Vincent were there singing in Nirvana?
CL: Not at first. Initially, I thought it was sexist, and a little bit ghettoizing. But then I was like, “No, Kurt would have loved this.” And there’s reality to it. Apparently, no high profile dudes wanted to do it. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I mean, I don’t know where Lorde is going. I like the St. Vincent girl a lot—I looked at some of her YouTubes and I like her look, her attitude, her whole thing. She was pretty cool, especially for being as nervous as she probably was. But I am telling you—the Kim Gordon moment was so punk. Kim gave the punkest performance, the one that Kurt would’ve approved of the most. It was the punkest thing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has ever seen. I was really proud of that.
She came out wearing a striped mini-dress and did this total panty-roll on the floor. She rocked it. It was totally flat. I swear to god, I was watching [Rolling Stone and Rock Hall founder] Jann Wenner’s table, and their jaws were on the floor, because everything had been so in-tune all night. [laughs] It was truly a celebration of the spirit of what was subversive about In Utero and [Steve] Albini, and what remains punk about Nirvana. Me and Kim, we’re not BFFs, but I was getting my hair done recently, and my hairdresser said, “Kim Gordon was asking how you were, she said to tell you hi.” I was like, “Really? We don’t really talk, but tell her hi.” So we’ve kind of made peace through our hairdresser.
I went to the afterparty and, at that point, I was emotionally drained. There were people in the room who have stolen vast amounts of money from me. I couldn’t have given a shit; I just let it go. Grohl said something good while skirting around the issue of us slamming each other for 20 years: It was just our way of dealing with the carnage we had to deal with. Someone suggested we go into the press room and hug it out, but I was like, “What? Nooo.” We hugged privately. We didn’t whore it out. It was genuine. I had this long speech, which I worked my ass off on, and then I saw it on the teleprompter, and was just like, “Don’t even bother, just get this over with and bury the hatchet.” It wasn’t going to make great television, in terms of oration. I’m not getting a TED Talk because of a Hall of Fame speech, trust me.
Krist Novoselic bought a Nirvana bass-tabs book ahead of the band’s 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction so that he could relearn his parts. The Washington resident talked toRolling Stone for their piece about the big night on April 10, when Novoselic, Dave Grohl, and Pat Smear played the grunge gods’ classics fronted by Joan Jett, Kim Gordon, St. Vincent, and Lorde.
“I picked up a Nirvana tab book a week before to relearn my parts,” said Novoselic, “but we weren’t up to speed at first. But then it started to flow and it got better and better. Then it hit me and I got kind of somber. I was like, ‘Oh my God. I’m playing these songs again.’”
Grohl weighed in as well on the experience of returning to material they’d left behind two decades previous: “I haven’t played those drum parts since I was 25. I’m 45 now. We played for 10 fucking hours each day. After the first night of rehearsals, I limped home, had two glasses of wine, three Advil, took a hot shower and slept for 10 fucking hours. That’s a coma for me, because I never sleep.”
Nirvana were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last night at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, and along with Courtney Love and Dave Grohl sharing a stage, Michael Stipe did the induction speech.
Michael Stipe: Good evening. I’m Michael Stipe and I’m here to induct Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
When an artists offers an idea, a perspective, it helps us all to see who we are. And it wakes up, and it pushes us forward towards our collective and individual potential. It makes us — each of us — able to see who we are more clearly. It’s progression and progressive movement. It’s the future staring us down in the present and saying, “C’mon, let’s get on with it. Here we are. Now.”
I embrace the use of the word “artist” rather than “musician” because the band Nirvana were artists in every sense of the word. It is the highest calling for an artist, as well as the greatest possible privilege to capture a moment, to find the zeitgeist, to expose our struggles, our aspirations, our desires. To embrace and define a period of time. That is my definition of an artist.
Nirvana captured lightning in a bottle. And now, per the dictionary — off the Internet — in defining “lightning in a bottle” as, “Capturing something powerful and elusive, and then being able to hold it and show it to the world.”
Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl were Nirvana. The legacy and the power of their defining moment has become, for us, indelible. Like my band, R.E.M., Nirvana came from a most unlikely place. Not a cultural city-center like London, San Francisco, Los Angeles or even New York — or Brooklyn — but from Aberdeen, Washington in the Pacific Northwest, a largely blue-collar town just outside of Seattle.
Krist Novoselic said Nirvana came out of the American hardcore scene of the 1980s — this was a true underground. It was punk rock, where the many bands or musical styles were eclectic. We were a product of a community of youth looking for a connection away from the mainstream. The community built structures outside of the corporate, governmental sphere, independent and decentralized. Media connected through the copy machine, a decade before the Internet, as we know it, came to be. This was social networking in the face.
Dave Grohl said, “We were drop-outs, making minimum wage, listening to vinyl, emulating our heroes — Ian MacKaye, Little Richard — getting high, sleeping in vans, never expecting the world to notice.”
Solo artists almost have it easier than bands — bands are not easy. You find yourself in a group of people who rub each other the wrong way and exactly the right way. And you have chemistry, zeitgeist, lightning in a bottle and a collective voice to help pinpoint a moment, to help understand what it is that we’re going through. You see this is about community and pushing ourselves. Nirvana tapped into a voice that was yearning to be heard.
Keep in mind the times: This was the late Eighties, early Nineties. America, the idea of a hopeful, democratic country, had been practically dismantled by Iran-Contra, by AIDS, by the Reagan/Bush Sr. administrations.
But with their music, their attitude, their voice, by acknowledging the political machinations of petty but broad-reaching, political arguments, movements and positions that had held us culturally back, Nirvana blasted through all that with crystalline, nuclear rage and fury. Nirvana were kicking against the system, bringing complete disdain for the music industry and their definition of corporate, mainstream America, to show a sweet and beautiful — but fed-up — fury, coupled with howling vulnerability.
Lyrically exposing our frailty, our frustrations, our shortcomings. Singing of retreat and acceptance over triumphs of an outsider community with such immense possibility, stymied or ignored, but not held down or held back by the stupidity and political pettiness of the times. They spoke truth, and a lot of people listened.
They picked up the mantle in that particular battle, but they were singular, and loud, and melodic, and deeply original. And that voice. That voice. Kurt, we miss you. I miss you.
Nirvana defined a moment, a movement for outsiders: for the fags; for the fat girls; for the broken toys; the shy nerds; the Goth kids from Tennessee and Kentucky; for the rockers and the awkward; for the fed-up; the too-smart kids and the bullied. We were a community, a generation — in Nirvana’s case, several generations — in the echo chamber of that collective howl, and Allen Ginsberg would have been very proud, here.
That moment and that voice reverberated into music and film, politics, a worldview, poetry, fashion, art, spiritualism, the beginning of the Internet and so many fields in so many ways in our lives. This is not just pop music — this is something much greater than that.
These are a few artists who rub each other the wrong way, and exactly the right way, at the right time: Nirvana. It is my honor to call to the stage Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl.
Dave Grohl: Thank you very much.
I was the quiet one in Nirvana. I was the drummer. But most of you don’t know that I was the fifth drummer of Nirvana. For whatever reason, I got to be the luckiest person in the world and also be in Nirvana.
But I have to give credit to all of the other drummers that came before me: Aaron Burckhard, thank you very much. Dale Crover, from the Melvins, who is my absolute drumming hero. Chad Channing, who was the drummer for Nirvana. Chad, where are you? I know that you’re here somewhere. Isn’t Chad here somewhere? Chad’s around here, isn’t he? [points at camera] Are you over there? Hey, Chad! So, here’s the thing — guess what Chad’s responsible for? If you listen to a song like “In Bloom” [imitates opening of "In Bloom"], that’s Chad. When I joined the band, I had the honor of playing Chad’s parts, so Chad, thank you very much for allowing me to play your drum parts; I appreciate that very, very much. Dan Peters, from Mudhoney, who got to play one show with Nirvana — thank you, Danny.
But there’s a lot of people that made this possible, people that you might not know, people that I grew up with in Springfield, Virginia. Like Michael said … [reacts to people from Springfield] Really? You could afford the train?
We came from this underground punk rock scene where there really were no awards or ceremonies or trophies — it was all about doing it for real, and the reward was doing it right and doing it for real and sharing the community of music. Helping other musicians and inspiring people. And so I got really lucky to grow up in the Washington D.C. punk rock scene where I was inspired by all these amazing people; too many to list. But everyone from Chris Page to Ralph to Dave Smith to Reuben Radding to Peter Stahl and Franz Stahl and Skeeter Thompson; all the people that I ever played music with — Barrett Jones — I have to thank all of you because I wouldn’t be here.
I’m also lucky that when we first started out, we didn’t know anything about business — we were in a fucking van, buying corn dogs from t-shirts that we had sold. We were lucky that we found a manager named John Silva and we met an accountant named Lee Johnson. And I’m happy to say that I’ve never, ever strayed from those two people in my life. It’s been 25 years! I mean, it’s a long list of people and I’m going to forget most of them.
Most of all, I have to thank my family because I was lucky enough to grow up in a musical family and in an environment that encouraged music. Parents that never told me not to listen to fucking Slayer, you know what I mean? I listened to some really, really fucked-up shit! But my parents never told me not to, because I was finding myself. So Mom — thanks. Thanks for letting me drop out of high school [laughs, points at trophy]. Kids, stay in school, don’t do drugs — it’s a bad idea.
I have to thank my beautiful wife, Jordyn, and my two daughters, who I hope grow up to inspire people just like every musician I grew up inspired by. Because I think that’s the deal — you look up to your heroes and you shouldn’t be intimidated by them; you should be inspired by them. Don’t look up at the poster on your wall and think, “Fuck, I can never do that.” Look at the poster on your wall and think, “Fuck, I’m going to do that!”
Dave Grohl and Courtney Love hug at the 29th Annual Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
Larry Busacca/Getty Images
Krist Novoselic: Thank you Michael, for that great introduction, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I want to thank all of the Nirvana fans: Nirvana fans walk up to me every day and say, “Thank you for the music.” And when I hear that, it reminds me of Kurt Cobain.
I want to say thank you to Kurt Cobain, and I wish Kurt was here tonight, OK? And that music means so much to so many people, and there’s new generations and new fans coming up, and it’s really powerful. Kurt was an intense artist and he really connected with a lot of people.
With Nirvana, we started in Aberdeen, Washington — in Washington state — and we had a infrastructure there to support us. It was a music community. I want to thank Sub Pop Records; the music community in Seattle, in Washington State. I want to thank Buzz Osborne — thank you, Buzz, for joining us in punk rock music. I want to thank Jack Endino, who recorded our first record. Steve Albini and Butch Vig. Thank you Susan Silver for introducing us to the music industry properly. And thank you all again.
Wendy Cobain: I’m probably going to cry. I’m already crying because he’d be so proud — he’d say he wasn’t — but he would be. I just miss him so much. He was such an angel. Thank you.
Courtney Love: You know, I have a big speech, but I’m not gonna say it. This is my family I’m looking at right now — all of you. Brother Michael, Brother Krist, Grandma Wendy, Mr. Grohl. David!
And that’s it. I just wish that Kurt was here to feel this and be this. Twenty years ago, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame maybe wasn’t — but tonight, he would have really appreciated it. He would’ve appreciated Krist and Dave and Michael and his mother and his sisters being here. And I just want to give this to Francis, our daughter, who’s not here because she’s ill. That’s it —that’s all I have to say. Thank you so very much.
With Dave Grohl behind the drums, Krist Novoselic on bass, Pat Smear on guitar, and Joan Jett standing in for the late Kurt Cobain, playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nirvana’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will be one to be remembered. Jett was followed by Kim Gordon for “Aneurysm,” and then, St. Vincent’s Annie Clark followed with “Lithium.” And finally, Lorde joined the band for a rendition of “All Apologies.”
This photo, posted on Nirvana’s Facebook page shows Dave Grohl’s DW drums, Pat Smear’s Nirvana-era Fender Stratocaster and Krist Novoselic’s signature Gibson RD bass next to Joan Jett’s famous Gibson Melody Maker. There’s no comment from the group on the photo.
Does that mean Joan is fronting the band for Nirvana’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction this week?
This week marks the 20th anniversary of Kurt Contain’s death, and the photo of his arrest has again made the rounds, this time, with the incorrect wording at the bottom of the photo. As a teenager, Kurt Coain befriended a homosexual student at school, and suffered bullying from heterosexual students who concluded that Cobain was gay. In an interview he said that he liked having the identity of being gay because he did not like people and when they thought he was gay they left him alone. Kurt stated, “I started being really proud of the fact that I was gay even though I wasn’t”. His friend tried to kiss him and Kurt backed away and told his friend he was not gay but would still be friends with him. In a 1993 interview with The Advocate, Cobain claimed that he was “gay in spirit” and “probably could be bisexual.” He also stated that he used to spray paint “God Is Gay” on pickup trucks in the Aberdeen area. Aberdeen police records show that Cobain was arrested for spray painting the phrase “Ain’t got no how watchamacallit” on other vehicles. One of his personal journals states, “I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes.”