I’ve never understood how the Rock Hall of Fame operates; but anyway, by the time Nirvana was inducted in 2014, their singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain was twenty years dead. As the inducted band gets to play, this presented a problem for drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic.
Cobain’s shotgun suicide in 1994 caused as much corporate mayhem as he’d been so effective at generating during his life. But of course the corporations had done extremely well from his unexpected and massive success – which would continue posthumously.
Despite the commercial imperatives to find a Cobain replacement – were there to be such person – Nirvana hadn’t and couldn’t replace Cobain’s anarchic frontman presence. They found even rehearsing Cobain’s material too upsetting.
So Grohl had gone off to form Foo Fighters. Novoselic became a political activist. All this despite record company DCG having a new Nirvana album ready for release, along with a full-length MTV movie.
With further best-selling albums to follow, Grohl and Novoselic formed a company to handle all this with Cobain’s wife Courtney Love – who then tried to take over as Cobain’s next-of-kin. Grohl and Novoselic counter-sued – which in itself was a real bummer. There’d been serious ructions much earlier when Cobain had demanded all the songwriting royalties they’d previously shared equally between them. He’d been eventually paid 75%, a dispute that almost split the band.
So come 2014, with all this and more by way of dirty water under the Nirvana bridge, playing four Nirvana tunes for the Great and Good in Brooklyn wasn’t going to be easy.
Who could stand in for Cobain? The dreadful Axl Rose had stood in with AC/DC, and been chalked in for all sorts of other lead singer replacements around that time – including for Freddy Mercury with Queen ffs…
Foo Fighters’ guitarist Pat Smear was an immediate shoe-in. But to sing the songs, instead of any number of male contenders, they opted for Joan Jett, Kim Gordon, Annie Clark and Lorde – one per song. (Courtney Love was in the audience.) This was so different as to be acceptable; and turned out to be remarkably appropriate.
I thought St Vincent’s Annie Clark nailed “Lithium” with sweet guitar and a beautifully understated vocal in which you can feel the approval of a massive spirit presence.
Krist Novoselic agreed, and as she finished stood to attention holding his bowler hat over his heart, before embracing her.
Kim Gordon sang “Aneurysm”.
Joan Jett sang “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
Lorde closed the show with “All Apologies”.
For this, Novoselic played accordion, so Kim Gordon took over on bass. Smear played acoustic guitar, while Annie Clark and Joan Jett played electric.
And afterwards, Dave Grohl emerged from behind the drum kit to embrace them all.
It must have been one of the biggest ever HofF nights.