Nirvana’s Bassist Wants to Go Grunge on Government

Twenty-five years after smashing the music business, Krist Novoselic would like to do the same to special interests.

After Nirvana broke up in the aftermath of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, the two remaining band members went in entirely different directions. Drummer Dave Grohl started The Foo Fighters and became a rock star in his own right. But bassist Krist Novoselic’s ambitions run closer to the Founding Fathers than the Foo Fighters.

Last Thursday, Nirvana were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, 25 years after the release of their first studio album, Bleach.

The next night, Novoselic took part in a different kind of performance, featuring less glamorous guests like Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh.

Novoselic, who published his first book, Of Grunge and Government: Let’s Fix This Broken Democracy, in 2004, became the chairman of FairVote, a non-profit group that “educates and enlivens discourse on how best to remove the structural barriers to a democracy that respects every voice and every vote in every election” in 2008. The organization teamed up with Rock Paper Photo last week for a fundraiser that mixed photographs of 2014’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees with talk of voting reform.

Sitting in the back of No. 8 in the Meatpacking District, wearing a Chaplinesque bowler hat that enhanced his already-soaring 6'7” height, Novoselic told The Daily Beast about how his involvement in politics started and how his activism has developed since.

Novoselic’s political activism began in 1992 when the Washington State legislature tried to pass the Erotic Music Law, which would have forbade the sale of music deemed “erotic” to children under 18. Novoselic and Nirvana performed at a benefit protesting the bill. “There were all these barriers to participating in music,” Novoselic said. “Just censorship is what it was.”

"Along the way, I learned about how our system works, just advocating for change, and being proactive, working within the system. I just discovered all these barriers to participation [in the democratic process].”

FairVote advocates for a right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, combining primary and runoff elections, automatic voter registration for eligible citizens, and a national popular vote for presidential elections.

Novoselic said he first became interested in electoral politics during the 2000 election. “It’s like ‘wow.’ It’s an archaic system.…The Electoral College is supposed to give power to smaller states but it doesn’t.” Novoselic said the Electoral College is “a real good deal for special interests, because they go ‘We only have to spend money in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida…and they spend billions in those states. It’s kind of out of whack.”

A national popular vote, Novoselic said, would force candidates to rely on “grass roots, people power” instead of special interests.

Novoselic compared the current state of American politics to the calm before the storm ahead of Nirvana’s arrival on the rock scene.

“Music was predictable. There was no No. 1 rock record in 1990. And then music changed; there was just a sea change. There was all this alternative grunge music.…What’s gonna happen [in politics] is, somebody’s going to find the sweet spot between social networking and political association, and it’s going to be a phenomenon and people are going to flock to it.”

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Novoselic’s desire for change did not make him an Occupy Wall Street sympathizer, he said. “It wasn’t compelling for me. I’m busy doing real political work, and I just don’t have time to sit under a leaky tarp in downtown Portland. I’m doing things.”

Novoselic expressed frustration that Occupy did not use their manpower to help political candidates that shared the movement’s beliefs.

“They could’ve occupied Congress!”

Novoselic said he takes online social science classes at Washington State University. Then he added, with faux nonchalance, “then I do things like these events, the Rock Hall of Fame [with] Paul McCartney.…It’s a charmed life.”