Guitarist gets political vibes from community group
By Timothy Gillis
It’s the 25th anniversary of “Nevermind,” the seminal Nirvana album that pushed grunge music into the mainstream.
The band’s bassist Krist Novoselic, of Washington State, is touring the northeast, singing and speaking on behalf of ranked-choice voting, to help raise money and awareness for the initiative (Maine’s Question 5), and to trade on Nirvana’s enduring popularity to reach out to millennials.
He arrived in Portland over the weekend to speak with the press and practice with some local musicians ahead of a fundraiser concert, held this past Monday night at Bayside Bowl. He warmed up with Scott Girouard, Mike Maurice, Chuck Prinn, and Estelle Poole, and Bridgette Semler. They created an original piece of music called “Krispy.”
“It’s a pure jam,” Novoselic said. “We met each other, said “Hello. How are you?’ then got instruments set up and started to make noise. We’re working together and everybody’s strengths come forward. The energy came together. It can be cold jamming with new people. You’ve got to give it a couple minutes before it works, and it did. It’s a blistering tune, a punk rock song.”
He’s been to Maine once before, in 1993, with Dave Grolh and Kurt Cobain while mastering “In Utero,” Nirvana’s third and final album, with ten time Grammy-winner Bob Ludwig, owner of Gateway Mastering.
“With Nirvana, we came out of the punk rock music scene; we weren’t mainstream,” he said. “Next we were the biggest band in the world. Rock-and-roll was vital again. We just changed the rules a little bit.”
Since 1996, Novoselic has been working to change the rules of politics, as well. He became involved to work against anti-music laws in his home state.
“There was a teen dance ordinance in Seattle,” he said. “If you were an adult, from 18 to 20 years old, you couldn’t go see most small scale rock shows. There was also an erotic music law, a censorship bill in the state legislature.”
He was a principal in the formation of JAMPAC, the Joint Artists and Musicians Political Action Committee, which argued that music is an asset that adds economic viability to a community. “I worked with lawmakers, bands, promoters, clubs – and fans, from whom I got my civic education,” he said. “We discovered terrible flaws in the system, with uncontested or uncompetitive elections, protected seats, winners without a clear majority.”
Novoselic joined the board of FairVote (formerly the Center for Voting and Democracy) in 2005 and became chair in 2008. FairVote worked with Portland officials in 2011 when it adopted ranked-choice voting for mayoral elections.
“San Francisco has started using it, Oakland, Berkeley. Minneapolis, St. Paul. Sarasota, Fl. Cambridge, Ma. has been using it for decades. There are 2.4 million voters in cities that use ranked-choice voting,” he said. “It’s an old system. It’s been around for 100 years. I want voters to recognize the value of ranked-choice voting. It’s not some new, crazy idea. It’s established and proven, and has a lot of potential.” He cited the impact Ralph Nader had in the 2000 election and Ross Perot in 1992, and that in the last eleven gubernatorial races in Maine, nine of the winners did not have more than 50 percent of the vote.
Novoselic and his wife Darbury own a farm in Washington. They joined Gray’s River Grange in 2003, and he later became the grange master.
“It’s a community group. One of its early tenets, in 1867, proclaimed that woman was equal with man, and could be grange master,” he said of the grange, which is in favor of public utility services, a rural post service, and election reform. They maintain a local cemetery and two parks, give money to food banks, and sponsor a spelling bee.
“There’s a wealth of tradition, ceremony, and pomp,” he said. “A positive message about the individual’s role in the community.”
Novoselic supports Gary Johnson in the national election, but says, “Each person should vote for who speaks to them, not necessarily (from) a major party or who raises the most money. Ranked-choice voting is less negative. It encourages politicians to reach out. The way the system is now pushes towards contention.”
Rock the Vote is an effort to make voters aware of the candidate choices, their backgrounds and beliefs, as well as local and national ballot measures. Krist hopes to Rank the Vote, and spoke about how music and politics often intersect, highlighting that whether you’re in the audience or the voting booth, there’s always something for everyone. With ranked-choice voting, we will feel better about the winner.
“Music can do two things. It can be transcendental or pigeonholed and pasted into a lifestyle. It depends on what is intent of the artist, and what are the needs of the listener,” he said. “If you hear glorious literature in Bob Dylan (like I do), that’s great. If you want just a great rock song, you’re going to find it.”