Krist Novoselic, as a name, needs no introduction -- and yet, as a man, he requires more than most. As bass player and founding member of Nirvana, he is recognized, famous, a celebrity. When it comes down to who Krist Novoselic actually is, however, the information gets dicier. His first book does little to clear things up.
Of Grunge and Government: Let's Fix This Broken Democracy
Available from Powell's Books.
Born in Compton to Croatian immigrants, Novoselic spent the better part of his adolescence alienated from the mainstream, searching for an identity he could call his own. He found the punk scene, and as Novoselic himself notes: "For me punk wasn't a fad; it offered meaning in a society that didn't offer enough" (12). However, what that meaning was, and how it affected Novoselic, isn't included here; like most other passages in this book, it's a largely impersonal account. For instance, when Novoselic describes Kurt's suicide, he does so softly, without emotion:
"Kurt's death was a giant media affair. Someone remarked that it was like the Kennedy assassination, but with MTV News anchor Kurt Loder in the Walter Cronkite role. The international media descended upon Seattle to report on the death of this 'Spokesperson of a Generation.' If he was a spokesperson, Kurt gained his mandate through an economic democracy - it's as if every album sold was a vote for Nirvana. Tragically, he picked the wrong way to resign from the position he was thrust into. A person passing away is a supernatural event. Mix this with the cultural impact of someone whose words touched so many, and you have the recipe for deity. Kurt joined the pantheon of musicians who died in their prime. All movements have their icons. Alberto Corda photographed Che Guevara in 1960 in what would become one of the most reproduced images of the 20th century. As Guevara entered the mythos of revolution, Kurt Cobain did the same for thoughtful rock 'n' roll" (26).
For a man who was said to be Kurt's closest friend, this is damning praise. Perhaps Novoselic cannot write about Kurt's death because of the emotions it will bring to the fore, but his choice to put the event in a sociopolitical light instead of a personal one seems rather cold.
Of Grunge and Government is marketed as a personal and political memoir, and that's half true. This book is very much a political essay; the fact that Novoselic has a famous past that he briefly touches upon just makes the sell easier. Only the first 27 of the book's 105 pages discuss his and Nirvana's history. The rest are devoted to Novoselic's political career and changes in the political landscape he has long championed.
This is not to say that the book becomes boring as soon as it addresses political issues; to the contrary, this is where Novoselic's attention lies, and his energy and enthusiasm become palpable. He talks about tackling music censorship laws, working with state representatives and affecting change. He describes events that had no effect on the status quo, such as his involvement in the WTO protests, and why he takes pride even in their failure.
Although it is not well known, Novoselic has a staunch political streak. He does not mention it here, but at one point he considered running for Washington State Lieutenant Governor. Instead, he talks about becoming part of JAMPAC (Joint Artists and Music Promotions Political Action Committee) and the good that he has seen done there. He especially notes the repeal of the Teen Dance Ordinance (TDO) in favor of the All Ages Dance Ordinance (AADO). For those of you outside of Washington, the TDO was a draconian affair that kept underage fans out of just about every show in Seattle. Together with the police, parents and firefighters, JAMPAC got the AADO passed, which removed most of the hated aspects of the TDO. "It was tempting," Novoselic writes, "to shoot for all or nothing. But Democracy doesn't work that way." (46)
You might be tempted to ask, "How, then, should Democracy work?" Novoselic has an answer prepared. People's voices should be heard, and that includes their votes. Novoselic believes that the current election set-up -- i.e. primaries, the Electoral College, the two-party system -- takes away the public's voice. Here, as he has in the past, Novoselic proposes several rudimentary changes, including Super Districts, representative voting and instant runoff voting. He supports each with numbers, explanation and experience. The case he makes is strong, and yet you can't help but wonder if he is perhaps fighting a Sisyphusian battle: the changes he proposes need to be endorsed and exacted by the very people they would affect -- the legislative branch of government.
The noteworthy and somewhat irksome thing about Of Grunge and Government is that despite the extent of its political content, it remains focused on the system and not the players. Novoselic does not address whether or not he likes Bush and hates Kerry or vice versa. The most vitriol he can summon is to condemn President Bush's rhetorical trap in declaring that you were either "with us or against us" immediately following 9/11. That may, in fact, be a conscious choice. Throughout the book he advocates emphasizing the positive instead of relying on the negative. "Cynics dismiss any effort to change things; in effect, they embrace the status quo even while refuting it." (Novoselic 48)
Krist Novoselic is trying to change things. He may well be on his way.
-- Tyson Lynn
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About the Publisher:
Akashic Books is an NYC-based indie publisher dedicated to urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream, or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers.