Last night was one of those moments in music history you'll always wish you'd been there for. Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe. An all-female lineup, Lorde, St. Vincent, Kim Gordon, and Joan Jett, joined Nirvana to cover their biggest hits. On top of that, the event was open to the public in New York City for the first time. And yes, that is an accordion in bassist Krist Novoselic's hands.
What these covers show best of all is that there are no songs appropriate for male or female vocalists, only artists appropriate for certain songs. Lorde drawled, "All Apologies" in a pink pantsuit. Joan Jett snarled, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," her trademark big black hair and sneer never overshadowing her lazy yet powerful command of lyrics that remain nuanced and scrawled across binders today. Kim Gordon sang "Aneurysm," and St. Vincent growled through "Lithium," which she also performed earlier in the week at Chicago's Riviera on April 5th--the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death. As if that weren't rock & roll enough, after the ceremony Nirvana and St. Vincent (whose real name is Annie Clark) jetted straight from the Hall of Fame to St. Vitus in Brooklyn to play "Heart-Shaped Box" for a tiny crowd at a super secret after show.
When asked in a 2013 Rolling Stone interview whether young women in rock and pop were better off now than when the Runaways debuted, Joan Jett skeptically remarked, "I don't think it has changed much at all," although it's hard to look at an event like this and not see it as a milestone of sorts for female musicians. "[I]t's pretty focused on the sexuality and making sure that's a big part of the presentation," she said, later adding wistfully, "You would think that rock & roll would be a genre that would be more accepting for women to play rock & roll, which is what I thought before I started."
The female music industry is saturated with Britneys, Rihannas and Shakiras. Although great in their own right, deciding you want to be a rock musician instead of a pop musician on its own seems like a drastic decision. Anything other than singing would require learning an instrument and that takes technical knowledge and skill, something everybody knows girls just don't possess. As a woman in rock it used mean being an outsider in a community of outsiders--but that's changing. Rock music made by women is becoming more mainstream. When I was a kid the closest thing we had to Haim was the Spice Girls. Again, great stuff, don't get me wrong, but as a pubescent girl longing for more serious pop and rock by women, artists like Liz Phair or the Muffs were rarely broadcast for my demographic.
Kim Gordon regrets losing touch with Kurt Cobain during his last days, and Linda Ronstadt, another female music idol, has been diagnosed with Parkinson's and was unable to attend. Lorde, however, was born two years after Cobain's death, and Krist Novoselic introduced her by saying, "She's perfect for the job. She has her whole future in front of her." When one of the greatest bassists in rock history is covering a seventeen-year-old girl, I can't help but think the Rock Hall of Fame will one day be filled with female bands who will be just as beloved and historically relevant as Nirvana.