Four female rockers – Joan Jett, Lorde, Sonic Youth vocalist-bassist Kim Gordon and St. Vincent – joined the living members of Nirvana to sing four songs by the grunge pioneers at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tonight. Jett sang “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Gordon took on “Aneurysm,” St. Vincent performed “Lithium” and Lorde covered “All Apologies” with bassist Krist Novoselic, drummer Dave Grohl and guitarist Pat Smear after the band was inducted by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe.
Jett long ago professed her love of Nirvana. She said that Kurt was “a great guitar player and a great singer,” in a 1996 interview, and that she “used to listen to [Nirvana] all the time. . . day and night.” Since then she has co-written the song “Any Weather” for her 2013 record Unvarnished with Grohl. She has also toured with the Foo Fighters and joined them onstage, where they’ve backed her playing her songs. Jett also has a history with Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear, as she produced the debut full-length, 1979’s (GI), by his first band, punk screamers the Germs.
St. Vincent, whose real name is Annie Clark, paid tribute to Nirvana earlier this week, by playing “Lithium” at her Chicago gig on the 20th anniversary of the day Cobain is estimated to have died. She even growled a little in the chorus’s repeated “Yeahs.” When she was done, she stepped back into the shadows without saying a word.
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Previously in an interview with WYEP, Clark said that Nirvana was one of the bands that inspired her when she saw them on MTV as a 10-year-old. “I don’t sound anything like Nirvana or Pearl Jam,” she said, “but seeing that it was possible, you know, suburban kids with something to say that could find an audience was an inspiration.”
Seventeen-year-old Lorde is the youngest of the women to perform with Nirvana and was born two years after Cobain’s death. She’s also the only singer to have received her own tribute from a member of Nirvana. Earlier this year Novoselic played a unique, instrumental rendition of her song “Royals” on his favorite instrument of late, the accordion, at a performance to raise awareness for his Fair Vote campaign.
And finally, Gordon had a long relationship with Nirvana, dating back to 1989 when she and her then-husband/Sonic Youth bandmate Thurston Moore caught them at a gig in Hoboken, New Jersey. A year later, the couple saw them again in New York with the A&R rep who eventually signed the band to their label, DGC. She and Moore also offered Nirvana business advice, introducing them to their management company, Gold Mountain. The two bands toured together in 1990 and 1991, an event that was captured in the film 1991: The Year Punk Broke.
Gordon, who plays most these days in the group Body/Head, has said that in hindsight, she wished had stayed in touch more frequently with the band, especially in its later years. “We didn’t have much contact with Kurt that last year and a half; he was pretty much distanced,” she said in a 2005 interview with MTV about the Cobain-themed film Last Days. “[With the dialogue in the film], I was really thinking about what could have hopefully jolted [Cobain] out of his perspective.”
Nirvana joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility, alongside Kiss, Peter Gabriel, Hall and Oates, Cat Stevens and Linda Ronstadt. The E Street Band received the Award for Musical Excellence and Beatles manager Brian Epstein and original Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham earned the Ahmet Ertegun Award for non-performers.