In their first year of eligibility, Nirvana were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Thursday night at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. With Courtney Love and Dave Grohl sharing a stage for the first (and probably last) time in years after a decades-long feud, speculation ran high on what would transpire. But like Kiss, all parties agreed to put aside their differences—for one night, at least—to honor the legacy of the music. Below, read Michael Stipe’s induction speech, or go straight to speeches from the band members, Love and Kurt Cobain’s mother.
Michael Stipe: Good evening. I’m Michael Stipe and I’m here to induct Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
When an artists offers an idea, a perspective, it helps us all to see who we are. And it wakes up, and it pushes us forward towards our collective and individual potential. It makes us — each of us — able to see who we are more clearly. It’s progression and progressive movement. It’s the future staring us down in the present and saying, “C’mon, let’s get on with it. Here we are. Now.”
I embrace the use of the word “artist“ rather than “musician“ because the band Nirvana were artists in every sense of the word. It is the highest calling for an artist, as well as the greatest possible privilege to capture a moment, to find the zeitgeist, to expose our struggles, our aspirations, our desires. To embrace and define a period of time. That is my definition of an artist.
Nirvana captured lightning in a bottle. And now, per the dictionary — off the Internet — in defining “lightning in a bottle“ as, “Capturing something powerful and elusive, and then being able to hold it and show it to the world.“
Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl were Nirvana. The legacy and the power of their defining moment has become, for us, indelible. Like my band, R.E.M., Nirvana came from a most unlikely place. Not a cultural city-center like London, San Francisco, Los Angeles or even New York — or Brooklyn — but from Aberdeen, Washington in the Pacific Northwest, a largely blue-collar town just outside of Seattle.
Krist Novoselic said Nirvana came out of the American hardcore scene of the 1980s — this was a true underground. It was punk rock, where the many bands or musical styles were eclectic. We were a product of a community of youth looking for a connection away from the mainstream. The community built structures outside of the corporate, governmental sphere, independent and decentralized. Media connected through the copy machine, a decade before the Internet, as we know it, came to be. This was social networking in the face.
Dave Grohl said, “We were drop-outs, making minimum wage, listening to vinyl, emulating our heroes — Ian MacKaye, Little Richard — getting high, sleeping in vans, never expecting the world to notice.“
Solo artists almost have it easier than bands — bands are not easy. You find yourself in a group of people who rub each other the wrong way and exactly the right way. And you have chemistry, zeitgeist, lightning in a bottle and a collective voice to help pinpoint a moment, to help understand what it is that we’re going through. You see this is about community and pushing ourselves. Nirvana tapped into a voice that was yearning to be heard.
Keep in mind the times: This was the late Eighties, early Nineties. America, the idea of a hopeful, democratic country, had been practically dismantled by Iran-Contra, by AIDS, by the Reagan/Bush Sr. administrations.
But with their music, their attitude, their voice, by acknowledging the political machinations of petty but broad-reaching, political arguments, movements and positions that had held us culturally back, Nirvana blasted through all that with crystalline, nuclear rage and fury. Nirvana were kicking against the system, bringing complete disdain for the music industry and their definition of corporate, mainstream America, to show a sweet and beautiful — but fed-up — fury, coupled with howling vulnerability.
Lyrically exposing our frailty, our frustrations, our shortcomings. Singing of retreat and acceptance over triumphs of an outsider community with such immense possibility, stymied or ignored, but not held down or held back by the stupidity and political pettiness of the times. They spoke truth, and a lot of people listened.
They picked up the mantle in that particular battle, but they were singular, and loud, and melodic, and deeply original. And that voice. That voice. Kurt, we miss you. I miss you.
Nirvana defined a moment, a movement for outsiders: for the fags; for the fat girls; for the broken toys; the shy nerds; the Goth kids from Tennessee and Kentucky; for the rockers and the awkward; for the fed-up; the too-smart kids and the bullied. We were a community, a generation — in Nirvana’s case, several generations — in the echo chamber of that collective howl, and Allen Ginsberg would have been very proud, here.
That moment and that voice reverberated into music and film, politics, a worldview, poetry, fashion, art, spiritualism, the beginning of the Internet and so many fields in so many ways in our lives. This is not just pop music — this is something much greater than that.
These are a few artists who rub each other the wrong way, and exactly the right way, at the right time: Nirvana. It is my honor to call to the stage Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl.
Dave Grohl: Thank you very much.
I was the quiet one in Nirvana. I was the drummer. But most of you don’t know that I was the fifth drummer of Nirvana. For whatever reason, I got to be the luckiest person in the world and also be in Nirvana.
But I have to give credit to all of the other drummers that came before me: Aaron Burckhard, thank you very much. Dale Crover, from the Melvins, who is my absolute drumming hero. Chad Channing, who was the drummer for Nirvana. Chad, where are you? I know that you’re here somewhere. Isn’t Chad here somewhere? Chad’s around here, isn’t he? [points at camera] Are you over there? Hey, Chad! So, here’s the thing — guess what Chad’s responsible for? If you listen to a song like “In Bloom” [imitates opening of “In Bloom”], that’s Chad. When I joined the band, I had the honor of playing Chad’s parts, so Chad, thank you very much for allowing me to play your drum parts; I appreciate that very, very much. Dan Peters, from Mudhoney, who got to play one show with Nirvana — thank you, Danny.
But there’s a lot of people that made this possible, people that you might not know, people that I grew up with in Springfield, Virginia. Like Michael said … [reacts to people from Springfield] Really? You could afford the train?
We came from this underground punk rock scene where there really were no awards or ceremonies or trophies — it was all about doing it for real, and the reward was doing it right and doing it for real and sharing the community of music. Helping other musicians and inspiring people. And so I got really lucky to grow up in the Washington D.C. punk rock scene where I was inspired by all these amazing people; too many to list. But everyone from Chris Page to Ralph to Dave Smith to Reuben Radding to Peter Stahl and Franz Stahl and Skeeter Thompson; all the people that I ever played music with — Barrett Jones — I have to thank all of you because I wouldn’t be here.
I’m also lucky that when we first started out, we didn’t know anything about business — we were in a fucking van, buying corn dogs from t-shirts that we had sold. We were lucky that we found a manager named John Silva and we met an accountant named Lee Johnson. And I’m happy to say that I’ve never, ever strayed from those two people in my life. It’s been 25 years! I mean, it’s a long list of people and I’m going to forget most of them.
Most of all, I have to thank my family because I was lucky enough to grow up in a musical family and in an environment that encouraged music. Parents that never told me not to listen to fucking Slayer, you know what I mean? I listened to some really, really fucked-up shit! But my parents never told me not to, because I was finding myself. So Mom — thanks. Thanks for letting me drop out of high school [laughs, points at trophy]. Kids, stay in school, don’t do drugs — it’s a bad idea.
I have to thank my beautiful wife, Jordyn, and my two daughters, who I hope grow up to inspire people just like every musician I grew up inspired by. Because I think that’s the deal — you look up to your heroes and you shouldn’t be intimidated by them; you should be inspired by them. Don’t look up at the poster on your wall and think, “Fuck, I can never do that.“ Look at the poster on your wall and think, “Fuck, I’m going to do that!“
Krist Novoselic: Thank you Michael, for that great introduction, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I want to thank all of the Nirvana fans: Nirvana fans walk up to me every day and say, “Thank you for the music.“ And when I hear that, it reminds me of Kurt Cobain.
I want to say thank you to Kurt Cobain, and I wish Kurt was here tonight, OK? And that music means so much to so many people, and there’s new generations and new fans coming up, and it’s really powerful. Kurt was an intense artist and he really connected with a lot of people.
With Nirvana, we started in Aberdeen, Washington — in Washington state — and we had a infrastructure there to support us. It was a music community. I want to thank Sub Pop Records; the music community in Seattle, in Washington State. I want to thank Buzz Osborne — thank you, Buzz, for joining us in punk rock music. I want to thank Jack Endino, who recorded our first record. Steve Albini and Butch Vig. Thank you Susan Silver for introducing us to the music industry properly. And thank you all again.
Wendy Cobain: I’m probably going to cry. I’m already crying because he’d be so proud — he’d say he wasn’t — but he would be. I just miss him so much. He was such an angel. Thank you.
Courtney Love: You know, I have a big speech, but I’m not gonna say it. This is my family I’m looking at right now — all of you. Brother Michael, Brother Krist, Grandma Wendy, Mr. Grohl. David!
And that’s it. I just wish that Kurt was here to feel this and be this. Twenty years ago, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame maybe wasn’t — but tonight, he would have really appreciated it. He would’ve appreciated Krist and Dave and Michael and his mother and his sisters being here. And I just want to give this to Francis, our daughter, who’s not here because she’s ill. That’s it —that’s all I have to say. Thank you so very much.