Krist Novoselic, the musician and political activist best known as bassist for the 90’s grunge trio Nirvana, opened NYC’s inaugural CBGB Festival this week at Landmark Sunshine Cinema on Houston Street. His topic was how networks and social structures shaped his musical career, and how digital social networks are ripe to reshape politics as we know it.
He began by saying "music changed my life." Specifically, he noted, music opened his social horizons, giving him the opportunity to connect with other bands and fans around the country. Likewise, he found a sense of belonging in a musical subculture where many shared not only a taste in music but also a view of the world. Connections formed through sharing music, traveling to shows, and reading and producing ‘fanzines’ – the small-scale magazines that were in effect the blogs of pre-internet era. Of that scene, he says, “we decided to build our own structure” outside of the mainstream. And of Nirvana’s enormous success, he notes, “We didn’t do it ourselves. There was a whole infrastructure of clubs, promoters, fans and other bands.”
Novoselic moved on to discuss the power of digital social networking to connect groups of like-minded people, similar to the power that music had early in his career. He noted that social organizations like the Elks Lodge are struggling, but social networking are exploding. As a lifelong political activist, he sees in this shift a great opportunity for inclusiveness, democracy and political reform: soon somebody will “find the sweet spot between political activism and social networking. And whoever connects the two in the right way will dominate the political scene.”
Novoselic has been involved seriously in political activism throughout his life, even during his time with Nivana, beginning with his opposition to the Erotic Music Law introduced in the Washington State Legislature in 1992. Most recently he has served as the Chairman of the Board Directors for FairVote, an organization that he has been working with since 1997. He is an outspoken proponent of electoral reform.
The inaugural CBGB Festival is a conference of music and ideas named in tribute to the iconic rock club of New York’s downtown music scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s, spiritual home of innovative bands from Blondie to the Talking Heads.
Here are a few more quotes from Novoselic’s speech:
- “It’s just natural for people to associate. We are social beings.”
- “‘Peer-to-peer’. Isn’t that a beautiful way to say it?”
- “I play a lot of accordion. I do. I’m obsessed with it.”
- “I really like M.I.A. I think she’s great.”