For Krist's Sake

Krist Novoselic has more to talk about than his days in Nirvana.

"We were instrumental in getting the mayor to veto this really harsh piece of legislation," he says. "There are people on the city council who think that the way to make the urban center really nice is not to let people make any noise. But the legislation they drafted gave police all this discretion, because the only standard to determine about noise, whether it was music or construction or whatever, was that it be clearly audible. It would have really hurt musicians who bring a lot of economic and cultural vitality to the city and really helped put Seattle on the map."

Although JAMPAC acts locally, Novoselic also thinks globally. To that end, he eagerly accepted an invitation last year to speak before the Senate Commerce Committee in Washington, D.C., on the topic of the possible link between music and school shootings -- an issue about which he feels passionately. "It's such an easy scapegoat, especially for politicians running for re-election, because they can show their constituency, 'Hey, look, I'm doing something about teen violence.' It looks really good on the campaign literature."

According to Novoselic, the committee, chaired that day by Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback, "used all the same old tricks. They read lyrics, horrible lyrics, out of context, and then they asked me to read them. And I was like, 'I'll take these home and read them. I'm not going to be put on display.' And then they asked me about Marilyn Manson. Now, this was at the height of the whole Lewinsky scandal, so I said, 'Mr. Senator, I've been to a Marilyn Manson concert, and I left impressed with what I considered serious political speech. And you also have to realize that Mr. Manson doesn't misrepresent himself. He says he's gross and disgusting, and I think he is, but he also has serious things to say about society and the world. And if you look at the highest level of leadership and responsibility in this country, with all the mudslinging and spin-doctoring, all you see is people saying one thing and doing another. That's why, Mr. Senator, if the youth of America is looking for the truth, they're finding it in Marilyn Manson.'

Spitting fire: Krist Novoselic at the podium.
Spitting fire: Krist Novoselic at the podium.

"I got a big gasp," he continues, chuckling. "And that was pretty much the end of the hearing for me. I guess that just made too much sense."

Since that testimony, of course, the blame-the-music argument hasn't exactly gone away; within hours of the bloodshed at Columbine High School in April, the cultural police were pointing fingers at Marilyn Manson -- whose CDs killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold apparently disliked. Novoselic says he was "beyond appalled" by this element of the Columbine coverage, adding, "I know everyone wants answers, but there are no answers to something like that. If I could sum it up in just a few words, it would be that some kids will do anything for attention." Nonetheless, he offers a few speculations of his own about the phenomenon in general: "With so many dual-income families and this hot economy, there's so much consumption going on. Maybe our priorities, and our families, are getting lost in the process."

The seeming conservatism of this last statement doesn't necessarily put him at odds with the aims of Spitfire, even though the organization was founded by, among others, Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha, a man a little to the left of Che Guevara. Musicians naturally tend to gather on the liberal side of the fence, and 1999 Spitfire participants Michael Franti, the Spearhead leader formerly with the radical rap act Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy; Perry Farrell, of Jane's Addiction, Porno for Pyros and Lollapalooza festival fame; and once- and future-X-woman Exene Cervenka do in fact spend most of their time there. But another Spitfire speaker, onetime MTV video jock Kennedy, declares herself to be a Republican with Libertarian leanings, and Novoselic is even tougher to pin down. For all his paeans to the U.S. system of governing, he argues that "it has a serious flaw -- the way we elect our representatives is really antiquated." Specifically, he says that allowing a candidate who's received 50.1 percent of the vote to stand for 100 percent of the electorate "makes the other 49.9 percent of the people who voted feel that their vote didn't warrant any representation at all. It's a winner-take-all system with two parties that always run on the same things and always appeal to the same voters." His proposed solution is proportional representation in which a party named on 10 percent of the ballots gets 10 percent of the seats in the legislature. "That way," he says, "almost every vote counts."

The best way to make this or any other recommendation a reality, Novoselic believes, is to work within the system, not burn it to the ground. "There are a lot of frustrations in doing things that way," he admits. "It's a slow process, but that's all we've got. If we didn't have city councils and state legislatures and the U.S. Congress, what kind of rule of law would we have? That's how our system was created -- and if we don't have an effective government, then you know what we're going to be stuck with? Big business and big religion. And then we're not going to have a vote at all. So that's how democracy serves us, and why we need to exercise our rights."

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