Joan Jett tipped to fill Kurt Cobain's shoes
It's a rock match made in heaven and a fitting tribute to the glaring hole left by the absent frontman, Kurt Cobain, as rock royalty Joan Jettlooks set to join Nirvana at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony in the US on Thursday.
An Instagram posted by the Foo Fighters shows the band's gear plus Joan Jett's stickered, well-worn Melody Maker guitar, in a very strong hint that the punk-rock icon will join them on stage.
There has been widespread speculation over who could take the place of Kurt Cobain, whose death marked its 20th anniversary on April 5. REM frontman Michael Stipe was widely tipped to join Nirvana's remaining members drummer Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic's bass and guitarist Pat Smear.
Grohl and Jett have already collaborated a number of times, with Grohl appearing on Joan Jett and the Blackhearts' 2013 album Unvarnished. They also performed together at Lollapalooza Brazil in 2012, thrashing out a version of Jett's 1980 hit Bad Reputation.
Nirvana will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in a ceremony and show in Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday night US time. Other inductees include KISS, Peter Gabriel, Hall and Oates, Cat Stevens, the E Street Band and Linda Ronstadt.
Nirvana tracks have rarely been aired since the suicide of Cobain in 1994, with Grohl confessing in 2011 that the remaining members had played the band's iconic hit Smells Like Teen Spirit for the first time in 17 years, in a private rehearsal. "It was like a ghost," Grohl said. "It was heavy."
Inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which has its actual museum in Cleveland, are shortlisted by a committee of about 35 members and then voted on by a wider group of 600 industry people and previous inductees. Artists must have had a minimum of 25 years since the release of their first record to qualify.
But after 30 years of pop music's splintering into ever more genres, the choices are no longer so evident, a situation that has led to an increasingly intense generational and stylistic debate about the selections and the process. At the same time, a long-standing aesthetic argument about the relative weight of popularity versus musical excellence also seems to be deepening. In both cases, the issue is basically this: Is there a canon, and, if so, who belongs to it, and who gets to decide?
Class of 2014: courting controversy
This year's class embodies all of those controversies. After years of rejection, the 1970s glam rock band Kiss, derided by its many critics as schlockmeisters but with a large and passionate fan base known as the Kiss Army, is finally getting in. So is Nirvana - on its first try - as well as Peter Gabriel, Linda Ronstadt, Cat Stevens and Hall & Oates.
But rap pioneer N.W.A. was passed over, an omission that led to a barrage of complaints from younger critics and hip-hop fans. Also overlooked was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which was one of the most influential US groups of the 1960s despite never having been awarded one of the gold records that are the hallmarks of commercial success.
Membership in the hall is primarily a matter of prestige, with performers becoming eligible 25 years after their first commercial release. But induction can lead to an uptick in record sales, revive a moribund career and encourage bands to reunite and tour again.
Voters receive an advocacy sheet for each nominee and a link that allows them to listen to tracks that are meant to exemplify the candidate's work, and then they cast their ballots, with the top five or six vote-getters emerging as honorees.
But some members of the nominating committee talk of a growing disconnect between their body and the larger one. Candidates they have endorsed with great enthusiasm don't get into the hall, while others who barely made the initial cut sail right in.
"There's a very basic split to begin with between us and the voting membership, not to mention the public," one member of the nominating committee said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of rules discouraging public discussion. "Maybe it's self-serving, but I think we are more open-minded and avant-garde than the voting membership, which tends to be more conservative or at least mainstream" in its taste.
In recent years, the Hall of Fame Foundation, which runs the proceedings, has sought to bring more diversity to the nominating committee while keeping the numbers at a manageable size. Younger people have been invited to join, and the number of nonwhite and female members has also grown: Among those recently added to the nominating committee are musicians Tom Morello, 39, of Rage Against the Machine, and Questlove, 43, of the Roots, both of whom argued strongly in favor of Kiss' induction, according to other members of the committee. The larger voting body has also been made more diverse: One vote is even given to fans, the result of an online poll.
Another recent innovation has been the creation of special subcommittees to examine and advocate for specific genres that the hall has often been accused of slighting. Hip-hop falls into that category, as do progressive rock and heavy metal.
"We needed to deepen our bench," said Landau, a former critic who manages Bruce Springsteen. "We are now moving into a period in which music got more nichified and genres got distinct from each other. Nobody is an expert in all of it. We need to make sure we have people who can speak with depth and knowledge about various genres and pieces of the puzzle."
Even with his own band finally being inducted, Gene Simmons, Kiss' frontman, could not resist taking a dig at the selection process and reviving another old debate. In a radio interview last month, he argued that neither hip-hop acts nor dance music performers like Donna Summer and Madonna should be in the hall.
"If you don't play guitar and you don't write your own songs, you don't belong there," he said.
He added: "You've got Grandmaster Flash in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Run-DMC in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? You're killing me. That doesn't mean they aren't good artists. But they don't play guitar. They sample, and they talk. Not even sing."
Because of the broad definition of what constitutes rock 'n' roll and the limited number of slots available annually, some mainstream acts continue to wait in the wings, to the annoyance of some committee members. In interviews, several mentioned names like Gram Parsons, Roxy Music, the Meters, Brian Eno, Procol Harum and Kraftwerk.
"I find the process frustrating, because the nozzle is so small," one of them said.
Over the next few years, that logjam will only grow, which means that debate is likely to intensify. Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Phish, Pavement, Queen Latifah and Garth Brooks, among others, become eligible this year, and in 2015, Blur, the Black Crowes, A Tribe Called Quest, Mariah Carey, Hole, Moby and Smashing Pumpkins will also join the list.