SOUTH BEND, WA: As the intense lankiness that is Krist Novoselic rose from his metal chair Saturday at the South Bend Community Center and headed toward the podium, it was easy to see that he was a tad nervous.
Funny, Novoselic told friends before his speech, he never had butterflies when he performed in front of thousands as a member of the multi-platinum band Nirvana, but speaking in front of 300 at a high school graduation was making him feel a little uneasy.
Perhaps itšs because Novoselic's life has been eerily similar to those of the 15 Willapa Harbor alternative high school graduates he was addressing. "I'm moved to see young people in situations of adversity overcome it," Novoselic said. "I can totally relate to that."
Like many of the students, Novoselic's life has been as unpredictable as the Twin Harbor skies. And, over the past five years, hešs been in the middle of a twisting wind storm that has carried him from a high every wannabe-rocker who plays air guitar with a broomstick dreams about, to lows that people also dream about- in dreams that come in the form of sleep-stopping nightmares.
As he puts it, Novoselic has been working to define his own role in the aftermath of Nirvana's tragic demise, which began on April 8, 1994. That's when Kurt Cobain, the bandšs leader and Novoselic's friend since they were teen-agers together in Aberdeen, was found dead in his Seattle home. "Sometimes, I see myself as St. Peter after the ascension," he told the crowd. "Over the last five years, I've been focusing on having a whole life and being real," he added later.
Being real is exactly what made Nirvana so popular. The grunge band's meteoric rise to the top of the music charts began in 1989 with the release of its first full-length album, Bleach, on Seattlešs Sub Pop Records. The underground popularity gained from that record initiated a major label bidding war, won by Geffen Records.
Geffen promptly released the album "Nevermind" in 1991. That album has since sold more than 10 million copies. An album of covers, rarities and B-sides, "Incesticide" followed, as did the multi-platinum "In Utero."
And international tours. Network television. Magazine covers.
But Cobain's death changed all that. Though he rarely speaks in public about his longtime friend and bandmate, Novoselic touched lightly Saturday on the subject of Cobain.
"The deification of Kurt Cobain is a phenomenon in itself," he said. "This phenomenon has played itself through human history with many personalities. The lesson for me is to let people have their idols and to stay out of the way...
"The popularity of Nirvana and the effect the band has had on this decade is profound. I feel like peoplešs connection with Nirvana has propelled me into a role of many definitions."
The success of Nirvana could easily allow Novoselic to rest on his laurels. But, true to his words, his life role has indeed been varied lately. He's got plenty of projects to occupy his time.
Thursday, he gave a speech in Vancouver, B.C., for the Canadian premiere of "L7: The Beauty Process," an art film about the band L7 that he filmed and directed.
He's also involved with JAMPAC, a political action group focused on, among other things, supporting artists' rights and their freedom of expression. A 1984 Aberdeen High School graduate, Novoselic hasn't turned his back on the recording end of music, either. Hešs still heavily absorbed in Sweet 75, the band he formed with Yva Las Vegas in which he plays guitar rather than bass guitar, which he played for Nirvana. The band is set to begin touring again in July with the band Sky Cries Mary.
He's also part of a second band, Sunshine Cake, does philanthropic work and is heavily involved in City of Seattle politics. And, like he did Saturday, he'll occasionally find time to speak in public.
"This is our home"
"This is our home," he says, speaking also for his wife, Shelli. "We drive through South Bend every week."
Novoselic's mother Maria still lives in Aberdeen.
One thing Nirvana did do for Novoselic is make sure that he will never have to worry about money. He and his wife have an expansive house on a Seattle hilltop and a farm near Naselle. Recently, Novoselic bought a 35-foot, 46-passenger Pacific County Transit bus that he is developing into a makeshift motorhome.
Fame and fortune seems to have done little to erode the down-to-earth quality Aberdeen instilled in Novoselic.
Saturday, he clapped as each one of the 15 students received their diplomas. A big smile crossed his face when a kid he'd spoken with earlier, Chris Ginther, received his.
The idea to have Novoselic speak at graduation came early in the school year, when Dan Raymond, director of the Community Learning Opportunity Center, the formal name for the high school, asked him. Raymond, who tours with the band, the Melvins, in the summer, called his friend Novoselic and presented him with the idea.
For 20-year-old Tim Patrick, there has never been a better idea.
"That was a rush," Patrick said after Novoselic's speech. "I think everybody here is in kind of a shock that he came."
After signing autographs and posing for photos after the ceremony, Novoselic remained modest.
"I just hope what I had to say will have an impact on someone," he says.
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