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Originally published Monday, September 27, 2010 at 1:24 PM

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Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic sees political potential in social networks

Krist Novoselic, who played bass with the legendary grunge band Nirvana, thinks social networking and political action are just getting started as bedfellows.

McClatchy Newspapers

Actors and musicians often use their celebrity to draw attention to political or social causes.

Rarely, though, do they relish the nitty-gritty the way former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic does.

A founding member of one of the most influential bands in history, Novoselic also has influenced politics in his rural community in Washington state.

The one-time Democratic Party chairman for Wahkiakum County (population 4,000), Novoselic can speak with authority on such topics as unassembled caucuses and the intricacies of Prop. 14, the voter-approved but legally challenged call for a "top-two" California primary.

"I am interested in rules and procedures," Novoselic said of his wonky inclinations. "I know all the party rules and bylaws. I just have a knack for it."

Now 45, the 6-foot-7 Novoselic is no longer the same goofy guy who got conked on the head during a 1992 MTV performance by the bass guitar he had just thrown in the air. Yet he retains a youthful, unfettered quality, bringing great sincerity and enthusiasm to a phone interview in which he discussed his sense of civic responsibility.

Novoselic left his county Democratic post ("They weren't really interested in any kind of innovations") and went independent early this year. But he still chairs FairVote, a national nonprofit devoted to election reform and increased voter turnout.

Novoselic is also excited by the political possibilities of new forms of association. "Associations are exploding with Facebook and Twitter," he said.

Last week he gave a lecture at California State University, Sacramento State, focusing on the possibilities of social networks to shape the political future.

Novoselic encourages people his age or younger to join and ensure the continuation of fraternal organizations — these days often headed by senior citizens — that provide public services that cash-strapped counties and states no longer can.

"I came up with the idea for an archetypal party — the Rock Party — based on social networking," Novoselic said. Brought together by a love of rock 'n' roll, group members of the Rock Party could move on to discussing politics, then to proposing resolutions and holding conventions, he said.

Members of this archetypal party each would pay $5, thereby eliminating a need for outside contributions and special-interest funds, Novoselic said. But when the party's candidates appeared on ballots, anyone could check the boxes next to their names.

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"These might not be perfect ideas, but I think that with the experience I have, there is a lot of potential for them," Novoselic said.

More generally, Novoselic is interested in the First Amendment idea of freedom of association, and how social networking fuels association.

"I have been associating ever since my late teens and early 20s, with punk rock," Novoselic said. "People come together when they need something, or they share the same values."

He kept up with politics while in Nirvana. "We read the newspapers, and were aware," Novoselic said. "I have voted in every election since I was 18."

But he did not become proactive until after Nirvana ended following Kurt Cobain's April 1994 suicide.

In 1995, Novoselic and other artists formed Joint Artists and Music Promotions Action Committee, which aimed to fight music censorship in Washington state. In 2003, Novoselic, who owns a farm, joined his local Grange.

Though Novoselic continued to play music — in Sweet 75 and Eyes Adrift, long-running Bay Area band Flipper, and recently, accompanying neighbor and poet Bob Pyle on acoustic guitar — most of his public appearances in recent years have been politically based.

Every time Novoselic speaks at colleges, he encounters students who have just discovered Nirvana's music.

"It is one of the blessings of my life that I got to work with Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl, and that Nirvana is enduring," Novoselic said. "Kurt Cobain was such a visionary artist, and so talented (that) there are new generations coming up who love Nirvana."

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