To write these words down for you…”
– Say Hello to Heaven.
There is no good time for bad news. Waking up to the knowledge that Chris Cornell has passed away leaves a hole in my stomach the size of the world. I saw Soundgarden live two weeks ago and that evening is a testament to not only a better time in music, but to a piece of my soul.
I often say that Pearl Jam brought me to the side of rock when I was a kid, and that’s true… the album Ten got through to me when I was listening to hip hop and tapped into the deepest of me to show me that although I may enjoy hip hop and other genres, rock defines me. But that’s a misleading bit of fact I’ve said for a long time… now that I sit here trying to process something that makes no sense, I realize that it was the track “Hunger Strike” that gave that first blow to finding myself through rock music.
It was late and I saw the video on MTV. I asked who this was and I learned about Eddie and his band first than I did Chris and his band, which I suspect was the case for many people… but I also learned about Temple of the Dog. When I was 12, the albums I listened to nonstop were Temple of the Dog and Ten. Temple of the Dog is a ten song album that started off as a tribute to Andrew Wood, lead singer of Mother Love Bone and has since become one of my favorite albums. It is beautiful and showcases a group of highly talented musicians performing emotional alchemy to create something as a tribute to their fallen friend.
– My Wave.
Somehow, today every fan of Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and Chris Cornell have to find a way to do the same. That’s because music has a way of helping people bond like no other medium. With movies and literature, you have to pay attention to process your emotions and in large part, it is an individual experience. With music, you can break down as bad as your body can take and still turn the volume up to let the words and the music break through. With a song, you can sing it in chorus from the crowd and share profound moments of bliss as one stranger who can bond with other strangers to become musical friends thanks to words set to music. I mention Temple of the Dog because it was a side project that brought both Pearl Jam and Soundgarden to the forefront of rock. People cite Nevermind as a game changer album, and it very well was… but so was Temple of the Dog’s ST debut album.
Of course people know Black Hole Sun and why shouldn’t they? It’s a magnificent song. But if that’s the extent of your knowledge of Soundgarden, you’re missing out. You’re missing out big time.
While Nirvana managed to define a feeling, Pearl Jam allowed us to feel a wider range of emotions. Meanwhile, Soundgarden was putting out the loudest possible music, but doing it in a way unlike any other band from the 90’s since. People often say Soundgarden has a lot of Led Zeppelin in it, but that may be due to Chris’s vocals more than anything. Soundgarden was another beast altogether and that’s because Soundgarden is one of those bands that can be imitated but never equaled, where the sum of its parts are so much more than its individual components. Simply put, Soundgarden needs Kim, Ben, Matt, and Chris to happen. These are musicians who play with weird time signatures, weird tunings, weird song progressions, and never stopped pushing themselves. Nothing was intentional in how they played, it just happened… which makes it even more amazing.
After 1997’s Down on the Upside, Soundgarden broke up. It took 13 years for them to get back together and 15 to release a new album, and boy what an album King Animal was. These were late 40’s rockers taking musical chances and pushing each other to the limit, showing that not only did they enjoy playing together, they enjoyed elevating each other to the next level. Matt Cameron’s drumming in Pearl Jam may be amazing, but he shall forever be the drummer for Soundgarden. Both Kim Thayil and Ben Shephard are amazing musicians and Ben even released a solo album that is surprisingly beautiful, but they shall always be the guitarist and bassist for Soundgarden. Then there’s Chris, lead singer for Temple of the Dog (which is basically Pearl Jam with him in lead vocals), solo artist with several beautiful tracks released, but he shall always be the lead singer of Soundgarden.
People ask why Soundgarden wasn’t as big as Pearl Jam or Nirvana even though they were huge and the short answer is that their music wasn’t as immediately relatable or accessible as the other two bands. While Nirvana released Nevermind and Pearl Jam released Ten, Soundgarden released Badmotorfinger, one hell of an album that was to a large degree eclipsed by the other two. The music on it is heavy, obscure, and weird in the best possible way. Then they hit big with Superunknown which was also eclipsed to a certain degree by Kurt’s Death. But they never cared. Their focus was not fame. They were making music that they were proud of and that would endure. They were more focused on history rather than fame.
As a writer, I include the artists I love in all my work. It is my tribute to them and my thank you for all they’ve given to me in my life. In literary contests, I use a pseudonym to submit the work… it’s a name I’ve been using for over 20 years and something a lot of people might know as a bit of trivia for me. It includes the three singers that have had the deepest impact in my life.
Eddie James Cornell
Today I am forced to say goodbye to another piece of me and accept that the only guarantee in life is that we will die… and that this fact isn’t a good or bad thing, it’s just life. What we leave behind is up to us and the people that inspire us and that we inspire. Chris left a deep mark in me with his music, his lyrics, his vocals, and his legacy. I am torn to hear he has passed but I’m honored to have lived to witness this bit of history where he reached down and pulled the crowd up, where we were able to visit the Superunknown, and where a Black Hole Sun is not the end of the world, but a beautiful thing that shines from within us all who dare to dream and dare to be ourselves to the end.
Peace, love, and maki rolls.