As I write this today, it’s probably been a few hours now since the funeral for Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, who literally shocked the shit out of everyone by hanging himself with a resistance band in his Detroit hotel just hours after he got off stage with the band. How the fuck could Chris Cornell do this to himself, and why?? To everyone he seemed like the LAST person to be tempted to do such a thing. A lot of things have been coming to light since the news passed, such as the fact that he’d apparently been taking the anti-anxiety drug Ativan. One of the things that triggered Chris’s wife to called security on him in the first place was that, according to her, Chris sounded very slurred on the phone. One side effect of a benzo such as Ativan is a drowsiness that happens to last for a long time.
But there clearly was no fucking way that Ativan alone could cause anyone to just say “fuck it” and hang themselves. As I discovered the aspects of his horrid childhood in preparation for writing this post, including becoming a full blown junkie at just 13, having full access to heroin and prescription pills, we all discovered yesterday that there were visible signs of fresh track marks on his arms. If he just relapsed recently it had to be while on the road, and therefore there could be no way his wife would’ve known. Even creepier, in a way, is that during their set closer, “Slaves and Bulldozers”, Chris slickly slipped in lines from Led Zeppelin’s classic “In My Time Of Dying”. No shit. Here’s the proof:
Yeah, I’m sure him requesting to the band to actually play the actual song would’ve clearly raised a few eyebrows. Lets face it, he probably knew what he was going to do. But I’m not writing about this to discuss the details of his death, or his apparent life long struggle with drugs and depression. You can clearly find that anywhere else. I’m here to write about Chris Cornell the ICON. Because like it or not, depending on who you ask he was probably more of an icon in music than that little bitch Cobain EVER was. Why? Because he literally was one of the originals.
There sadly is a lot of historical significance to his death, that can easily be compared to the day Soundgarden originally broke up a little more than twenty years ago. Again, depending on whose opinion you ask for, especially the mainstream media shitheads, Grunge died when Cobain offed himself in 1994, causing record labels everywhere to find as many copycats as they could, or face the unnecessary fear of losing money quicker than Wall Street on Black Monday. But ask anyone else, and they’ll most likely say that Grunge died the day Soundgarden called it quits because they were one of just two bands remaining from the original six band from Seattle to not just manage to stay together, but actually find success.
Long before Shitvana was even a thought Soundgarden was formed by Cornell, Kim Thayil and Hiro Yamamoto in Seattle in 1984. In 1986 the band were featured on a compilation called Deep Six. The first release by C/Z Records, it showcase the burgeoning Seattle sound featuring multiple songs from them, The Melvins, Skin Yard, Green River, Malfunkshun, and The U-Men. While Chris’ immense vocal talents were not yet fully developed, you can clearly hear signs of things to come on this original version of “All Your Lies”, which was later re-recorded for their SST Records debut album, Ultramega OK.
Before I go any further I need to make something clear. I truly feel now, as an older man of 33, that the term Grunge itself was blown out of proportion too much. I understand the according to musical standards Grunge is supposed to be the combination of Punk and Metal, with each band leaning toward either genre over the other. But I honestly feel like Grunge was just a scene, not a musical style. Hell, just listen to any of the Big Four: Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice In Chains and Perl Jam. Fuck the visions of flannel and stories of rampant heroin use among all of them – did ANY of them truly SOUND alike?? If you’re smart then you don’t need me to tell you that the answer is hell fuck no! Especially in the case of Soundgarden and Alice!
But in the history books, it was Soundgarden who was the first Seattle band from that scene to be signed to a major label before any of them. And while most people clearly weren’t ready for them just yet, it was clear that Cornell was a GOD on the mic, lending to a sound that was easily comparable to Robert Plant fronting Black Sabbath.
Did you hear that beginning scream blending in beautifully with Kim Thayil’s guitar feedback?? Just tell me that wasn’t EPIC as fuck!! There are many Soundgarden/Grunge purists who favor Louder Than Love over the later albums, and it’s easy to see why. But…they clearly didn’t listen to him, as Henry Rollins said in 2000, “peel the paint off walls!” during the song “Jesus Christ Pose” off their 1991 breakthrough album, Badmotorfinger. Go straight to the 5:13 mark to here the wail of a GOD.
That’s the other most important quality of Soundgarden and especially Chris. Dave Navarro just yesterday stated that the band were one of the rare few bands of the late 80’s to come out that had both talent AND substance. The substance? Chris’s lyrics. The song “Jesus Christ Pose” is clearly a song about religious hypocrisy, as he sang:
And you stare at me
In your Jesus Christ pose
Arms held out
Like you’ve been carrying a load
And you swear to me
You don’t want to be my slave
But you’re staring at me
Like I, like I need to be saved
Saved, like I need to be saved
It was lyrics like these that made Soundgarden the thinking man’s metal band in the early 90’s. But it didn’t end there. Take this little sample from the song “4th of July” off their 1994 masterpiece, Superunknown:
Pale in the flare light
The scared light cracks and disappears
And leads the scorched ones here
And everywhere no one cares
The fire is spreading
And no one wants to speak about it
Down in the hole
Jesus tries to crack a smile
Beneath another shovel load
I know even Layne Staley or Jerry Cantrell couldn’t even think of lyrics like that. Add the sludgy riffs and it sounds like a song not even a band like Crowbar could come up with!
This right here is pure Sabbath worship!
That’s what made someone like Chris Cornell a true icon of the Seattle scene, the so-called Grunge scene. He was THE total package. He had the talent, the substance, the deep thoughts. His vocal talents alone were a legitimate RARITY in rock music, with a powerful wail that rivaled ANYONE’s singing during the 90’s. His lyrics were thoughtful, his riffs could absolutely crush you, they could be so dreamy, and he could even weld them together seamlessly and it’d all make total sense. Here’s one of my favorite tracks off Superunknown, called “Limowreck”, as an example.
It’s a shame that it took this album and the single “Blackhole Sun”(which I’m blatantly staying away from here) for Soundgarden to finally get the recognition they deserved, ten years after they formed and long after everybody that came along AFTER them got recognition. This is actually important because Superunknown was released just a month before Cobain died, signaling the beginning of the slow death of what had become a trend so big that flannel was even being worn at fashion shows and sold at even Macy’s. If you’re old enough to remember seeing the “Gen X” section in Macy’s then congratulations – you’re old!
As said earlier, a sizeable number will tell you Grunge died the day Soundgarden broke up in the spring of 1997. They were one of the two original surviving bands from the Deep Six era, the other being The Melvins (Thank King Buzzo for introducing Chris and Kim to Drop D tuning). So while it was a major shock when Soundgarden got back together in 2010, after Chris did several albums with Audioslave (Chris with the jerkoffs from Rage Against The Machine) and an abortion of a solo album with Timbaland, his sudden death is now of even more historical significance than ever. Yeah, this is beyond tragic and my thoughts go out to Chris’s family. But from a musical standpoint, we all can sadly say now that if you were to give Grunge a real death date it would be May 18th, 2017, as this so far is the ultimate Heavy Metal tragedy of the year unless something far worse happens.
Rest In Peace Chris Cornell
July 20th, 1964 – May 18th, 2017
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