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Monday, May 29, 2017

Chris Cornell (1964-2017)

Vocalist for Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog, died May 18, 2017. Below are a few reflections regarding Chris Cornell.



Travis:
I saw Soundgarden in 1990 in Cleveland, OH, when I was fifteen. They were touring on Louder Than Love and were the middle band between Corrosion of Conformity and Danzig. It was amazing. Chris Cornell was wearing his now famous duct tape shorts, and Soundgarden totally blew my mind. I remember thinking “Big Dumb Sex” was the best song they played, but now I think it was “Loud Love.” I saw them again at the second Lollapalooza in 1992 in Cleveland at an outdoor venue and it started pouring down rain during their set and a group of people next to us turned the lawn into an impromptu water slide heading down into the pavilion—it was a blast. After Soundgarden’s set, Chris Cornell walked out nonchalantly into the lawn and spent about fifteen minutes on the water slide with everyone. It was very cool at seventeen to see that kind of down-to-earth behavior from a rock star. Good memories.



Null:
Whether or not one likes the quality of Chris Cornell’s voice, one cannot deny that he was an incredibly powerful and gifted singer. More so because he made it look and sound so effortless.

I remember the day I first heard Soundgarden. I was in my friend’s bedroom and he handed me the Louder Than Love cassette tape and said I should borrow it and check it out. I thought the music was powerful, heavy, and dark. I figured they were in line with the punk rock, or progressive, ethics that stood in stark contrast to the hair metal bands that dominated the airwaves at the time. This was the underground. The lyrics to “Hands All Over” and “Loud Love” seemed to make this clear, as the former was an environmental anthem and the latter did not seem to be laced with irony. “Hands All Over” remains one of my favorite songs and it is the natural anthem for Earth First, the radical environmental movement. At least, in my mind. The song “Big Dumb Sex,” while initially shocking, was ironic and seemed to be in line with The Dead Kennedy’s “Too Drunk to Fuck.” The pictures inside the cassette looked like the band members were gnomes from some dark, deep forest. Come to find out they were. My friend told me that the guitarist had a PhD in Philosophy, which, let’s be honest, can only further insight excitement for a teenage boy, like myself. From that moment on, I was always aware of what Soundgarden and Chris Cornell were up to, even if I didn’t follow their every move.

It was only after moving to Olympia, Washington, that I discovered, like most things, that the music was at least, in part, inspired by the band’s environment—an organic sound birthed from the 9 months of grey clouds and lush forests that are the solace of earth loving individuals that live in the Northwest. Mud was caked on their guitar amps. All the early Soundgarden records still sound best when driving the backroads of the Northwest through think forests, under a blanket of grey clouds. When Chris Cornell wails through the sludgy onslaught of Fir tree-sized amps, one can tell that he is crying out for sanity in a world gone made, and having a good fucking time while doing it.  

Badmotorfinger was a powerhouse and a big hit. It is a great record. “Room a Thousand Years Wide” has never left my mind since the moment it entered it. I never really kept up on Soundgarden’s later records, but I would hear the singles on the radio. I was glad they were successful, but the newer, commercial sound wasn’t really what I wanted, even though I thought they were still good songwriters. Actually, they were probably better than they had ever been. I was just more partial to the older stuff.

If anyone would question Chris Cornell’s ability to exude emotion, look no farther than Temple of the Dog. I believe it to be Chris’s greatest moment. Pick that record up.

The song “Seasons” from the Singles Soundtrack is a great gem too. It evokes watching my friends struggle with the harsh reality of making it on their own in their early 20’s. Chris Cornell was like a neighborhood musician; he was always linked with my past and was connected in some way, or form, to a few of my favorite bands.

I don’t really know Audioslave or Chris’s solo work. And I am fine with that. However, anyone that is willing to hang out with a commie like Tom Morello has got to be a good guy. Chris always seemed like a reflective and nice guy in interviews. I know his friends loved him and he was a family man. Another good one gone. I don’t always want to listen to Chris’s stuff, but when I do, nothing else will do it for me. In this way, he was a unique artist, which is a trait of all great artists. You instantly know his voice.

When I first heard Chris Cornell had died, I pictured his body covered in thick, wet mud, entering the carbon cycle, while the last lines of “Hands All Over” played in my head; “Your gonna kill your mother, and I love her…and she loves me.”  

I write this on a beautiful, sunny day in Colorado while jamming “Louder than Love” in a dark basement after playing with the dogs outside and drinking beer. I think Chris would have liked that.



SoDak:
In 1988, I bought Soundgarden’s Ultramega OK primarily because it was released on SST records. I was quite taken by the dark tones of the guitar. The bass and drums laid a great foundation, as Chris Cornell’s vocals embodied the bastard child of Robert Plant, but with much more grit. My favorite songs on this record are “Flower” and “Mood for Trouble.” I bought Louder Than Love when it was released in 1989, and it remains the record that I have listened to the most. Soundgarden got even heavier. I loved the Black Sabbath influence that band embraced. I was pleased that the band sang about environmental degradation in the song “Hands All Over.” The song “Gun” gave me a sore neck, as I bobbed my head to the crushing riff.

In 1993, I saw Soundgarden open up for Neil Young. In many ways, this was a strange billing. Soundgarden took the stage, turned up the volume and killed it, even though the majority of the crowd seemed utterly confused by what they were witnessing. Soundgarden played a short set, but it was the highlight of the night, as Neil Young basically took a big shit on stage, with a lackluster performance with Booker T and the MG’s.

I am not sure why I did not continue to keep up with Soundgarden. It was in the early 2000s, when I finally bought Badmotorfinger, Superunknown, and Down on the Upside. Of course, I knew many of the songs on these records, given that the band had many hits over the years. While I do not listen to these records much, I do think that they are excellent records and show the brilliance of their songwriting. I also liked King Animal released in 2012 and was looking forward to the next record they were getting ready to record. Chris Cornell was a great vocalist. One of my favorite songs that he sang remains “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog.