Monday, May 22, 2017

Chris Cornell

And Now He's Gone
A Tribute to Chris Cornell

I never thought I’d be writing a tribute to Chris Cornell, not just for the usual reasons, but because of how I became a fan of Soundgarden in the first place. As for the usual reasons why one writes a tribute, it makes me shudder, not just that this wonderful musician is gone, but that so many are: Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Andrew Wood, Stefanie Sargent, Scott Weiland, Mike Starr, John Baker Saunders. Let the next one added be when everyone is, say, 90. Only Eddie Vedder, Mark Arm, and Mark Lanegan are now alive of the more famous grunge band leaders. What must they be thinking? The Space Needle went dark for an hour Thursday night, so everyone is grieving. Chris’ family and the rest of Soundgarden are also in my thoughts.

I will be honest; at the time, I hated grunge, and a lot of early 90s alternative music, and, again, it wasn’t for the usual reasons. I despise the term “sell out.” There's nothing wrong with making money from your art, and as my career involves various types of creative writing, I admit that sometimes my attitude is “screw art, give me the money.” Not that making art for art's sake is bad, but doing it for pay is the greatest job in the world. But I don't like it when people make a certain kind of art just for the money. The music magazines I was reading at the time said grunge bands were sell-outs, doing just that, so that put me off.

Also, I have a learning disability severe enough that I'm unable to work a straight job, or drive, hence my writing career, as writing is what I do best. I have struggled all my life to make a good life for myself. Only those who have everything mentally together would act like it’s cool to be disabled or mentally ill, and that is the way I perceived grunge and most alt-rock at the time. I didn't think their expressions of pain and dysfunction were honest or real, and I didn't want all that negativity, particularly if it wasn't sincere.

I was still very much following punk’s credo of thinking for yourself. The elementary school in Hightstown, NJ put on folk concerts during the school year, and there was a local folk song society who brought in musicians. It was very popular, and Dar Williams sold the place out more than once. I began going to those shows and joined that local scene. In addition to Dar, I got into the Nields, Richard Shindell, the late Dave Carter and his partner Tracy Grammer. Jill Sobule of I Kissed A Girl fame was also a part of the scene, and so was Ani DiFranco. And there was plenty of alt rock outside the lines to get into: Fugazi, Pavement, The Breeders, the Loud Family, Sugar, Mudhoney, the Posies, Liz Phair, Sleater-Kinny. Those were my favorites. I didn’t think of Mudhoney as grunge, but rather punk.

When I met Jen Grover in the very early 00’s, I told her all of this. Around that time she was a moderator for SOMMS, the original Soundgarden online fan list, and had the now defunct Unofficial Ben Shepherd Website. She urged me to give Soundgarden another chance, and after thinking about it a bit, I did. And I liked what I heard. They were more punky than I realized, and after hearing Seasons, I realized Chris could be folk. Euphoria Morning proved that even more, and that sealed the deal. Eventually I got into more grunge, and as for alt, a new way of looking at it.

My favorite Soundgarden song is the one I first heard, and at the time of its release somewhat tolerated, as I liked the ruefulness of it--Outshined. By default, Badmotorfinger was my favorite Soundgarden album. The others are great too, but BMF was my first.

I hope everyone takes this tribute the right way, and not as a snide slam. My journey to the band was roundabout, but eventually I made it home. I came to realize how much of that music really was honest and why it meant so much to so many people. Long live Chris,long live Soundgarden, and, yes, alt.

Andrea Weiss

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